By Rob Cochran
As I drove along Interstate 4 the other day and passed several RV dealerships, I noticed a common theme. Almost all of them had help wanted signs posted for RV technicians. It didn’t surprise me much but it did make me stop and think about how quickly things have changed.
Just a few short years ago, many experienced technicians were struggling to find work. I began to think about how the recession has left its mark on the RV service industry and I started to wonder what effect it will have on our industry if RV owners cannot find quality service at a fair price.
My concern is that the whole RV experience could be become undesirable if RVs don’t work like they should or if the service experience becomes a source of frustration. So I decided to take this opportunity to explain how we arrived at our current situation and try to provide some tips for RV owners to help them find quality RV service.
What caused this technician shortage?
There are several reasons that caused the technician shortage and contribute to the problem RVers face in finding repair facilities — especially on the road in the busy summer season. Here are a few:
Defecting Technicians — For many years, the RV industry had done a great job of training and certifying RV technicians. When the recession hit the RV industry in 2008, most dealers and service centers had to reduce their staff and many certified RV techs were forced to find jobs in other industries. Several have returned to the RV business. But, a large portion have found safety in their new careers and have decided against returning to an industry that left them disappointed once before.
Business is Booming — The economic downturn forced RV manufacturers to get lean, mean and more creative. Today’s RV consumers now have better options at competitive prices. RVing has never been more fun or affordable. Plus, baby boomers are reaching the retirement age at an accelerated rate and the Generation Xers and Millennials are finding that RVs fit into their multi-faceted lifestyles. RV sales are already eclipsing 2008 levels and are creating an even bigger demand for technicians.
Lack of New Talent — Those same Millennials that are buying some of the new RVs are less interested in fixing them. After watching their Baby Boomer parent’s work day and night, the upcoming workforce is looking for more work-life balance than the previous generation. With new high-tech jobs available, fewer young people are interested in pursuing a career as a RV technician, limiting the availability of new young talent.
Corporate Consolidation — What was once largely a“mom and pop” or family business has now been infiltrated by large corporations. This has been great for marketing the RV lifestyle to new buyers and has created a competitive environment that has driven down RV prices while bringing in more first-time buyers.
But, from what I see and hear, the pressure to “meet the corporate numbers” is creating additional stress to parts and service personnel. This often translates to less focus and poor customer service from employees that are trying to keep up. It’s kind of a “good-news, bad-news” situation as I see it.
So what is an RVer in need of service supposed to do?
Great RV service is still out there, only a little harder to find. And if you’re fairly handy, YouTube has some great “how-to” videos that might save you a trip to the repair shop. But, if the task is bigger than you wish to tackle, here is a list of questions and suggestions to consider before you hand over the keys to a RV repair shop.
- Network, network, network. — RVers are mostly social and they just love to tell you about their experiences. Don’t wait until you have a problem to ask around. Use every opportunity to find out where your fellow campers get their repairs done and how they were treated. Just be prepared, they may tell you about every experience they’ve ever had!
- Who owns this place and how long have they been in business? –This is not a guarantee of good service, but it can be an indicator. If the business owner is on site, it’s always a good idea to ask if you can meet them. If not, ask to meet the general manager or someone in charge. Let them know if this is your first time doing business with them and that you would like some assurance that you will be treated fairly. Then follow your gut.
- Do you charge flat-rate or hourly — Most shops use a flat-rate guide that tells them the average time a specific job takes. They should be able to quote you a specific price to do a particular job. Many times there are jobs that cannot be flat-rate, such as an electrical problem or water leak. But, in these cases, they should quote you a diagnostic or estimated time. Give instructions to call you for approval should it exceed the expected time allowed. This also prevent you from getting overcharged when a less experienced technician is assigned to your RV.
- Can I speak with the technician who will be working on my RV? — I personally like to meet anyone that will be working on my vehicle to make sure I am comfortable with them. I would be wary of any shop that tells me that they are not sure who will be working on my rig or does not allow me to meet with them to discuss my specific problems and possible solutions. A good service tech will want to speak with you and can often save hours on a job by asking you the right questions to help determine the specific problem.
- How much experience does the technician have with my particular problem? — RVs are a mix of many different products working together. Most all shops have technicians that are trained and are proficient in different areas, such as appliances or cabinet repair. Ask them specific questions like “Have you seen something like this before?” or “What do you think might be causing this problem?” You will quickly get an idea of their comfort (or discomfort) level with your particular problem.
My hope is that you will do your homework and find repair shops that will leave you with a pleasant RV experience and ultimately help you enjoy the great outdoors as it was intended. I wish you all the best in your travels.