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OPINION: Dealers should offer monitored shakedown trips

I was reading on Facebook the other day about some poor guy’s experience his first weekend out with his RV. He had a problem getting his water to hook up because the winterization valve had not been closed and the water was running out of the bottom of the RV. Then he had issues dumping the tanks.

He was very grateful for two experienced RVers who came to his rescue and helped him “learn the ropes.” I, too, am grateful for experienced RVers because they have taught me many things in the two years I have been on the road. But, it shouldn’t be that way.

In a perfect world, whenever anyone buys a new RV, the dealership should thoroughly show that customer how to setup and use the new equipment. And the best way to do that is with monitored shakedown trips of one or two nights.

By this I mean that RV dealers should make an effort twice a month, if not every weekend during the busy season, to ensure new customers get off on the right foot and have an enjoyable first experience. After all, owning an RV is something the people likely dreamed about for years. They envisioned high adventure and wonderful memories around the campfire — not towing disasters, septic problems and the inability to find the right switches.

I assume every RV dealer is delivering at least two RVs per week. I would be stunned if a dealer could not convince a local campground to reserve a few campsites in close proximity to each other every weekend or, at the very least, every other weekend.

Perhaps the campground would comp one of the nights for the new RVer to ensure the family has a positive experience at the park and return for another visit.

As I am looking around the RV park I am at now, it would be super easy to have four sites facing each other or back to back. One site would include “the host” and the other three would be new RV owners.

If they are used every weekend, the dealership may be able to convince the park to put signs on the sites indicating they are ABC RV orientation sites. That would show others the partnership that exists between both businesses to help new RVers.

The host’s job is to ensure the customers get parked and set up correctly by WATCHING, not demonstrating, how the new owners plug in and level their units. The process can be repeated several times until the customer truly fees comfortable doing so.

Remember, the dealer has already provided an orientation to each customer, so this is a wonderful opportunity to practice what they’ve learned.

The host is there to help the owner ensure that all systems on the RV work properly — the cook top lights, the refrigerator is cool, the air conditioner works, as does the TV. The host also watches as people extend the slides and the awnings.

That first night, the host is the guy with the s’mores and pie irons to demonstrate camping traditions. He or she is also the person who can describe favorite accessories that make their own camping experience more enjoyable.

The next day, the host follows a checklist when visiting every family to talk about safety issues, emergency exits, campground etiquette and common mistakes new campers make. It doesn’t have to be long — an hour at most.

It should end with the host taking a family picture or two next to or inside the new RV. The photos can be sent to the family as a souvenir, posted on the dealership’s blog or website, or uploaded to Facebook to show others what a fun time the new customers of ABC RV are having.

On the day of departure, the host again watches as the family disconnects, brings in the slides, lowers the antenna, dumps the tanks, hooks up the RV to the tow vehicle or the tow car to the RV, just to make sure everything is being done correctly.

Here’s the problem. At most RV dealerships, most people who work there have never stayed in an RV one night. So, it would be like the blind leading the blind. The dealership would need a personable and experienced RVer — not necessarily a technician — to serve as host.

I suspect that RV dealers could entice one of their better customers to serve as a host for a weekend with a few nights of free camping and a small stipend, like $100. If the host does his job correctly, the dealership makes up the cost in the following weeks as the happy new owners come back into the store to buy the lifestyle and RV-related products the host recommended.

It is ridiculous to think that so many RV dealers simply offer a mind-boggling one-hour orientation at the dealership, then slap the new owner on the back and wish him luck — along with the obligatory “call us if you have problems” when the staff knows darn well the dealership won’t be open when help is really needed.

It’s little things like this that will ensure new RVers get off to the right start, have a memorable first experience and be anxious to go out and repeat it again and again.

Frustrated RVers have buyers remorse, are skeptical about the lifestyle and afraid to venture out again. All the Go RVing commercials in the world won’t overcome a bad experience and, in fact, a negative experience shared with others works to negate the impact of the Go RVing program.

Was your first RVing experience one to remember or one to forget?  Tell us about it below.

About Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber is the editor of Let's RV and the editor of RV Daily Report. A Wisconsin native and father of three grown daughters, he is now based out of Arizona and travels the country in his Winnebago Adventurer motorhome interviewing industry professionals and interesting RVers alike. He can be reached at editor@letsrv.com

2 comments

  1. This is a great idea. I have seen on the forums tales of woe from newbies not prepared properly at the dealer. Something like this would really help them and get them started on a great time. Even if it was not sponsered by a dealer, maybe the manufactures would do something like this. Maybe when the person buys the trailer, it could be an option available. This need to be put out there for more people to see it and get some thinking on it maybe making it possible. More people know about it, maybe more dealers will do this. I know some dealers will have a site on their property for the “high-end” coaches to switch over from the old one to the new one. Something like this could be done for newbies for one nite. Points to think on!!!!

    • Margo,
      It might make you feel better to know that I own a company that Coaches the RV owner with the exact things that are mentioned in this blog. My website is http://www.RVSafeT.com. I have helped so many Newbies with issues from parking to knowing how to turn on the water heater. That’s why I started my business.

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