Industry Interview– Gunter Thoma, RV Consultant
Mike Thompson’s RV Super Stores
We are at the 65th Annual California RV Show at the Fairplex in Pomona. We spoke with Gunter Thoma on a busy Wednesday morning about being on the sales side of the RV industry. Gunter has been an RV Consultant for 12 years, the last 5 years with Tiffin Motorhomes and does 7-8 RV shows each year across California. Gunter specializes in Tiffin Motorhomes.
AARV: Thank you Gunter for taking the time to speak with me today. How long have you been in RV Sales?
Gunter: I have been in the RV sales industry for 10 years. I owned my own boat business prior to this and sold family boats, mostly trailerables up to about 38 feet.
AARV: Tiffin is known as a family-run and family oriented business. Do they consider Sales Reps and dealers as family and do they know every sales rep personally?
Gunter: The Tiffin’s are extremely family oriented. It is amazing that Bob Tiffin remembers every person he has spoken to in relation to a client or customers need. It could be something simple 10 years ago about an issue with a customer’s RV and he remembers the conversation and the person.
AARV: Why did you go from boats to RV’s?
Gunter: 2008 was a tough year as you know, and it was a very tough year for boat sales. Boats are a less practical luxury than an RV and not everyone is comfortable on the water. RV’s bring families and people together. Also, as we have seen with all the recent hurricanes in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and up the east coast, boats can easily be destroyed. With an RV in a hurricane or other natural disaster, you have a second home and can evacuate easily.
AARV: Do most of your clients follow a progression of ownership leading up to a Tiffin, or do most buy Tiffin as their first bus or motorhome?
Gunter: It is almost like home buying. People start out small with a tract home and move up to a second, third and fourth home. It is very similar with RV’s. Most buyers don’t generally buy a Tiffin as their first RV. It takes time to decipher the evidence as to what makes a quality RV.
AARV: Most of us in the industry recognize Tiffin as a very high-quality product. What makes Tiffin one of the top companies in the market?
Gunter: Mr. Tiffin has never lived an extravagant lifestyle. His focus is on family, community and his business. Much of their profits are reinvested into the factory, equipment, business and customer service. I believe that is what sets Tiffin apart. You can literally pick up the phone and call Bob or one of his sons and speak to them. It is not like that in a company that is corporate owned and run.
AARV: What percentage of your clients live full time on the road?
Gunter: I believe that about 35% of my Tiffin clients live full time on the road.
AARV: I have read that many people, of all ages, are selling their homes and taking to living on the road full time. Many say it is cheaper than home ownership. Is this your understanding and could you briefly explain why that might be?
Gunter: I am not sure about that. I believe that it is the lifestyle that draws people to live full time on the road. If you don’t like your neighbor, you just unplug and drive away…seriously, there are some very expensive buses that sell into the millions of dollars. I think it is the lifestyle that is attractive.
AARV: We discussed that boat sales suffer during poor economic cycles, how does the RV Sales industry perform during down economic periods?
Gunter: It doesn’t impact the full-time segment as much since they live in their RV and that is their home. It does however impact the part-time segment who purchase for vacations and occasional trips. Those purchases are usually deferred until the economy strengthens.
AARV: What demographic (age and economic status) does Tiffin market to?
Gunter: We have different brands that are designed and geared to certain age groups. Our Allegro is designed for the 28-50 demographic; the Allegro Red to… say 28-58 demo; the Phaeton to the 35-62 demographic and our buses are marketed to the 40-75 demographic.
AARV: Where do you see the RV market going in the next 5 years and what innovations do you see down the road?
Gunter: I see rocket powered RV’s!! Just kidding. Computer technology is always evolving and advancing.
AARV: How about self-driving RV’s like the automobile and commercial trucking industries?
Gunter: That is a long way down the road… we are not even sniffing at that yet.
AARV: What is the most significant change that YOU have personally seen or experienced in your career?
Gunter: I would have to say the efficiency of RV manufacturing. It has gotten to be a science. Profit margins are much closer to the bone than ever before… and that is due to competition, efficiencies in manufacturing and streamlined distribution.
AARV: How do you “right size” an RV for a buyer?
Gunter: I just ask them. I ask them what is their budget, experience and travel plans. I also ask them about their ability to drive and if they have any fears driving a large vehicle.
AARV: What is the most important advice that you can give to a new RV buyer?
Gunter: Integrity of the company for sure! Is the owner personally involved in the business and do they have a stake in the customers happiness? Decisions made by family owners can be very different from decisions made by managers in a corporate environment.
AARV: What do you think of the solar power industry and how does it relate to the RV industry?
Gunter: Yes, I absolutely believe in it. Solar power prevents an awful lot of grief in an RV. It is really miserable when the batteries are dead.
AARV: What are your thoughts on Camping Memberships and Timeshares?
Gunter: They are great, I love them. They are an excellent way to maximize your trip and get the best value where you are staying.
AARV: On average, how often to clients buy up or downsize their RV’s?
Gunter: About every five years I would say, most RV’ers buy up to a larger RV…until they reach about age 75.
AARV: Is an RV show the best time to buy or should a buyer attend a show, shop around, discuss features and then buy after a show once they have digested all the information and knowledge gained at the show?
Gunter: That is a great question. The function of an RV Show is to give the buyer selection and price. Factory Reps, General Managers, Dealers and Owners need RV Shows to succeed. They often take deals that they otherwise would not consider as unit counts need to be achieved.
AARV: I really appreciate your time Gunter. I can see that you guys are really busy at this show…thank you. Have a great show the rest of the week.
Gunter Thoma can be reached at Mike Thompson’s RV SuperStores ,Colton, CA
Office Tel: (909) 825-2433