King's Campers treats customers like royalty

7/25/2012
By Greg Gerber
Editor, RV Daily Report

WAUSAU, Wisc. -- Situated off a busy highway in north central Wisconsin, King's Campers has been attracting a lot of attention in recent years for its ability to sell RVs. The company has been so successful that it achieved an RV Business Top 50 dealership designation three years in a row.

"What do we do differently?" asked owner Ron Gajewski. "We all pay the same for product, so it must have to do with the type of service we provide our customers."

King's Campers enjoyed large sales increases last year, a volume Gajewski said was the best year for the business since 2007 -- and a target he fully expects to beat in 2012.

The key to achieving consistent business growth is to ensure that employees are thinking positively all the time, he noted. "No matter how bad it may be for me, as the business owner, I need to relax and be positive around everyone else," Gajewski explained. "The only way to push employees to present a positive attitude to our customers is for me to be positive in the way I interact with employees."

After hiring four new staff members earlier this Spring, the dealership currently employs 31 people. Those were the first employees King's Campers has hired in several years.

The company started in 1967 as a sideline business for Gajewski, who was working as a engineer at the time. "I like to tell people that I'm an engineer by trade and a salesman by choice," he explained.

A supplier to Gajewski's metal fabrication company asked him if he'd ever consider getting into the camper business. After exploring the market potential, he opened Family Sports Center in Wausau and stocked it with a few fold downs manufactured by Easy Campers in Loyal, Wisc., which eventually became Canvas Replacement decades later.

In 1972, Gajewski decided he would rather be in the campground business, so he handed over the dealership to a friend, Roger King, who changed the name to King's Campers. (The RV park Gajewski founded, Deer Trail Park in Nekoosa, Wisc., was severely damaged by a tornado May 22, 2011.) Is this part relevant? Might confuse readers when switching from RV park back to dealership

The dealership changed hands again in 1983 and Gajewski bought it back in 1990, after he decided to sell his growing excavating business in order to help families make memories.

He moved the dealership to its present location along Interstate 39 in 1995, which he calls the second best business decision he ever made thanks to the exposure it generated among travelers. The No. 1 decision was to return to the RV industry. It took nearly six months to convince city officials to ease business restrictions on the site -- which at the time was 1.5 acres -- but the effort paid off with the purchase of additional land (to bring the total to 5.5 acres) which allows for more inventory and easier access for RV owners.

After remodeling the dealership five years ago to convert the shop area into an indoor showroom, and the addition of more service bays, business has been steady year round, he noted.

Nationwide service

Gajewski is not focused on selling RVs throughout the country. However, thanks to repeat customers and lots of referrals, he's doing just that to the point that 40 percent of his business comes from out-of-state buyers. In fact, he suspects they have closed deals with people living in just about every state, including a customer from Alaska who had come to Wisconsin a few weeks ago to visit relatives.

"Our No. 1 competitors aren't dealerships in our market. They are large, out-of-state dealers," he explained. "We get some customers from the Internet, but mostly our new buyers are recommended to us by satisfied current customers.

King’s Campers survived the recession by focusing heavily on cash and inventory management. "We really didn't have a choice. Our business dropped 40 percent in 2008. But, no one sluffed off and we hard-charged our way through the difficulty," he explained.

It was a tough battle, but the dealership has worked its way back to sales levels it enjoyed just before the recession it. Gajewski expects total sales to approach record levels in 2012.

"It took exceptional employees to help us survive," he said, noting that some family members went three months without receiving a paycheck to keep the dealership afloat and employees took turns with temporary lay-offs and working half-time. "Today King’s Campers staff is more unified and closer than ever. Together we have become a force with one common goal: beating the odds."

The dealership is one of the Top 10 Tiffin Motorhome dealers in the nation -- a track record King's Campers has enjoyed for many years prior to the recession, and a title he plans to recapture in 2012.

"Bob Tiffin and I are very good friends and we share the same business philosophy. In fact, he knows almost all of my employees by name," said Gajewski.

He credits that business philosophy of working together to the benefit of both companies with helping the dealership and the manufacturer to survive. Gajewski remembers several times when Tiffin noticed repetitive warranty claims coming from the dealership for the same problem. So, Tiffin called King's Campers to speak directly with the service advisor to learn what the company needed to do to correct the problem before the units shipped.

Gajewski said KZ President Darrell Zook also takes a similar interest in ensuring mutually beneficial relationships with his dealers. The fact that KZ and Tiffin earn Circle of Excellence Awards every year from the RV Dealers Association serves as testimony to their commitment to successful dealerships, he noted.

In addition to Tiffin and KZ products, King's Campers also carries Salem, Hemisphere, Cardinal, Blue Ridge, Open Range Light, and Winnebago View motorhomes.

Marketing magic

Having quality products for sale is one thing, but making others aware of that fact requires a consistent marketing effort -- and that's something for which Janice Skidmore is well aware. A former freelance marketing consultant, she's been employed full-time at the King's Campers for almost six years. But, she doesn't just focus on marketing. She'll also assist on the sales floor on busy days or during RV shows.

By staying active on the sales floor, she can keep tabs on customer needs. It was by doing this that she realized King’s Campers’ existing website needed to re-vamped to be more user-friendly. Thus four years ago the website was transformed to its current design which contains more pertinent and detailed information, and added features for customers to apply for financing, find trade value, and see sales advertisements.

She also noticed that noticed the need for more informative price tags. As a result, she did away with the old style handwritten signs and created computer generated price tags showing important information such as the dry weight of each camper. She also developed a way for shoppers to get detailed information about any unit on the lot at any time by creating placards with unit-specific QR codes that can be scanned with a smart phone for more detailed information. The result has been a lot that sells 24/7.

She has discovered that eight out of 10 customers visit the dealership's website or RV Trader as their first point of contact with the company. Consequently, she considers online communication with customers and potential buyers to be of utmost importance. To better facilitate that, Skidmore has been active in “engagement marketing” by creating accounts with Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, Yelp and Yahoo.

"A strong online presence ensures that people are speaking our message," she explained. “It also shows that we value the time customers have taken to visit our website, Faceook page, etc.”

Skidmore has created two taglines that she uses on every advertisement:
  • King’s Campers: Where Customers Rule
  • Wisconsin's most trusted RV dealer
Most of their marketing efforts rest in TV ads, radio spots and participation in local events, like the county fair, as well as by sponsoring various sport teams in the community. One little thing Skidmore does which she thinks customers really appreciate is marking units as “Sold” or “Pending” on King’s Campers website as soon as a deal is confirmed so that all viewers know whether or not a specific RV is sold. The information is left visible for a week because it’s understood that folks may not check every day.

"I have heard some people say dealers should leave sold units on the website without showing if they’re actually sold just to get customers to visit the lot," she explained. "But we don't want to waste our customers' time. We'd rather have what they are looking for when they arrive than to deceive them into thinking they can look at a particular unit that is no longer on our lot. By respecting their time, I am confident that when we have what they are looking for, they'll visit us again."

Servicing what they, and others, sell

When it comes to fixing RVs, King's Campers doesn't discriminate. They'll fix anything owned by anybody regardless of where the unit was purchased. The dealership has 12 service bays which are kept busy year round. Customers can even spend a night or two on the lot at a site that offers electricity and water.

"Camping is a way of life, and people who buy RVs do so to travel," Skidmore explained. "We will service more than 400 units annually and we try to wash each one before it leaves the lot."

To help technicians become more efficient, the dealership invests a great deal of time and money in training staff members to the point King's Campers is recognized as a certified service center for Hydro-Hot, HWH, KVH, Blue Ox, Freightliner and Powerglide. A dedicated woodshop allows technicians to repair or replace interior components as well.

Family business

Several of Gajewski's children work for the dealership including two sons, a daughter, a son-in-law, and a daughter-in-law. He said they are all well suited for their positions and could easily step in to run the company should something happen to him.
  • His son, Michael, works as the lot manager overseeing all deliveries as well as the installations of hitches and truck accessories.
  • Mike’s wife, Tammy, is parts manager.
  • Daughter, Teri, is the dealership's accountant who actually tutored Green Bay Packer players in calculus when she attended Norbert College.
  • Her husband, Mark, is a salesman at King’s.
  • His other son, John is the sales manager.
"A friend of mine owns a car dealership and he was telling me that the third generation of family members don't understand what he went through to build a successful business," Gajewski explained. "That's not the case at King's Campers. My kids worked side-by-side with me and each other to build our company. They know exactly what it takes to survive.

Over time, many family businesses devolve into two fighting factions with family members pitted against employees, he explained. But, at King's Campers, the staff works diligently to ensure that employees are treated like family.

Nobody is a prima donna at King's Campers. They are all willing to step up and get a job done. In fact, Gajewski said he will even wash campers if necessary, and even spent time in the service center.

To keep staff working at peak performance, he rewards his staff with time off for holidays during summer -- despite the fact it's the busy camping season. Although the firm was open July 4 this year for the first time ever, the staff enjoyed a three-day weekend July 6 to 8. They also get three days off over Labor Day.

"Two days off sometimes isn't enough," said Gajewski. "The shop guys and office staff really need an extended break to rejuvenate."

RVing is a fun hobby and it requires happy people to convey that sense of fun, Gajewski noted. "I know you can't be happy all the time, but you have got to enjoy what you do for a living or you can't be successful," he explained. "If you can make fun of your work, you can make your business grow."

For more information about the dealership, visit www.kingscampers.com.

Source: RVDailyReport.com