RV servicing and repairs used to be pretty much the exclusive domain of RV dealers, independent garages and mobile RV service technicians.
But some entrepreneurial park operators have found that they can develop an entirely new profit center and improve guest satisfaction by providing their own RV service facilities, employing their own mobile RV service technicians or, at the very least, carefully screening the mobile techs they allow into their parks and taking a commission from the referrals they provide to park guests.
The 400-site Pismo Coast Village RV Resort in Pismo Beach, Calif., has offered mobile RV service and repair services for many years, starting with its own small, one-bay RV service facility across the street from the park.
The resort’s existing repair facility — staffed by one mobile RV service technician and two helpers — provides service to park guests, as well as for the owners of the 2,200 motorhomes and trailers that are parked at Pismo Coast Village’s storage facilities.
But in recent years, Pismo Coast Village has expanded its business base by marketing its repair services to other campgrounds and RV parks in the Pismo Beach area. The resort has also developed business relationships with RV rental companies so that it can provide service or repairs for their customers when they need help in the Pismo Beach area.
Demand for Pismo Coast Village’s RV repair services has also increased as consumers have experienced growing wait times for RV repairs at RV dealerships and service centers in the greater Pismo Beach area.
As a result, Pismo Coast Village is building a new five-bay service center miles away to accommodate the rising demand for RV repairs and service. The new facility is expected to open during the first quarter of this year.
“This has been my vision for a long time,” Jay Jamison, owner of Pismo Coast Village, told WOODALLSCM.com. “It’s not like RV service is a new thing for us. It’s just that we’ve seen more and more of a demand for RV repairs and service and this is a niche we can fill. This is going to expand our service business by probably 300%.”
Jamison is also planning to hire more RV service technicians.
“I want at least five certified technicians and to have at least two of them that are mobile because there’s a lot of things that can be repaired with a mobile unit,” he said. “We won’t do work on drive trains, but do repairs on the living quarters, appliances and the exteriors of the RVs and provide aftermarket products. We’re filling a niche that is not addressed sufficiently in town.”
Jamison said travelers, in particular, rely on park operators for guidance when they have a problem with their RV.
“Probably, almost daily, we have somebody that’s wanting something. If you have somebody that’s traveling with a heater problem, a water heater problem or a slideout problem, you are a hero to them if you can fix it,” Jamison said, adding that addressing RV repair and service needs is essential to keeping people happy in the RV lifestyle.
Jamison said Pismo Coast Village is also seeing growing demand for roof repairs, which is partly why it has invested in a new RV service facility with covered service bays — so that roof repairs can be made indoors.
Pismo Coast Village’s RV storage business also generates a significant volume of repair and service work. When RVs sit outside for extended periods of time, Jamison said, the roof vents can disintegrate.
“They’re like a sugar cube. They just fall apart,” he said.
Problems with disintegrating RV roof vents are so pervasive that Pismo Coast Village has staff members who get up on ladders each fall to examine the rooftops of the RVs it has in storage so that RVs with cracked or disintegrating roof vents can be repaired before there’s water damage to the frame of the RV or to the interior of the vehicle.
Other longtime RV resort operators with their own RV service centers include Ocean Lakes Family Campground in Myrtle Beach, S.C., which opened its own RV dealership and service center — Coleman Sales & Service — in 1972, one year after Mary Emily and Nelson Jackson and their five daughters opened the park with its first 30 campsites and a single bathhouse.
Ocean Lakes also developed an RV storage business in the mid-’70s during the gasoline crisis, which offered guests frequenting 70-plus campsites an economical service. Ocean Lakes currently has 2,484 campers in storage, but that number swells to more than 2,900 RVs in season. Today, it takes a fleet of 14 pull trucks to haul campers on and off-sites to accommodate guest reservations.
“People came up to our co-founder and said, ‘We don’t want to take our camper home.’ So many guests fell in love with the park. So, the Jacksons also started ‘Annual Lease Sites’ in 1973, beginning with the mobile home section,” said Barb Krumm, Ocean Lakes’ director of marketing and public relations.
Krumm added that the Jackson family saw the synergies between the campground, the sales and service center and the RV storage business from the beginning.
“You’ve got this captive audience,” she said. “It makes a lot of sense.”
Beyond providing convenience, campground operators who go into the RV service business also have the advantage of having the trust of their guests, which is beneficial so long as the park and its repair services continue to meet or exceed guest expectations.
Today, Ocean Lakes Family Campground is one of the largest and most diversified RV resorts in the country, with 310 acres and 3,424 sites, including 859 pull-through sites. The resort’s sales and service business, now called Ocean Lakes RV Center, currently has two indoor service bays that are large enough and tall enough to accommodate any RV, according to Chris Allen, general manager of the sales and service center, which sells travel trailers, fifth wheels, and toy haulers.
“When I arrived at the RV center 32 years ago, we had three service technicians. We currently have six onboard,” he said, reflecting the growth of Ocean Lakes, the RV industry and the increased demand for RV repairs.
But even though Ocean Lakes has a huge business base of its own, all of its RV service technicians can also work mobile at any campground in the Myrtle Beach area.
Allen added that having the ability to provide RV service is a big convenience for anyone staying at Ocean Lakes Family Campground. The service center also provides an RV setup service for guests who have their campers in storage and plan to arrive late and don’t want to have to set up their RV at night. The center also has a 6,000-square-foot store with RV parts, supplies and accessories.
Several other private campgrounds across the country are connected with RV service facilities, including Beachwood Campground & Service in Coatesville, Penn., S & H RV Resort in Greenfield, Ind., and Poor Farmers RV Sales, Service and Campground Inc. in Fletcher, Ohio.
But while campgrounds and RV parks that have RV service and repair businesses have captive customers, parks that offer these services typically cultivate business with other parks in their vicinity, as well as RV owners who live in the area.
For example, the Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort at Barton Lake in Fremont, Ind., has its own sales and service center — Barton Lake RV Sales — which includes one service bay, as well as a mobile service van.
About half of the service center’s business comes from guests at the Jellystone Park, while the balance comes from “a couple of dozen” other campgrounds in the area, said Dan Sichling, the Barton Lake RV Sales service manager.
But even though many park operators recognize that they could make more money by providing their own RV repair services, some park operators who have pondered the idea are also leery of getting into the RV service business.
“We felt it was very difficult to be in top form as both a resort provider and an RV service provider,” said David J. King, president and CEO of Lake George RV Park in Lake George, N.Y.
Another challenge, he said, is staffing an RV service center, given the shortage of RV service technicians, which is the same challenge facing RV dealers across the country right now.
The RV Industry Association (RVIA) and the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) are well aware of this issue, which is why RVIA has partnered with GoRVing and RVDA to provide $10 million in grant funding to launch the RV Technical Institute, which opened its 18,000-square-foot training facility in Elkhart, Ind., in December.
In addition to providing the RV industry with hundreds of newly trained RV service technicians in the coming months and years, the RV Tech Institute also aims to provide training for existing service technicians who need to improve their skills. The training is being made available to everyone who wants to improve their skills as an RV service tech, regardless of whether they work at an RV dealership or independent repair shop or are already self-employed as a mobile RV service technician.
“There’s nothing off the table in terms of who can seek RV service technician training,” said Curtis Hemmeler, who serves as both executive director of the RV Technical Institute, as well as a senior vice president of RVIA. “Our mission is to reduce the repair event cycle time.”
The institute provides training in 89 different tasks through 39 different course modules at its Elkhart facility, which includes 10,000 square feet of office and classroom space and 8,000 square feet of service bays that enable its students to train with towable and motorized RVs.
“We have seven key course areas, all of which are developed by subject experts in the industry,” Hemmeler said.
The need for greater numbers of properly trained RV service techs is well documented. According to the latest statistics compiled by RVDA, it takes an average of 21 days for a dealer to repair an RV, from the time the vehicle is dropped off until the customer gets it back, according to Hemmeler.
While there is plenty of business opportunity awaiting private park operators who want to provide RV repairs on service, they still need to have qualified RV service technicians doing the work.
But there are other options for park operators who want to help their customers with their RV repair and service issues.
King pre-screens several mobile RV service providers to make sure they have proper training and certifications and is committed to providing top-notch service to his guests. He also charges them a flat fee of $1,800-a-year, per year for permission to perform work for guests staying at his park. He requires them to pre-publish their rates and to respond to guests’ calls requesting service within six hours.
King’s staff also makes follow up calls to park guests to make sure they are satisfied with the mobile RV tech service they received.
“We set up a contract that the (mobile RV service techs) have with us,” King said, adding, “We don’t want a poor service experience to taint the guests’ experience at the park. We’re also providing this screening service because we see so many requests for service at the front desk.”
But while the $1,800 fee may seem like a lot for a service tech simply to be able to respond to service calls at Lake George RV Park, King said they do so much business they make that money up quickly.
“We have vans in here every day, all summer long,” he said, adding that several mobile techs also pay for big ads in the park’s 28-page vacation guide.
“Some of our mobile techs do complete teardown work, like replacing the whole roof of an RV,” he said. “Many of them would like to expand their businesses, but they don’t have the techs available to do it.”