When COVID took away Brad Siedschlag’s job at a large-format printing company in early 2020, the 60-year-old debated retirement, but knew he still desired to work.
After stumbling upon an opportunity to become an RV inspector and doing more research, Brad realized his experience with hydraulics and electronics would help him in the new career. He started taking an online class offered during COVID by the National RV Training Academy (NRVTA). By doing so, Brad knew he would learn more skills to be able to fix RVs for other people.
About half-way through the online class, Brad and his wife, Eileen, decided he should jump in with both feet, so he enrolled in a live class at his earliest opportunity.
“I don’t know of another trade school anywhere else where you can get that type of hands-on training,” he explained. “The school provides a tremendous amount of information, but in a way that helps people understand it and memorize important material.”
Hands-on exercises were the most important part of Brad’s training because they taught him how to troubleshoot problems by going back to the basics. For example, when an air conditioner stops working, people automatically assume that it’s a problem with the 110-volt AC power or the unit itself. In reality, it may be the little 12-volt fuse in the thermostat which needs to be replaced.
“For more than 40 years, I tried to make repairs to my own RV. I’d troubleshoot it by myself and wound up ordering a new part to correct what I thought was the problem, but learned the hard way it wasn’t the answer,” said Brad. “The training taught me what to look for from the beginning.
“It is more than just hands-on training, it’s how the staff presents issues and communicates in a very simple format,” he added. “They physically show what to look for when something goes wrong. Once you see it in front of you while someone explains it in simple, layman’s terms, it’s very eye-opening.”
Starting a business
One month later, Brad returned home to California and turned his pin locator on at the National RV Inspectors Association (NRVIA) website.
“I wondered if anyone would ever call me, but I wound up getting three calls that first day,” he explained. “I drove about 150 miles away to do my first inspection because I was so nervous. I didn’t want to make a mistake in my own backyard, so if I traveled that far and messed up, nobody would know about it.”
But, Brad didn’t mess up. He completed the inspection and got a great review at the end. He said his business exploded afterward.
“Initially, I thought if I did just three inspections a month, that would cover all our bills and we couldn’t go backward financially,” Brad explained. “Today, I’ve been told I’m one of the busiest inspectors on the west coast. I am making more money inspecting RVs than I did as a general manager for the printing business.”
Starting out, most of his inquiries came from people finding Brad on the NRVIA website and some Google advertising. Today, most inspections come through word-of-mouth advertising from former clients. He even traveled as far as San Diego and Phoenix to serve recommended clients.
NRVIA invested a lot of money into search engine optimization so when people search for “RV inspectors near me,” the NRVIA locator is one of the first things people see. Visiting that site connects people to specific inspectors in their area.
The couple also set up a free Google business account, which allows them to create a profile which shows up on Google searches and Google Maps. Inspectors can include their hours of operation, photos and other important information. Customers can leave reviews, too.
“Google advertising is free and it’s an amazing tool,” said Eileen. “We also paid a minimal one-time fee to set up a WordPress website. It’s not state-of-the-art, but it’s out there and people find us through it.”
Brad ordered magnetic signs from Vista Print which display his business name and phone number. He mounts them on his work truck, so they are visible when he’s doing an inspection and just driving around.
Need for continuing education
It is essential that Brad stay educated on changes to RVs and components so he can remain on top of his game.
“We are getting to a point where I will probably have to shut down the business for an entire week just so I can complete the 24 hours of continuing education credits needed to maintain membership in NRVIA,” he explained.
Brad does his best to keep abreast of changes to new RVs coming onto the market. He must because manufacturers are trying to outdo each other by adding new technology and controls.
“I do a lot of research before I inspect a new RV, especially the big rigs, just to figure out where they put all the switches to turn things on,” he explained. “I will spend 45 minutes not only doing pre-risk management photos, but trying to figure out how to operate the system so I could even start my job.
“Even on older models, we have to do some research in order to inspect the unit,” said Eileen. “One time, we did research for a client after the fact because we could not figure out where the port for city water was located. After a lot of research, I found it was hidden in a panel on the backside of the motorhome.”
The couple realizes there are times when people may have questions months or even a year after an inspection was completed. So, clients are invited to email them anytime.
“I try to get back to everyone that same night, which is why this is often a seven-day-a-week job. Clients need answers so they could get back on the road to continue their travels,” said Brad. “It is sometimes difficult to resolve a situation over the phone when I don’t have eyes on the actual problem. In those cases, I usually know a certified RV technician who can help them resolve an issue.”
Time for inspections
It takes Brad an average of seven hours to complete an inspection, and a few have required 12 hours to complete his 600-item checklist for a premium inspection.
“I produce photographs and videos as needed, even for items that work,” he explained. “A lot of clients are buying an RV sight unseen and I want to represent its true condition as best I can.
“Before buyers drive or fly a long distance to purchase an RV, I want them to know everything about the unit,” he added. “I could probably shorten my time to four or five hours if I only captured video or photos for things that didn’t work. But, I feel better really looking at everything.”
Once Brad has everything checked off his list, it takes an extra day for him to build the report and enlarge photos, when necessary, to zero in on something by creating arrows along with additional comments.
“It may take an hour and a half the following day to prepare a report on a coach with very few items to describe,” said Brad. “But, some coaches require up to four hours just to build a report the way I like it.”
Because Brad invests so much time inspecting an RV and documenting his findings, it is important that he be paid accordingly. His previous position as a lead estimator for print jobs helps him quote a fair price after doing some research.
“I get the year, make and model number of the RV and determine what it will take to get to the inspection site and back,” he explained. “I will look up that floorplan model to see what comes with the coach, how many bathrooms are in it, and what type of appliances may be included, such as a washer, dryer, dishwasher or satellite equipment.
“My fee will be based on estimating how long it’s going to take to do a thorough inspection,” he added. “I include travel time, mileage and time to prepare the final report when giving a client an estimate the following day.”
Because each job is unique, Brad doesn’t advertise his prices the way some inspectors do. As a general rule, his inspections fall into a range:
- $740 to $800 for towables, depending upon the RV’s size
- $800 to $1,100 for a Class A motorized unit
- $950 to $1,300 for a 34- to 40-foot tag-axle diesel pusher
- $1,100 to $1,500 for a very large tag-axle diesel
Those prices do not include costs for add-on services, such as fluid analysis.
There are some regular expenses that offset his monthly income, such as NRVIA membership, liability insurance, vehicle insurance and continuing education. Standard monthly costs include a business phone and computer software.
“Once I bought my tools and equipment upfront, there are not a lot of other expenses, except the little advertising we do plus standard wear-and-tear on my truck.”
Brad said there are a lot of competitors offering inspection services, yet they may be mechanics in other fields or people who just like RVs.
“Look up Orange County, Calif., on the NRVIA locator and you’ll see we do have a tremendous amount of competition among inspectors,” he explained. “But there is plenty of business if you know how to represent yourself and communicate with clients.
“There is definitely opportunity for more business as word gets out about the importance of inspections and people start looking for inspectors,” said Brad.
“We are busy year-round, although it usually tapers off a bit during the summer. However, last year it didn’t slow down like I thought it would when interest rates started going up,” he added. “We are doing tremendous volume right now. I can’t handle more work, which is why I pass off some jobs to other inspectors I recommend.
“They help me with some coaches so I can watch how they conduct an inspection,” said Brad. “That gives me enough confidence in their work that I’m comfortable referring them to others.”
Certification helps establish Brad as a professional inspector when compared to someone evaluating RVs on the side. He carries his own insurance, which some dealerships ask to see before they give him access to the RV.
“I like that people can go online and look us up as members of NRVIA, or call the association to get our credentials,” he explained. “In case I’m asked, I also keep copies of my membership certificate and insurance coverage.”
Based in Buena Park, Calif., not too far from Disneyland, there are a lot of RV dealerships near Brad. As a result, he always gives salespeople a business card or two, which they offer to their clients who are interested in buying a rig, but want it inspected first.
Brad has already completed 150 premium inspections.
“I am in the field every day,” he explained. “When I’m not inspecting an RV, I’m at home building a final report. Best of all, I have control of my schedule so I can be at home to keep an eye on my 92-year-old father-in-law who lives with us.”
Although Eileen still works at a job she loves, she helps the inspection business with accounting and scheduling. She also maintains the website and Google listings, and proofreads final reports.
“I send out invoices, process payments and help with research sometimes,” she explained. “But, I can’t wait until I am retired so I can go on the road and work with Brad.”
Eileen has already helped with a few inspections.
“Even though I’m not certified, Brad is a good teacher. So, I know I could eventually help cut down the time he spends on an inspection by taking pictures or following him around to write down what he dictates. That way he won’t have to slow down to document everything,” she added. “I’m really looking forward to being a team that way. Someday, I hope we can be on the road doing inspections.”
One of the most important tasks Eileen does is engage customers shortly after they seek information about an inspection.
“It is really important in business today that we respond quickly to customer inquiries,” she said. “If someone reaches out, but doesn’t hear back soon, they’ll move on. So, if Brad is out doing a job and we get emails from people who found us on Google, I need to get back to them quickly, even if it’s to tell them Brad will respond as soon as he’s available.”
That first contact is so important, Brad often answers calls as early as 5 a.m. and no later than 6 a.m.
“A lot of our clients are back east, and they found an RV in California they’d like inspected,” he explained. “To them, it’s already mid-morning and they think everyone is awake.”
Brad’s biggest challenge is trying to schedule inspections. It often involves juggling his schedule, the client’s schedule and, sometimes, a third-party, like an RV dealership, which may need to get the RV ready to be inspected.
“Especially with dealerships, the unit may have been sitting on the lot for a while, or it is being sold as a used unit, and the staff hasn’t gone through it to make sure the RV is ready for inspection,” he added.
To help third-parties, Brad sends them a PDF with instructions on what he needs to complete an inspection so he can give clients the best possible report on the RV’s condition.
Advice for inspectors
If there was one trait a professional RV inspector needs to be successful, it is having passion for helping people, Brad explained.
“That passion has to show in your attitude when people call asking for help, and it’s got to come from your heart,” he added. “The money can be tremendously rewarding financially, but you’ll have to be willing to work hard every day. It doesn’t take rocket science to do this. Anyone with some mechanical abilities and a desire to run their own business can be successful.”
After an inspection, Brad said his customers don’t leave reviews, they leave love letters.
“I wasn’t used to that in my career. Nobody ever gave me a pat on the back,” he explained. “With inspections, we are overwhelmed with gratitude from our clients to the point it can put me in tears.
“It really helps that we love what we do. The money is secondary for us,” said Brad. “I know inspectors who have better websites, and they look at inspections more as a business. But RV inspections are about serving people.
“I remember Howard Jaros, our instructor at NRVTA saying, ‘If you think this is going to be easy money just because people will call you to look around and point out things that are wrong, then you’re in the wrong business,’“ Brad explained. “Howard was right. You have got to truly enjoy helping people first and foremost. You must take that seriously because people are relying on us to identify issues so they can have safe travels down the road.”