By Darian Armer
RV Daily Report Assistant Editor
RV Education 101 has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1999. What began as a way to help RV consumers by offering informative VHS tapes answering common RV questions and issues has evolved into an ongoing determination to stay ahead of the curve.
“The big evolution has been through the different systems and delivery from various types of media,” said Mark Polk.
The realization that ever-changing technology would keep them on their toes came after walking into a store to rent a video and finding half of the movies for rent were in DVD format. The Polks said they found themselves stuck with a little VHS inventory.
“We learned a valuable lesson to stay ahead of the curve and try to make sure of where we were going,” Mark said. “After we put all of our titles on DVD, we looked at where technology was headed.”
The Beginning of RV Education 101
Both Mark and Dawn Polk worked at an RV dealership when they saw the need for more in-depth information for consumers.
“What I found over the years is most RV dealers are very service oriented, and want to educate consumers, but don’t always have the time or budget. Some RV dealers offer seminars when possible, but on a day-to-day level their job is to sell and service RVs.
“We saw a niche there. People were hungry for the information and it wasn’t readily available” said Mark.
The Polks started by offering a dealer walk-thru or orientation video. Mark conducted the walk-thru with the customer on the dealer lot, and the concept of starting RV Education 101 was to put the entire walk-thru class into video format. He saw customers unable to retain the information presented to them in such a short amount of time, adding that by the time consumers got the RV home they were forgetting things.
As consumers began to watch the orientation videos, they inevitably asked, “what next?”
“As time went on people would purchase one video and say, ‘hey, now that I know that, what do I do next?’ That’s how we ventured off into other titles,” said Mark.
Looking to the Future
After the VHS-DVD surprise, the Polks weren’t taking any chances, and about 10 years ago started experimenting with instant downloads.
“No one was really considering that. Most people were streaming, not downloading. YouTube wasn’t real popular at the time either,” said Mark.
The Polks said they have been trying to find a way that people with an iPod or iPad can view the video as well as a person who has an android device or windows computer. In doing so, the Polks collaborated with a group that created a video viewing app.
“Right now we’re updating some of our older video titles and as we complete each title we’re loading them on to the video apps to make them available on almost any viewing device. We hope we’re looking far enough into the future to keep this running for a long time,” said Dawn.
Rather than offering only technical videos to consumers, the Polks said they try to keep the learning fun.
“We offer a lot of information, like our free RV play and learn crossword puzzles,” said Dawn. “It’s not at all about just trying to generate a profit. We are genuinely concerned about the welfare of RVers.”
It’s this attitude that makes the Polks mission and consumer education so invaluable to the industry as a whole.
The Polks say one of the biggest concerns in the industry is consumers who are intimidated with the motorized or towable RV they purchase.
“It doesn’t do anybody any good if they park it and never use it,” Dawn said. “We show them how to use it and get it out there and enjoy the lifestyle.”
The couple not only knows what they’re talking about, but they live it. Dawn said the family was averaging about 6,000 miles a year in the RV, but up until last year their son was still in high school and they were relatively tied down.
“So 2016 will be the first year we will be able to do more than what we consider average,” said Dawn. “We will be in the RV for several weeks at a time, and can conduct business on the road.”
Mark said he generally spends the first one to two hours of every day trying to answer questions through email and on his blogs in areas where the consumers have the most need and want. He said this helps us focus on the RV consumer’s major concerns. Through these questions it’s easy to see the areas consumers need and want information on RVs, including routine maintenance, batteries, tires and winterizing.
“Once we see a category consumers are interested in we add content, and continue to expand on the information available,” said Mark.
Perhaps most importantly is the result of the information Mark and Dawn provide to consumers.
“It keeps people in the lifestyle,” said Dawn. “It doesn’t leave them with a bad taste in their mouth or frustrated with their purchase.”