Editor’s Note: Despite working in an industry that represents travel, Duane Spader has spent much of his business career close to home. He grew up on an Oldham, S.D., farm reading three to five books a week, farming with horses, raising lambs and filling out pigs. He learned his South Dakota-based value system here and teaches it worldwide through Spader Business Management, a training and consulting company. He started Spader Camper Center in 1964 in Brookings and moved it to Sioux Falls in 1971. This summer, Spader was listed as one of the “100 Most Influential People in RV History” by RVBusiness magazine and in 2004 was inducted into the RV/MH Hall of Fame. A founding member of the national Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) , Spader served as president in 1974 and 75. As RVDAs top volunteer during a critical time in industry history, he was instrumental in laying the groundwork for what has grown into a unified and financially sound organization that serves the nations RV retailers. He is recognized as having conceived and developed the RVDA 20 Group programs, which allow dealers to network and share best practices. He has been an RV dealer for over 40 years and a campground operator for over 30 years. In these capacities, he has devised and distributed benchmarking and performance measurement concepts that have revolutionized the way RV dealers do business. He has been a friend, mentor and coach to hundreds of RV dealers from coast to coast. Following is an interview with Spader conducted by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.
Question: What’s your career story?
Answer: I wanted a college degree so bad, but I was 10 of 16 children, and my father did not believe in education, so I actually put myself through high school. I was the first boy in the family to go to high school and college. I started in 1964 in Brookings and ended up in a business that I never intended to. In 1964, I had to make the choice: give up my college degree or start a business.
Instead of paying my bills for college, I decided to start a business. About 1970, I was working 120 hours a week, basically paying to work. I was in the process of shutting down to go back to college when Ralph Rogers, a local Sioux Falls businessman, told me to move to Sioux Falls and that he’d help me.
So I had five of the top people in Sioux Falls as my mentors on how to expand the business. The mentors here in town – John Griffin, Lloyd Reaves, Jack Flowers, Allen Herman, Don Cornish – helped me to become a better businessman. The business continued to grow, and we’re now in 10 different industries.
Q: What’s the best part of being the founder of Spader Business Management?
A: The tremendous rewards that I get back from working with other people. We have over 5,000 business clients of every size, from just starting in business to international corporations. The amount of input I get back from working with them is phenomenal.
Q: What is your outlook on life?
A: First of all, I’m thankful to be born in the United States. I’ve been blessed in life; I’ve worked very hard, though, and am confident I could not have worked any harder. I’m thankful to be born in the family I have. I’m thankful for the opportunities that I’ve had in business. I also believe that without the responsibility that I learned as a child and without doing it for other people rather than myself, this business would not have survived like it did. My family background prepared me for this.
Q: What country would you like to visit and why?
A: I have customers in Australia, New Zealand and Moscow and have always wanted to visit them. If it weren’t for my health restrictions, I would be visiting my clients worldwide.
Q: Who is your favorite Disney character?
A: My favorite character is Mickey Mouse.
Q: If time machines existed, what time would you go back to and why?
A: I have mentioned this many times, being born in the 1940s allowed me to live in the best times in the world. I lived in a time with the luxuries of technology but also the stability and values that come when you don’t have the luxuries. I was fortunate enough to have them both.
I don’t know if I’d want to go to a different time at all. My kids don’t have the stability of the values that were implemented when there weren’t so many luxuries. They will adjust, but it isn’t like it used to be. I actually farmed with horses, and in the sixth grade, I had to go count how many cows we were milking at my father’s auctions. When I was 13, my parents took my siblings to Florida, and I stayed home all winter by myself. I lambed out 125 ewes, a mature female sheep, and filled out about 40 pigs. My folks gave me a huge amount of responsibility.
Q: If you could have any super power, what would it be and why?
A: If I could have any power it would be to have people understand the Bible and what’s behind the Bible. The real super power is outside of this life and that’s God. It’s something the young people are not recognizing as much as when we were children.
Q: What food can’t you live without?
A: The basics. Meat, potatoes and vegetables. It’s what I was raised with and what I still like today.
Q: What’s something people don’t know about you?
A: Even though I’m not a writer, I’ve written a couple booklets for my classmates. One is the One Dollar Empowerment and the other is After America. I’ve also published over 150 national pieces, and most local people do not know about that.
Sioux Falls, S.D., zoning officials are moving forward with the evictions of about a half-dozen people from a campground, even though city councilors are in the process of rewriting the campground ordinance.
That ordinance limits people from staying in a campground to no more than 30 days in any calendar year. But some city councilors say that time limit is too restrictive, especially considering that many campers and RVs that use campgrounds are equipped to handle cold weather, according to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.
The issue came to light last Monday after David Fritz, the owner of the Westwick Motel and Campground, told a council committee that he received a letter from the city ordering the removal of several campers or RVs by Nov. 23. The 30-day limit is not typically enforced by the city, and officials wrote the letter even though they know the council is working on the issue.
A new ordinance is expected to be ready for review in January.
The issue to some smacks of an overzealous city picking on the little guy.
Council Chairman Pat Costello said last week that he is awaiting more information from city officials about the problems at Westwick. But in general, Costello said a camper or RV that is suitable for 30 days also is suitable for a longer period of time.
“Absent any immediate health and safety issues, it would certainly be my hope that we lay off the code enforcement until the council has a chance to weigh in on the ordinance,” Costello said.
“Significant issues” are pending with the campground ordinance, Costello said. In the past, under similar circumstances in which the council was reviewing an issue, the city has not been aggressive about enforcing what was on the books.
Shawna Goldammer, the city’s zoning enforcement manager, said the city received an anonymous complaint about campers and RVs that appeared to be “hunkering down for the winter.” That complaint generated an inspection.
“We enforce it like any other zoning ordinance – by complaints,” she said. “We don’t have the staff to look for violations. We follow up on violations that are reported to us.”
Fritz points out that many seasonal construction workers – especially highway workers – use campers and trailers to travel to jobs. Those jobs take longer than 30 days to complete. In some cases they take more than a year, putting the city’s ordinance at odds with what’s practical.
A reporter who made an unannounced visit to Westwick on Tuesday found seven campers and RVs on the premises, including a new Fleetwood Revolution LE, which has a basic list price of nearly $300,000. The property appeared clean and orderly.
Fritz has owned the property for 13 years. But he said he sold it four years ago on a contract for deed. When that sale fell through earlier this year, he reclaimed the property. Upon his return, he said he found problems that needed to be fixed, including the removal of some junk. That was handled.
Goldammer said the city had an active complaint against Westwick earlier in the year that involved serious life-safety problems. Those problems were resolved.
“They’ve been very cooperative,” she said.
Regardless, the people there now are heading out. Dennis Nelson said he plans to move his camper to another campground outside the city, as do other residents. Nelson said he has to laugh when he hears city officials talk about affordable housing and homelessness, but then they come down on people living in campers and RVs.
“None of this is making any sense,” he said. “With all of this, it’s just not worth the problems.”
Fritz also wants out. He and his wife, Claudia, own another campground in Wisconsin, and the two want to spend their time traveling. The Westwick, which includes a home, an apartment, 24 rooms and 12 RV sites, is up for sale. The 104,000-square-foot property is priced at $715,000.
“It is for sale, yes,” Fritz said. “We want to retire. We had two people who were interested before this happened.”
There are three campgrounds in the city. Westwick is unique because it’s open year-round.
Duane Spader, who owns a KOA campground in Sioux Falls and is prominent in the RV industry, said the city risks alienating the tight-knit RV community. South Dakota is a popular destination for seasonal travelers, and Sioux Falls is a natural stopping point.
They won’t stop if Sioux Falls is known for being anti-RV, he said.
“It’s totally irrational in their thinking,” Spader said. “Those people just don’t understand what they’re doing.”
Sioux Falls, S.D., officials want to limit how long RVs can park in campgrounds, but one local campground owner is doing his best to stop the proposal.
Planning and zoning officials say motorhomes and travel trailers should be forced to move after 180 days. They say RVs are not suitable as permanent dwellings because of health and safety concerns, according to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.
“I don’t think campers are designed to provide occupancy when it’s January and 30 below in Sioux Falls,” said Shawna Goldammer, the city’s zoning enforcement manager.
But Duane Spader, who owns the Sioux Falls KOA, views the proposal as an assault on campground owners. Spader, a prominent businessman in the national RV industry, calls the proposal “naive.”
Between 20% and 30% people who own RVs now use the vehicles as full-time dwellings, he said. They often travel to one place and stay for an extended period of time before moving on to a different part of the country.
“Why can’t an RV park in my campground for a year if they want to?” he asked.
Spader has a tumultuous relationship with the city’s planning and zoning officials. He accuses city officials of reneging on past deals and of using zoning rules to destroy small businesses.
“It’s a culture of arrogance,” he said. “They have the righteous perception that they are the only ones who know what’s best.”
Goldammer counters that Spader is “anti-zoning.”
“This is not about the KOA campground or Duane Spader in any way, shape or form,” she said.
“They choose to live in their RVs,” Goldammer added. “More power to them. What we’re trying to get after is that they don’t put a stake in the ground in a campground.”
City officials have been working on the proposal for months. City ordinances define motorhomes and travel trailers as “temporary dwellings.” City officials want to define the term “temporary” with a hard number.
“There’s nothing magic about 180 days,” Goldammer said. “We just need to nail down what ‘temporary’ means.”
But city councilors, who must approve the changes, want to study the issue closely before voting. They have postponed a hearing until it can be reviewed by the council’s Land Use Committee. That review isn’t scheduled until later this month.
Councilor Greg Jamison said the issue started last year, when the city found problems at a campground that isn’t owned by Spader. Jamison questions whether city officials are looking out for health and safety concerns, or if they’re simply targeting campgrounds that aren’t aesthetically pleasing.
Spader, Jamison said, “runs a good program over there.”
Councilor Kermit Staggers also has questions about the city’s motivations. He wants to postpone the July hearing because Spader is scheduled to be out of town on business.
“We need him there,” Staggers said. “This is one of the primary opponents.”
If the hearing is delayed another month, a vote on the issue probably won’t happen until September.
Editor’s Note: Duane Spader founded Spader Business Management based on his experiences and struggles as a dealer in the RV industry. He is known for his “down to earth” approach to managing business. He has been instrumental in establishing 20 Groups in varied industries, such as marine, RV, farm equipment, office furniture, lighting showroom, motorcoach and others. Spader continues to serve as a 20 Group facilitator and consults with associations and manufacturers, always with the focus on the privately-owned business whose owners’ savings are on the line. He has served as a national director, secretary, president, and chairman of the board for the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA). He has been director of education for the Marine Retailers Association of America which awarded him its Irv Rosenthal Award . He also received the James B. Summers Award from RVDA and the RVDA Chairman’s Award for continuing contributions to the RV industry. Spader was elected to the RV/MH Hall of Fame in 2004.