Mount Comfort is capitalizing on the recreational vehicle industry's post-recession peak
By Adam Burroughs
With the recreational vehicle industry churning on all cylinders, Mount Comfort RV is looking to capitalize on the momentum that’s driving record sales for the Greenfield, Indiana, dealer.
Having escaped the sales doldrums brought on by the Great Recession, Ken Eckstein, owner and COO of Mount Comfort RV, says the industry is riding high, breaking decades-old production records. As a result of a swell of interest from a new generation of RV enthusiasts, his dealership is sitting on top of the industry’s rising tide, selling 850 units in 2018—its highest single-year sales ever.
“Millennials are embracing the lifestyle we offer,” he says. “For years, our bread and butter were people 55 and older looking to vacation, looking to travel. But we’re seeing our demographic getting younger, and we’re seeing more families saying, ‘We want to get outdoors, we want to be with our family, we want to unplug from the internet.' And I think that those people are driving the growth that we’re seeing right now.”
A change in marketing
While some things have stayed the same, Eckstein’s advertising methods have changed to adapt to the internet age.
“Twenty years ago, 44 percent of the people who walked in our door came in from the phone book. We haven’t done phone book advertising in 10 years,” he says. “We’ve been very active in social media.”
But the shift isn’t just to better target younger people who grew up on technology. “There are people in their 60s who are very comfortable sitting at home in front of the computer looking for an RV dealer,” he says.
Eckstein says it was his son, Rusty, today the company’s president, who made the push—despite Eckstein’s resistance—for a greater presence on social media by insisting on hiring a social media manager to handle advertising through those channels and to manage the company’s website.
“Months into this position, a product became available,” he says. “It was a retro product, limited edition. We sold 106 trailers—this from a dealership that, at that point, was doing 120 to 150 new trailers a year. We sold 106 of one brand; 80 of them were pre-sold before the unit was even in production, all through social media.”
In April 2006, Eckstein purchased Mark’s RV Sales, and with it, established Mount Comfort RV. At the time of the acquisition, Mark’s had just 62 RVs on the lot and 16 employees to get them out the door.
Eckstein’s strategy in those earliest days was to leverage his geography. He was sandwiched between two of the area’s megadealers, which were billboard rich, spending millions to advertise to traffic on I-70 and I-65.
He says that contrary to his competitors, Mount Comfort was the nice guy, low pressure. His dealership lived off the overflow of the bigger dealers.
“They could afford to let deals slip through cracks. We couldn’t,” he says. “So in the beginning, being small like we were, it was easier to focus on every detail.”
That approach meant that, when the downturn hit, Mount Comfort was dialed in.
“We were lean, we were mean, we were focused,” he says.
As the market struggled, the bigger dealerships began cutting back. Eckstein didn’t have to; rather, his dealership grew through the downturn. And when the market rebounded, Mount Comfort came out swinging.
“Last Friday, I had exactly 500 RVs in stock, and we currently have 61 employees,” he says.
Time to shine
With momentum on its side, Mount Comfort is in the midst of a $5 million expansion that includes a 37,000-square-foot building with a showroom, parts store, sales offices, and customer lounge.
Eckstein says that with the RV market at a plateau, now is the time to capitalize with improvements. The company is also making a major investment in personnel ahead of the completion of the new building. He expects he could grow his staff to 85 and to incorporate training for its service department, so they can upgrade their skills and strengthen Mount Comfort’s position in the market.
The improved facilities should also continue to boost Mount Comfort’s position in the eyes of manufacturers, which are always keen to find the best places to showcase their latest models.
“Right now, we look awfully good to many of the manufacturers out there,” Eckstein says. “Once we get our new building in place, people will say, ‘That’s the lot I want to be on.’”
Mount Comfort and the three banks
Ken Eckstein, owner and COO of Mount Comfort RV, says he spent years looking for the right bank. Around 2010 to 2011, the company was too big for small banks, but too small for big banks. He says that when he was with a small, community bank, Mount Comfort was among its largest clients, which he felt brought additional pressure on his business to succeed. When he transferred to a large national bank, he felt like a fly on the wall, nearly ignored. Then he found Huntington.
“What first drew us to Huntington is that we felt that they were big enough to do everything that we needed but local enough that we’d get the small-town attention that we thought we deserved,” Eckstein says.
He says the staff at Huntington is approachable, accessible, and honest. It’s a bank that gets all the little things right, he says, which adds up to a big success.