Editor’s Note: The following article authored by Mary Ann Shreve appeared in the latest issue of RV Executive Today offering a profile on long-time dealer Jim Shields who received the coveted James B. Summers Award during the RV Dealers International Convention/Expo.
Jim Shields of Pan Pacific RV Centers wasn’t sure he’d be able to attend this year’s RV Dealers International Convention/Expo because he was in the middle of chemo treatments. But his family members encouraged him to go; knowing something he didn’t — that he was going to receive the 2013 James B. Summers Award, RVDA’s highest honor. Although Shields has served as RVDA chairman and “knew how the selection process goes,” he says he was nevertheless caught by surprise when his name was announced. “It’s not an award you can ever be sure of getting.”
Shields was recognized for his outsized list of service to RVDA and the industry, including serving a term as chairman, co-chairing the Government Relations Committee, participating on the RVDA Marketing Task Force, spending a term as director of the RV Learning Center board, and helping unify California RV dealers into one of the country’s most influential state dealer associations.
But his career as an RV retailer started humbly in 1985 when he left a secure job in another field to buy a struggling dealership that his wife Sherry thought “looked like ‘Sanford and Son,’ ” he recalls. Together, they slowly built it back up. “At first I ran it by the seat of my pants, because I knew nothing about the business.”
Looking back, he says the best piece of advice he can give to other dealers is to join RVDA and sign up with a 20 Group—“two of the most important things I ever did that helped teach me about being a dealer.”
One of his first challenges was with a heavy-handed manufacturer that sent him product he didn’t order. “They took my inventory from 13 units to 22 units, which was way more than I should have had,” he says. “Eleven units were ‘85s and 11 were ’86s, and they wanted me to take even more. When I said no, I got a letter in the mail saying they were giving me my 60 days’ notice and they were going to set up another dealer in my area. We survived, mostly because we were able to buy another dealership that had better lines.”
The experience convinced him that California RV dealers needed a state association that would look after their interests. By that time, he was already a member of RVDA, whose former president, Mike Molino, encouraged him to organize his peers. “I started calling around, saying ‘We need a state organization.’ I got us all together for a meeting, and out of that came CalRVDA,” says Shields.
His company now includes more than 40 employees and dealerships in French Camp, Morgan Hill, and Sacramento. Shields’ son Joey, daughter Gina, and son-in-law Matt Jones work in the family business. “Together, they make a pretty good team,” he says.
Asked what he’s most proud of about his business, he says, “probably that we succeeded—we started with nothing and we’ve been in business almost 30 years. We bought a tiny little place. It was kind of a roll of the dice. The industry has given me a good living for 30 years, and I love it.”