Tom Raper RV Marking 50th Year in Business
In 1964, a young Tom Raper opened a used car lot with his father on the corner of North 14th and E streets in Richmond, Ind.
This year, Tom Raper RV, one of the most successful and well-known RV dealerships in the nation, is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
“Everyone I knew, with the sole exception of my father, told me I was going to go broke, that I wouldn’t make it. I told them, ‘You know what? I’m going to give you a chance to say I told you so, because I think I’m going to make it,’” said Raper, now retired and living in Florida.
It’s safe to say that Tom Raper did indeed make it.
At its three locations – Cincinnati and Columbus were added in 2004 and 2010, respectively –Tom Raper RV employs 185 people, has over 1,000 new and used RVs in its inventory and does over $100 million in business each year. The dealership sells 72 lines of RVs from 12 manufacturers.
Raper converted his business from cars to RVs in the late 1960s when he added Apache tent campers and then the entire Shasta lineup to his inventory.
Raper built his business with aggressive marketing – he said he spent millions on advertising – and by surrounding himself with quality employees. Lying was cause for immediate dismissal, Raper said, and profanity and negativity also were not tolerated. Those who cut the mustard were rewarded with generous benefits, including profit-sharing.
He sold his dealership to then-general manager David Bane in 2002. Bane knew he had to adapt to a changing landscape in order to continue the Tom Raper RV legacy.
“When I look at 50 years in business, I know it’s built on the reputation and legacy of Tom Raper,” Bane said. “But I also look at how we’ve had to adapt and adjust to the Internet, to national buying power, to multiple dealerships, to changing demographics, and to the changing buying habits of consumers.”
“Any dealer who stays rooted in the past will not succeed,” he added. “You can’t live on your legacy forever. You have to change. You have to grow. You have to adapt.”
Bane said his 12 years as owner have been “interesting” – especially since not long after he took over the economy hit the skids. But the recession of 2008-09 taught the industry how to “get by with less,” he said.
“We learned, just like everyone else learned, that we had to make it with the assets we had,” Bane said.
Bane said the future of Tom Raper RV is tied to strategic growth. He said the business is looking to continue to expand to other markets to service existing customers and appeal to new ones.