Tim Sheehan spent 28 years focused on TVs, computers and electronics as a salesman and executive for Best Buy. Last year, he hit the road, landing the job as chief executive officer for Lazydays, a top seller of recreational vehicles. More a techie than a camper, Sheehan immersed himself in the RV business, visiting manufacturers and shadowing salespeople pitching motor homes with prices upward of $350,000. During his first eight months, Lazydays revamped its website, replaced the phone system at its 126-acre campus in Seffner and opened a call center. Up next? Plans to add locations up north to expand Lazydays' reach and boost revenue, now at about $500 million a year.
In an interview at the Florida RV SuperShow, which runs through Sunday at the Florida State Fairgrounds, Sheehan, 49, spoke about the appeal of RVs and the importance of a single sale.
What attracted you to the position?
One of the things I found exciting is the spirit of RVing. It's about getting outdoors, doing something you really enjoy and about being with people you enjoy being with. And it's doing it in an amazing vehicle. A lot of these things are like houses on wheels. I was blown away by the level of innovation. The RV industry has taken all of the things we love in our residential world and put them into an RV, from more comfortable cushions and couches to wireless Internet and satellite TV.
Have you done much RVing?
When I was young, my family had a towable RV, but I have very limited experience. Growing up in the city (of Minneapolis), we always aspired to get out into the country. I really love the outdoors.
What's the difference between selling electronics and RVs?
In the RV business, most of the salespeople are on commission, and it's clear to me why. You have to be patient and committed and stick with people through the buying process. The salesperson has to be well-trained, not only on the product, but they also have to understand how to interact and work with people. It's an amazing process to watch.
What experiences from Best Buy are helping you at Lazydays?
One of the things I loved about Best Buy was that when I started out, it was a $50 million company. When I left, it was $50 billion. But when I look back at what period I enjoyed the most, it was the first 10 or 15 years, when it was smaller and growing and you felt you could have an impact. Lazydays is a very robust, midsized company that does a lot of revenue but was at that stage where it had a lot of growth potential. I was drawn to that.
Are you a gadget guy?
I like to keep up on the latest and greatest, but I've become a little less interested in it. One of the things we used to do in my old job was work in stores during the holidays. It really hit me after I hadn't been in the stores for about 10 years how all the technology had pulled away so fast from what I knew. With most technology, about 10 to 20 percent of its potential is actually used by most of us. The capability outstrips anything we'll ever know or care to do.
Was it difficult switching from a chain with hundreds of locations to a company with two locations? (Lazydays acquired Beaudry RV in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011.)
I used to talk TVs in the hundreds of thousands. In the RV business, the unit of one matters. You come to appreciate each and every customer and what it takes to retain those customers. Our mission is to make customers for life, because in our business, every 31/2 to 4 years there's a trade-in. While every big-box retailer aspires to build that relationship, it's very hard to do. The loyalty is much thinner.
Do you like not having to compete with Amazon?
I have an amazing amount of respect for Amazon, and I never felt like you have to compete with Amazon. You have to learn to co-exist. Prior to Amazon, it was Walmart that was going to kill Best Buy. There are limits to what Amazon can do, and that is customers want help.
Lazydays founder Don Wallace used to park an RV outside his home along Bayshore Boulevard. Any trips planned?
I don't have time to hop into one of those 30-footers and tool around the country. But now that I've talked to people who do, it has opened my eyes. I wouldn't have understood the freedom you could have and the camaraderie that happens at campsites. There are a lot of neat things you could do if you have the time.