In the market for a motorhome? An RV dealer can answer just about all of the hard-hitting RV industry questions you have. Route 66 RV Network content developer Hilary Rambeau recently spoke with Nancy Sothan of Apache Camper Center located in Lincoln, Bellevue and Kearney, Nebraska to help provide you with a dealer’s inside scoop.
Nancy, her husband, Craig, and their family have been in the RV business since the 1960s, and there might not be anyone with a greater wealth of RV knowledge in the whole state of Nebraska! Make sure you check out our interview with Nancy before purchasing your next RV.
How long have you and your family been a part of the RV Industry?
My mother-in-law, Marian Sothan, always had a love of the outdoors and camping. She and my father-in-law, Kermit, rented campers in the 1960s to use on their family vacations. Evidently, that got the wheels turning, and Marian decided to try selling the campers herself to see if she could do it. She not only could, but she did, which was quite a feat for a female in the 1960s. The sales started out of the backyard of the family home in Seward, Nebraska in 1967 and gradually moved to Lincoln later the next year. Marian and Kermit sold the Apache brand of campers, and in those days, you were required to use the name of the manufacturer in the name of the dealership, and that is how we became Apache Camper Center.
Nearly 50 years later, our family’s love for camping is still strong, and after the loss of Marian in 1982 and Kermit in 1997, their oldest son David is now running all three Apache locations.I became a part of the business in the early 1980s when David and I first met, and I havent looked back. Just as his parents had, my parents took my family on a grand adventure in a 1965 Shasta from Illinois to California in 1967. Oh, the memories. And I think that a large part of our success comes from our affection for camping and the outdoors, which allows us to form a strong connection with our customers. I still get excited when I am talking to a first-time shopper, explaining all the ways a camper can improve their family life. It’s something I’ve enjoyed for as long as I can remember.
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As a customer, I want to know about the best products on the market, and I want to know that the RV I am purchasing is something that my dealer will stand behind. If you could pick an RV for your own personal use, what would you select and why?
I never recommend by type until I know a customers specific needs, but the RV that I would be purchase would have to have superior quality. My dream machine at this point in time would be a Newmar Canyon Star. The quality far exceeds anything else I have seen, and their attention to detail hasn’t been derailed by the so-called corporate structure that so many RV manufacturers are falling into. I highly recommend the factory tour at Newmar to see their operations. Even though I’ve been in the industry for over three decades, I found the Newmar factory tour to be an amazing experience, and I am sold on their products. I would choose a Canyon Star because my husband and I feel that the extra cost of having a diesel pusher couldn’t be offset by the type of camping we plan on doing.
If it is a towable, it would have to be a classic Jayco, hands down. We have camped in a Jayco for most of our marriage – over 30 years.
If you were to buy your own RV, what questions would you ask before making a decision?
First, I would sit down and determine how I want to camp. Am I going to travel to remote areas? Am I going somewhere to park for an extended period of time? Will I just be using it on the weekends and for occasional vacations? Am I going to hop-scotch by going somewhere one night and then driving somewhere the next day or so? Once I decide how I’m going to camp, I would think about the area of the RV that is most important to me, such as a larger living area, a better kitchen, nicer sleeping area, and so on. For instance, if I decide that I want to try the hop-scotch style of camping, then I would lean toward a Class A motorhome – less setup time and it’s much easier to just hop behind the wheel and go. If I decide that I want to spend extended lengths of time in a camper, I would probably lean more toward a fifth-wheel or a travel trailer.
The largest factor in any decision is, of course, making sure that you know your tow vehicle’s tow capacity. Make sure to verify it with your car dealer if you are not sure. There are convenient websites where you can go to search, the most popular being trailerlife.com. Never look at the dry weight of a camper and assume that you will only pack a few hundred pounds. It never works out, and people always tend to underestimate the weight of their gear. The best rule of thumb is to make sure that you can tow the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of the camper which would give you plenty of room weight-wise for cargo, food, water, etc.
Finally, you always want to factor in your budget. Do not get caught up in the payment game. Make sure to educate yourself on the values of campers and know what you are paying for in an RV, and then go to the finance office and see what they can do to fit the payment into your budget. With the current long term financing available, there are many different scenarios that a finance manager can examine to find the best solution for your needs.
Do you own an RV of your own?
Unfortunately, like many other RV dealers, we do not at this point. Luckily, we have the luxury of using different units that we have on the lot. We never use new products, only trade-ins, but it gives us the opportunity to experience all types of campers – from fold-downs and truck campers all the way to Class A motorhomes. One day, we would love to finally buy an RV and tour the United States. This is one of my bucket list items, and one that I fully intend to see fulfilled.
I am sure you have loads of camping stories. Off the cuff, what is the best camping story you can think of?
The stories that I have heard over the years are so numerous and varied, it is hard to choose just one. My customers come in and regale us with all sorts of adventures as well as some mishaps. It is never boring at an RV dealership. One of my favorite stories is from a customer to which I sold a camper many years ago. He was going to use the fold-down in his RV on his honeymoon and go into the mountains. He and his new wife arrived at the campsite in the dark, with a light mist falling. Both were anxious to set up and begin their honeymoon, so they hurried so that they could get inside and stay dry. They decided to use the rear bed. So, they climbed in, and the camper tipped nose-up into the air! They had forgotten to put down the stabilizer jacks! Neighboring campers saw their predicament and helped right the camper so they could get out. Both were mortified of course, but when this gentleman came home and told me about it, he laughed himself to tears, and so did I. By the way, they are still happily married with four kids, so I guess the fold-down was the right way to start their marriage.
What was the most expensive RV ever sold at your dealership?
Expensive is pretty relative. I remember back in the 1980s when we sold a fold down for $5,000, and we were shell shocked by the high cost. Recently when I saw the price of a high-end fifth-wheel go over $130,000, I couldn’t believe it. However, as with most any dealership, the most expensive units sold dollar-wise are the Class A motorhomes. Our highest price to date was $330,000. However, when you look at the price of a high-end fifth-wheel and the price of a Class A coach, the dollars make more sense. Anytime I have a customer who is looking at buying a new fifth-wheel or tow trailer as well as a new truck to tow it with, I will add up the total cost. Usually, the price tag is close to what it would cost to just buy a Class A motorhome.
Speaking of huge purchases that might require large loans, how would you assess the current state of the RV industry?
We have seen the highs and lows of the economy over the past 49 years. The RV industry will naturally slow down, but it never dies. Right now, we are riding on the crest of an all-time high, with shipments at peak levels. The thing with RVs is that there is always a need or want for them. I came into the industry not long after the oil crisis of the 1970s and early 1980s, and the recent recession in 2008/2009 is still burned into my memory. However, I firmly believe that no matter the state of the industry, an RV (new or used) is one of the most stable investments you can make “ as long as you make the best decision up front and plan on long-term ownership. It is still the least expensive way to take a vacation, and unlike a boat, it can be used year-round with the proper precautions.
With your dealerships located in Bellevue, Kearney and Lincoln, Nebraska, what are the most popular places your customers take their RVs?
One thing about people who live in this area of the country is they are not afraid to drive! So, destinations are really varied. The younger couples with less time on their hands will normally try to keep the trip short and sweet, but will venture to the Black Hills of Colorado, and of course, all over the state of Nebraska! A favorite trek for many of our customers is taking the trip of a lifetime to Disneyland or Disney World. More experienced RV’ers who have a little more time on their hands will take unforgettable trips to Alaska, Niagara Falls, Florida, Texas, Arizona – and that’s just the beginning.
Are they any red flags you are aware of that you’d warn customers about when buying from a dealership or an individual owner?
The biggest red flag on making a purchase either through a dealership or through an individual owner is that if you feel pressured or uncomfortable in any way, walk away. Take a deep breath, and decide if this is really the right choice for you. Listen to your gut, and if you’re not sure about a particular RV, the people you are dealing with, or the financial situation, walk away.
Finally, it’s best to be fully informed before blindly heading into a dealership. Buying an RV is a big deal. Feel free to reach out to us at Apache Camper Center by visiting apachecamper.com or by calling toll-free (800) 756-7344.