20 May 2024
20 May 2024, Comments Comments Off on Ariane Finzel – DCHV
Ariane Finzel - DCHV

A determined and clear-headed woman at the helm of DCHV

Ariane Finzel, who has been at the helm for almost two years as the Managing Director of the German Caravaning Trade Association (DCHV), shares insights into her background, the challenges facing the industry, and her vision for the future

Words Antonio Mazzucchelli – photo Enrico Bona

Ariane Finzel took the reins as the Managing Director of the German Caravaning Trade Association (DCHV) almost 2 years ago, succeeding Oliver Waidelich. With a background that spans leadership roles in caravaning businesses and consulting, Ariane brings a wealth of experience to the Association. In this interview, she delves into the pressing issues facing the industry, sharing her vision for DCHV’s transformation and emphasizing the importance of digitalization and enhancing member benefits. Her insights shed light on the dynamic landscape of the caravaning sector and its commitment to providing customers with reliable and high-quality services.

Aboutcamp BtoB − Can you provide an overview of your association, including its core mission, objectives, organizational structure, and key roles?
Ariane Finzel − In Germany, our association stands out for its significant focus on dealers within a large market. We represent a network comprising over 400 dealer members who handle sales, rentals, and operate workshops and camping shops. Our mission extends to collaborating with support members from various sectors, including the industry, financial institutions, and suppliers. This synergy addresses numerous operational aspects, notably our academy. Our academy is a cornerstone initiative launched to address the absence of specialized apprenticeships in the past. Just last year, we introduced targeted training programs, marking a renewed focus on equipping the younger generation with professional skills for the future. This commitment to professional development is key, ensuring that the new generation, who inherit businesses from their parents, receives thorough training and fosters a sense of community among their peers.

Aboutcamp BtoB − So you have a community of owners’ sons and daughters who network together?
Ariane Finzel − Yes, we’ve revitalized our initiative called “DCHV Next Generation” to bring together the successors of current business owners. They are more adept at digitalization and proactive in using media to present products, unlike the older generation, who may be more passive. This networking helps them stay informed about new laws, dealer obligations, and industry guidelines. We prepare them with necessary contracts and facilitate leadership workshops and coaching to help them become self-confident in their roles. This is crucial for maintaining a dynamic and up-to-date market.

Aboutcamp BtoB − Could you elaborate on the workshop you conduct with CIVD? What topics are covered?
Ariane Finzel − We host an annual workshop in collaboration with the CIVD to forecast market trends and developments. It’s a strategic meeting held every November that includes all the board members of the CIVD and our own board. The aim is to exchange ideas and gain insights into the future of the market.

Aboutcamp BtoB − Is this workshop exclusive to board members, or do members also participate?
Ariane Finzel − It’s exclusive to board members. However, we bring in the perspectives and opinions of our members as well as those from the industry. The objective is to foster a deeper understanding of the market by sharing and discussing our collective views.

Aboutcamp BtoB − What initiatives have emerged from these meetings?
Ariane Finzel − One of the innovative ideas from our meetings is the concept of a caravaning week in Germany, named “Caravaning-Tage,” which would take place in March and involve all brands and dealers. This event would be a concerted effort to promote caravaning through radio, TV, and other media, creating a focused campaign for one week in the spring aimed at reducing stock.

Aboutcamp BtoB − Can you tell us about your meetings with the camping association, the BVCD?
Ariane Finzel − Yes, our interactions with the BVCD differ from our set annual meetings. The meetings with the camping association are more spontaneous and not scheduled as rigidly. While the DCHV/CIVD meets consistently every year, the frequency of meetings with the camping association varies, as it’s currently undergoing changes in general management. With the last general manager, our discussions were held one to three times a year.

Aboutcamp BtoB − Regarding the academy, how many people do you train each year, and does your association work independently or in cooperation with other academies?
Ariane Finzel − We have a cooperative relationship with the Fahrzeugakademie Schweinfurt. While we don’t own the academy, we rent rooms and utilize their team of 20-25 people, who feel like our own because of the close working relationship. They are responsible for sourcing trainers from industry leaders like Truma for heating systems and Thetford for sanitation. We collaborate with these partners to ensure that our services and product trainings are at a high level and represent the named products of the market. Annually, we update our courses, and over the past 25 years, we’ve trained over a thousand individuals. Initially, we offered only one course, which was insufficient. When I began, I realized the need to expand as we had a waiting list of 100 people eager for specialized caravan technical training—a field that was not formally recognized as a profession until recently. Here, electricians or carpenters can receive an additional seven weeks of training to become caravan technical professionals called “Fachkraft für Caravantechnik.” We’re proud to be the most important provider of this training in Germany for over a quarter-century. This training is highly valued within the industry; workshops employing our trained caravan technicians often receive better terms for warranties from some manufacturers. Our training is recognized as exemplary, underlining the worth and industry acknowledgment of our program’s quality.

Aboutcamp BtoB − Could you explain the pricing structure for the warranties?
Ariane Finzel − Yes, the level of service a dealer provides can influence the guarantee payments they receive from manufacturers. For example, within the Erwin Hymer Group, an audit might assess a dealer’s service level and qualifications, such as those from our caravan technical training. If they meet the highest standards, they receive the highest level of guarantee payment for their service hours.

Aboutcamp BtoB − To provide assistance, is this specific license required?
Ariane Finzel − It’s not mandatory to have this certification, but possessing it is a significant advantage. Many suppliers have their own mandatory training programs to become a service partner. This certification allows a dealer to display signage that identifies them as professionals in specific technical areas. We have a good cooperation with many of them to discuss which trainings we can recognize from each other. This is part of the support we receive from the Fahrzeugakademie Schweinfurt. Beyond technical training, for aspects like business management for the next generation, we collaborate with consulting firms. They provide training in areas such as financial control. These are different from technical trainings, such as the one-week caravan controller course or sales training that helps individuals become professional sellers.

Aboutcamp BtoB − In terms of marketing, do you also provide training in that area?
Ariane Finzel − Marketing training is a newer addition to our curriculum. While it wasn’t as significant in the past, its importance is growing. We are considering offering webinars on key marketing strategies with our consulting partners in the future.

Aboutcamp BtoB − What kind of webinars you offer? Social media utilization and website enhancement?
Ariane Finzel − We have new webinars such as “working more efficiently with artificial intelligence” and ones covering social media utilization and website enhancement, which can be found on our website. We also conduct webinars for the theoretical part of our 40 to 50 technicians and provide introductory sessions for newcomers. Although these are more basic, they serve as a good entry point into the field. For the workshops, it is essential that technicians are in the workshops to work on customer orders rather than sitting in classrooms. With the webinars, held perhaps in the evenings, we aim to reduce the technicians’ absence. In total, we train around 100 to 200 people annually through our webinars.

Aboutcamp BtoB − Having taken on your role about a year and a half ago with a commitment to digital transformation, could you describe the initiatives you’ve implemented to this end?
Ariane Finzel − Since taking on this role, we’ve fully embraced digitalization. We’ve transitioned to a digital association, streamlining processes so that membership and training confirmations can be handled with a single click. Our efforts have been recognized, and we were nominated for the European Innovation Award.

Aboutcamp BtoB − Beyond internal digital transformation, you’ve also increased activities on social media platforms like LinkedIn?
Ariane Finzel − Indeed, we’ve realized that despite doing many great things in the past, our visibility was low. Now, we’re actively sharing our work and achievements through social media and YouTube, featuring short films and engaging content to reach a wider audience. It’s crucial for us not just to broadcast our activities but also to listen and understand the evolving needs of our members and the market.

Aboutcamp BtoB − As for the market, are there aspects you feel are essential but haven’t been addressed?
Ariane Finzel − One key area is salesmanship. I advise our dealers that the market has shifted from passive selling to a more active approach. It’s now necessary to work harder to attract customers and provide an excellent customer journey, leveraging tools like Google. Many dealers currently lack sophistication in their use of social media and need to professionalize their approach to stay competitive.

Aboutcamp BtoB − With the advancement of digital tools, is there a demand from the industry for dealers to exhibit greater professionalism and modernization? How are they being assisted in this transition?
Ariane Finzel − Indeed, there’s a push for dealers to adopt a more strategic, entrepreneurial approach rather than just maintaining the status quo. The industry requests that dealers not only focus on sales or workshop skills but also on strategic business development. While some dealers grow and modernize, others prefer to keep their operations at a smaller scale, which is acceptable, but they must recognize the competitive nature of the market. We’ve observed automotive dealers entering our industry, which some traditional dealers might resist, but it’s inevitable when a market is attractive. We’re working to facilitate this transformation, offering workshops and strategic guidance to help caravaning dealers become more professional and forward-thinking.

Aboutcamp BtoB − So a clear vision for the company is essential, then?
Ariane Finzel − Absolutely. A vision is critical, yet not all companies have one that’s robust enough. We encourage dealers to develop a clear vision and to understand the importance of delegation and employer branding to attract and retain the right talent. With rising prices, it’s even more crucial for dealers to evolve into true leaders and entrepreneurs to persuade customers to invest in their products. Many need to transition from being just dealers to becoming leaders for their companies.

Aboutcamp BtoB − The interplay of being a leader versus just a dealer is intriguing. Can you speak about the industry’s role, particularly regarding digital interfaces?
Ariane Finzel − The industry indeed has work to do, especially around digital interfaces within our systems. Currently, some brand processes are outdated; for example, guarantee issues are still handled by fax, which is inefficient. We need seamless interfaces, simple, “one-click” solutions for tasks like vehicle sales and avoiding errors such as ordering the wrong color. Our association aims to centralize data and create interfaces compatible with the major systems used by German dealers, improving efficiency for all.

Aboutcamp BtoB − Does this include sharing sales prices as well?
Ariane Finzel − Yes, it covers all aspects of sales. However, there’s a caveat: access to pricing should be brand-specific. For example, an Adria dealer should only see Adria-related pricing. This is a delicate issue, as there’s a fear of sensitive information reaching competitors.

Aboutcamp BtoB − Regarding discounts, it seems there’s a preference to keep discount strategies confidential among members, right?
Ariane Finzel − Yes, this is a sensitive topic that’s been extensively debated, especially during our digital events. Dealers and manufacturers had discussions about expectations and contributions. Manufacturers are seeking transparency on the final prices dealers offer, but dealers typically hold back this information. There’s a growing acknowledgment that revealing the true discounts could streamline the entire pricing process.

Aboutcamp BtoB − So, it sounds like you’re experiencing similar challenges that we have in Italy. In addition to pricing, there’s the issue of dealers paying different prices to producers, isn’t there?
Ariane Finzel − That’s correct. The conditions and terms that dealers negotiate with producers vary significantly and are often the subject of intense discussion. We’re aware of this and are working towards more standardized practices.

Aboutcamp BtoB − So, when dealers input data after signing, does this information go directly to your system?
Ariane Finzel − Not currently, but that could be one goal. We’re advocating for a centralized interface that could distribute the data evenly among all systems. At present, some dealers have preferential access to information due to closer ties with manufacturers, while others do not. We want to level the playing field, ensuring fair access to data for all our members.

Aboutcamp BtoB − Are you actively involved in promotional efforts with CIVD to boost the camping sector? Do they seek your participation in economic endeavors?
Ariane Finzel − Yes, we collaborate on various projects with CIVD. I don’t want to adorn myself with other people’s laurels. The CIVD association is much bigger than ours, and they manage most of the projects, work, and costs. For now, this arrangement is fine for me because I appreciate their work a lot. One notable campaign is the recent one from caravaning.info, which was a joint effort of many brands and associations. It showcased authentic camping experiences, moving away from the idealized portrayals. For instance, they featured a campsite where neighbors are close, reflecting the reality of some locations. They also had videos of a motorhome couple in Sweden enjoying nature, a large family at a lively campsite, and a motorhome couple in Croatia sharing their travel experiences in an authentic way. These campaigns have been well-received for their authenticity. We are part of a project group involved in these initiatives, and while we’d love to do more, we have limitations due to our small team and available time. Nonetheless, we’re excited about upcoming projects.

Aboutcamp BtoB − What initiatives or projects do you have planned for 2024 to continue growing the recreational vehicle sector in Germany?
Ariane Finzel − We have an exciting initiative planned for 2024. We aim to organize a week-long event called “Caravaning-Tage,” where all brands and dealers come together to focus on selling caravans and providing services all over Germany. Understanding that not everyone wants to buy a new vehicle, we will emphasize upgrading older ones with better technical features. Dealers will be encouraged to create packages for different seasons, such as spring, summer, and winter, which include services like heating. We are in discussions with suppliers like Dometic to offer special deals to our members. This initiative aims to enhance the professionalism of services across Germany, making it easier for customers to get appointments and improving the overall customer experience. We also encourage dealers to invest in their facilities to create a more attractive environment for customers. Additionally, we are focusing on the rental market, which is growing as the prices of recreational vehicles increase. Some dealers are offering buyback solutions, and this approach is gaining traction in Germany, especially as the market evolves.

Aboutcamp BtoB − Do you have any issues with platforms like Goboony or Yescapa, where private individuals share their motorhomes? Do you see them as competitors to dealers?
Ariane Finzel − While some dealers may view platforms like Goboony or Yescapa as competitors, I see them as both an opportunity and a complement to our business. Private individuals sharing their motorhomes can attract new customers to the industry. However, it’s important to note that private sharing may have limitations, especially in terms of servicing and repairs. When a motorhome from a private owner gets damaged, they often lack the professional workshops to make immediate repairs. In contrast, our dealers have the capability to repair and maintain vehicles quickly. This presents an opportunity for dealers because customers who experience issues with private rentals may turn to dealerships for reliable service. Dealers should not be overly concerned about these platforms but rather recognize that they can attract potential customers who may later decide to purchase a motorhome. So, it’s not just a risk but also a chance to expand our customer base.