Three Challenging Years

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It is New Year's Day and a time to reflect and plan for the next year. I have worked 6 days a week, usually 12 hours a day for the last 44 years. That may sound unbearable, but when you enjoy what you do, it is not that difficult. But back in 2020, my New Year's Resolution was to start taking one morning off each week. Well, so much for that! 
During the Covid shutdown, we were allowed to operate, but some of our highest risk staff stayed home. We tried to do our part to assist with the Covid crisis. At one point we had 22 travel trailers lent out to nurses and doctors so they could isolate from their families. This put us a few weeks behind when things started to reopen in June of 2020. We tried to keep our customers RVs operational through the summer, and we deferred non-emergency work until winter. We anticipated that we would catch up easily since there would be no RV shows to do. 
Though we are most known for providing highly towable trailers we do have many customers with stationary trailers that often need service. In the past we could rely on a few very experienced mobile technicians to handle a lot of this work. They pretty much all retired when Covid came along. That put added pressure on our own service staff. Again, we dealt with emergency repairs and then deferred as much work as possible to the coming winter. 
To add insult to injury, I decided that since there would be no RV Shows that winter, it would be the best time to update our excellent, but 27 year old, DOS-based software. I knew it would be difficult, but I had no idea how difficult and how much time it would take. At the same time we were doing our best to keep everyone safe and dealing with parts shortages. For example, we would buy a complete refrigerator to take the parts off it with the thought that we would replace the parts later. We still are waiting for some of those parts to arrive. 
The upshot of all this was that we were not remotely caught up when spring arrived in 2021. Thus we again struggled to keep up in the summer of 21, parts shortages got even worse which did not help. 
When last winter came along, we were determined to get caught up for the spring of 2022. However, we lost 5 technicians for a variety of reasons. One promising young guy moved back to the east coast with his family. Our wage package was comparable, but not the hours or the fact he could work from home. A couple of employees retired, and another did not like our Covid policies. This left us even further behind in the spring of 2022. 
Fortunately, over the last year we have been able to hire great technicians possessing solid technical skills. They are coming up to speed quickly. 
Over the long term, this is going to be a big challenge for our society in general. We need to find a way to start teaching kids how to work with their hands at a young age. In the past kids grew up on the farm, or in a family business, and they were helping to fix stuff when they were 8 years old. If you don’t put a tool in kids' hands until they are 18, it is just never going to be part of them the same way. ?
I often assist on the service administration side with calls, and writing work orders. However, talking on the phone doesn’t get the actual unit repaired. As a result, I have spent more time in the shop doing the actual repairs myself than any time in the last 20 years.
Peggy and the front-end staff have worked countless hours of overtime trying to keep up with the greatly expanded administrative challenge. When you spend 2 hours trying to locate a part that should order online in 30 seconds, it’s a big hole in your day. We even bought a 3D printer so we could make some items ourselves. Plus we were all dealing with the new dealership wide software I put in. 
Some have seen in the news that in the RV industry sales are booming. However our unit sales are about the same as 2019. The quality manufacturers are going through the same challenges we are, so they have not increased production, and in some cases it has gone down.
Additional service bays for more redundancy would really help, but trying to build is ridiculously expensive, a two-year permit process with another year to build. That would not solve our situation now. 
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. For many years our paint and fibreglass work has been done by a company 5 kilometers south of us called Country Collision. They have one of the few spray booths large enough to accommodate an RV. Their business is mostly truck repairs. A big part of that has been “frame up” restoration of antique trucks which they do beautifully. Their building has 5 large bays. Al the owner, has decided to retire so we have an agreement to purchase the building and assume the 3 technicians. Although we will be doing our own RV body work, the shop will focus on RV service. We will take over the end of January. It will take a month to update the shop and transition the facility. I think it will take about a year to have everyone fully up to speed. This coming spring will still be a bit tight for scheduling, but we feel by Fall of 2023 we should be able to hit the customer service levels we aspire to. 
I would like to thank everyone for their patience and understanding through this time, and rest assured we are working hard to get back to where we should be.
Happy New Year,

Reprinted from the Can-Am RV Centre Newsletter Issue 17, January 2023