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Mojo
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« : May 23, 2013, 04:53:08 PM »

I am finally back home after being gone for 3 weeks and am taking a couple days off to settle back in and get my act together for a mad push to crank out orders. I promised a couple of you on here that I would report back on my double rally in Indiana so per their request - here it is.

Once again I learned alot doing these two back to back rallys. I hit a few home runs and made some mistakes along the way. Most of the mistakes I made were due to piss poor planning on my part. 1.) I under estimated the amount of table products to take with me. 2.) Because there were some large National vendors there I felt a little out classed by their elaborate booth set ups.

Sales wise I nearly doubled my orders from last year and finally made it into the 5 figure category.   Coach owners were spending money big time with vendors and thankfully I got my cut. My free inspections once again was a plus for me and I converted a better percentage of inspections this year versus last year. If I had to put a finger on why sales were better I would probably say the economy. We had the same number of people in attendance, same location and same number of vendor hours. All the vendors except for two reported higher sales numbers.

On the planning front, I always sell table products ( the profits help pay for the entire trip and all the rally expenses ). I sell 303 Protectant as well as 303 Fabric Guard out of my booth. I ordered it all from MiamiMike and thought that maybe I had over bought as I had placed a large order. Boy was I wrong. I sold out of everything during the first rally and thankfully MiamiMike came to my rescue and bailed me out by drop shipping me more case lots of 303 products. I ended up selling all of that as well and ran out before the end of the second rally.

I dropped the ball on my custom made products ( mirror covers, step covers, windshield wiper covers ). I had the wrong colors or not enough of some items. I sold out of large wiper covers and took in numerous orders for mirror covers for custom colors, mainly because I had stocked the wrong colors. ( I screwed up making them in the wrong color vinyl as I was trying to use up some  vinyl stock I had on hand ).

My seminars went very well. I had the biggest attendance figures at both rally's since I started doing these seminars. I was shocked when I looked out at the audience and seen the number of people. But on the down side, and as I concluded each seminar, I realized I need to split them and start doing 4 seminars instead of 2. I just do not have enough time to cover everything in one segment. So this fall I will design and then start conducting two part seminars ( 1 hour each ) on Interior/Exterior Coach care as well as a two part'er on Topper/canvas care and installation. The other part will be on fabric and awning failures. But the plus side of it all was that once again I was reminded that these seminars DRIVE sales BIG TIME.

Jessica, the girl I hired to staff my booth and also work part of the time for my buddy who had a booth next to mine exceeded both of our expectations. She was a rockstar. very professional, excellent with customers and a quick learner. I really lucked out when I hired her for the rallys and she turned out to be a Godsend.

Overall I am over the moon with orders/sales. The trip up there and my time out of the shop was well worth it. I came home with nearly a dozen prepaid orders on top of the " bill me later " ones and am now booked solid till the middle of July. I also have orders on the books for later dates so I believe the two rallys will drive sales into the winter months.

I have regrouped, wrote down all the changes I need to make and have tried to forgive myself for making a couple mistakes. I am my own worse critic and if I could I would kick my own ass. I look back on a few errors I made and can only say " you know better dummy ". Most would be happy but my OCD and perfectionism sometimes drives me insane. My expectations of myself can be extremely hard to live up to. Overall though I am happy with the results.

I am into the planning stages for next years rally schedule while everything is still fresh in my mind. I do know for sure I am changing my rally schedule for next year by dropping two smaller rallys and adding two big ones in their place. I may also add two new rallys as well. Hopefully by then I will have a new booth setup, new banners and will be loaded for bear. This year has provided me with alot of new information and opportunities to better the business. :)

Chris
Mojo
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« #1 : May 23, 2013, 04:54:09 PM »

I forgot to add that Mike and I spent several weeks developing a new slide topper for towables and gas MH's. I thought it was going to be a hot seller. Boy was I wrong. I didn't place one order for vinyl toppers. My thoughts on expanding into towables has changed and I had to eat humble pie and tell the wife " she was right ". She has told me all along that I need to focus on the high dollar diesel rigs and leave the towable market alone. In her words " it is more trouble then its worth and the margins are too slim  to screw with". :) ( Dang I hate it when she is right ).

I reckon I need to listen to the boss more often. :)

Chris
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« #2 : May 23, 2013, 07:58:48 PM »

Great read Chris and now I feel kind of energized to get out there and get ahold of some of the RV business in my neck of the woods.
Mike
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« #3 : May 23, 2013, 08:34:28 PM »

I always enjoy your stories Chris.   those cheap gassers and tow behinds . I agree with the boss some market aint worth it.   I don't know how you do it I could never do a 2 hour speech  .  
I got to ask what you plan to do first  I hate prepaid jobs it takes all
the
fun out of doing  the job.  id be tempted to want to get the pay me later jobs done fisrt , I assume you don't get a deposite on signing. id be tempted to do them using the prepaid money and g and use it do do the prepaid and hope to get call in orders from the rally in the meen time
« : May 23, 2013, 08:35:18 PM Mike »

hdflame
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« #4 : May 23, 2013, 11:15:21 PM »

Chris,

That's great!  Glad to see you're still going strong with the RV business.

I just got an email from Sailrite about a week ago and thought about you when I saw it.  Take a look at this and tell me if you think it would be good to attach your sunscreens with.

http://www.sailrite.com/YKK-SNAD-Clear-25mm-Adhesive-Backed-Flexible-Base-Stud

There's also a video on using these.
http://youtu.be/BMgFqxHSk1A


Bobby
www.riddlescustomupholstery.com
www.sunstopper.biz
Several Old Singers
Elna SU
Older Union Special
BRAND NEW Highlead GC0618-1-SC
and a new Cobra Class 4 Leather Machine  ;)
Mojo
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I'm Always In Trouble


« #5 : May 24, 2013, 08:20:10 AM »

Bobby:

I am not sure about using it in your neck of the woods but adhesive backed anything in Florida seems to create nothing but problems. I used some adhesive backed Velcro once and after a week of hot Florida sun rays it melted the glue and it ran down the side of the fabric.

I typically avoid the adhesives on outdoor applications in Florida. BTW, I quit doing solar screens altogether. The margins were decent but nothing like the margins I have with awnings. I also got scared of the liability issue installing the solar screens. One misplaced screw stud in the side of a million dollar Bus and I would have a HUGE problem on my hands. There are over 5 miles of wires inside many of these coaches and I didn't want to run the risk of hitting one. :(

Chris
« : May 24, 2013, 08:22:29 AM Mojo »
Mojo
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I'm Always In Trouble


« #6 : May 24, 2013, 08:52:08 AM »

Westcoast:

CA continues to be one of my best markets. Almost all the work I do are through member associations who have met me or heard of me. NV, AZ, NM, FL and Texas are my biggest markets. Washington State comes in right behind them due to fabric and thread rot.

I am not going to try and scare you off here but I wouldn't be a very nice person and would set you up for failure if I didn't bring a few facts to light here.

If you do some of this awning work you better be prepared to use Solarfix or Tenara and a high quality fabric - either Sattler or Recacril. If your using any Poly thread or using Sunbrella your going to be heading down a very rough road to failure and will see little business.

I spend weeks every year with coach owners and I can tell you two words that will raise the hair on the back of the necks on these bus owners - Poly Thread and Sunbrella. They are the worst combination imaginable in the RV world which is why my business is so brisk.

The Bus crowd is a very hard market to penetrate. In the beginning I picked up a few orders here and there but didn't start really seeing big numbers till I started doing seminars and attending rallys. They are very suspect of new suppliers / trades people and very un-trusting. You screw up a couple jobs and your history with these people. Their owners forums are massive and the word will travel REAL fast throughout your market and these people are very unforgiving.

I also had to learn every single topper and awnings assembly and that took a year or two to do. I needed to know every model number and brand on the market all the way back into the 90's and I admit I still get stumped. Every single assembly/brand is different and many times customers come to you with problems not only on fabric but the internal parts.

This is why I sometimes don't sleep well. Some of my customers hold some very powerful positions in owners associations and could put me out of business tomorrow if I started producing junk. I am riding high right now and growing every week but it could all come to an end if I screwed a few jobs up or pissed off the wrong people. Most of my customers are retired professionals ( Doctors, surgeons, dentists, lawyers, corporate people and a lot of engineers, etc. ).  They don't screw around with low quality crap and will hang you from a tree in a heartbeat. I love working with these people and have found them to be gracious customers but I admit it is nerve racking as hell. It took me three solid years of running my ass all over the country holding seminars, working rallys and basically putting my name and face in front of the masses to get to where I am at. It has been a long hard road but worth it.

I should also add that I have done alot of testing to arrive at a perfect product. My poor old Bus has had so many different toppers on it that it isn't funny. I am always experimenting to find the perfect topper and will make a new design and install it on my coach. I then open the slides and let the weather beat them up with wind and water and then inspect them to find what worked and what didn't. You would think that sewing a square piece of canvas would be a breeze but it isn't. measurements have to be exact, roller tube assemblies need to be taken into consideration and I have found a few secrets that gives my toppers a nice tight fit. Working with moving and motorized assemblies presents a few obstacles and challenges. You screw something up and you will destroy a $ 3,000 awning. I have seen experienced canvas people have a difficult job getting a few of these toppers right. 

You should have seen the first couple toppers I made that fortunately went on my own coach. Good gawd were they ugly, nasty and the fit was terrible. :) Overall its a great segment of our industry but one that takes a great deal of work and can produce a lot of sleepless nights due to all the variables. Still, I am glad I moved in this direction and zeroed in on the RV market. :)

Chris
hdflame
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« #7 : May 24, 2013, 09:23:20 AM »

Bobby:

I am not sure about using it in your neck of the woods but adhesive backed anything in Florida seems to create nothing but problems..................... There are over 5 miles of wires inside many of these coaches and I didn't want to run the risk of hitting one. :(

Chris

Chris,

That's why I figured that these might work for you.  I know exactly what you're talking about when it comes to heat and adhesive!  I guess I figured that Sailrite had tested these if they were offering them for use in Marine applications.

I haven't been as frequent on here as I used to be, but I remember you talking about not being happy doing the solar screens.  I knew you were getting bored with the same old thing day in and day out.  Looks like you've found a new niche that will keep you challenged for a while.

Just don't get to the point that you're having too many sleepless nights while making all that money on the snow birds! :)

I kinda found a little niche as well.  I've been specializing in Ural motorcycle gear.  Not a real big market, but one that I've had good luck in filling.  Since I own a Ural, I knew some of what was needed.  That helped me design the products that I'm currently making.

Don't get to the point where it's no longer fun, or you'll be dreading working on awnings.  You don't want them to get like the solar screens.  Funny how much changes on here when you don't visit for a while!

Good talking to you.  BTW, do you have a website?


Bobby
www.riddlescustomupholstery.com
www.sunstopper.biz
Several Old Singers
Elna SU
Older Union Special
BRAND NEW Highlead GC0618-1-SC
and a new Cobra Class 4 Leather Machine  ;)
Mojo
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I'm Always In Trouble


« #8 : May 24, 2013, 09:57:23 AM »

Geeesshhh. I went back and read my post and it sounded like I was trying to talk you out of hitting the RV market. That is NOT what I was trying to do but was simply trying to make you aware of what it takes to crack this market. I myself would be PO'ed if someone told me it was a piece of cake to do this work and I found out the person was full of it.

Yes you can nail a few jobs and sew up some toppers or awnings here and there but to stay busy at this segment you really need to bring your A game. I know of a few canvas shops who now and then do RV awnings, etc. but they are far and few between. The reason being is that the Bus crowd has a tight knit circle and its tough to crack into it without putting forth a great deal of time and effort which includes attending rally's and meeting them.

The educational part of it was the hardest for me. Learning all the different awning assemblies, the internal parts, the automated ones, the mechanical ones and also knowing what every brand of coach has for awning assemblies was a real chore. My next biggest problem was finding Polyrod at a great price which meant buying in bulk rolls. Believe it or not there are only a couple suppliers in the country who sell wholesale and the ones who sell retail ask a great deal of money for them. I include all new polyrod with each order simply because the existing polyrod is junk after a couple years.
Then you need to know what size rod each manufacturer requires. It is standard that all toppers are shipped with new Polyrod. All canvas makers include this with their orders including the big manufacturers.

I could go on and on but in a nutshell I was not trying to scare you off. I simply wanted you to know just what it takes to crack this market. There is enough business to go around for everyone and I personally think I have only tapped 5 % of the market. But one reason why there are not more people involved in this line of work is 1.) The amount of work involved to simply gain a foothold in the market 2.) The networking that needs to take place and knowing all the key people in the industry 3.) the education needed to guide customers on DIY installs 4.) the constant attendance of rallys and the giving of your time to bring in business. 5.) The time it takes to build a reputation in order to continually get orders and sustain your business ( I took me 3 years BTW ). 6.) Knowing every single fabric and color used throughout the history of toppers and awnings by all the various manufacturers and knowing how to match each color with whats on the market today.

I wont even get into the constant competition you have with the BIG manufacturers. I have had to find their weaknesses and capitalize on them to get the business I have and I still cannot touch their sheer size and presence in this market in addition to their massive dealer network.

In the end all I have is a little tiny slice of the pie and that slice took a boatload of work to get. :)
If you want to pursue this part of the segment then I will be glad to help you but you need to know up front it wont be easy and will take a big investment in time, energy and money and the payoiff will be a couple years down the road. :(

Chris
Mojo
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« #9 : May 24, 2013, 10:04:02 AM »

Bobby:

I sometimes get really burnt out with this work. It gets boring but the money is to good to quit now. I have a great deal of time and money invested to quit. :)

There are all kinds of niche markets out there for people. I know a guy who lives by me who travels to all the big motorcycle rallys and does seats out of an enclosed trailer. He does REAL well and knocks down some big money. I believe he did close to $ 20 K at Sturgis alone. That is his niche and he has carved out a good business doing it.

My biggest issue right now is shop size. I am really hampered by not being able to keep two machines going at once. I am so flooded with orders that I am currently trying to figure out how the hell I can make all the deadlines. Hopefully in time I can get this all worked out, get into a bigger space and expand.

Until then I am up to my eyeballs in orders, fabric, materials, two German Shepherds who wont stay out of my way and a burnt out wife who is coming off a very long school year teaching at the high school. :)
 
Chris
Mike
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« #10 : May 24, 2013, 12:31:36 PM »

What is it they dont loke sbout sunbrella. If you wathch. Ship shape tv it all the rage. 
Me i dont like how ive seen it streach and sag shortly after im done.   But ive seen a nounber of. Omplaints where it shrunk and the rear snaps on a cover dont reach   In fact a year ago. A high end customer had ne make amnew. Over on gis 44' formula and. Omplainted how it wad shrunk. So k went with recacril. Later i did a screen. 24' by 8' tall on a mig buck coaches power awning
I questiond the weight of it for the awning. This was the one i talked to you about the polyrod. Perhad the guy who called you for new toppers.

I hear you on. The wires installing snaps
On a solar screen. Indid a set but the snapes were in maybe the guy aho called you too?
But just today i made a rear fly cover on a legacy trawler. The owner asked for  sunbrella. Said they loved the job when i was installing but had to leave early and paid me they were leaving in the rv to tour  orth america for 3 months. They were not aposed to sunbrella.

Say you didnt awser my wuestion what come first the prepaid or  ill
Me later?

Mojo
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« #11 : May 24, 2013, 01:24:25 PM »

I use Sattler or Recacril only. The last fabric you want is Sunbrella on a horizontal surface such as a slide topper. The weight of the water ( up to 50 lbs after a heavy rain and a large slide ) distorts the fabric. I have seen it shrink across the width and stretch across the depth. You need a fabric for slide toppers that will not stretch or shrink.

I hate pre pays. I feel alot of pressure when someone has already paid versus billing someone out when I finish the job. I still cannot believe the number of pre-pays I got. My wife assembled the checks to take to the bank - over $ 6,000 worth.

With these customers outstanding billings is no issue. I have never been screwed ever. Most hate owing people money and want to pay as soon as possible. I had one customer that I shipped his order to and actually forgot to bill him because I was so busy. Two weeks later I got a check in the mail with an note that said " you forgot to bill me, here is the payment ". :)

I prefer filling an order and then billing them before shipment. I do not take deposits and have never been hosed except for one time. That was a guy with a gas rig who didn't have a penny to his name. I should have known better. :( These big bus guys pay their bills all the time - every time. Thank God.

Chris
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« #12 : May 24, 2013, 02:17:38 PM »

.................I know a guy who lives by me who travels to all the big motorcycle rallys and does seats out of an enclosed trailer. He does REAL well and knocks down some big money. I believe he did close to $ 20 K at Sturgis alone. That is his niche and he has carved out a good business doing it.

Chris

Chris,

I remember you telling me about him a couple of years ago.  I'd still love to get up with him and go out to Sturgis to help him one year.  If nothing else, it'd be good experience.


Bobby
www.riddlescustomupholstery.com
www.sunstopper.biz
Several Old Singers
Elna SU
Older Union Special
BRAND NEW Highlead GC0618-1-SC
and a new Cobra Class 4 Leather Machine  ;)
Mike
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Karma: +0/-0
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Marine canvas & upholstery SWFL


« #13 : May 24, 2013, 04:04:57 PM »

Sounds like alot of preasure chris. Id hate spending the time to get the prepaids done. With no cashflow till the other get going.   I had a good day i did a simply fly cover got paid from that rv guy i spoke of then. Had a apointment and got s nice good cover job. The guy and i hear it alot here in florida is nobody returns calls or shows up.   He said i  returned his call right away.   So i stoped and piged out at red lobster to celebrate.   Saturday i have a customer commi g to town  and i need to get paid for work this past week.   Then im going fishing.   

Mojo
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« #14 : May 24, 2013, 05:12:49 PM »

Mike:

I get all this work done and I need to head down your way and go do some fishing. I am going to need a serious break from all this.

The problem is the damn phone wont quit ringing or the e-mails wont stop. Booked two more orders yesterday and two more today. 3 of the 4 are rush jobs because the people sat on their asses all winter and are now leaving the State for home.

I have a deadline of the third week in July for myself. My wife, Mother In Law and I are loading up the Bus and heading to Michigan for a family get together. I need to be done before then. I did manage to get the coach washed today. Hopefully I can get some wax on it in the next couple days.

Chris
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