We have been full-timers for only two weeks now. We have learned about propane, plumbing, and the demands of living in a small space. We have also learned that the RV retail business, at least in this corner of the world, needs to do a lot better if it is to compete with the Walmarts of the world.
Just about two miles down the road from our campsite there is a store that is supposed to be the local RV supply and repair center. But when you walk in you see a space that hasn’t been cleaned in decades. A motley selection of RV shower heads, tire covers and sewer pipes lie around, mostly covered in a thick layer of dust. A pile of tires hides an empty 1960’s era jukebox, and peeling business cards and handwritten notes cover the walls near the paper calendar. The prices are affixed to items with hand-written stickers, and the transaction receipt comes out of one of those triplicate carbon paper contraptions with the handles on the side.
Maybe this passes for rustic charm, but just two more miles further along is Walmart, Canadian Tire and Home Depot. Their prices are better, their service is better, and there’s far less dust on the merchandise.
What I find crazy about this is that there are a lot of campers here. And there’s even more just up the road at the KOA. This little store could multiply its business ten-fold if it just got a little more proactive in terms of not merely selling goods to these eager RVers, but also providing advice about how to run and maintain their rigs. Sure, the big box stores might be able to sell for less, but their staff generally do not have the type of knowledge about products and places of interest that the locals do.
I have found the same thing when trying to reserve campsites. Many of them have an online reservation form where you basically say, “Hey, my money and I would like to stay in one of your spaces for a while. Is that OK?” I would have thought that would have been sufficient incentive for a merchant to check the email in-box at least once a day. But on five separate occasions now I have waited three business days before picking up the phone and calling to make the reservation.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that, if you want to stay in business, especially with so many other campsites out there, as well as other properties like farms offering RV stopovers in an AirBnB fashion, and also given that most people do actually prefer to shop and order stuff using their computer and smartphone – maybe it would be a good idea to respond, and do so quickly. Like within the hour.
These small-time mom-and-pop shops have something special that the corporate giants can’t provide, and that’s a personal touch. Their special, intimate style of selling can turn them into indispensable ambassadors for the area. They will have an endless influx of customers during the spring and summer months, and they could also take on the ecommerce giants at their game, shipping parts to wherever they are needed.
Many merchants blame the big box stores for devouring their business, but there is more to business than price and selection. There is the personal aspect in which customers are made to feel special at every moment, from the time they first discover the store until long after the sale is made.
Maybe the owner of the store I visited is friendly. aybe he is the font of all wisdom. I will never know, because for the entire 15 minutes that I browsed his dusty shelves, I never saw him or anyone else. They were outback, working on a tire or something. So I went to Walmart instead.