Interview: How to adapt during a period of uncertainty

Date

In this week’s episode, we talk with Travis Fusae from RV Service Centre, in Queensland, Australia to learn how he has adapted his business during a sustained period of economic uncertainty. We discuss everything from his “Ninja” and “Ghost” RV services and what’s he’s doing to turn his team into “Asset Creators”

Johnathan: 

Hi, my name is Jonathan Aguero and I’m here with Trav, founder and owner at RVSC, RV service centre in Queensland, Australia.

 

Trav has had a number of innovative approaches to dealing with this COVID pandemic,

to doing business and having fun while he’s at it. And with that introduction, let’s move on to some questions for Trav about his business.

 

So, let me ask you to Trav, what impact has COVID had on your dealership?

 

Trav:

 

G’day Jonathan, it’s awesome to be with you here today. Thanks for the opportunity to be in a meeting.

 

Mate, it’s been pretty intense, that’s for sure. So, we’re an aftermarket business, we do not sell new RVs, we purely focus aftermarket, so service repairs, upgrades, that sort of thing and our motto is about making your van better. That’s what we focus on day in, day out. So that can be, you know, you’ve got a good van but you do want to make it better, upgrades, you know, put the latest stuff in it or you’ve got an issue and you need that van better straight away. So that’s what we focus our entire business around. 


COVID has been like this huge impact for us. Purely being aftermarket, the bulk of our customers here are in, right in that core demographic of people that are affected. So, you know, it’s somewhere in that 60 to 70 year age bracket for a lot of our customers, you know, the grey nomads that are touring around Australia, they’re the ones that are in at risk category and then they’ve been told to stay at home for that reason, and on top of that, everybody here has been told don’t travel. 


So, a lot of people have parked their vans up, they cannot physically move even if they wanted to. So we have noticed a very, very quick impact on the level of inquiry coming through. So that all, you know, I think like everyone, it took us all by surprise that we had no real plan that you know, things would just stop so quickly, but, we’re fairly lucky in that we do operate a fairly big backlog of work at any given time. 


So, you know, we have sort of a couple of different departments in our business, we’ve got the service type work it is more daily type jobs. And that took, you know, a week or two in advance, and then some of our longer term stuff and special vehicle builds and fit outs, they can be sort of three or four months out. So we’re in quite a fortunate position in that regard. We’ve had quite a lot of work that we can still chew through. 


So we’ve been able to redeploy teams to some degree to deal with that. And we’ve been through a range of other things that we are trying to build within the team while we’ve got a bit of spare time.

 

Johnathan:

 

That makes a lot of sense. Well, thank you so much for sharing that. So I’ve heard a little bit about what you call your ghost and ninja service. Would you mind sharing a little bit more about that as an adaptation to this COVID situation?

 

Trav:

 

So this gets a lot of traction and I’m very surprised by it. So we want to continue to serve our customers in the best way possible. And I know, the way our customers feel with not wanting to move, like, for example, my parents, you know, they’re a bit older, they went into lockdown straightaway. And, you know, I saw the frustration that they had with trying to get stuff done. But they’re still there, they’re still living, it’s just they couldn’t leave their house.

 

We decided, well, let’s give these services to our customers so we can continue to do good work for them, continue to look after them and keep them as good long-term customers. So the first thing was, can we just go and pick up vans for people? So normally, we rely on people driving the vans into our yard, dropping them off and we do the work, all that sort of stuff. It’s just a matter of like, we’ll go out to their site, collect their van, and then bring it back to our workshop, do the work, take it back. 


Now, straight up, that’s pretty straightforward and really, we’ve done that for quite a while. But what we tried to do is we looked at this and said, “How can we actually make this a little bit of fun?” Everyone’s stuck at home, you know, they’re bored. What makes this a little bit more interesting? Instead of just giving them a service, give them a bit of entertainment at the same time. So we tried to come up with some cool names, and that’s the one we call the ninja, ninja RV.

 

So we’ll get one of our techs. They’re gonna sneak onto the site, you know, at the allocated time, the people can stay in their house. They’re not even gonna know we’re there, sneak in, get their van and take it away silently, do all the work, bring it back, put it back in exactly the right spot. You know, the customer looks out the window, van is still there, they go out there and it’s like it’s all been done for them already.

 

Johnathan:

 

Hold on, I love it. Just so let me confirm. So then ninja service is where essentially, your people will, on their request, come and steal away their RV. You’ll do whatever needs to be done on it and you’ll put it right back where it was almost like it was never gone. – That’s it, mate, exactly. I love it. I love it. Yep.

 

And what about the ghost?

 

Trav:

 

Yes, the ghost RV is for those customers that are willing to travel. So there might be more local customers that are within all the regulations that they can hook their van up and bring it in. Or we’ve had some customers that have had to drop their van here because they can’t go any further. But they don’t want that face to face contact. So it’s avoiding, you know, handshakes and just being near people completely. So we tee up a certain time and we clear the yard and the delivery area will be empty, right? The customer comes in of their own accord drops the van off, they disappear. They take their vehicle away. We look out the window like a ghost out of the mist it’s like a vehicle has just appeared in our yard ready for us to work on. So that’s ghost RV and it seems to work pretty well. So for those customers, yeah, it’s been great.

 

Johnathan:

 

That is fantastic. I can see why it’s so popular. Thank you for sharing that, Trav. I love it. Now, I know you talked a bit about, are there any other changes that you’ve had to make to your operation to deal with this COVID situation that you’d be open to sharing?

 

Trav:

 

Yeah, so we’ve done a lot of the boring things, that’s for sure. We’ve sent people home, we’ve set them up with remote working and for us, that’s been fairly easy. A lot of our stuff is cloud based as it is, we weren’t really set up for the home side of it, but you know, it was a few minor tweaks here and there to get access and enable those sort of connections and the people that are working from home are doing a really, really good job. The other side of it is like a webinar. So we got thrown into this very early on so like, what are we, near May, we’re a few months down the track and you know, we’re on a zoom call right here. And this sort of just seems like everyone’s an old hat.  You know, we know what we’re doing.

 

Whereas, I had a seminar booked here for, I think it was the end of February, beginning of March whenever this thing started. So we normally have, you know, quite a few of our customers and potential customers come in and we just hold an information day about all sorts of stuff that we get into. Sometimes we have suppliers that come in to show the latest and greatest gear. We facilitate it, but it’s a real great community sort of event, we throw in a few drinks and just get like-minded caravans together.

 

We do that a few times throughout the year and then we had all this booked to have everything organised for it, you know, the chairs, have the food done, and then all of a sudden, you know, nobody can be in a group gathering and I’m like, “Oh, I really wanna do this.” because you know, there was so much prep work in it and people had signed up and they wanted to come so I’m like, “Well, we got to put this on the web somehow.”

 

So we’ve started, you know, the webinar, and we delivered that, like, managed to get the ball rolling within a week. Man, like that sort of stuff, just such a learning curve. It’s interesting to get done, but you’re trying to learn how to get in front of a monitor and give your customers, who are not techies the tools to watch you on a video. That sort of thing was, it’s time consuming, yeah and it’s a bit, it was a bit weird. And I think like that one of the biggest changes throughout all this sort of stuff is this sort of familiarity with the technology, people are quite happy to do this and there’s so many more options with it. I mean, you’re in Colorado, I am in Toowoomba, this is awesome.

 

Johnathan:

 

Absolutely, it is. Thank you so much for that perspective. I’m kind of curious, out of the changes that you’ve made here, which of those changes are you going to get keep going forward? Are you going to keep these services around, these new approaches? How do you see it impacting the future?

 

Trav:

 

Yeah, sure. So I think things like our ghost RV and ninja RV services will continue for sure. So where that helps people and gives them extra options as a more premium service from us, that’s great. So whether we end up charging for it, we might, because you know, there is an overhead doing that, you can’t put one of your guys in a car, you know, it takes an hour to get there and back for every job. You simply wouldn’t get anything done long-term. The way I look at that at the moment is, you know, we’re helping customers, the government’s helping us with the stimulus, so let’s share it around. It’s a benefit for everybody. I think there is a need there for some of those services for sure. So we will try to continue them but, you know, we’ll potentially modify whether they’re a free service or not. Yeah, I don’t see it being free long-term.

 

Johnathan:

 

One more question around the COVID situation is around dealership management. You use Blackpurl, correct? How important do you think cloud-based software is during this time?

 

Trav:

 

All of our cloud-based systems give us that flexibility and if we didn’t have that type of technology, we would be in a completely different position now. Having everybody running off single systems makes a really, really big difference. Having that information flow to the right people at the right time is fantastic. I don’t know what we would look like without that sort of gear available?

 

I think a lot of businesses probably are on the back foot without cloud-based systems. They’re just not set up for working that way, being forced to work that way. And I think for a lot of other people it will trigger them to really start looking at that sort of technology and then realising that it’s not a benefit just for these sort of situations, that you’re affected by some global pandemic. But it’s just day to day, like overall. It does this it does that all that lets us have this flexibility we could actually do that with those guys, oh, yeah. I think even to the point of attracting other different types of staff members, with added flexibility, you don’t have to have someone in the office five days a week, they could be working from home two or three days, if they’re not customer facing. So, yeah, I think there’s a lot of great benefit in it.

 

Johnathan:

 

Makes a lot of sense. I have one final question. This is really about advice that you would give. You’ve been very successful about adapting to the COVID situation and thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us. What advice plain and simple will you give, if you only had a few moments to give advice to other dealers who want to replicate the kind of success you’ve had? What advice would you give them?

 

 

Trav:

 

The number One thing for me is the clarity of communication. So from day one, we have been extremely clear with what we’re doing with our team internally and also with our customers externally too. That communication has changed throughout this process. But I think the way to be fair operating with everybody is stating it clearly, these are the facts, this is what we’re dealing with and this is the plan. We laid out at a long term vision from the get go. At the end of this, we’re gonna be a stronger business, we’re gonna have a more efficient team, more powerful, more skilled, that we can serve our customers better. We set that goal out. Now, I don’t know whether that was gonna be a goal that we’d reached in a fortnight, a month, six months and the way that conversation was initially is, we’re gonna have to make changes around this place. We’re not going to get to that endpoint operating the way we did in the, getting the buy-in from the team to say, wanna be kicking goals. absolutely, delivering great results for our customers and then, you know, as different things came through from the government, like we’ve had to change that. Well, now we’ve got all these other options, we can do this, like that fits into this vision of how we’re gonna make ourselves stronger at the end of it. So let’s get rolling. You guys have a look at this. It’s the clarity of communication and the flexibility to deal with those changes as it rolled through. A good vision and just talking it out with everybody regularly, keeping people up to date, because there’s so many changes and it’s been such a fluid situation just keeping the communication rolling.

 

Johnathan:

 

That makes a lot of sense Trav. Thank you very much for sharing that. That is great advice and I think anyone can learn from that, and Trav, is there anything else you think we should be asking during this time?

 

Trav:

 

 – Oh, I think you’ve been across it all. Probably one of the interesting things is, one of the ideals that we’ve tried to implement, I spoke about ghost RV, ninja RV, which are, you know, external facing things. One of the things we did implement internally is what we call job keeper to asset creator, okay? So that’s what we refer to it. In Australia, we have this government assistance package called job keeper. I don’t know if you’re aware of it.

 

Johnathan:

 

I didn’t know about it, but I’m happy to hear it. We can get icy.

 

Trav:

 

So basically, the Australian government wants businesses like us, we’re only a small business, but they want us to keep our guys employed. So they are giving us a decent stimulus, which is subsidising a lot of their wages, okay?

 

Johnathan:

 

That’s great. So similar to what they’re doing here a little bit different but…

 

Trav:

 

Yeah, So they call that the job keeper subsidy here, I don’t know what you guys call them. Now, and look, I completely agree with it. It’s a fantastic thing and it’s an amazing opportunity because I know at the beginning of this, we’ve got to protect our business, we’ve got to stem in cash flow, if we’ve got to put people off, unfortunately, we have to be faced with those tough decisions, yeah? But with the government assistance, it’s completely changed that. So now it’s gone almost the other way and I’m like, “Well, I can afford to keep all you guys, but we might not have enough work. So we wanna make all those people asset creators in the business, so we call it job keeper. So instead of just, you know, saying, this is about keeping your job, so you’ve got something to do in six months. No, from job keeper to asset creator, yeah? And what that is, is using this opportunity where we’ve got the downtime, we’re getting subsidies from the government, let’s make assets for the business, let’s make something of value that we can use. I’m not gonna be sitting here in six months time saying, “get that process written etc” when we had all this time to do it. So that’s the general concept of it. So if you wanted to ask a question like, I believe the Australian government’s got a stimulus package called job keeper. How do you guys, is that a benefit to you as a business? And are you doing anything special with it?

 

Johnathan:

 

Yeah, That makes a lot of sense. So in other words, getting your people involved in, invested is maybe the word, in this initiative, helping them achieve ownership of what they’re doing, like you said, creating assets versus accepting something.

 

Trav:

 

Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

 

Johnathan:

 

 I love it. Very well said. Thank you so much.

 

Trav:


Awesome, thanks Jonathan.