Opinion: Watch Out for Claim Jumpers!

A picture of Ron Wheeler

The California Gold Rush began in 1848 with the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill. The finding led to eight years of incredible change and turmoil. Chaos ensued as the word got out.

We may not be in a gold rush today, but the RV Rush of 2020 shares many similarities. How long the boom will last is yet to be seen, but we have surpassed year two. I know many dealers lie awake at night wondering how the past and current changes will impact their business.

The California Gold Rush lasted seven years. It lured more than 300,000 prospectors to the west coast. Local service companies, suppliers and residents were overwhelmed in the mid-1800s.

Know the feeling?

The question is, are you protecting your claim, or as with the prospectors of old, is your claim about to be jumped?

Why do I believe some RV businesses are in jeopardy? Here are three reasons.

First, when a market grows so quickly, the long-term moneymakers are the service providers. A year or so after the Gold Rush, prospectors had panned all the easily accessible California surface gold. To mine what remained required hard work, and many fortune seekers went belly up. Where do you think the term “panhandler” came from?

Service providers, however, still had plenty of customers as prospectors continued to spend money. So, look around and take note. Are you seeing new stores and bigger competitors with larger service/parts departments? Did you think this was accidental?

If you cannot manage all your recent new customers on the parts/service side, someone will quickly jump your claim and snatch up those consumers. Look closely at your operations. Determine where your dealership’s weaknesses might be, which is likely in the parts/service department.

Second, RV manufacturers allocating inventory deliveries will not be fair. I know you realize this, but you must manage inventory levels as strongly as possible. Back during the Gold Rush, the more miners who worked a claim, the stronger the competition became.

Similarly, if your competitor has significantly more inventory than you, where are your customers and new prospects going to go? The big dealer groups know that receiving more inventory makes jumping others’ claims easier. If you are losing the inventory battle, get aggressive and actively build used inventory levels.

Third, technology and equipment were among the biggest transformational changes that occurred during the Gold Rush. Technology altered the landscape from riverbed panning for gold to sophisticated mining operations. The same happened in the 2020 RV Rush. Recent technological advancements in marketing have been significant. Well-funded RV business operators are increasing marketing budgets by more than 50% in many cases. Dealers unprepared for this expanded outreach will wake up one morning to find someone else working with their past customers.

If history repeats itself, like it always does, you will find many competitors eyeing “your claim.” The hard-earned position you created may soon be in jeopardy. The business you nurtured, protected and grew will soon have more pressure than ever.

The competition is carefully surveying your gold and calculating whether you are up to the challenge they bring. Do not get caught sleeping or leave your claim unprotected. Many Gold Rush miners did and quickly found how easily someone could jump their claim.


Protect Yourself

Here are some ideas to contemplate. First, assume competitors are plotting against you as we speak. Your rivals are planning right now how to dominate your market. They are counting on you being slow to move. They see most opponents procrastinating due to inventory level uncertainty. Your procrastination is part of their business plan.

When inventory certainty returns, you will be fighting an uphill battle. Plan for the most competitive year ever. The move for market share is on. You need to stake, work and protect your claim.

Second, like any successful prospector, you need to protect and fight to keep your claim. Build a strong fence.

Your customers will need to service their RVs, buy parts and trade in. Create a plan to make doing so easy for them. How will you let consumers know what you have and why they need you? What will be their biggest frustration next year, and do you have their solution?

Begin by planning a monthly communication strategy. The only way consumers will know you value them is if you tell them. Treat them like precious gold.

Third, be proactive and fight. Do not simply lay down.

Do not be surprised someone is coming for your business. Prepare for the competition. When you feel the actual assault, in many cases, it’s too late to act. This is not a fight of the fittest—victory is determined by who cares the most. Your competitors are counting on caring more and fighting harder than you do.

A strong offense makes a strong defense. Consider jumping competitors’ claims. Investigate tactics like geo-fencing, mobile capture, conquest email, hashed files and good, old television. Start spending well before you feel your inventory justifies doing so.

Fourth, online retailers will soon invade again, like midnight riders sweeping through your camp. The internet price-player wave has returned, bigger and smarter than ever. The car business taught remote dealers how to steal consumers using marketing, advanced technology and the right processes. Monitor their pricing. Understand which products people will drive great distances to buy. Certainly, I would start with fifth wheels and motorhomes.

Prevent online retailers from claiming the top spots in your paid search campaigns. Many online retailers see this as low-hanging fruit. They will buy your dealership’s name and branded keywords in paid search to gain a top ranking, so closely watch this tactic.

History repeats itself. During the Gold Rush, claims only became invalid when not actively worked. Do not wait a day longer to put your business and marketing plans in place. One final thought: Just because RV interest grew does not mean your business will. You need to fight…like your gold depends on it!

Ron Wheeler is founder and principal at Wheeler Advertising. Ron has been a speaker at RVDA for more than 30 years and at NADA for more than 18 years. He has spoken on topics ranging from dealership branding to RV effectiveness, social media and digital marketing. He began his RV advertising career more than 30 years ago. Ron was RVDA Convention and Expo chairman for six years and also sat on the RV Hall of Fame board. His company works with RV dealers in more than 30 states and Canada.

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