Kevin spends some time with Greg Gerber/RVDailyReport.com sharing the InteractRV story, our approach to doing business with RV Dealerships, and some fun conversation along the way. The interview gets going at 7:45 into the recording.
Have a listen here: http://rvdailyreport.com/industry/interactrv-president-kevin-wallenbeck-on-podcast-62/ or read the transcipt below.
Greg Gerber; My only guest this week is Kevin Wallenbeck. He is the president of InteractRV. He and I got to talking when I went over to this place of business and residence last week. We got to talking about the websites and web development and web marketing, and before I knew it, we had talked for almost and hour. I decided to dedicate this episode strictly to the folks at Interact.
That company started as a website development firm and has since expanded into digital marketing, and Kevin’s staff works from home offices around the country, which allows him to cherry pick the best technicians and web experts to work for Interact without requiring them to move to tiny midland Michigan, which I thought was a pretty interesting observation that he had made. Kevin also talks about whether having a website is enough for business owners today, or must they do something else to draw people to their sites? You talk about some challenges that business owners face today because there’s no just having one website anymore, which was pretty much the norm just a few years ago.
Today people are viewing websites on desktop computers, laptops, smart phones, and tablets. Some of the things he talked about were really convicting to me in helping me realize that I have a lot of work to do to make RV Daily Report and Let’s RV more web friendly, so I think that you will enjoy the information provided by Kevin Wallenbeck at InteractRV. Let me bring him onto the show. Welcome back to RV Industry News, everybody. We are in Midland, Michigan. I am actually parked in somebody’s driveway over at the Kevin Wallenbeck’s house. He is the president of InteractRV, and he invited me over to go out for dinner, have a little fun, and to talk a little bit about what InteractRV is all about. Welcome aboard, Kevin.
Kevin Wallenbeck: Thank you. Glad to be here, Greg.
Greg Gerber: Sure. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about this company and how you got it started?
Kevin Wallenbeck: Sure. I guess in a nutshell, we help RV dealers with their digital marketing and their online advertising plans and efforts. Really, that’s what it is. If you were to break that down, you look at the websites themselves, whether that’s pay per click or SEO or email marketing, those types of things are the things that make up what we do and how we help dealers.
Greg Gerber: I understand from our conversation last night that you are the oldest web development company serving the RV industry.
Kevin Wallenbeck: I think we are. It’s humbling. I think in one side of things, obviously we have some competitors like everyone does in the industry, and most of the time it’s good, friendly competition, but I think that actually providing websites for dealers, I think that we’ve been doing this the longest. Some started before we did, but they’re really no longer serving the dealers in the industry. Along with that has come a lot of changes of course along the way. Keeping up, staying ahead. A lot of reinvestment back into to help these guys.
Greg Gerber: I’m certain. When did you actually start the company?
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah, 2001. It was an interesting start. I was working for a software development company, and there was a guy who’s name was Ron Cheney, and many in the industry know him. He has been in RV advertising for a long, long time. He’s a veteran of industry, and we were both working for the same company. He was in sales. He lives down in the VFW, Arlington area.
Greg Gerber: Of Texas?
Kevin Wallenbeck: Of Texas, yeah. The company we were working for made some bad financial choices and they went under, and Ron and I at that point went off and did our own things. It was one time when we working for that company that I had gone down to do a software install at an auto dealership. It was auto dealership software we were working with. Ron had come over. He had sold the account. He came over. I think we met each other for about five minutes was about it. Once the company went under, we went and did our own things. I started a software and networking computer business here in the Midland area, and Ron was in advertising and marketing.
One day I get a call from Ron, I think it was six to eight months later after we left, and he says, “Hey, this is Ron Cheney. Do you remember me?” I said, “Yeah, I think I met you for five minutes one time.” What he had done, he’s gone down to Clever in Texas to see his accountant. On the way back, he stopped at Fun Time RV is what it was then, and Sam Kid was there, and he had known Sam Kid, so he stopped in there and reintroduced himself. Sam’s like, “Yeah, we need help bad, especially our website. Can you help.” Ron said, “Sure.” When Ron called, he was still sitting in the Fun Times parking lot there, calling me saying, “Hey, can you do this? You’re the only guy I know that does websites.”
Was it a grand plan scheme of we looked at the whole market and loved it? Not at first, no, but we’ve definitely grown to love it.
Greg Gerber: Those are great stories, how businesses start because of happenstance, or a chance in conversation with somebody, so that’s really cool. I’m sure websites have changed considerably since 2001. That’s almost about ten years the Internet had been actually alive and businesses started to embrace it. It was at that point that people really, at that point, just starting to come online, correct?
Kevin Wallenbeck: I’d say yeah, for sure. We had the tech bubble burst. There was a lot of, I think even Ron and I involved being in the software industry before that. 2001 was when we really got started, and prior to that, there was a lot of evolving going on in the tech industry. Really websites, the whole idea of HTML, it existed before that obviously, but really got a lot of momentum.
Greg Gerber: If I’m not mistaken, when I first started in the industry, most dealer websites were one, maybe two pages, and that was it. It was pretty much an electronic bulletin board to direct people as to where they were located so that you could come in and visit them, give them a little bit of an idea of what to expect when they came in, but absolutely no real selling. No e-commerce even at that point, was there?
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah, no, definitely was the online brochure mentality. When we started in this thing, the first thing I did was took a look around and said, “Who else is out there doing this? There’s got to be someone.” There really wasn’t. Lo and behold, pretty much all the folks that were serving the industry pretty much started about the same time. We heavily invested in the beginning, you mentioned the brochure idea. We pretty much invested into the data idea. How do we get the information that the guests, the potential customers of the dealership, what is it that they’re looking for? The RV industry as you know is very interesting in the way that it presents its information about RVs and the timeliness of it.
They don’t do it once a year. Everybody’s not on the same exact schedule when they put out specs and when they change floor plans. All that, that just doesn’t happen in this industry. From the beginning we had a team that focused on the data side of things. That really was for us and for the RV dealers we were working with early in those days, that was really the differentiator, if that’s a word, if you will.
Greg Gerber: Data is king. That’s what consumers are looking for. They’re looking for information when they go online, and that’s to help them understand what it is they’re looking for, and maybe narrow down some of those choices, so those dealers that provide that kind of data to consumers really score well, I would imagine. That entices people onto the dealer lots if their websites are done right.
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah, for sure. If you look at an average dealership that’s doing maybe an average amount of online advertising or marketing, and you take a look at their statistics, their analytics for the website, you’ll find that 50% or more of their traffic is coming through search engines. Whether that’s Google specifically, or Bing, or Yahoo, some combination of those things, you’ll find out that that’s a lot of traffic that comes through those sources. Those sources, like Google take for instance is really designed to find the most relevant contextual information they possibly can about what that person is searching for. You absolutely can’t ignore those things.
Having the right amount of data written in the right way really propelled, the dealers especially we were working with, through those early years. As time has gone on, the data side of things has caught up. There’s other folks that have data on their websites. You can go out and get it. People are putting resources into those things more and more. It’s about having, not just the data, but having it in a unique way. How do you write the descriptions? How do you write those things so that someone looking at it feels like they’re part of a process versus just purely information? Now that you have the data and you’re doing well with that, what we’re really finding over the past few years, especially with social coming on board and people using those mediums to interact with the dealer and get back to the sites.
Really finding that it’s about the brand identity of the dealership itself. We’ve always known that. We got to have the brand. The brand’s got to be in our advertising or marketing. Early on, there was a lot of folks doing cookie cutter template website kind of stuff. We never did that. That was important to us. We felt we really wanted to, it’s even part of our core why as a company. We want to serve the dealership individually the way they want to be served. What’s important to them? Their brand identity is really key in that, right? You’re really seeing that now where some of the sites out there, and the dealers, really it’s important to put your brand identity, who you are, into the website, the process of the information that the people are looking at.
Greg Gerber: When you say we, how many people work for Interact?
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah, it’s great. We have 25 team members right now.
Greg Gerber: Scattered around the country.
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah, it’s interesting. I think years ago there was always a little nervousness of saying that. We never hid it from anyone. If someone asked, we never said, “Oh, no.” We’re never dishonest at all about any of that. If they asked, we told them. What we’ve learned, we started the company, I was up here in Michigan, Ron was in Texas, so we had to make a decision, how are we going to do this? What’s important to us? Do I move down there, does he move up here? How do we do that effective? We took stock with previous companies we had worked for an what was important to us. There’s a company called, they’re not called 37 Signals any longer.
I believe they’re just called BaseCamp now, but they pioneered, at least publicly, they pioneered this whole idea of having a remote workforce. I took a lot of stock in what they had done, what they had said, and that’s how we worked. That’s how we’ve done it this whole time. People say that, “This is inefficient. How do you make that work?” The reality is this for us: we are able to hire people that want to work here and serve the RV industry in a way to get the best success we possibly can. We’re not limited to who’s available in our geographic area.
Greg Gerber: That’s exactly right, because you can grab the best people around the country wherever they’re living, and they can work from their home or get their own office where they want to. It allows you to really expand the staff of quality people, I would think, rather than just saying, “Okay, who’s available within an hour’s drive of here.” That makes perfect sense to me, and it seems to be successful for you, too. It also gives you opportunity to get perspective from people around the country and different cultures and different cities with different ideas. Does that help?
Kevin Wallenbeck: Sure, absolutely. I think about half, I don’t know if it’s quite half, but pretty close to half of our folks do some type of camping or RVing or outdoor activities along those lines. Part of our hiring process actually is about a 10 to 12 step process. It’s not easy. It usually takes anywhere from three weeks to six weeks to get hired here, and it’s pretty rigorous. It seems like such a simple thing, but even one of the steps that’s required as part of your onboarding process is you’re required to, we like you to go to a campground and have that experience if you never had that before. Most importantly make sure that they get out to some RV shows.
If they had the opportunity, many times we’ll have a client, dealership as a client that’s in that area that they can stop in and say hi, and make some relationships there. Even if they’re not directly connected in an account management type way, but yeah, you definitely get a broader scope, and some different experiences.
Greg Gerber: I think that would be helpful, too, considering a lot of web development firms, maybe not those serving the RV industry, but a lot of them are overseas, and so they really have no clue what the American RV industry like, nor are they ever going find out unless they come over here, so you can’t really build a website for the RV industry in India when people don’t really know what RVing is all about.
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah, no, you’re right. There’s been other competitors of ours in the industry that harp on that. They mentioned things like we do everything in house, and we do everything here in the United States, and we do pretty much as well, too. We don’t have any folks, we have a couple folks in Canada that work for us. They’re good team members, but if you’re trying to get the pulse, you and I talked about this last night a little bit over dinner, is that it is a real challenge a lot of times to takes what’s going on at the dealership, whether it’s the sales, whether it’s just an event that’s going on, whether it’s the RVs, the product they’re trying to sell themselves.
Like you just said, if you don’t have that knowledge, that ability to comprehend what it is all about … and for us, yeah, we help dealers that we want to help them sell products. At the end of the day, if we look at just that, if that’s all we looked at, really we’re trying to look beyond that and say, “What’s that experience that that RVer is going to have at the end of the day.” That’s the goal, because if you just stop short of that and you put bad content out there that people don’t understand and doesn’t make sense, that’s not helping anyone get there.
Greg Gerber: Or if it’s all about the sale, and that’s all you want to do. Sell the RVs, here’s the RVs we have, here’s the price. No reason to use them, no lifestyle information, no getting people excited about the things they can do with their families, et cetera. It just the basic sales website. I don’t know if that’s enough anymore. Is it?
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah, it’s definitely a challenge there. At the end of the day, everyone needs to make money. The dealers need to generate revenue, they do that by selling products and services. You’ve got to find that balance of balance of how do I get the right sales information out there? How do I present my information I have in such a way that earns, the makes people aware, that earns their trust, and engages them to take action? Yeah, you definitely have to …
Greg Gerber: Have to push it up to the next level.
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah, yeah, and it’s a process. It’s not a perfect thing. I’m not sitting in this chair and your wonderful motor home here from a perch by any means. This stuff is a challenge. It’s hard. It’s work. Never seems to end. Sometimes that feels good, and sometimes that feels bad, but for the most part it’s great.
Greg Gerber: In the reality of 2015, is just having a website enough anymore for a business?
Kevin Wallenbeck: Most folks, most dealerships obviously have website, and for the most part, people go out there and look. From the surface, they’re pretty solid. They are. A lot of them look good now, and there’s a lot of good information on them that’s becoming, you see some dealers lately that are really pushing the lifestyle, and blending that into the products and the data information. That’s wonderful. That’s always a direction we’re trying to go, but as far as a website, the whole idea, you’ve watched the movie, I can’t think of it at the moment, but the line is, “Build it and they will come.”
Greg Gerber: Yes, mm-hmm (affirmative). Field of Dreams.
Kevin Wallenbeck: Field of Dreams, yeah. That used to be true. Back in the early 2000s probably until about 2006-ish.
Greg Gerber: Before there were about 150 million different websites in the country.
Kevin Wallenbeck: Right. That idea of build it and they will come just doesn’t exist anymore. There is no silver bullet. If you look at the amount of changes, with most of the traffic coming from search engines like Google and others, you look at the pure number of changes, I don’t know what it was 2015, but 2014, I want to say there was over a thousand algorithm changes that Google made in that year. The people that try to trick that, that try to make that, short-term that has benefit, but long-term, we’ve seen, I can tell you some stories, man. We’ve seen some other folks that have tried to go that route, and a long-term downside of that is huge.
Opportunity cost, we talked about that last night. You lose that momentum. The effort you put into your site now is compounded interest. If you can build on that over time, you can build a lot of value, but if you don’t, then you’re not going to reap the rewards from that. Is the website just enough, specifically?
Greg Gerber: Right.
Kevin Wallenbeck: Absolutely, you have to do more than that.
Greg Gerber: You have to do something to get people to that website, right?
Kevin Wallenbeck: Sure, get them there and also engage with them.
Greg Gerber: And keep them.
Kevin Wallenbeck: Right, yeah. You keep them coming back. It’s hard. We all get busy, especially a dealership. This time of the year, most dealerships across the country are hopping. It’s fantastic. It’s wonderful, but having those right processes in place, not just to get the person to call, or to get them to send a form and asking for information, or some type of engagement, but what’s that followup process and how that works?
Greg Gerber: That’s so critical. I tell you, I hear from people all the time that I’ve contacted an RV dealership to get information, and I never heard back. You’re probably right. It’s just this time of year, people are really, really busy, so who’s handling the leads? How do you follow up on an email lead when you got two customers staring you in the face wanting your attention right then and there, and that continues throughout the day? How do dealers do that? Digital marketing has to be a process that they really pay attention to, right?
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah, the marketing itself, and obviously there’s good systems for follow up. CRMs, or the customer relationship management, that’s a term people throw around a lot. They throw pretty loosely. Most of the time, it’s not necessarily what dealerships are looking for on the front end. Really what they’re looking for is sales automation, not really CRM. CRM is customer relationship management, so they become a customer and now you’re going to build that relationship over time. What they’re really looking for is some of those tools that help them on the front end, which is really the sales automation. How can I make my process, my sales process the most efficient that I can to be able to reach back to people in a way that is helpful to them, gives them the information they need?
At the same time, how do I balance that with my resources, my sales folks that I have at my dealership?
Greg Gerber: We’ll be back to more of the interview with Kevin Wallenbeck after a brief mention of our new podcast sponsor, ADCO. ADCO’s newest RV cover is called designer Tyvek all-climate plus wind. After years of development, this cover features a patent pending slip seam strapping system that allows the cover to resist wind damage and extends its useful life. If you dealership has previously been resistant to selling RV covers because of wind or high ultraviolet rays in your area, this new cover category may be the answer you’ve been waiting for. ADCO’s other product launched this year is the RV roof cover. ADCO managed to fit 99% of class As, class Cs, travel trailers, toy haulers, fifth wheels, in just four SKUs, which means this program is easy for dealers to stock, and it’s a crowd favorite among consumers.
I encourage you to check out the products over there at ADCO by visiting them at www.adcoprod.com. That’s A-D-C-O-P-R-O-D.com. Can you send out blanket emails again? Or blanket letters? People know that MailMerge exists, and Word, and things like that, so why can’t you send out a letter to somebody’s actually name, “Dear Greg?” That type of thing, rather than, “Dear Valued Customer?” The same thing with email. All of that stuff can be personalize now. It takes more work, but is it more effective?
Kevin Wallenbeck: It does take more work. It’s absolutely more effective. The studies have shown, I can’t sit here and give you an exact study, but I know I’ve looked at them in the past, and just as a customer myself, I buy things online. I buy things from businesses, and when you get that personal experience of that email that comes with a name. I know, I still know. I do this stuff every day. I live, eat, and breath this stuff. I do it every day, and I still feel good about getting that email that says, “Hey, Kevin.”
Greg Gerber: Exactly. Dear Customer, gag me when I read that kind of thing.
Kevin Wallenbeck: What’s really funny, they were involved in a lot of online marketing advertising type activities, and we have vendors that we work with. I bet you probably in the last year, there’s probably been two that have sent out, they send out a blanket email accidentally, even. It’s just like, “Wait a second, that was a big mistake.” You got to keep your eye on the ball. It’s not something you can just want to set it and forget it. You want to keep evolving with it, but you definitely can personalize things, and I think that is, even at a very simple thing. Does it take a little work up front? Sure, but very simple thing, it definitely can be helpful.
Greg Gerber: I’m trying to think back to when I got my first Blackberry so that I could check email on the road, but I bet you it was around 2002, 2001 maybe. Now dealers have to be particularly mindful of all of these devices that people are using. They’re not only accessing their dealership sitting at a laptop or a desktop computer, but also on their smart phones, their tablets, what else?
Kevin Wallenbeck: You mentioned all these different devices, and just a little side note I always find interesting. We don’t think of a laptop as being a mobile device, but really it was the first one, right? That has a large screen, so really it comes to screen size. It’s really less about the device itself, because if you’re trying to develop or create software, or if you’re trying to do that for every single type of manufacturer device, then it’s going to be a nightmare, but if you do it for the screen size, which is really what matters, then you have a much better chance of being successful. Not just successful, but lowing your, you want to call it total cost of ownership or whatever.
The amount of money and time and effort and energy it requires to maintain that over time. The idea of responsive design.
Greg Gerber: Responsive, that’s the word I was looking for, because it used to be that you had to build a regular website, and then a mobile website, but not anymore because of the advances in HTML technology, all of this stuff, the same website can be responsive and used on a laptop or desktop, and also automatically downsized because the text, what the person is using to request the information into a cell phone or a laptop, a tablet or something like that. It’s all done automatically.
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah, it is. We say automatically, but it’s like anything. It seems like the simpler we want things to become, the harder and more complex they are to accomplish. It’s amazing to me that when we have the larger screen, probably back five, six all the way through up until a couple of years ago, when we would talk to dealers about what they wanted their websites, what they wanted one them, what information we should have there, what’s the right mix of this and that, it really a lot of times is how much can we fit on there? Now what’s interesting is there’s this total shift with responsive on small devices, small screen sizes that it’s not about how much can I fit?
It takes a lot of brainpower and testing and awareness to figure out what should be there, because you’ve only got so much real estate. Now all of a sudden you went from packing everything on this one screen, which really isn’t the best way to go, anyway, but that’s hard not to do. Now you have this very limited amount of real estate, and what are you going to put there? What content, what message do we need to convey to people that gets them on a journey. One thing that’s interesting, it used to be a big thing about a number of clicks on websites. How do we reduce clicks, how do we reduce clicks, how do we reduce clicks? Testing now shows that, do you realize how often, every time you put your thumb or your finger on your screen, that counts as technically the same action as a click?
Doesn’t do the same thing. Sometimes you’re sliding. Sometimes you’re clicking. It’s a little different, but at the end of the day, you’re still pressing. You’re pressing that screen, and it’s amazing if you watch someone on a website, even if it’s responsive, how many times they will click something.
Greg Gerber: Scroll?
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah. Now it’s not about how to reduce clicks. It’s about how to present the information, the right message in the right way to lead them on the right journey with the amount of real estate that you have. I’m telling you … you count how many hours we put into, we call it mobile performance improvement. It is amazing to me how much effort is required to take something that looks so simple, effortless.
Greg Gerber: Right. When you got 800 pixels or 1,000 pixels to deal with it, it’s like being in a playground. You can do so much, but when you have to think about what is available on that 300 pixel screen for a smartphone, that takes on an entirely different dimension. What do dealers do about that if they want to have a lot of inventory, but also lifestyle information, plus information about their dealership? How do they organize all of it?
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah, that’s a challenge. I think that right now, all of us, we’re all going through this process in the industry right now. Everywhere, not just the industry, but everywhere in the world with the small screen, small real estate environment. How do you do that? It requires a lot of thought process, a lot of testing and looking, and not a lot of guessing, because the deal is on that large screen, you can do a lot of guessing because you can show, let’s take what are their four primary different types of personalities out there. They shop in different ways.
Greg Gerber: Four or five.
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah, some people are real concerned about numbers. Give me the numbers, that’s all I care about. A lot of data. Some people are concerned-
Greg Gerber: Sounds like men.
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah, right, some people are more concerned about the colors and the way things look. Gender differences primarily, but even within those, there’s different segments within those gender differences, and so it takes on a small screen … on a large screen, you can present-
Greg Gerber: A little bit for everybody.
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah. On a small screen, you got to really work at that. It’s requiring a lot of effort, a lot of testing on our part. We’re putting, just us, ourselves, we’re putting a lot of effort into this right now. Working with the dealers, trying to get the right mix.
Greg Gerber: When it comes to electronic marketing or digital marketing, what are the most effective things that you’ve seen dealers do?
Kevin Wallenbeck: Ron’s really good at this. This part right here. For me personally, I spent a lot of time working on business development, marketing, not just our company. We actually don’t market our company very much at all. It’s more about working with the dealers and their marketing, and our marketing team that we have. Ron spend a lot of time serving. I’m passionate about innovating, he is passionate about serving. You ever met Ron? This guy will serve you. He’s fantastic at it, but when he talks to dealers, and he works with other customer service specialists that work with our dealers, when we works with them with the dealers, there’s always this mindset of there isn’t a one solution that fits all.
There’s so many opportunities digitally on what you can do with your dollars, you’re always trying to find first of all the whole idea of what it is you want to accomplish. That really is the most important thing. A lot of times we come in, and whether it’s in life or in business we come in and we just say, “This is what I want to do.” We haven’t really put too much thought into what it is we really want to accomplish. If I can work on understanding what it is, if Ron can work on understanding on the team what it is you want to accomplish, then you can start looking at, “Okay, how does your reasonable market area,” what I mean by that is just the fact that you want to market to everybody in the country, and you’re a smaller than average dealership in Kansas somewhere.
You’re not going to be able to. It’s just not reasonable to think you’re going to spend your dollars nationally unless you’ve got a very specific niche. We have a couple class B folks that pretty much their niche is class Bs. Yeah, you can do a lot of marketing nationally with those types of products. It’s a special thing, but if you have a broad range of products, you’ve got to balance that out where it makes sense, what’s the ROI? Where are you going to spend your money? What are you going to get dollar for dollar? Sometimes it does work. The testing and all those things that are involved that’s not just a, “Hey, do these things and you’re going to get these results.”
You really got to put the effort in asking a lot of questions to get the right money in the right place to get the right results.
Greg Gerber: We were talking with Tom Waltwer not too long ago, that statistical surveys, and he was talking about how he can provide statistical data to show dealers where their customers are coming from down to the ZIP code. The great thing about digital marketing is that evolution in the last three or four years has made it possible for you to target your marketing to specific ZIP codes, correct?
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah. There’s some companies out there that are doing it now. I’ve heard of geo-fencing. You’ve heard about that, some folks that they’re doing that. That’s trying to get to the granular. We’ve played around with it a little bit specifically, but we have not determined yet that it gets the amount of ROI that you can get with some other things currently. I definitely think there’s some opportunities for that, to use that as a tool in some specific scenarios, but as a general … really, those types of technologies, you think about it. I was talking to Eric, our marketing team leader about this. We had a dealer this last week that said, “Hey, here’s somebody doing some geo-fencing stuff. You guys got to break this down for us, help us understand what it is.”
Really, those technologies were really initially designed for more local, like a pizza shop or whatever. If I’m driving through somewhere and I look on my phone, or I’m staying at a hotel overnight in an area, and I look at my phone, what’s close to me? That’s the idea of geo-targeting. If I live in a specific area, maybe the larger metroplex type areas, there’s some more opportunities there, but for the most part, wherever I live, I know what’s around. Can it be a tool? It sure can. It’s just one of those things you want to make sure you test, and to see if it’s going to give you the results that you’re hoping for.
Greg Gerber: Sure. You mentioned that dealers like myself are inundated with email, and maybe even phone calls every day from people selling web development services and SEO services, and all this other kind of stuff. Is there something they should really look for in evaluating a company?
Kevin Wallenbeck: Sure. People talk about what kind of scams are out there. I don’t know if in our industry specifically there’s anyone that’s running any scams, but I will say that no matter what you’re doing, and we’ve had obviously dealers that have been with us for a long time, and we’re very humbled and grateful for that, but reality is sometimes they’re evaluating. Is what we’re doing the right thing we should be doing? Is Interact the right company to stay with? There’s other companies out there that are trying to make decisions about who they’re staying with, or trying to go from a do-it-yourself type solution to using a provider, and what are the benefits of that?
I encourage it. I absolutely, even the dealers we work with. Not always be evaluating. You don’t want to spend all your time doing that, right? You want to focus on what gets results, but once in a while, I think it’s important to do that. We do it in our own personal lives. I think it’s good to do that, and when we do that, you’ve got to start with what it is you want to accomplish. What are your goals? Write them down. So many times people get sold a bill of goods, whether it’s the infamous in our industry, it seems to be everything is included. There is no way. We’ve been doing this a long time, and we have good folks. They are great at what they do, are design folks for fantastic.
But good work takes time to do. Talk to any dealer. They didn’t build their business overnight. To be successful, it takes time and energy to do the good things and do them correctly.
Greg Gerber: And the anything is included usually means they do have a whole bunch of options, and they are all included, but it’s part of a template, so it’s part of a cookie cutter approach to web development, and one dealer’s site might look very, very similar to another’s?
Kevin Wallenbeck: I would say that’s probably changing a little bit. If you look at those of us that are doing websites specifically in our industry these days, there’s probably less of that going on. There’s definitely some common themes. Reality is how many dealers are out there? 1,600, 1,800. There’s probably a few more than that, but that’s the idea, right? How many different ways can you do something? You’ve really got to look at the brand, first of all. The dealership, what’s unique about them, and try to blend that into their sites. What’s really more interesting I think, and frustrating, is that basically over-promising and under-delivering.
We had a competitor come in last year. They’re newer to the industry, a couple of years. They came in and they swooned away, I think six of our folks, by over-promising and saying, “Hey, yeah, we’re going to do all this for you, and this doesn’t cost this, and this is included.” Within 90 days I think half of them came back, and the other half wanted to, but they couldn’t because they had signed a year contract. That’s just one of those deals that you can’t over-promise and under-deliver. Those are the things to look for. I would suggest if you’re looking at something, write down your goals, what it is you want to accomplish, and then vet out.
No matter what you’re doing, whether it’s a website provider, whether you’re trying to work with a supplier, or you’re trying to work with online marketing company, it doesn’t matter. Vet them out. People tell you things all the time. We do this, we do this, you can do this. Have them prove it to you. Not just one example. You got to have at least two or three say, “This is exactly how it works. This is what you would do.” Get references. So many times, I don’t know if it’s just a fear, a pride thing. We all struggle with those things, but I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we just need to make sure that we’re vetting the things out that we’re doing.
Whether looking for new opportunities, or whether it’s looking at the things we’re currently doing.
Greg Gerber: When you’re evaluating a company like yourself, though, I think that’s probably very sound advice that dealers should be doing that every couple of years, just to make sure that it’s the right company. That also keeps you guys on your toes, and keeps you innovating, right? Because if you know your customers are out there comparing you to other development companies out there, you still need to be top notch and employing the latest gadgets and whistles, things like that, that are being employed to bring people to a dealer’s website.
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah, no, absolutely. That can be a scary thing to say out loud, but the reality is that in order to make sure, there’s nothing wrong with double checking, and as long as you follow the process, that doesn’t bother us at all. If you follow and make good decisions, because we’re fairly confident that we’re not the right fit for everyone. No one is. No one is going to sell every RV customer that walks in the door. There’s no way to do that, so we know that in competition is healthy, but at the end of the day, we absolutely … some of our customer success principles, how we do business. If you look at our website and you go to why InteractRV right at the top, it lists those things out, and it tells you.
One of the things is accountability. It’s important for us to be held accountable in this industry, with our customers, with our clients internally. I think it’s a key to being successful, is being held accountable, absolutely.
Greg Gerber: I remember not too long ago, maybe it’s three or four years ago, the big thing was to have this special landing page that played a flash video on your site, and I can’t remember how much those things cost, but they weren’t cheap. Many dealers were embracing that, and most people, all they were doing when that video started was click to skip and moved right into the website. There are some things that web developers have come in with over the years that may not have been such a good idea, but then there are others that are coming in all the time. It’s hard to know which ones you want to employ on your website. I think, what is it, HTML5, is that all the rage now for developing?
Kevin Wallenbeck: Has been for a little bit, a few years, yeah, absolutely.
Greg Gerber: Dealers aren’t generally technologically savvy. How do they evaluate this stuff without getting, what would you say? Deer in the headlights look, or dazzled by some tech speak kind of thing?
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah, I think the same principles apply, whether for any business own, whether it’s even your family. If you’re trying to make a good decision about which house you’re going to buy, you probably have figured out your goals, what you want to accomplish. You’re probably trying to find a realtor that is going to help to walk you through that journey, somebody you trust. Maybe there’s obviously a number of folks out there that feel confident in going that route themselves. For sale by owner, that stuff. You got this mix in our personal lives, and I think that comes right over into the business world, as well, that there’s always going to be those folks that really spend the time and get it.
We obviously have some dealer owners and principles that are really plugged in to the tech stuff. Not just because it’s something they think they have to do, but it’s something they really enjoy. They love it. That’s a very small percentage. Like you said, there’s definitely way more people out there that they want to spend time running their business. That’s means working with their people. That means understanding their customers. That means having the best products and services. That advertising online, or the marketing type services are the tools, the techniques, the strategies, the tactics, all those things that need to be done.
Most folks need to find someone they can trust to help them along the way. Now again, you got that real small percentage that don’t need it, but you got the other large percentage that do. We discovered that over the years, more and more folks, the larger dealerships, especially, are bringing people in to help them on staff. They’re really not doing all the work themselves. There’s too much work to do. They still need folks like us that are trying to stay on top of things. Again, we know we’re not perfect, but trying to stay on top of things and doing what’s necessarily to help them be successful by understanding their goals, and then encouraging them to employ certain strategies, certain tactics in their online marketing.
Then there’s others that maybe don’t have the resources financial to bring someone in full time to help them on staff, but they take advantage of folks like us and our team to help guide them and direct them. We’ve been very blessed like I said earlier, over the years or just having wonderful dealerships that we work with. Be frank, not everyone’s wonderful. There’s that very few that are just real picky and real high maintenance. That’s normal. That’s just life. That’s how things go, but man, the vast majority, you build relationships with folks, and you work hard, I mean real hard to help them be successful, and that combination I think of relationships and serving and innovation has really, it’s helped us to grow a team, and to help a lot of dealers.
We have some really exciting advancing dealers that we’re working with right now.
Greg Gerber: What did you do before this? You’re a member of the, not the baby boom generation, but the generation Xers, so you’re not quite as technically skilled by birth as the millennials or the digital natives, so what’d you do before you launched this?
Kevin Wallenbeck: Man, I’ve done a lot of things. I think they’ve all helped me. Even when I was a kid, I was mowing lawns and had the paper route thing, and as I got older worked in an ice cream shop. I worked as a motel maid for a summer. Burger King. I work as a nanny for a summer in college for four little kids, and worked in a factory, a salt factory. I’ve worked at a jewelry store. I sold vacuum cleaners door to door. I’ve worked in software, and then eventually got into the IT stuff. It wasn’t that I was unhappy with what I was doing all those years. It’s just I look back now and think, “What a wonderful experience all those different things that I did was to help me now, and the privilege and the opportunity that I have to serve clients and the team that we have.”
It’s been absolutely wonderful. Really, though, the last few years, probably ’98 to 2001, 2002, that spread right there was where I spent probably the majority of my time in software development. I really got my start even before that in IT, computer and network support. A long journey to get there, but the past, we’ve been doing this since 2001, so 14 years. That’s hard to believe. There’s so much opportunity out there to help dealers still. This stuff changes all the time. It’s craziness.
Greg Gerber: The job I hard right before I started with RV Trade Digest in January 2000 was I was doing technical support for an Internet service provider in Madison, Wisconsin, because everybody was all worried about Y2K. People were calling in all the time, and they had to hire mores staff to go out there and make sure that all their computer settings were correct and things like that. I agree. Having all those experiences, I think I worked 23 different jobs in my life, as well, but having all those experiences really gives you a broad based perspective on how things work. What do you do you maintain your skill level? Do you guys have to go through training all the time, or are you attending conferences? Are you reading books? What do you guys do?
Kevin Wallenbeck: I think there’s two different, in any business, there’s the technical skills required to do the work. Our companies broke up into teams, and each team has a team leader. We have our client services team, a marketing team, we have a design team, development team, beta team, and of course we have ops, operations team. Each of those teams with their team leader, Ron and I work with them to develop the train necessary. It’s that balance of you got to do the work, and you got to learn along the way. On the marketing team, for instance, all of the folks that work on a market team, we require them to either be or get Google certified in a number of areas.
There’s AdWords certification, there’s video certification, there’s analytics certification. There’s other resources that we have them use and utilize, other tools. Moss is a company that we actually last year for RVDA on our own dime, actually, we asked and got Tim Reznick from Moss to come in and do a seminar at RVDA, and we sponsored it, but we didn’t speak. We brought them in because Moss really is top three companies, and it was interesting that we had quite a few dealers attend that seminar, but no one really knew who Moss was. They don’t know. Just did a lot of awareness there, but our folks spend a lot of time definitely training technically. Then there’s this whole business of, like every dealer and every business has people. How do you train those people?
We found some great resources. We use Entre Leadership quite a bit.
Greg Gerber: That’s that Dave Ramsey course.
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah, it is, actually. Those of you who aren’t familiar with Dave Ramsey, it’s now called Ramsey Solutions. Whether you agree with the way he talks and his brashness sometimes, or whatever. I call it edutainment. There’s definitely educainment …
Greg Gerber: Education and entertainment.
Kevin Wallenbeck: Education factor within entertainment for sure. They built a wonderful business over the past 30 years, 25, 30 years. What they did is, he’s a marketer, man. This guy, I tell you what. You want to learn marketing, man, this guy knows how to turn stuff. It’s amazing. They have taken what they’ve learned over the past 25, 30 years and turned it into a product called Entre Leadership. You can got to entreleadership.com, and it’s this combination of for me personally and a lot of our folks, we have an entreneurial bent at our company. It’s not just about the next widget, the next, to do it just for to do it. We’re trying to figure out how do we make money.
We’re a business to make money, but how do we do this to allow our dealers to me more profitable?
Greg Gerber: When they’re more successful, you become more successful.
Kevin Wallenbeck: Sure, sure, so having that entrepreneurial bent is very helpful, and then this idea of leader. Entre Leadership really resonates well with especially our leadership team here at InteractRV. We use their services quite a bit. They have some free some. Actually go to entreleadership.com. One of the best things about what they do is they have a free podcast, so maybe somebody could just listen to theirs after they listen to yours.
Greg Gerber: That’s great. Actually I listen to it.
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah, it’s fantastic, and there’s some other things you can do to buy and to get some additional services and things, but if you’re trying to train leaders, you’re trying to train people to lead, and leading is really what? Serving. It really is that idea of servant leadership. If that’s what you’re trying to do, then resources like that are invaluable to help you accomplish that.
Greg Gerber: One of the things that Kevin and I have in common is we are both DODOs, dads of daughters only. We both have three girls. His are still in high school or just entering college. You guys go out camping as a family frequent, is that correct?
Kevin Wallenbeck: Yeah, we do. Actually, you had to wait for us last night. You were parked out front on the road, and we had to get our RV pulled back through the driveway around the garage before you could pull in. Yeah, no, we thoroughly enjoy it. My wife grew up camping every summer. When she was a girl would go up to the camp ground, stay in the RV with her grandparents. Our first RV that we got back in 2000, we had tent camped, and that gets old with little kids real quick. You get on bad rainstorm and you’re done. Back in 2007, about the same time, actually at the same time that we were developing the second generation of our software, we said, “You know what? It would probably be good for us to buy one. Let’s go through that process, and let’s see what we can learn to add value back into what we’re offering to the dealerships and ultimately the consumers buying the product.”
So we got our first RV. It was great. It was a hybrid. We had an Astro van, and I think those first two summers that we had that van, we live in Michigan, so we went out to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and did the whole Civil War stuff out there. The next summer, I think we went up to Adirondack Mountains and went up to visit some friends in Vermont. We took a five week, six week trip each time, and of course working remotely. As long as the campground had wifi.
Greg Gerber: It worked correctly, right.
Kevin Wallenbeck: We stayed at KOA’s. The be frank, the KOA’s had good wifi for the most part, comes that worked out well for us, but no, we thoroughly enjoy it. We did upgrade last year, and upgraded to a Coachman Freedom Express with a bunkhouse in the back. We thoroughly have enjoyed that upgrade from the tent ends, even on the hybrid. You don’t think about it, but you pull into a place, a campground, and there’s a streetlight out there. You try to go to sleep, and then you have the tent end on a hybrid, and it’s like, “Are you kidding me?” You got to go get the tarp out, put the tarp over it. Now having the hard sides all the way around, and my wife’s loving it.
Greg Gerber: And the girls still like to camp?
Kevin Wallenbeck: I tell you what, they want to go. My youngest is 15, and then I have one that’s 17. She’s going to be a senior this year, and we have one that’s 20. The 20 year old doesn’t like to camp quite as much as the younger two, but the younger two, man, I tell you what, the epitome of camping, going and chilling, and just sitting in the chairs. What do you call those? The ones that elevate, the floating chairs, what do they call them? Gravity chairs, anti-gravity chairs, right? They enjoy that, reading their books, and it’s fantastic. We actually for the past couple of years have taken a camping trip specifically the weekend before they study for their finals.
Greg Gerber: Before finals? To relax them?
Kevin Wallenbeck: I tell you what, they’ll study in the camper for three hours and then take an hour break, and then study in the camper, and wife and I, there’s just the two of them, so my wife and I get to hang out outside around the fire and whatnot. It’s become a ritual. It’s fun.
Greg Gerber: That’s neat. We’re running our of time here, Kevin. What are some of the best, or the best piece of advice you ever received?
Kevin Wallenbeck: The best piece of advice I received? I could go on and on probably. I had a lot of influences in my life, most of them very positive, of course. The one thing, probably two. I’m going to give you two. Can I give two?
Greg Gerber: Sure.
Kevin Wallenbeck: All right. One is, name is Dean Whitherspoon, and he was a guy that I used to work for. I was doing software development in the wellness industry. We would develop web software to help people exercise. They would plot their course and things like that. It was a lot of fun. He was always plotting and planning, always trying to get ahead. What I mean by that is he would consistently be intentional about finding things to do in the future, and then incrementally work toward them. That idea of the tortoise and the hare, plot along, the back of the book.
Greg Gerber: Slow and steady.
Kevin Wallenbeck: The tortoise always wins, and he was fantastic at that. Through that, I came up with this definition of success that it’s not the only one that’s out there, it just happens to be mine. Success is really preparing for being in the right place at the right time. Being frank with it, how much success have we had because we were prepared? Most of us would probably say, “Yeah, if I wasn’t prepared for that, I probably wouldn’t have been able to accomplish it in the way that I did to achieve as much success as I did,” right?
Greg Gerber: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kevin Wallenbeck: That’s my definition of success, personally. That’s been huge, so that’s what I do. I plot along, prepare something that I work on today a little bit might not have any value for two years or a year down the road, but you just vet those things out, work at those things, and ultimately try to get some benefit for those that you’re serving. Along the lines of serving, really Ron Cheney. As a partner, we are opposite personalities, man. In the early days, we used to fight like brothers on the phone. We had to work past that. We were opposites, but one of the things that I have learned from him, probably the biggest impact that he’s had on my life is he is so patient with people, and just serves relentlessly.
I can’t even describe it. It’s one of those deals. Sometimes you just know people like that, and it’s just been fantastic.
Greg Gerber: What can I do for you? What can I do to help you?
Kevin Wallenbeck: Constantly, and he doesn’t really get rattled. Me, on the other hand, I want to solve that problem right now. Let’s get her done. He’s like, “Let’s think through this.” He’s fantastic working with the dealers, and excuse me, leading our client services team, and training them, and being a great example to them, for sure.
Greg Gerber: That’s great. Kevin, I thank you so much for taking a whole hour to come out and talk to us.
Kevin Wallenbeck: That long?
Greg Gerber: Yeah, believe it or not.
Kevin Wallenbeck: Time flies.
Greg Gerber: I appreciate the time.
Kevin Wallenbeck: You’re welcome.
Greg Gerber: I really enjoyed spending some time with Kevin. He allowed me to park my RV in his driveway, and I got the opportunity to meet his wife and two of his three daughters, who were both delightful and personable young ladies. More importantly, Kevin and I went out to dinner, and we got to talking about websites and web strategies, and he’s a pretty brilliant guy when it comes to that, and well tuned into the Internet, and the advances being made in digital marketing.