How a digital transformation saved Bish’s RV $1.5M and 3,300 hours a year

Nate Medina
Nate Medina
Product Marketing @ Retool

May 1, 2024

The RV industry is pretty old school: the standard for tracking everything from purchase orders to repair requests is to use physical paper. One dealership, however, is breaking the mold and has built custom software tools to accelerate their operations. The most impressive part? They did it without needing to rely on a team of software engineers.

Bish’s RV is one of the largest family-owned RV dealerships in the United States, and has grown from 10 to 22 branches across 11 states in the last two years. To get there, in 2021 they committed to fully digitizing and brought on Eric Tompkins as Director of Digital Transformation to lead that charge. In this case study, we’ll explore how Eric and his team used Retool to digitally transform Bish’s client-facing operations, saving the company thousands of hours of labor and over a million dollars in development costs along the way.

Bish's RV retail store in Meridian, Idaho
Bish's RV retail store in Meridian, Idaho

The operational complexity of an RV dealership

To run an effective RV dealership, a lot goes on behind the scenes. There’s sales, repairs, administration, and a whole lot of operational complexity. For Bish’s, this work is tackled by their several hundred employees across the country through manual work and paper documentation processes.

In addition to carrying new vehicles, Bish’s sells pre-owned RVs to a nationwide audience. The company inspects, cleans, and photographs every RV it sells, in addition to filing the requisite paperwork to comply with local laws. All of that takes careful coordination and significant effort from technicians and other team members.

Servicing vehicles is also a significant part of Bish’s business. Again, this takes careful inspection by technicians (an RV is essentially a house on wheels!). Depending on whether an RV is still under warranty, the process could involve a lengthy back and forth with the manufacturer to acquire parts and cover labor costs. All that information goes into a quote that the customer approves before the technician proceeds with servicing.

Managing this much process by hand can be time consuming and prone to errors—and it certainly doesn’t scale to dozens of dealership locations. That’s why going digital is vital to the success of an RV dealership, not to mention so many other traditionally analog businesses.

Challenges with previous digital transformation efforts

Although Retool would eventually play a significant role in Bish’s digital transformation, it took some trial and error to get there. When Eric joined to lead the team two years ago, Bish’s had already been using some industry standard software tools, but these third-party solutions weren’t addressing the dealership’s needs.

For their digitization initiative to be truly successful, Bish’s needed custom applications tailored exactly to their use cases. But without a big in-house development team, their options for bespoke, custom-built solutions were slim.

Since they were strapped for development resources, Bish’s initially went with a no-code tool called Google AppSheet to build custom workflows for RV servicing, inventory management, and other common use cases. But AppSheet turned out not to be the right tool for the job.

The AppSheet experience suffered from latency issues and frequent disconnects, likely because the platform wasn’t optimized for the Bish’s data access volumes, UI patterns, and integrations. At first, Bish’s tried solving the problem by updating technician hardware. Giving technicians new iPad Pros to replace their less powerful iPad Minis temporarily reduced latency, but as the datasets grew, the earlier issues resurfaced.

Eric and his team realized they needed a “fundamentally different” approach to their software; no-code just wasn’t going to cut it. As Eric put it, “We were really pushing the limits of what AppSheet could do, trying to force our processes into it. It has transactional functionality in it, but that’s not really what it’s good at. AppSheet is a good tool for viewing rows of data but not at supporting comprehensive and customized workflows.”

Rapidly prototyping and launching a custom solution with Retool

When Eric’s team came across Retool, it was clear that they had found a solution for building bespoke apps that they needed. Eric said:

When we were looking at AppSheet, all the screens felt the same. There’s no customization, whereas Retool apps looked like custom code.

To help the whole company build conviction around the transition, Eric and his developer, Joseph St Romain, started with a pilot. Joseph says,

Retool allowed us to query data only as needed to run the app instead of frontloading entire datasets every time the app loads. This was previously a huge problem for us.

In about one week’s time, they rebuilt an existing AppSheet workflow in Retool, and it was much more performant. Then, they flew out to the dealership encountering the most challenges with the status quo and worked with them on the field to iterate on the new solution in Retool.

With its drag and drop UI editor and instant deployment, Retool enabled much faster iterations for the team. Each day, Eric and Joe would spend time with the onsite RV technicians to understand their process and existing pain points. They used that feedback to quickly iterate on and tailor their new Retool apps. Because Retool allowed them to write custom logic with JavaScript and query their PostgreSQL database with SQL, they could customize the app to fit Bish’s exact process. Joseph says,

The ability to actually use complex code and custom components when we needed to ‘break the ceiling’ of out of the box functionality was what made Retool perfect for us.

Eric goes on to describe the fast iteration process:

Every day Joe would iterate on the app and then step back into the shop the next morning asking, ‘What do you think of this?'

That live development loop made it possible to launch a revamped technician portal in a matter of weeks, not the months or longer it would take to code from scratch. In just five and a half weeks, the new app was built and launched to all of Bish’s 22 dealerships. Eric says,

We do requirements gathering, write the scope, work with the technicians, and build the tool with rapid development with Retool—whereas custom development usually operates 8–12 months behind us.
RV technicians at Bish’s use this Retool app to view and update service orders.
RV technicians at Bish’s use this Retool app to view and update service orders.

Today, technicians use the app to keep track of all their repair orders, each of which consists of a series of jobs. The app also allows technicians to request parts and upload photos to report and track progress. Since everything related to customer service orders and parts is tracked in one place, technicians can offer better services to their customers—no more missing information, incorrect data, or unforeseen delays. At the same time, Eric can deliver real-time reporting on dealership service activities to Bish’s leadership team by having access to the data, allowing them to make smarter decisions to grow the company.

Continued investment into Retool to drive seven-figure impact

That initial project was such a success for Bish’s that the company has continued to augment its dealer management system through Retool. In addition to triaging service requests, Bish’s uses custom apps built in Retool to track inventory and aggregate data across dealerships, generating insights that benefit the entire company.

By removing manual tasks and streamlining technician workflows, Eric says that his team has saved Bish’s an estimated 3,300 hours per year. The benefits of custom software in Retool enable Bish’s to operate much faster than before. For example, Bish’s warranty team needed to retrieve images one at a time and associate them with the appropriate job. With Retool, the team can do those operations in bulk and process 180 pictures in just 30 seconds.

Today, Bish’s uses Retool for the majority of their custom app development needs. Alongside Retool, Bish’s uses PostgreSQL as their database (Retool natively integrates with PostgreSQL). The company only has a few remaining processes to migrate off Appsheet. Once Eric’s team finishes that migration, they expect to face significantly fewer support tickets and the RV technicians can expect better user experiences across all of the tools they use to support their customers.

On top of streamlining operations, using Retool has helped Bish save upwards of $1.5M a year in software development costs. Development time is a precious resource, one that shouldn’t be spent reinventing the wheel for internal tools. Especially for companies like Bish’s, where the core business isn’t software but something else entirely, streamlining development time is often essential.

That’s not to say that it’s worth sacrificing quality to cut costs. The good news, though, according to Eric,

Retool looks like custom code. What we built in Retool gave our endusers a customized experience.


Nate Medina
Nate Medina
Product Marketing @ Retool
May 1, 2024