#SWAAYthenarrative

From Victimhood to Victory: Gigi Stetler's Rise to the Top of the RV Industry

People

At this point, my life could easily be in shambles. Maybe it should be.


The hand we’re dealt

We’re all dealt a hand in life. Sometimes, we fall into things by chance, sometimes it’s choices we make, and sometimes it’s both.

Let me start by taking you back three decades. I was 25 years old, just starting out, living in Miami Beach, and managing an apartment complex. I tried to help a homeless man by letting him live rent-free in one of the units in exchange for him painting and doing maintenance work. But one day, out of the blue, he turned on me and attacked me, stabbing me 21 times. I was left for dead. I had more than 200 stitches all over my body and my left fingers were nearly cut off. Doctors didn’t expect I would live, let alone fully recover, but that’s what happened. I was released from the hospital after eight days and went right back to managing properties on Miami Beach.

Resiliency is something I believe in deeply. It’s part of who I am, and it’s who I’ve always been but for much of my past, I’ve struggled. I came from a difficult family life and was a high school dropout. I was voted most likely not to succeed. Then, I became pregnant at 31, and raised my son as a single mom. I knew I had to make my life a success.

Gigi Stetler

It’s a ‘man’s world’

Overcoming obstacles became a theme in my life as I entered a male-dominated profession for the first time in the 80’s: recreational vehicle (RV) sales in Davie, FL. The industry was and is virtually all men. It’s a boys’ club in every sense of the word. I remember showing up at one of my first big RV association meetings in my ponytail, makeup, and new business ideas. One guy told me, “little girl, you need to go home and bake cookies. This is no place for you.”

Just you wait, I remember thinking. I had to prove them all wrong.

I kept my business open later and on more days than my competitors. I put an emphasis on building relationships and customer service. And it worked; many of my competitors ended up closing down while my business grew. Things were very good.

But over the years, I had to overcome other hurdles, like restarting my business twice for different reasons and nearly went bankrupt at one point. Now, as the CEO of RV Sales of Broward, I’m in my 31st year in the industry and business has never been better. The RV industry has seen a spike in sales the last couple of years as “glamping” has become so popular and millennials are now one of the largest customer bases I have. We’re seeing record growth and a shift in the demographic. I’m still one of the only female CEOs in the industry in the country, and that’s very rewarding for me. But as the industry continues to evolve, I think we’ll start seeing more women in roles like mine. A good percentage of RV-buyers these days are females and they’re often looking to buy or rent from another woman who can offer an alternative perspective when it comes to travel on the road.

As far as getting into the RV business as woman, you need to be confident and savvy. And that all starts with passion: a passion for travel, exploration, and the freedom of the open road. After that, it’s about business-smarts and knowing what your customer is thinking. Put yourself in their shoes.

What questions would you have? What would you want to know? Then, you need to know your product and talk about it in a way that’s informational but not “sales-y.” Your goal is to help a customer understand they’re not simply buying or renting an RV. They’re about to take on a whole new journey.

Keep looking up

One of my biggest passions these days is sharing my story and trying to encourage others, particularly women, to never give up. I even wrote a book about my life called Unstoppable! Surviving is Just the Beginning. We all fall on hard times and sometimes don’t make the best decisions. It happens, but what really matters is how we respond. Get back up and try again.

The odds weren’t really in my favor. But I never believed in odds anyway.

6 Min Read
Politics

All My Life I've Had To Fight

I live the pain and stress of being black in America every day: I am a black woman, the mother of a black son, sister to black men, and aunt to my black nephews. I remember what it was like as a young girl to be afraid to go to Howard Beach for fear of being chased out. I know what it's like to walk on Liberty Avenue and be called "nigger" and being so young that I didn't understand what the word meant, I had to ask my mother. I know too well that feeling in the pit of your stomach when a police car pulls up behind you and even though you know you haven't done anything wrong you fear that your life may be in danger from what should be a simple encounter. Like all African Americans, I am tired of this burden.

African Americans have a long history of having to fight for our humanity in America. We have had to fight for freedom, we have had to fight for equality, and we have had to fight for our lives. The fight continues to go on. I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight." When I say this to my white counterparts it can sometimes be uncomfortable because it's clear that they just don't get it. They view it as melodramatic. But it's not. It's part of the black experience, and it is the part of the black experience that black people don't want.

I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight."

While I was out yesterday, passing out PPE and talking to people, a woman asked me, "What is it going to take for this to change?" I told her that I think peaceful protesting is a good start. But it's just the start. We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.

This injustice, inequality, and inequity will not spontaneously disappear. It will take bold, outspoken, and fearless leadership to eradicate the systemic racism in our country. We must address the violence at the hands of a police force paid to serve and protect us. We must address the recurring experience of black people being passed over for a promotion and then being asked to train the white person who was hired. We must address the inequities in contract opportunities available to black businesses who are repeatedly deemed to lack the capacity. We must address the disparity in the quality of education provided to black students. We must address the right to a living wage, health care, and sick pay.

While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system. One that works for all of us. I am running to become the mayor of New York City because I can't assume there's another person who has the courage to do the work that needs to be done to create a fair and just city.

We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.

There are some things we may not be able to change in people, but at this moment I think that whether you are black, white, purple, or yellow we all should be looking internally to see what is one thing that you can do to change this dynamic. Here's where we can start:

If we want change, we need a total reform of police departments throughout this country. That is going to require taking a hard look at our requirements to become a police officer, our disciplinary procedures when civilian complaints are filed, and a review of what and how we police. No one deserves to lose their life based upon the accusation of carrying counterfeit cash. We also need to hold police officers accountable for their actions. While it is their duty to protect and serve they should not be above the law. Even at this very moment, police officers are overstepping their boundaries.

If we want change, we have to build a sense of camaraderie between the police and community. A sense of working together and creating positive experiences. We have to be honest about the fact that we haven't allowed that to happen because we have utilized our police department as a revenue-generating entity. We are more concerned with cops writing tickets than protecting and serving. Even during these moments of protest we are witness to the differences made when the police supported the protesters and stood hand in hand with them or took a knee. It resulted in less violence and more peaceful protest. People felt heard; people felt respected; people felt like they mattered.

While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system.

If we want change, we have to be willing to clean house. And that means that some of you are going to have to step up to the plate and take roles of leadership. In my city alone, there are 35 city council seats that are term-limited in 2021. There are some that aren't termed but maybe their term should be up. Step up to the plate and run. If nothing else it will let our elected officials see that they need to stop being comfortable and do more. We don't need you out in the street taking selfies or reporting the problems to us. We need solutions. We need you in a room implementing policies that will ensure that these things don't continue to happen.

If we want change, we need to support grassroots candidates that are not in corporate pockets, who are not taking PAC money, and who really want to make a difference to their community. We need candidates that know first-hand and can relate to the experiences that many of us are going through.

We are at a pivotal moment. It is inspiring to see people from all races and backgrounds in the streets protesting, standing up for justice, and wanting to see change. We must seize this moment, but we must also be mindful that change requires more.

People often ask me why I decided to run for office? I am running for me. I am running for the little girl that was called nigger on Liberty Avenue. For the woman who has been pulled over for no reason. For my nephew who was consistently stopped during the era of stop and frisk. I am running for your son, your brother, and your nephew. I am running so that the next generation will never have to say, "All my life I had to fight." Because although we won't stop until we see justice and changes that address inequality and inequity effectively, this fight is exhausting.