Let’s Go Glamping!

We sell a lot of vans to folks all over the country. One of the trends that I love seeing are the growing market of people taking cargo vans and turning them into mini-camper vans. This market surprised me when I started in the car business nearly 21 years ago. Back then we had requests a couple times a year. Now we sell them a few times a month.

These requests used to be on larger vans only. Now we get them on our smallest ProMaster City vans all the way through the ProMaster van line-up. So, whether you need 6, 8, 10, 12, or 13 feet of deck space, we have you covered.

The ProMaster City vans have 4 models. There is a City Tradesman Wagon or a SLT Wagon. Both of the Wagon models have 5 seats, and 54.7 inches of deck length behind the rear seats. 69.2 inches if the back seats are folded forward. With the 2.4L Tigershark motor and the 9-speed automatic they get great fuel economy and have lots of power without having to worry about turbos or premium fuel. They are also best in class with 1,885 lbs of payload, and 2,000 lbs of towing capacity when properly equipped. I’m 6′ 2″ and they have more than enough head room.

So, for a “small” van there is plenty of capability for camping and searching the countryside, and room for the camping gear, kids, dogs, and a partridge in a pear tree. Beep Beep!

Then, when you move up the size lineup to the full-size ProMasters line, they start with the 118 inch wheelbase. Here is a short video I made showing one off with the swivel seats.

2019 RAM ProMaster 118 WB with swivel seats.
Let’s Go Glamping!

The swivel seats are a popular choice for camper vans. So, when you are stopped you have chairs that can spin 180 degrees and face the rest of your van. No, we do not recommend doing this while driving. Even if you think you’re Tow Mater and the world’s best backwards driver. They still recline and have full adjustments. These seats are available as a factory options on all of the full size ProMaster vans, but must be added at the factory. They, unfortunately, cannot be retrofitted.

The 118 inch wheel base has 8 feet of deck space (behind the front seats to the rear doors). The 136 inch wheel base has 10 feet of deck space. The 159 inch wheelbase has 12 feet of deck space. While the longest van we make is the 159 inch wheelbase extended and that has 13 feet of deck space. There are two different roof heights with interior heights of 5 foot 5 inches or the high roof vans are 6 foot 4 inches. For more specific dimensions and helpful tips the RAM engineers made this website to walk through each vehicle. RAMbodybuilder.com (works best with Internet Explorer)

Each size can be configured into a tiny house on wheels.

Beep beep. Hit the road and see the country, or as many of our clients have done, countries. Road trek and Winnebago take our ProMaster vans and make full camper vans. Most of those are well over $100,000 USD. Cha-ching! So, it is understandable that there are many folks that are handy enough to make their own versions for much less. We have seen dirt bikers add fold up beds into the walls, and people just hanging hammocks inside the vans.

It has been fun to see all of the variations that people have come up with over the years. Some folks have the van as a work van and haul around padding to throw on the floor and a sleeping bag to go camping on the weekends. The weekend warriors are my people. There are those folks that would rather go out and buy the turnkey ready Winnebago version, but I admire the crafty people that can manage to fight off cursing, wipe up the blood stains, and deal with the agony of cutting the trim piece too short. The victory of putting together a completed van that is yours.

Sometimes we just want to get away, and reset ourselves.

Be a professional righter

Clearly, as you read these blogs you will find that I am far from a professional writer.

Sad, very sad.

The good news is I have learned to be a professional righter. I am not an expert. Experts stop learning, and I hope to some day die saying I never stopped learning. (Hopefully, the dying part takes quite a while)

According to Dictionary.com:

righter [rahy-ter]noun

a person who rights or redresses:a righter of wrongs.

We all make mistakes. I make mistakes. My dealership makes mistakes. The banks I deal with makes mistakes. The upfitters I use make mistakes. The manufacturers make mistakes. You get the point.

Own it and move on. This isn’t even a debate about whether the customer (another term I do not use, but in this example it works) is always right or not. It is a matter of honesty and integrity.

The key to this is patience and persistence. If you are not a patient person, working with work trucks and the clients we take care of is NOT for you. Our transactions take longer, and the products we produce take longer to receive. So, as they say in the military hurry up and wait. The rewards are more satisfy and our clients appreciate it. They reward us with relationships that last decades, instead of hours. We are in the relationship business. Not here to sell a truck and move on.

NEXT!

So, my suggestion is to track the problem back to the source and fix it right. Do not fix a problem be creating another problem. So, sometimes fixing it takes extra time and patience. (its almost like there is a theme in this post) If you fix the problem the right way then there will not be a snowballing avalanche of problems to follow.

For example, we received a quote from a vendor. They missed that the van we were building had sliding doors on both sides of the van. This is not a common option that we select from the factory. Once the van was in the shop it was clear to the upfitter that the mounting rails would not fit to install the shelving we had ordered. They called us in a panic. We asked for options that will not look ridiculous and not cost the client any shelving space. They ran two plausible scenarios by us. We called the client and told them the issues, and gave the client both options. The client couldn’t believe we were calling. Not because that there was a problem, but he couldn’t believe that we were calling to give him solutions! He picked the solution that we thought he would, but now he proactively knows, and there will not be any surprises.

Clients want someone who will be proactive, and communicate. Those communications need to be honest and understandable. It completely baffles me when people are surprised that I am telling them problems and that I have solutions. Apparently too often there are people who assume they can just deliver a product with alterations and it’s “no big deal,” or better yet, “now it’s their problem.

I prefer to make clients for life.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you have more specific questions feel free to contact me. I will do my best to help direct you on the right path.

How do I Build the Right Work Truck?

Clients come to us all the time. Many have a handle on what they want in their vehicle. Many do not.  They have an idea, but they do not want to build the wrong configuration.

Our job is to decipher the information and help build a functional vehicle that will efficiently make them money.

Where do we start? <Insert joke about “the beginning” here.>

I try to do a needs analysis with the client. This is easy when we have done business together before. However, when we are just meeting, this is often met with various levels of resistance. So, the key is to investigate not interrogate. We will get to that more in a minute.

The reason for the questions, are to make sure you have thought or know all of the options available. Our clients are well educated in the art of configuring vehicles. Some clients way over-think it, and some just haven’t had enough experience in what is available. This usually results in them spending too much. So, we take more time to figure out what the vehicle will be used for. That way we can make sure that the vehicles are as versatile as possible. The drivers using the vehicle can make one trip instead of multiple trips, or take one vehicle instead of two or three vehicles. That way they save on fuel, maintenance, and as much overhead as possible. So, why the extra expenses? To save you more money overall.

Clients often get interrogated. Why? Why? Why? The sales person sounds more like an inquisitive 5-year-old instead of a guide. That is all we are in sales. Guides. We gather information and relay suggestions so people can make educated decisions. If you are selling, then you are trying too hard. Just guide the clients through the options and they will naturally want to do business with you and always come back for more. So, investigating and asking questions that will help a client understand WHY we are asking the basic questions will help everyone succeed. More often than not we have to educate them on what their friend did, or thought the friend did is not exactly what we need to do to be the most efficient and effective.

If you have an electrician and he has been working in a low roof van for years. We point out the lost time when your electrician has knee problems because he has to crawl in and out of his overflowed van. If we buy a little bigger van that has a high roof, now the employee can walk in and out of the van. Have more area to store parts and therefore find the parts quicker, or have them at all at once instead of needing to make multiple trips. Plus, with us based in the Northwest, it rains. They now have a working mobile canopy area to assemble parts and pieces for the job site.

I stopped trying to sell vehicles years ago. Ironically, people buy more vehicles every year from my team and me than the year prior. They call us, and we do not harass them with “you wanna buy something? No? How about now?”

We as a dealer we rely on a lot of outside information. We gather that information from the manufacturers like RAM. I use their RAMBodyBuilder.com pages constantly. As well as, the upfit manufacturers like Knapheide and their detailed specification pages. Plus, the expertise of our local upfitters, like Allied Body Works. The NTEA (National Trucking and Equipment Association) is a vital resource for all of us. So, together with all of this combined knowledge of previous successes and failures, we can help save you time and money.

We could all use more time and money.

Working on the work truck side of a dealer for 15 plus years as allowed me the experience of witnessing plenty of the successes and failures. Being on the cautious side of life, thankfully the failures I have endured are minor learning experiences. I have had to tell more than a few people that we will not build their project for legal reasons. Liability to a dealership is a real thing. We never want to put a vehicle out there on the road that we know will eventually injure someone. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people that ask me to turn a blind eye to these, and I gladly tell them no.

Honesty and integrity are something that can be easily earned, and easily lost. However, once you lose it is gone. Clients may give us a second chance, but the likelihood is slim to none. So, every opportunity is appreciated and taken very seriously.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you have more specific questions feel free to contact me. I will do my best to help direct you on the right path.

Vendors. Love ’em, or abuse the snot out of them?

In my 20 plus years in this industry I have seen managers over the years take two approaches to how they handle vendors. We all know we need them. Our clients have requests that we cannot satisfy without the help of outside vendors. I know I need flatbeds, dump bodies, internet service, and paperclips. The question is where and how do we deal with them.

The first approach I have seen over the years is to abuse the snot out of them. I have witnessed verbal abuse and downright crazy harassment. When I first started in this business, I was pretty much TAUGHT that this is the way we work with our vendors. The typical “show them who’s the boss” approach. I studied this, and found it perplexing. Coming from my upbringing I could relate to this. My father had a similar approach to being a parent.

The second approach is to love ’em. This approach is to treat them more like a friend than a resource. I can personally relate to this approach more. In the first example while learning the ins and outs of the car biz, I would often have to work with the vendors. I just wasn’t the decision maker. Meaning, I was a trusted resource in the dealership to get the dirty work done, I just wasn’t picking the vendors or what they would be supplying.

As I moved up the ladder, I had more and more say in who did what. Now I get to chose which vendors to abuse or love. Yay me! Starting this department five years ago, I was bringing in resources that no one here had seen nor heard of. Commercial vehicles are apparently big and scary. Mostly, because they are not cheap, so if you don’t know what you are doing it can be easy to be sitting on a ton of very expensive, very large paper weights.

By working closely with your vendors and giving them the love approach I have broken past a lot of the walls that they are used to throwing up when talking to their other clients. They give me more insight to what works nationwide, more discounts that are not available to all, and now we talk on a daily basis. Heck, we call each other to vent about life (and work).

Now they call me as a resource.

Say what now?

Yes, I take the time to talk to and help my vendors. They often need insight to a different manager, or department. They need help understanding a request from another dealer. They need help in trusting or not trusting another dealer. “Have you ever dealt with (X dealer)?” My favorite is when I get a question like, “Hey, we are building this for another dealer, I need this spec, and they cannot answer the question. If I give you the VIN, can you answer the question?”

There are downfalls to my love it approach. Time. I came in at 6 AM this morning to catch up on work. Guess what. Someone decided to call a vendor and erase all the programs in our system that I needed to print documents. So, I am writing this blog while I wait for the vendors to be available. Ironic.

The main reason time and the love it approach are a downfall, is that you become known as a resource. To everyone. I get calls from vendors, departments, factory reps, factory reps bosses, other stores, factory reps outside of my area, vendors vendors (yes, vendors need vendors too). Usually, these questions are quick, but sometimes, it takes 45 minutes to get enough information to answer a question with an intelligent answer.

All of that being said, the downfalls in my opinion are far outweighed by the results. I have so many close friends now that I have met because they started out as a vendor. Now, they think it is hilarious that when we talk we often laugh more than we talk shop.

Don’t get me wrong either. I am not easy to work with. I have expectations that I hold to all of my contacts and vendors. Honesty, quality control, knowledge, and of course timeliness. I will probably write a blog or twenty about timeliness, but we will save that for another day.

So, yes, in my opinion, abusing your vendors, and ridiculing them will not get you far in life. Love your vendors. They are people too. Yesterday, one of our transportation drivers thanked Victoria in my office. He said, he wanted to thank us for always having the vehicle ready and for being nice to him. come to find out he is going through a nasty divorce, and some of the dealers have just been awful to work with. Here a man in I would guess to be his 50s. Surprising a young lady, by saying thank you for just being pleasant to work with.

We all need support. Help me help you help me. I often jokingly say to my contacts. It’s true. Like a great marriage. The love goes both ways.