David Force, RV Cooling Unit Warehouse
David Force considers himself a newbie at website design, but when it comes to his customers, there's no question he knows exactly what they want and need.
As owner of RV Cooling Unit Warehouse on eBay and Auctiva Commerce, which specializes in do-it-yourself replacement parts for recreational vehicles, he knows that the best way to achieve success—whether online or off—is to first make sure your customers are happy.
"After 42 years in the RV repair business, I've found that if you take care of your customers, they'll take care of you," he says.
Force began selling on eBay six years ago after taking early retirement. Though he had owned his own brick-and-mortar operation, he says it often felt as if he was working for everyone else—the utility company, the landlord, his employees, etc.
"Once I started selling online, I realized I could make a third of what I made in the brick-and-mortar, and still have the same lifestyle," he remarks.
eBay Motors, he found, was an ideal place to market the assortment of replacement RV parts he'd accumulated over the years—items that were hard-to-find, such as gas valves and burners. When his supply ran out, he began specializing in cooling units—which are an easy item for consumers to replace themselves, and an inexpensive alternative to having the work done at an RV dealership.
"They started selling quickly and I thought, 'This might be a good niche,'" he recalls.
I'd rather make two nickels easy than a dime the hard way
Business heats up
After achieving Platinum PowerSeller status on eBay, Force decided he'd like to have a shop that could reach buyers outside eBay and opened an eBay ProStore. Motivated by almost instant success there, he later signed on to be among the first merchants to open a store on Auctiva Commerce. As a long-time user of Auctiva's free Scrolling Gallery to cross-promote his eBay listings, he was excited about the possibilities of making it even easier for customers to find him, he says.
He's also chosen to use his Auctiva Commerce Store as a vehicle for expanding his product line to include trucking and marine cooling components.
Thus far, he's pleased with the results.
"Compared to the ProStore, customers are buying at a faster rate on Auctiva Commerce, even though my prices are $5 to $10 higher there," he notes. "I attribute it to the eye-appeal of the Auctiva Commerce Store, and the ease of finding me and maneuvering through the site.
"It's sure not my expertise at building a Web store!" he laughs. "If I knew more about how to do certain things with the computer, I could make it look more refined. So I tried to make my store as basic as I could, yet still make the consumer comfortable."
A hot ticket
About half of Force's business is from customer referrals versus search traffic, which he says goes to show the power of customer satisfaction. His philosophy of empowering consumers to save money by doing simple repairs themselves has done more to build his brand and promote customer loyalty than any amount of advertising could, he says.
"I'd rather make two nickels easy than a dime the hard way," he notes, explaining his approach to business.
"RV dealers don't want consumers to know that certain components can be easily replaced at home," he asserts. "They'll tell you they have to replace the whole 'fridge for $1,700—or try to convince you to trade in your RV for a new one. And I bet if you went back later to look at your trade-in, that same old 'fridge is in there. It just has a new cooling unit.
"The products I sell are completely sealed systems. It's just a matter of taking the part off and putting a new part back in," Force continues. "Once customers learn they can do it themselves and save $1,000 or better, there's a prestige value they get from it. Then they go to their RV clubs or online forums and brag about it, and the word starts to spread.
Providing information—rather than a hard-sell—reassures buyers
"My profit margin is less than 10 percent. That's not much, but if I make $15 profit off one customer, where the dealer tries to make $100, he'll be more apt to buy from me. But I actually get 10 more customers from that $15," he says.
In from the cold
When a buyer visits RV Cooling Unit Warehouse, or Force's Me page on eBay, right away they get a detailed explanation of RV cooling units, how to locate the part they need and an invitation to receive a free "how to" guide for do-it-yourself cooling unit repair.
While, admittedly, this educational approach helps mask Force's lack of Web design prowess, it's proven to be beneficial, he says. Providing information—rather than a hard-sell—reassures buyers and makes them more likely to buy from his site, instead of continuing to search for other vendors.
Force also provides on his site a 24/7 customer support phone number, which he personally answers—even on holidays.
It's a small price to pay for customer loyalty.
"As long as I keep them happy and satisfied, then my referral business is good," he says.
Visit the RV Cooling Unit Warehouse on eBay, or on Auctiva Commerce.