By Greg Gerber
News that Jayco has sued one of its dealers for violating the company’s trademarks is raising eyebrows across the industry. It is rare that an RV manufacturer publicly humiliates and ridicules one of its big dealers, for whatever reason, and it signals several major issues facing the company.
RV Daily Report published the article earlier today.
First, charging a dealer for “illegally selling RVs outside its territory” with a trademark violation is akin to the FBI busting gangster Al Capone for failing to pay his taxes. Texas has some of the strictest dealer franchise laws in the nation. To sue a dealer for a trademark violation rather than breach of contract seems rather petty to me.
At this year’s RV Dealers Association convention and expo, ask any 20 dealers whether competitors are illegally selling RVs in violation of sales agreements and 19 of them will immediately nod their heads, and one will say he needs to ask his sales manager because he’s clueless as to whether that actually happens.
For years, RV manufacturers have simply turned their heads and promised to “look into” the matter and may, if the offended dealer harasses the manufacturer long enough, send a nasty-o-gram to the dealer in violation. But, manufacturers have long believed that a sale is a sale is a sale.
- Internet dealer advertising RVs for a few dollars over wholesale — who cares as long as a unit is sold?
- Out-of-state dealer selling RVs at traveling RV shows — who cares as long as a unit is sold?
- Dealer selling a unit to a buyer 1,000 miles away, thus creating an orphaned owner — who cares if the buyer can’t ever get the RV fixed as long as the selling dealership orders a replacement RV?
So, if a big company like Jayco wants to go to war against a big interstate dealer like National Indoor RV Centers, there must be bigger issues at play than an argument the dealership is violating the company’s trademark.
Think about it, if a dealership takes in a used RV on trade and lists it as preowned inventory and uses the brand’s logo, or even a picture of the RV itself to promote the unit, the company is technically violating the RV manufacturer’s trademark — especially if it is not authorized to sell those RVs in that area.
So, what else could be going on?
First of all, if a huge company like Motorhome Specialist takes issue with its competitor selling a particular brand within its market area, that mega-dealership has enough clout to get action from the upper echelons of the Jayco management team.
I imagine a call was made to the one of the Bontrager boys giving them a choice: either get rid of this problem or come over and pick up all 100 Jayco and Entegra motorhomes off our lot. In this instance, the whale could summon the shark to defend its territory against a blue fin tuna. They’re all big fish feeding on the same smaller fish, but there is a recognized pecking order.
Who knows if Jayco would have taken the same response if a big fish was selling into a smaller fish’s territory? Seeing that I have been involved in the industry for 17 years and this is the first case I recall of a manufacturer suing an RV dealer for selling RVs, one could argue that it probably wouldn’t happen.
So what else could really stick in the craw of one of the largest RV manufacturers in the world which, itself, is owned by the largest company in the RV industry? There would have to be a behind-the-scenes issue so egregious that a retaliatory message would have to be delivered to the offending party. Hmmmm. What could it be?
Perhaps the answer behind all this nonsense lies in the fact that earlier this year National Indoor RV Centers, the defendant in this faux suit, hired Tadd Jenkins, who was forced out as president of Jayco’s Motorhome Group in mid-November. Jenkins is the current president of the multi-state dealership that is a recognized, official Jayco dealer operating in several states other than Texas.
According to an RV Business article Nov. 19 announcing sweeping management changes at Jayco, Jenkins abrupt resignation was unexpected at the time.
“Jenkins, for all intents and purposes, has been the face of the emerging Entegra brand of high-end production-style motorhomes nationwide and has been an outspoken member of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) Show Committee,” RV Business noted at the time.
The fact that Jayco, in alleging violations of the Entegra brand’s trademark, is today suing the dealership now headed by the guy who oversaw the Entegra brand for many years just adds more mystery to the scenario.
National Indoor RV Centers also hired former Jayco executive Shaun Huxford as its chief operations officer in February.
In fact, NIRVC CEO Brett Davis told RV Business Feb. 20 that Jenkins was “a brand of his own – an individual who has forged relationships with hundreds of coach owners at shows and rallies over the years.”
It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact the guy with Entegra name recognition among a whole bunch of RV owners is now selling competing motorhomes at a multi-state dealership. Naaaa! Nothing to see here, folks, move along.
Groucho Marx once noted, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”
Corporate politics is no different. Pull up a chair and grab some popcorn, folks. This circus will be highly entertaining.