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What started with Shirley Moran, a young woman who had a desire to find a new trailer for her parents, has now blossomed into an RV dealership with a rich and storied tradition. Arlington RV, located in East Greenwich, RI, has been serving customers in the Rhode Island and surrounding area for nearly 70 years.
We had the opportunity to speak with parts manager Jim Tarro to discuss Arlington RV’s fascinating history and exciting plans for the future, including the development of an exclusive web forum for the RV community.
Arlington RV has been around for nearly 70 years. Tell us about the storied history of your business.
Jim: “In 1946, my grandmother, Shirley Moran, graduated from Brown University, which was Pembroke College at the time. She became a civil engineer and actually got kicked off of the job site when she became pregnant with my uncle because it was the 40s and they could do that.
In that time period, her parents were searching for a new trailer. She helped them find one and discovered there was a market. Her husband was a chemist, so they would drive out to Indiana on weekends, come back, sell the unit that week and repeat the process. They were eventually able to start the business in 1948.
Today, my mother and aunt own the business. My cousin is the general manager and I am the parts manager.”
You have become Rhode Island’s sole RV dealership. What key contributors have kept the dealership successful in times where other business have failed?
Jim: “Prior to the recession, there were five or six dealerships in Rhode Island and we ended up being the only survivor. I believe some of our success is based on our history, which speaks for itself. We have a great reputation of being a family-owned dealership. When someone walks in, it’s a personal feel. We have one-on-one interactions with our customers and value those relationships. We know people by name and go out of our way for our customers because we treat them like family. We are also known for having a very strong parts and service department.”
What methods have proven to be most successful in marketing your business?
Jim: “We use all of the normal media such as TV, radio and email. We have our website and advertise through other websites. Surprisingly, however, we’ve found that our direct mail is our most successful marketing method. Once a year, we put out a newspaper that includes news on the industry and lifestyle, and people expect to receive it. We hear about it if they don’t. That’s easily been our biggest success.”
What have been the most effective ways to generate revenue for your business?
Jim: “To be honest, it’s following up with our current customers. If you’re going to sit there and wait for customers to come, you’re going to have a difficult time. We do a great job of providing our customers with marketing materials and personal interaction. Previous customers are, by far, our largest source of income. That ties back to having a personal environment and having a high-performing parts and service department.
We also use IDS CRM, and that’s been a huge help for our sales team. By having a CRM tied to our IDS software, we’ve been able to get rid of a few other services we’ve been using because the IDS CRM does it all from initial engagement to the continual follow-up.”
You have started an interesting side project and created an online forum for RV professionals. How is it progressing?
Jim: “It’s a little stalled right now because I’m finishing up school, but the groundwork is there. Working in the RV industry, I’ve discovered that there’s a big disconnect between dealers as far as technology goes. For example, IDS has great answers to how a product should be used, but, as a dealer, you have to figure out what works for you. I started this forum to give those in the RV industry a way to bounce ideas off of each other. It’s called rvitpro.com and you need to request membership to access it, so it has some privacy to it. I screen all of the memberships.
The site has board topics and a vendor area. It has an area for dealer management systems and networking. It’s very niche, but built for IT professionals in the RV world. The more people we can have involved, the more we can progress, so hopefully we’ll generate some momentum in the coming years.”
You’ve touched some on IDS. How long have you used this dealer management software and what features have helped you the most?
Jim: “We’ve used IDS for 15 years. We had a custom-built system prior. I know, at the time, my uncle wanted something more dealer-centric, which is exactly what IDS is.
The whole point of IDS and the reason it works so well is that there’s no one thing that stands out, it’s the fact that everything works together. For example, when I update a sales deal, it takes parts out of inventory and puts it on a work order. It’s almost as if one person is doing something secretly yet communicating with everyone.
The sales-quoting system works very, very well for us. The service scheduler is also nice. Everything is very visual, so it’s easy to see what’s going on rather than just having work order names and numbers. It’s nice to get a quick snapshot of what’s going on. For the first time, we’re able to track our mechanic’s efficiency, which has allowed us to discover some areas where we can improve as well as some areas that we didn’t know were as good as they were.”
Are there any reports or key metrics in IDS that you utilize in order to make good business decisions?
Jim: “There are a couple of custom reports that I’ve built that have helped out immensely. On the parts side, our parts sales report tells me how we’re doing particular months. All of the KPIs are fantastic. I love the Average Sale Per ticket this month vs. last month report. For me, parts is very metric-based, so it’s great to see all of that. In service, all the efficiency stuff is good. In sales, it’s good to see how your salespeople stack up and how that relates to profit margins.”
Do you find it easy to build reports?
Jim: “It takes a little practice, but once you know what you’re looking to do, it can give you some great information and some flexibility. I don’t know any other software that gives you that kind of capabilities. It’s very customizable.”
What future goals do you have for your dealership and how will IDS help you achieve those goals?
Jim: “The long-term goal is to grow the dealership and expand to additional locations. That’s obviously an option that’s available in IDS. It’s great knowing that if we decide to expand, IDS will accommodate us and help us grow.”
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