Opinion: RV Legends Pass Down 6 Top Lessons

A picture of Ron Wheeler

Businesses are going through another year like never before, facing obstacles no one ever contemplated. Current business conditions led me to reflect on lessons I have learned in my 35-year history of marketing in, around and for the RV industry.

Experience is an amazing teacher, but I have also gleaned important, time-tested information from others throughout my career. Even in today’s unforeseen market, this knowledge is still applicable. That said, I would like to share lessons I have learned from six RV legends. I owe a great deal to these individuals and consider them dear friends.

These legends have been honored with many RV industry accolades that prove their wisdom and business acumen. Their lessons are important to everyone, regardless of the circumstances you faced, are facing or will face in the future.

My list, in no way, ranks each lesson’s importance. I encourage you to write them down and revisit them every few months. You may find various situations where you can apply these lessons in new and different ways. I’ve made a practice of consistently doing this.

  1. Bill Gorman: Do Not be Confused

I first met Gorman at the 1988 RVDA convention. One important lesson he taught everyone was this: Do not be confused. Make the decision and move on.

To Gorman, we spend too much time clouding our minds with information that prevents us from making the right decision. Most dealers take in too much information when making marketing decisions.

You know you need to make a move or approve a budget. You know you have to alter your marketing strategy. Sometimes, people become too anxiety-ridden by the perceived finality of deciding. Some fear the decision’s consequences, good or bad. Others are too comfortable with the status quo, and the concept of change prevents action.

When you start to feel confused by a marketing decision, realize what is happening. If you procrastinate, you will lose your time and potential opportunity. Reject the noise you are hearing, and you will make the right decision.

That is what makes great marketers. They see the path and start moving. Unexpected obstacles are dealt with as they arise. Choose not to be confused. Act!

  1. Larry McClain: Be Genuine

I met McClain at a Gorman 20 Group in Las Vegas. He was Wheeler Advertising’s first client. I owe him a lot for taking a chance on us when we were first starting. We still work with his son, Nate McClain.

Larry McClain taught me how to be genuine: Be who you are and no one else.

He addressed a long-standing advertising question facing many advertising agencies dealing with RV dealerships. How does someone tell a dealer he or she should not be the spokesperson for the dealership? McClain was such a perfect on-camera talent that who should and should not be on camera became clear.

Not everyone has the talent to be on TV, but choosing an advertising spokesperson goes deeper than that. Are you genuine? Do you actually represent your dealership by your actions? Does the store’s spokesperson match what you are selling—to your leadership, your teams, your customers and the general public? If you are truly genuine like McClain, selling is easy. If you are trying to be someone other than yourself, stop. If you are choosing someone to represent your dealership, ensure they match your culture 100%. Either they genuinely do or they don’t.

  1. Paul Skogebo: Frequency Always Works

I met Skogebo in 1988 at the same 20 Group as McClain. From Day One, no one has shown me as much loyalty and friendship as Skogebo. He cared deeply about helping and teaching me the industry. When we started working together, we decided to do TV advertising.

Skogebo believed frequency is more important than reach. His vision was simple—make sure we have enough frequency in a short period to be impactful.

In today’s marketing environment, this is as important as ever. Pick your battlegrounds and your choice of media before moving on to something else. Do not stretch yourself so thin you lack the frequency needed to stand out with your marketing. Do not just dip your toe in. Frequency usually will win.

  1. Bud Heck: Be Consistent and be Confident

I met Heck at the 20 Group as well, but my company did not begin working with him until we connected a boat show in Chicago years later. We have been working together since.

I was a big advocate of consistency. Heck, however, gave me a redefined perspective on real consistency: If it is not broken, do not fix it. Run your major campaigns at the same time every year, and avoid changing the theme unless necessary. Be confident. Create an idea and do not alter it until your customers tell you that campaign is no longer working. Being consistent and confident can make you a lot of money.

  1. Dave Altman: Be Believable; It Always Works

I met Altman long before he became a client. He called our marketing agency of 10-plus years GUD (geographically undesirable). Once we started collaborating, however, we worked well together. If you knew Altman, you knew this about him.

The biggest lesson he taught me was to be relentlessly optimistic. Never think negatively, no matter how large the obstacle. Find something to say that will excite your customer. Altman showed me that if you devise a strong, believable reason for people to shop, they will. Nothing can take the place of an easily believable message. He was absolutely right. Find the believable hook and communicate it to consumers. Shout your message from the rooftops!

Dan Pearson: Fish When the Fishing Is Good

Pearson and I agreed to work together after spending two hours at a bar in Nashville, Tennessee, telling one joke after another. No one has a sense of humor like Pearson. He taught me and many others that you can have lots of fun while in business. He also taught me some strong marketing lessons. Perhaps the biggest lesson is to fish when the fishing is good. More important, when you go fishing, go fishing! To Pearson, a much better investment is to aggressively spend marketing dollars when more people are in the market to buy. The lesson is simple. Do not think you can turn a soft market with a large marketing spend. The right strategy is to go after your share of the market in soft months, but recognize the market’s potential.

When deciding on a marketing strategy, remember these six lessons:

  1. Do not be confused—execute. Make a strategic plan and execute it. You cannot get back the time you wasted on being confused.
  2. If you are putting your stamp on your store, live, breathe and own those qualities. Do not be an imposter.
  3. Frequency is more important than reach. Do not be sold on reach. You need to ensure the right people see your message often. Frequency sells and reach introduces.
  4. Consistency and confidence in your brand, events and timing are critical. Do not change for the sake of change.
  5. Be relentlessly optimistic. People will respond to a believable message, so sell the dreams you provide.
  6. Maximize your marketing dollars. Be sure to spend the majority of your marketing dollars when the buyers are active. Do not try to create a market.

Finally, all these legends demonstrated three qualities to me:

  1. Even though all have been giants in the RV industry, none of these men ever acted as if they were more important than others. Make a big impact; do not be a big shot.
  2. They all had, and still have, a growth mindset, not a fixed mindset. Their businesses have grown because their industry passion touched, and continues to touch, everyone who has walked or talked with them.
  3. Finally, each of these legends showed, when the rubber meets the road, business success is all about family, family and family.

Gorman, McClain, Skogebo, Heck, Altman and Pearson, thank you.

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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