WINTER SPRING, Fla. — Controversy is brewing in the RV industry with accusations of dirty tricks being leveled by web developers, and dealers claiming their websites are being instantly shut off if they contemplate switching to a new hosting company, RV Daily Report has learned.
During the past four weeks, RV Daily Report has received multiple reports through dealer contacts, anonymous tips and telephone calls all pointing to a volatile, competitive situation in the website management market.
Josh Wood, owner of River City Recreation World in Sherwood, Ark., told RV Daily Report that his website was shut off as soon as UVS Junction Director Angela Cellucci caught wind the dealership was moving to a different web provider.
“I had a few buddies of mine who had switched from UVS a while before,” he explained. “We decided to make the move, too, But, we were locked into a two-year deal with UVS.”
Wood claims the deal made with UVS Jnction in December 2011 gave the dealership one year of free service, if Wood paid for an entire year upfront. “I think they were having financial issues and needed to raise money, so we paid for a year from the beginning of December 2011 for service through the end of December 2013, which included one free year of service.”
Cellucci vehemently denies that claim. In fact she said it was the dealership that was experiencing financial problems and UVS Junction came to the rescue by offering them a significant amount of free service.
“I would like to first start by saying that UVS has always been extremely supportive of any dealership that is wanting to change providers, and we work with them when they announce this to help make the transition easy,” Cellucci told RV Daily Report. “We would never ever shut anyone down because they ‘are switching providers.’ That would be suicide for UVS. We have shut down dealers for lack of payment due to the fact that we give so much free time with any annual prepayment.”
Wood said UVS started approaching the dealership in late November to renew the contract before the end of the year. That’s when the problem erupted.
The week of Thanksgiving, the UVS staff called to renew the contract and spoke to a River City employee who explained the dealership was looking at different options. Cellucci immediately sent an e-mail to Wood, which he shared with RV Daily Report.
“Just received a call from your gal. I’m so sorry that you didn’t see the value in how we reached out to you and your dealership by extending a free year to your dealership when you shared that you had some challenges back in 2011.” Cellucci wrote. “I value our clients and took this very personal. I’m saddened and truly wish you well.
“With that, there is absolutely no way I will continue extending our generosity through December. Your past year was valued at $7,140,” she added. “It was our pleasure to help you all out. I’m sorry you were dazzled by a bunch of fast talking sales guys and didn’t value us.
“We wish you well and never close any doors. We had two other clients that ‘almost’ jumped ship. They made a choice to walk away and stick with us due to our loyalties to them,” Cellucci wrote. “It’s not too late as our goal is to service our industry with the finest available. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you would like to maintain service.”
Then, on Dec. 2, the day before the start of the National RV Trade Show, Cellucci sent another message to Wood announcing his website had been suspended.
“With that, this morning all logins have been disabled,” she added. “Your last payment to us was in December of 2011. We gave your dealership ONE YEAR FREE, so refusing to pay even a month of service unfortunately has put you in a very bad position.
“A payment of $1,500 MUST BE RECEIVED in CERTIFIED FUNDS by the close of business tomorrow to extend your site until the end of December,” Cellucci wrote. “We will NOT ACCEPT any other form of payment. All links and clicking have also been disabled so your visitors will not be able to click through any pages other than your homepage.
“It’s unfortunate that after servicing you and extending such an enormous amount of free time that you were dazzled with a bunch of fast talking sales guys that convinced you they had a better product than us,” she added. “I hope they give you the service they promised. We’re disappointed that you didn’t give us a call.”
Cellucci stuck to her promise and immediately moved the website into “maintenance mode,” which meant that none of the links or interior pages would work. Only the homepage was be displayed.
“I was at the Louisville show when UVS shut down our website,” said Wood. “My guys were calling me at the show asking me what we were going to do because customers were calling the dealership saying they couldn’t get information on any units they were looking at on our website. We had about 200 units online. ”
Fortunately for Wood, representatives of a competitive hosting company, Dealer Spike, were able to lauch a provisional website within 45 minutes, he explained.
“It wasn’t a final product, but it was functional,” said Wood, who explained the other firm was able to pull pictures of units on the River City lot by grabbing them from units being displayed at RV Trader.
“They worked pretty quickly to set up a website at GoDaddy and start moving our information to the new website,” he explained. “We were receiving leads from the new website within two hours.”
Websites are essential
In recent years, the website had become the company’s virtual front door through which a great number of prospects and current customers visited the site to communicate with the dealership staff, Wood explained.
“You just don’t shut down some company’s website. People visiting the site think the company is closed for business without even bothering to call to see if they are open,” said Wood.
“Initially, we saw that we couldn’t click through to anything. It just displayed the front page. About 20 to 30 minutes later, it went to maintenance mode and every staff member’s login and passwords were disabled,” said Wood.
Cellucci claims the situation was not portrayed correctly.
“River City RVs was facing some challenges. Back in December of 2011, he prepaid (in two payments because he didn’t have the flow to fund an entire year) for one year of service worth $7,140,” said Cellucci. “To help him through the tough times, we didn’t invoice him until November 2013 for renewal. When we contacted them for renewal they were quite rude and flat out just said, ‘We’re not paying.’
“With that, I continued to remind them that they were on free time and we couldn’t continue to service them without payment. They then shared that they were having a new site built,” she said. “I wished them well and explained that if their new site was not built in time, we would require $1,500 to maintain it in certified funds so they wouldn’t be able to charge it back on a credit card.
“To summarize, we gave them a ton of time and never once bothered them. Then, when they were due to renew, they were rude and forgot how we helped them during their hard times,” said Cellucci, noting that she is offended the dealership would even suggest she was employing such extortionate tactics.
“When a client prepays for services, typically it will buy them one year of service and then we add three, six or 12 additional months, depending on when they renew and how long they’ve been a client,” she explained. “In EVERY case we have always sent warnings and e-mails alerting the client when their cutoff date is and giving them an opportunity to extend past that date.”
RV Daily Report had heard that several dealership websites had been shut down by UVS, but was only able to confirm the issue with River City Recreation World.
However, Cellucci offered information about another dealership’s website her company had recently shut down, but this was due to the fact the firm had disputed thousands of dollars the dealership had paid to UVS by using a credit card, and had the credit card firm reverse the charges.
The dealership “was receiving red carpet service as a total management level three client,” Cellucci explained. “We worked on their site every single day with descriptions, custom artwork and everything that they needed to remain a front runner.
“One employee sent us requests all the time and we even had strategy calls with her team. She was paying $200 weekly for this higher level service and received merchant receipts every week for the service, so she was very well aware of what she was getting for her money,” Cellucci added. “But, she made a choice to charge back thousands of dollars of service. We immediately contacted her and she seemed to think that she was okay because she prepaid for her website.”
In other words, the dealership had prepaid for the website, but then reneged on a multitude of add-on services not included with the intial web hosting contract.
“Because the dealership charged back such a gross amount of money, their website was disabled until she funded us with a certified check. During the process we disabled all of her team from logging into her site and performing any maintenance,” Cellucci explained.
“We continued to send e-mail trying to get this resolved, but the staff refused to talk with us. In the mean time, we already knew that she was changing providers,” said Cellucci. “Again, we would never hold anyone back. We just don’t play dirty, and as far as I can see, charging back money for services received is dirty. That’s not cool at all.”
Who owns dealership data?
When websites are closed and dealerships move service from one host to another, the issue raises a broader question of who owns a dealership’s data, Wood said. If a dealership changes web providers, should the dealership be able to retain the data and information it had on its website?
“We already owned the domain and had separate access to that, thank goodness,” he added. “But, I feel that a dealership owns all the content on its website. We hire companies to simply build the website for us and monitor it for us every month.”
That’s not entirely correct, said Cellucci. Dealers lease the software itself, which UVS considers to be proprietary in nature. However, dealers do own the data created by the software, she admitted.
“We have never, ever held any data hostage including leads, customer information and phone numbers,” she explained. “When they change providers, we would export their leads or they can do that themselves.”
Cellucci did not explain how that could be accomplished with a website in “maintenance mode.” However, she compared using UVS’ proprietary software to renting a house.
“UVS owns the house, but everything the renter bring into the house belongs to them,” she said.
Competing against clients
Another UVS customer told RV Daily Report last week that he thought the company was becoming a competitor to the dealership with one of the new services UVS developed in April called Pool to Rule.
The service was billed as a dealer marketing network in which dealerships would pay UVS for exclusive rights to leads within a 50-mile radius of the dealership based on the business’ zip code. UVS was compiling the leads from a separate website called RVHit.com.
RV Daily Report published a press release from Cellucci April 4, which can be read by clicking here.
The website offers buyers the opportunity to search through 4,000 different floorplans and click on a button to “hit me with your best deal.” That lead would be delivered to whichever RV dealer had purchased the exclusive territory based on the manufacturer or brand they represent.
Over the years, UVS Junction has compiled an extensive list of floorplan designs and photographs for just about every RV manufactured. The RVs displayed at RVHit.com are not actual units for sale, but rather listings of units built by various RV manufacturers. When a customer expresses interest in a unit, the lead is sent to the partner dealership closest to the buyer. It is up to the dealer to either find the unit in question for the customer, or convince him or her to look at a different model on the dealer’s lot.
Every time a consumer asks for more information, they are told their names are entered into a drawing to win a $250 VISA gift card offered by UVS Junction.
Once dealers pay for their exclusive 50-mile radius, the money was to be pooled together to promote RVHit, Cellucci explained in April.
“Network dollars get pooled and then reinvested back into the most powerful digital marketing campaign in the industry,” said Cellucci at the time. “Display ads, keyword ads, and re-marketing (cyber following) will flock consumers to this smart site. Once the consumer clicks onto the inventory of choice, the RV dealer that is closest to the web visitor based on zip code logic will receive the lead exclusively.”
However, RV Daily Report conducted a Google search for the first unit to appear in RVHit’s Browse All Inventory page — a 2014 Thor Motor Coach Citation 29TB. The link to RVHit.com appeared in position 36 of the search results, and no paid keyword ads appeared in those results.
What irritated the dealer RV Daily Report spoke to was the idea that if the dealership failed to pay UVS for the exclusive territory, a non-UVS customer was given the leads. So a UVS customer might have a used 2014 Thor Motor Coach Citation 29TB sitting on their lot as a result of a trade in, but people searching for those units within 50 miles of the dealership wouldn’t know it was there because the lead would be sent to whichever dealership purchased rights to leads for Thor Motor Coach or the Citation brand, he explained.
“If we took the exclusive territory, then it cost us a lot more money,” the dealer explained. “But, if we didn’t take the territory, then UVS, as our web provider, actually became our competitor in facilitating the sale of units in our market.”
Cellucci readily agrees. Although RVHit.com sounded like a good idea at the time, a few months later, she said UVS changed its strategy for the website.
“We never looked at the website as competing against our customers until later on down the line,” she explained. “Months ago, we sent a notice to all our clients and stopped billing them for RVHit. For those that never participated, we started including them for free. Now its simply a value-added site for all UVS clients that drives leads to their dealerships.”
UVS doesn’t collect any money for the site, which also means the company doesn’t have money to reinvest into online marketing. So, it’s no surprise that RV Daily Report didn’t see any keyword ads.
“In the past, we were spending close to $20,000 a month in traffic-generating campaigns,” she explained. “Today, RVHit.com is just living on the web and generating organic traffic for our clients.”
“Sometimes companies make mistakes and it was clear to us that what sounded like a great idea turned out to offend some of our clients,” she added. “So we immediately pulled down the plan and flipped RVHit.com over as a free site.”
Several sources suggested that UVS Junction was monitoring the e-mail sent and received by the dealership — which Cellucci again vehemently denied.
“It is just ironic that if the dealership has e-mail services through UVS web hosting, and a UVS competitor contacts the dealership, somehow she (Cellucci) catches wind of the discussion and calls the dealership,” one source explained.
That’s a ridiculous accusation, Cellucci explained, adding that if such contact occurred, it was merely a happy coincidence.
“First off, we don’t even host e-mail for all our clients. And for those that we do host, we can’t even get into the back end without them knowing we are there, so that’s impossible,” she said. “We don’t have their passwords, so they would have to give those to us in order for us to access their e-mail accounts.
“Contrary to what you were told, our clients are loyal to us and they let us know when competition is calling them,” said Cellucci. “There isn’t another provider out there that does what we do, but of course everyone would want to target us and accuse us of stuff like this.
“I don’t play dirty and still service the same guys I did nearly 15 years ago,” she added.
“Many of our loyal clients call us and tell us about our competitors’ fast-talking promises. With that being said, we don’t have to fight nor would we ever disable any client because of their choices,” said Cellucci. “UVS continues to launch and provide the best services for our clients during a time when we’ve seen so many providers come and go.
“We will continue to maintain the level of excellence we’ve serviced our industry with for nearly a decade and a half,” she added. “When competition hits us hard, it only drives us to perform harder and deliver more cool stuff to our clients.
“Competition is healthy, providing everyone plays a clean and fair game. We don’t over promise and under deliver,” said Cellucci. “On the contrary, we under promise and over deliver AND we include everything in our package. That is what sets us apart.”