RV News, the "Voice of the RV Industry" published a feature cover story about Larry's RV. As is the philosophy of all of our staff and personnel, "It's about having fun!" is the focus of this excellent piece written by Don Magary, Editor. Customer service and satisfaction are some of the the keys to our success which is reflected in the fact that 60% of our customers come from referrals! This and other insights as to how Larry and his wife, Georgia, successfully conduct their thriving RV business are detailed in the article.
Cover Photo: Larry Nonemaker, owner, Larry's RV in Bend, Oregon. Larry's is an unusual dealership.
Larry's RV in Bend, Oregon
by Don Magary, editor
From the first moment I walked onto the lot at Larry's RV in Bend, Oregon, I sensed that this place was special. It obviously was not the rock covered, acre-and-three-quarters lot with 15 Lance truck campers lined up along the 200-foot frontage with the precision of a military formation with Kit trailers and fifth wheels acting as guideons. No, and it wasn't the rather small and unpretentious concrete block building that housed the offices, aftermarket store and service shop. I've been in other dealerships where this whole building would have set comfortably inside three service bays. And it wasn't the fact that after being on the lot less than 30 seconds I had been invited to go to dinner with the owners and some of the staff members. What's special about Larry's RV is it's owners, Larry and Georgia Nonemaker (pronounced: nah-na-may-ker). They are different by design and they have created a very special RV dealership that larger dealers might do well to emulate. The business is only about four years old, but in that short period, the Nonemakers have made their mark on the RV market in this region of Oregon. The uniqueness of Larry's RV starts with the large smile of Larry himself, and after a few minutes you know that this is real, not a facade he puts on when people come onto the lot. And it's obvious that Larry and Georgia are enjoying what they aare doing. Indeed, they are having fun. No matter what scale you choose to measure it with, this is small RV dealership. Larry's RV carries three lines of new RVs Kit trailers and fifth-wheels, Lance truck campers and North-star lightweight campers and a modest selection of used RVs displayed out back. There are no motorhomes, not new, not used. The total staff is a dozen people including two sales people. Larry told RV News, "In the sales department we have two fellows that are very experienced. They have been in the industry for quite awhile. Both of them have been general managers of dealerships and they know what they are doing. They have free reign; they do their own deals, take their own trades, and sell them. Their rewards are very, very good. "Within our dealership, we have a full-time bookkeeper who takes care of the bookkeeping and the warranties. Then we have Georgia and myself and we are partners in this corporation. She usually does most of the departmental motor vehicle work and a lot of the financing. I do a lot of the PR and ordering of the units and making sure that the lot has a good balance to it." And when a customer drives on to Larry's RV lot, they are in for a different kind of buying experience. Larry, said, "We have a policy here that if someone comes to our sales lot, we leave them alone to go look on their own for awhile. Then we go out and we greet them and try to identify some needs that they have. And if they want to look on their own, they are free to look here be-cause we open-up all of our units. And, I quote prices on all my units. So if someone goes in, they know how much it costs. You don't have to fight that up-hill battle of: how much is that. "I let people identify with it; make them look at it. You can always come down but you can never go up. If someone asks, do you negotiate? Certainly we negotiate. So we will go in, sit-down and come to an immediate point where they are happy and we are happy. It's real easy! It's not hard. Usually, it isn't price; it's the quality that sells the unit." And Larry doesn't put the buyer through a lot of games in order to buy an RV. He said, "There's a lot of different ways that you can run a dealership. My feeling is that you don't use two or more people working on one sale. That tends to alienate people. They just want to know how much that unit is when they ask. So I tell them. I hear the horror stories about: what will you offer? And then they write some silly figure down that they will offer, you take it to the sales manager somewhere in a "chrome tower" and he puts a big red line through it, and he comes back and says: well, he won't take this but he will take that. Then the customer counteracts that and then he comes back and forth, and back and forth. Why don't you just sit down and do a deal? Do we lose money? Maybe. "But my feeling is that if you make a very sound deal with your customer, that customer will go out and get you a customer. So, did it cost you $200-300? I really don't think so. My customers bring people in here and say: this is the only place that you can buy! "And it's really great because when someone brings us a referral, if you have a product that fits their needs, those people automatically buy from you. So, do you lose money by dusting a deal and putting red-lines through it? I think you do. I think you lose money in the long-haul. "I absolutely never ask them to buy. Now maybe that's wrong. Other dealers might hear that and call me stupid. But I believe that a person should make his choice and buy the right RV the first time." And does Larry's system work. If the results from the two-days we were there are any indication, it would seem so. Larry, said, "Yes, we had a good day yesterday. We sold six and a have sold two today and it's only noon so today is a good day too."
Part of Larry's sales philosophy is making sure the customer and the RV they want to buy fits. And if Larry doesn't think it does, he won't sell it to them.
Larry, said, "Well, let's just take truck campers for instance. Many times people come in and have a half-ton pickup. What we do first is say: yes, we have a camper that fits a half-ton pickup. It's called a pop-up. It isn't self-contained with features such as showers, toilets and holding tanks and a lot of things that add weight, but if that fits your needs, then it's great. However, if that half-ton pickup owner wants a 3,000-pound camper, it's not going to happen at Larry's RV.
"We explain to them why it won't happen. it's because the pickup won't carry it -- the wheel bearings are not large enough, it's a six lug wheel, not an eight lug wheel and it won't take the pressure because the gross vehicle rating is way over what the pickup was built for and most importantly, it's un-safe. Rather than selling him what he thought he wanted, let's have a happy customer and tell him that it won't fit. Perhaps a fifth wheel is better. Then we introduce the fifth wheel to him instead.
"Many times we have seen the guy who really wanted a 3,000-pound camper trade that half-ton in on a three-quarter. But then just because he comes in here with a 3/4 ton pickup, it will not necessarily automatically handle what he wants to do with it. If he has a 3/4 ton pickup and has a 350 or 351 engine and he wants a 35 foot fifth-wheel - it's not going to happen.
"We are real conscious of safety. After we put the camper on his pickup we drive it around and put it through a road test -- we road test every camper that goes out of here. And there have been a couple of times that I have had to say: hey, this is the wrong rig for you; this truck just will not carry it. Did we know that going in? No. We didn't know it until some of the fixtures got put on the pickup. If we find that the truck won't handle it we take the camper off of the pickup, and offer to give his money back or put him into something different. And if we have already wired his pickup and put camper tie-downs on, we leave them there and still give his money back.
"It's the difference of being safe and not being safe. And I just won't have it. Period.
"But you know, I still see some of the other dealers putting campers on trucks that aren't right and when the owner is going down the highway the front wheels are hardly touching the pavement. And I really feel sad for the people. Because if he ever has to hit the breaks or if something runs out in front of him and he has to dodge, he's going to have a massive wreck."
Larry None-maker brings a lot of heart and a lot of integrity to his business. And that compassion and conscience was instilled in him by his past experiences.
Larry grew up in the Willamette Valley in Oregon in a logging community. His father operated a logging company, but Nonemaker decided early on that he did not want to become a logger. So he went to college and graduated with degrees in teaching and accounting. After graduation he traveled east to teach. Larry, said, "I went back east originally to teach handicapped children of military people. And I did that for awhile, but the government stopped funding that program so I decided to get completely out of teaching. I went to work at a car dealership. I spent some time there then went to work for a Chicago company, Pat Ryan & Associates, that specialize in finance and insurance. That's what led me first into the auto world and eventually into the RV world.But Nonemaker remained restless. Eventually he ended up back in Oregon and teaching in Eugene. He said, "I couldn't really find something to do that was fun. While I was teaching in Eugene, I met Georgia. She was a student and I was teaching a class in finance. So that's where we got started.." It seems as if fate brought Larry and Georgia together. They hit it off right away and eventually married. Larry said, "Our backgrounds were essentially the same. Her background is teaching too; although she's never taught -- she managed credit unions." Larry laughed and added, "Besides, after I discovered she likes to fish, how could I resist her?" They settled in Albany, OR, where Georgia managed a credit union and Larry owned a partnership in an insurance agency. That's what brought them to Bend. Nonemaker said, "I came to Bend to sell our credit life and disability programs to automobile dealerships. One of the dealers talked me into staying in Bend so I sold my part of the agency to the other partners and managed a big GMC dealership. Georgia moved here and managed the credit union in Bend for five years." It wasn't long before Nonemaker was restless again he still hadn't found his niche. He recalled, "We wanted to do something fun and cars were not fun. Then one day I walked into one of the local RV dealerships and I said, I want to be your next RV salesman. I went to work the next day." Larry was starting to have fun and enjoyed some success selling RVs. Friends of the family, two brothers, owned a Honda dealership and Larry learned that they were discussing getting into RVs as well. Larry dropped by to talk to them and then announced: "I'm your RV manager and we are going to do an RV dealership." Larry said, " They said okay. So, with their support and financial help, we opened an RV dealership. And I spent three years with them and we built a substantial business." But the Nonemakers' lives were about to change direction again. They were finally having fun, but thought it would probably be more fun if they owned their own RV business. So Larry and Georgia decided to go out on their own. But they wanted to do things differently. Larry said, "That was the whole key. The number one thing with Georgia and me was we decided we needed to take care of the employees first. We said, 'Let's do things like profit sharing,' which makes them have a little more interest in your store. ' Let's do things like pay 100 percent of their of insurance so they are not burdened with that. And then, let's pay them a little better than any other dealership.' "Alright. But in order to do that, you have to have really good people. They have to be self-starters. I didn't want to have to ride herd over them. And that's what we have. Our turnover is nil. "And we wanted to do a couple of extra things, too. It's hard enough just coming to work everyday and working at an organization, even if you like it, without some other benefits. I mean, profit sharing is fine; that comes once a year and the insurance is good if you need it. But we wanted to do more for them." Those "extra little things" manifest themselves in a variety of ways; however, one of the most unique may occur around a big horseshoe-shaped table adjacent to the service shop. Larry said, "Georgia and I wanted to do something that nobody else would do. So everyday, we provide lunch for our employees. They get everything from sandwiches sometimes to stews, chicken or pizza. A lot of our customers bring us salmon and we will bake that for lunch. "We make it a point to be a little bit different than the other people. This is a part of my family that's working out here and we will take care of them in the same manner. I think the world of each one of them." It's little wonder that there's no employee turnover at Larry's RV. And Larry's attitude about customers is just as unique as his attitude about employees. Today's RV dealer has a variety of marketing techniques to follow up with customers including direct mail, special promotions and aftermarket flyer programs. But Larry's customers are treated a little differently. He might just call them on the phone and scold them. "To me," Larry said, "there's nothing sadder than driving past the same house with that same RV parked beside the house with grass growing up around the tires especially if it's one of my customers. Those are the type of customers that I get on the phone and say: Hey, I have lined-up this trip for you -- you have to go with us. And you know what? They go. Once they go on their first trip with us, they want to go on all the trips. "They just didn't know what to do with that RV." Larry's camping trips have become quite a tradition among his customers. He calls them "campouts" and they organize around eight per year. When anyone buys an RV from Larry's RV, they automatically become members of Larry's RV group, a club. Members re-ceive a monthly newsletter called, "RV Tips." Larry, said, "The newsletter includes announcements about trips that we are going on. We have had weekend trips where there are 50 to 60 RVs, and we'll go seven or eight hours one-way. We ride mail boats up the rivers, take in Shakespearean plays, go over to the Snake River and fish and its all just a grand camp out. "What prompted us to start having campouts was to make people use their RVs." Customers that participate in Larry's campouts pay their own expenses. Larry added, "And we usually have potlucks. So all you have to do on a campout with Larry's RV is to bring one dish. We never tell them what to bring; so you could have your salads, and your main dish, and your desserts -- lots of food. It's just really fun. People will call and say: have you ever been to Mt. St. Helens. The Snake River? If we say no, they say, "Let me help you get a trip together over there. We book it, pay for the places to park and everything ahead of time so when our customers get there, they just have to slide into the slot and take care of the cost of their space with us later. We try to make it effortless so these people will use their RVs. "We really love this industry. If you only knew how many people call just to say that last weekend they had the best time of their lives; well, it's really rewarding to have put your effort into making everything right for them, and then have it be right." And the campouts also give Larry and Georgia a way to add some more "little extra's" for their employees. "We wanted to bring our employees into these trips," Larry said. "At least two technicians in the shop go and they alternate. It gives them time out of the dealership, and it gives them a chance to interact with our customers. That way, when my customers come in with a problem, they know the technicians. My technicians feel real comfortable then with the person with the problem. If anything goes wrong on the trip on a customer's rig, they fix it right there. And I never charge our customers for fixing the problems. "I pay my employees their wages on these trips also. If they are going to work, they get paid. Now, if they want to go to the movies at night and things like that they pay their own way. "Otherwise, we pay for their meals and their lodging. If they don't have an RV, we furnish an RV and a truck. And we encourage them to bring their families with them. It's a family affair that's going on all the time." In these days when companies and customers sometimes assume the roll of adversaries, Larry's philosophy comes as a breath of fresh air. He explained, "We are totally customer oriented. Period. And it has to be -- the customer writes your paycheck. If you keep that in your mind, you cannot fail". One day a customer bought an awning and had Larry's RV install it. Larry recalls, "About a month later, he calls and says: 'My awning fell off on the back'. And I told him I was really, really sorry about that and asked him bring it in and let us fix it. Well, when he brought it in, I went out and took a look at. I see that his motorhome has a dent in it from the back, up leading to the bracket, a dent of about six feet long. I said, 'Oh, you hit a limb. "He said: 'That was there when I bought the motorhome.' Now I knew that the awning got knocked-off when he hit that limb, but I went ahead and fixed it for him anyway. He went away happy. That's kind of how we do things around here. "Everything goes hand-in-hand, I believe. What you give, you get back. We work under the total belief that the customer is right. He gets to be right. And I have found that over the long run it doesn't cost you anything. Even if I know -- and the customer knows too that he broke it and he should be responsible for it, we go ahead and take care of it. When we do that customer says: 'These people are really alright.' And guess what? He will bring me a customer. So, did that cost me anything?" Larry advertises his business locally, but that's only his second most effective way to bring in customers. He said, "No matter how much advertising we do, 60 percent of our business is word of mouth. People just bring you people." And whether it's a new or used RV, Larry's goal is to make happy customers. Larry, said, "Paul Blaylock, our shop manager has a staff of five technicians. He's responsible for the back-end of the dealership -- we let him have free-reign. He does whatever it takes to make things right. One of his policies that he set right in the beginning was, if it's broken - fix it. Fix it before we put it out for sale. So when that customer gets a used vehicle off the lot, he doesn't have to come back with it broken. Everything works. We guarantee that when the RV leaves the lot everything works as it did when it was new. That's just our philosophy. And it works." While RV News was visiting Larry's RV, we had the opportunity to talk to several customers, but two especially stand out and illustrate more loudly than our words what makes Larry's RV different. While visiting the service area, an older gentleman ap-proached Larry. The man was a retired banker and had bought a trailer from Larry a few years earlier and now was in the market for a motorhome. Now, as we said earlier, Larry doesn't sell motorhomes, only towables and truck campers. So what did the banker want? He said that he trusted Larry and wanted Larry to help him shop for a motor-home at another dealership. And that's what Larry was going do -- for free. To me, that was remarkable. But maybe the most remarkable thing that happened that day was the young family taking delivery on a new fifth-wheel trailer. They had driven from Montana to Oregon to make their purchase from Larry, as they said, because they trusted him. It seems that the family had formerly lived in Bend and had bought a trailer from Larry. When the husband's job took him to Montana, the family packed up everything for the move. During the move, the wife was towing the trailer to their new home when suddenly an 18-wheeler passed causing her to lose control and there was an awful crash, completely destroying the trailer and tow vehicle and the family only barely survived. After that experience, the couple told me that they had definitely decided that their RVing days were over. However, as time passed, they missed the lifestyle and decided to buy another RV, this time a fifth-wheel. But amazingly, rather than buying the vehicle from a dealer near their new home in Montana, they came back to Bend to buy the RV from Larry. There's little doubt that Larry has earned the respect and admiration of both his employees as well as his customers. He has that rare ability to instill trust in those he deals with. What this industry needs is more Larry Nonemakers'. When you see how Larry's customers and employees interact with Larry, it easy to see why this small dealer is having fun.
2950 S Hwy 97, Redmond, OR 97756
Tel: 1-800-487-4978 or (541) 923-4564
Fax: (541) 923-4337