Yesterday we went to the 2014 Florida RV Supershow at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa. We always enjoy RV shows as they give you a chance to look at hundreds of different RV models in a low sales pressure environment.
In a sense it’s like home shopping, except the homes are lined up next to each other which makes it easy to compare them. I also love that you can go back and forth between models, as your impression will change over the course of the day. An RV that looked pretty impressive at the start of the show may not look that great after you’ve walked though a hundred other models.
RVs at the show ranged from very modest T@B Teardrop Trailers (less than $10,000) up to Marathon Prevost Bus Conversions. The Liberty Conversion Prevost I walked through was listed for $2.4 Million!!!
While we had a great time at the show (read my tips for getting the most out of an RV show), there were two things that caught my attention:
#1 – Every RV at the show is for sale. As one salesman said to me, “The dealers DO NOT want to drive these RVs back to the sales lot.” Consequently, Every RV at the show has a large sign or sticker advertising Show Special Pricing.
#2 – Show Special Pricing in many cases is still thousands – and sometimes tens of thousands – more than you should pay for an RV.
How Much Should You Pay For an RV?
First of all, how do I know that show special pricing is inflated? Simple, I found a new Winnebago Aspect that had the same MSRP as our Aspect ($116K). The Show Pricing was listed at $99K – a modest 15% discount. We bought our Aspect directly from a dealer in California and paid many thousands less than the $99K Show Pricing we saw advertised.
An even better example was the pricing on a model we really liked – the Tuscany XTE 40GQ. The retail price of that model is $294K and the show pricing was $235K (picture at the top of this article). That may seem like a solid discount at $20% off. That would be wrong!
I checked online at RVTrader.com. I found a listing for the same RV – a 2014 Tuscany XTE 40GQ – from the same Florida RV dealer that had the RV Show Pricing of $235K. What was their RV Trader Price? Try only $220K – an additional savings of $15,000, or a 25% discount off MSRP. (I suspect that there’s another $5K – $10K discount in there too as large RVs typically have a large markup from invoice.)
Note the difference between a markup and a discount. If the dealer buys an RV at invoice for $100,000 and the retail markup is 40% that equals $140K. A 30% discount from retail equals $98,000 ($140K x 70% = $98K) – or less than invoice. In this case a 25% discount is more reasonable as that still gives the dealer some profit and gives you a fair price.
Clearly RV dealers want to give themselves additional room to negotiate at the show. I completely understand that, however I suspect that many of the people at the show aren’t aware that the show special price is a starting point that’s many thousands of dollars higher than what they should pay.
I’m also not trying to single out any RV Dealer which is why I photoshopped out the dealer information. In my experience every RV Dealer uses this tactic, both at RV Shows as well as on the dealer lot. I’m also not suggesting the Dealers are trying to rip you off. They have a right to make a living just like anyone else, and if the consumer doesn’t do their homework and is willing to pay more, well that’s capitalism for you.
What I am suggesting is that if you are planning to purchase a new RV, make sure you’re as informed about the specific model you’d like to purchase as possible, and find out how much you should be paying before you step on a dealer lot. Fortune favors the prepared.
How to Get The Best Possible Deal on an RV
I learned this method from buying cars, but it works just as well when buying RVs.
First, it’s only fair that you’re 100% sure that the model you’re negotiating on is the model you plan to purchase. Don’t go through the effort of getting the best price only to change your mind at the last moment. You’ll weaken your ability to negotiate the next RV – at least with the RV Dealers you worked with the first time around, and it’s a complete waste of your time to boot.
Once you know the model, then you need to find several dealers that carry that brand and model. The best way to do this is to go to RVTrader.com and enter the year, make, and model you’d like to purchase. While it’s helpful to target dealers that are close to you, it’s not necessary for the first step. You can also find dealers by simply searching for the make/year/model using Google or Bing or both – the more the merrier.
Next, contact the dealers through either their website or their RV Trader listing so that you’re in touch with the Internet Manager. Most dealers have a specific person that deals with all the internet traffic, as internet buyers tend to be more savvy and almost always start negotiating at a lower price point because the dealer assumes (correctly) that they’ve already compared prices online.
Now the fun part begins. Ask all of the dealers individually what the best price is they can give you on the model you’re planning to buy. Some of them will tell you that the RV Trader or Internet price is their rock bottom price, and others will knock off a few thousand dollars or more. You might be surprised by how much some of them are willing to drop their price just from asking.
Next take the lowest price you receive and contact each of the other dealers and ask them if they will beat that price. If you have an emailed quote then you can forward that email to other dealers for verification, but usually a call or email referencing the lower priced dealer is just fine as well. [box_right]Note that some RVs will have options that raise or lower the price by anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars, so make sure you take that into account.[/box_right]
If one of the dealers is willing to beat the price you then go back to the first dealer and ask them if they’ll beat THAT price, and you can rinse and repeat as long as dealers keep dropping their price.
This method is what I’d consider ‘grinding’ dealers. Don’t feel bad about it! Note that the dealers don’t have to give you anything they don’t want to, and that on the flip side they’re more than happy to charge people far more than they need to pay. Don’t feel bad for trying to get the best possible price – and yes, some dealers will try to guilt you or cry poor. This is just a sales tactic, so ignore it and move on. Once you take possession of the RV the only thing that will matter is that you saved the most money possible.
Alternatively, if you find an incredible price on RV Trader from a dealer, and the dealer is either too far away or already sold the RV you can ask a closer dealer if they’ll match the price on that model. Some will and some won’t, and that’s fine. Sometimes the crazy low prices are only on a demo RV (used at a show or for demo drives). If that’s the case you can’t expect a dealer to match that price on a brand new rig (but it doesn’t hurt to ask).
Long story short, do as much negotiation BEFORE you step on a dealer lot as possible for the best results and the lowest purchase price.
It usually makes the most sense to buy the RV from a local dealer. If you can save $1000 but will need to fly to your destination and drive the RV home, that will cost you more than what you’re saving (obviously).
We found our Aspect 30C listed for less at Lichtsinn Motors – the Winnebago dealer that’s located in Forest City Iowa, only one mile from the Winnebago plant. By purchasing through Lichtsinn we would have saved a couple thousand dollars. I figure because they’re in Forest City and one of the largest Winnebago dealers they get the best pricing from the factory and have relatively low overhead compared to the California dealer we purchased from.
The problem is it costs as much as $300 for a one-way flight, and then it’s about a 2,000 mile drive to the west coast. That’s another $1000 for fuel, not to mention a 3 or 4 day drive, plus the cost of campgrounds, etc… We opted to buy from a local dealer that offered us a solid price instead.
If you have the time, energy, and inclination you may want to travel to get your RV and have it’s maiden voyage be the long drive home. Honestly I would have preferred to do it that way as I would have liked to put the first miles on our rig, but we simply didn’t have the time or flexibility back then. Of course now thing are different. 🙂
Good Preparation Will Save You Money
To be fully prepared when you negotiate the price on your next RV, I recommend you get a copy of the RV Buyer’s Survival Guide.
Author Bob Randall is a 25-year industry veteran, and he worked at both an RV manufacturer and RV dealer. Bob clearly explains how industry markups and discounts work. He covers all RV types, including pop-up trailers, travel trailers, fifth wheels, Class B/C, and Class A. This is important as each type of RV is marked-up and discounted differently.
Bob even shares how to get the best deal when you trade in your RV. This type of financial information is invaluable when sitting at the dealer’s office – it can literally save you thousands.
If you haven’t yet decided to purchase an RV, the author also discusses other topics that will help you while you’re starting your research. These subjects include: how to determine your ‘real’ RV needs, a glossary of terms (which can get confusing), the pros and cons for each class of RV, and even the best time to buy.
This book is easy to read at just under 100 pages long and we think it’s an essential resource for any and all future RV buyers.
I really enjoy visiting RV Shows. Not only are they a great place to get ideas for your own RV, but there are also thousands of RV accessories for sale, campground membership information from dozens of different campground networks, and you can even tour super high-end RVs like the Prevost I walked through.
It helps to plan ahead by targeting specific models that you think you’ll be interested in. That said, stay flexible. As great as an RV may look in the brochure, it’s a whole different animal when you’re actually walking through it. Pay attention to things like fit and finish – especially the way drawers, shelves, and cupboards open, close and line up with each other as well as what parts are built using real wood, tile, or granite/Corian, vs. what’s laminate, linoleum, and formica. Some manufacturers cut corners in obvious and unacceptable ways, so pay attention to the differences from make to make and model to model.
If you haven’t been yet, we hope you have the opportunity to visit an RV show soon. They really are fun, and they’re educational too (RV classes!). It’s also interesting to walk through dozens – or hundreds of RVs. There are so many unique models and options that there really is something for everyone.
Our best advice is do your homework before you go to the RV show and (of course) don’t get pressured into buying anything you don’t really want. RVs are expensive and they lose value quickly, so if you buy the wrong RV you may get stuck with it for a while. Take your time and know what you’re getting into ahead of time, and you’ll be much more likely to have a good experience – and to get the RV you and your family really want. Good luck!