GMC + RV = mountain of sales
Ohio dealer: Unusual product combination gives him an edge
Drivers passing by Greg Holman's GMC dealership outside Cincinnati likely can't help but notice the four-story mountain of boulders strewn with more than a dozen pickups and SUVs.
Holman believes the structure -- built over three years by hauling thousands of limestone boulders from a local quarry -- is the biggest outdoor truck display anywhere.
But as big as the boulder display is, it's only a small aspect of Holman Motors.
The dozens of GMC trucks at the dealership are among a sea of hundreds of hulking travel trailers, or towable campers, on the 32-acre lot.
Last year, Holman sold 1,100 new travel trailers from more than 20 manufacturers, which makes him the No. 2 retailer of towable RVs nationally, according to Statistical Surveys Inc. of Grand Rapids, Mich.
He holds his own with GMC truck sales, too: Last year, Holman, in Batavia, Ohio, 20 miles east of Cincinnati, sold 523 new GMCs, good for No. 1 in Ohio, General Motors confirms.
What some might perceive as a logistical headache, Holman sees as a competitive edge. Holman Motors has sold GMCs and RVs from the same lot for 30 years. Salespeople sell trucks and campers -- ideally to the same customer.
Holman, 58, views an RV as a giant accessory for a truck buyer. In many cases, though, the truck becomes the accessory. An RV buyer might be convinced that, by stepping up to a Sierra heavy-duty pickup, he'll be able to buy more camper.
"The first question out of a prospective camper owner's mouth is usually: 'Is my truck adequate to pull the camper I want to buy?'" Holman says. "Well, we're the experts. We know exactly what their truck is capable of, and can steer them to the right truck to match the right camper."
Holman's towable RV prices average around $25,000, ranging up to $60,000 for high-end models. He said the gross profit on RVs is similar to that of autos. The 15,000-square-foot showroom displays about a dozen trailers on one side and a half-dozen GMC trucks on the other.
"There's great synergy there," Holman says. "When there's a lot of activity going on, it creates more activity. We've got 10 desks with deals being worked on and that creates excitement, whether it's a camper or a truck."
Of course, the setup also has limitations.
Because Holman prefers the unorthodox dual showroom, his store doesn't meet GM's facility image requirements. Based on his 2011 sales, that means he forgoes around $250,000 in annual incentive cash for which he would qualify if he housed the GMC trucks in a separate showroom.
The trailer business also precludes him from adding another GM franchise. Holman has asked about adding Buick, but he says the trailer business is a deal breaker under GM's franchise rules.
"You've got a dealer who can sell 1,100 new campers and 523 new GMC trucks," Holman muses. "You'd think we could sell some Buicks, right?"
A GM spokesman confirms that GM offered Holman a Buick franchise, but the franchise agreement called for the business to be an exclusive GM dealer point. Holman opted to keep the RV business instead.
Still, Holman says he's proud of his unusual status as a stand-alone GMC store. Only 102 of GMC's 1,769 dealerships are stand-alone, GM says. Most are paired with Buick. Besides, he's not sure he has enough space for another franchise.
The store has Buick roots. In 1945, Holman's parents, Glen and Mary, opened a Buick store in downtown Batavia. In the late 1960s, his father returned the franchise and retired, only to open a used-car lot a few years later about three miles west of downtown, where he also began selling motor homes and travel trailers.
About that time, Greg and his brothers, Eric and Mark, who remain partners in the business, joined their father and began expanding, snapping up land around the 1.5-acre lot. In 1982, the dealership became a rare stand-alone GMC site.
The need for space is the biggest challenge in selling RVs, compared with retailing SUVs and pickups, Holman says. The land needed simply to store RVs in for service gobbles up about 3 acres, he says.
Holman's 30-bay service department has 14-foot doors to accommodate bigger RVs. Although the dealership sells only towables, it services all types of RVs. Some of the lifts can hoist 20 tons, relics from the days when Holman sold motor homes. That business has dried up since the recession.
As if the trailers don't differentiate his store enough, last summer Holman put the finishing touches on his massive truck display, which he has dubbed Truck Mountain. Holman says he spent between $300,000 and $500,000 to build it. The largest boulder weighs 6.5 tons.
Holman, a Civil War buff, topped the summit with an operable replica of an 1864 cannon. He fires it on Memorial Day and other patriotic holidays, but not before calling the local authorities and the auto plaza across the highway to warn them of the impending boom (sans cannonball).
"We liked the idea of differentiating ourselves from other dealerships," Holman says. "Cookie cutter doesn't fit us well."
You can reach Mike Colias at email@example.com.