Friday, September 11, 2015

Choosing a dealer & getting bids

It stands to reason that a lot of RV buyers don't have any choice when it comes to their dealer.  When they find an RV they like and it's sitting in a dealer's parking lot, that pretty much limits their options.

If you're shopping around for a used RV, the only time you might shop for a dealer is when more than one dealer has exactly what you're looking for.  Then it may come down to who offers the best price.

When you know what you want to buy and you're buying it new (and used, in some cases), it's a sure bet that you'll have an opportunity to shop around for a dealer that meets your criteria.  Here's what we looked for in a dealer:
  • Price
  • Friendly salespeople who frequently communicate with you and take their time with you when you visit
  • Location near your home (if in a S&B) or a location that you can visit during the purchase
  • A good service center that is recognized by the maker of the RV
We consider Price first, because when you shop around for a dealer for your rig, they can be the nicest people in the world and still have the highest price you've ever seen.  Not what you really want, especially if the price difference with other offers is really large.

Getting price proposals/bids from dealers

If you see a RV you really want, it's probably a good idea to send your itemized list and any special requirements out to at least four reputable dealers.  Be sure to include your local dealer; you may be surprised at how competitive they can be.

In our case, we were ordering a Newmar to be built specifically for us (not a stock unit on the lot).  We wrote down what we wanted and sent it to our local dealer, another dealer we had only spoken with on the phone, one in North Carolina that we had visited, and a very large dealer with a good reputation for selling RVs nationally.

We actually felt a bit guilty when we sent out the requests because our local dealer had spent so much time showing us units, taking us for test drives, and sitting and answering our questions.  We really liked him, but we had heard the prices offered (at our price point) could vary as much as $15,000 between dealers!  We wanted so much to work with the local dealer not only because we liked them, but because we could easily drive over to do paperwork, resolve any issues, and more.   We actually wanted to stay local so much that we agreed (to ourselves) that we would go with him if he was within a few thousand dollars of the lowest bid we received.

When all of the bids came in, the lowest price came from the biggest dealer.  We went over and had an honest discussion with the local salesman who had spent so much time helping us.  He listened to us and came back a couple of days later with a price that matched our lowest offer.  At that point, it was a done deal.  We would be working with the same people who had been spending time with us for the past months as we dreamed about what we wanted and asked more questions that I could count.

Keep a Log

When you talk to more than one salesman, whether it's in person or on the phone, keep a log. Use a spreadsheet, Microsoft OneNote (my favorite!), or some app to write up notes about every phone call.  That way, when you call them back or they call you unexpectedly, you'll immediately be able to recall the details your last conversation.  Here are the columns I use in my OneNote table:
  • Dealer
  • Salesman
  • Phone
  • Cell
  • Web address (dealer)
  • Email address (salesman)
  • Notes
Your log should be easily accessible, even from our phone if that's possible.  I always use the notes field to keep notes about my latest discussion with the salesman, i.e. "Spoke w/John 9/8 re: price for the additional outlet.  He thinks $30, but will check with tech and CB 9/9".   When you are working hard to buy an RV, there are a million details.  It's really nice to have this when John calls unexpectedly a few days later and says "Hi, Mike.  Got the price.  It's $45."   I don't have to remember what he's talking about because I'm glancing at my notes.

I use my logs to not only document interactions with salespeople, but with vendors for various products we plan to add to the coach in the future. This includes things like towing apparatus, satellite TV, and wifi range extenders.

The Salesman (or Saleswoman)

When you first talk to a salesman, go with your instincts as to whether you like him and can work with him.  If he says he'll be with you in a minute but you don't see him for twenty, that's not good.  If he seems to always be in a hurry or needing to be someplace else, that's not good either.  You might feel embarrassed, but don't be shy about asking for someone else if you are ever uncomfortable.  When you're making a purchase as large as some of these RVs, you'll want someone who you feel understands you, your goals, your issues, and just about anything else you want to tell him.

If your salesman greets you with a smile, is relaxed, not in a hurry, asks about your life (where are you from, have you owned an RV before, where have you traveled, etc), doesn't just answer your questions but explains things in more detail...then you probably have a winner.

Local Dealer - or not

Working with someone who is near you and who you can talk to face-to-face is a real bonus.  When you walk through a coach and can talk about the stove, and the toilet and more directly with the salesman, he really gets a good understanding of what you want.  You can't get these interactions with someone in another state.

On the other hand, if you've really done your research and been to a few RV shows, you may really have a handle on what you want.  In this case, you're just looking for the best price.  Dealers across the country are more than glad to sell you a RV - even if they never see you.  Everything can be done with e-mail and snail mail.  You can arrange to fly to their location and drive it home, or to have someone drive it to you.

The bottom line is that you can always get your RV at the lowest price you find, but it's hard to replace the intangibles you get from using a local dealer.  Consider that tradeoff when you make your  choice.

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