Five men who played key roles in the development of the modern day RV industry were among those inducted into the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind., Monday night (Aug.2) as part of the RV/MH Heritage Foundation Inc.’s Class of 2010.
During a 90-minute ceremony that featured equal parts of entertainment, nostalgia and inspiration, the new inductees reminisced before an audience of nearly 350 people.
Heritage Foundation Chairman Lon Larson welcomed the audience and received an award in recognition of his service, while B.J. Thompson, chairman of the Public Relations Committee of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) spoke briefly on the RV Centennial celebration held on June 7 at the Hall of Fame and encouraged the audience to continue to mark the centennial throughout the rest of the year.
And in a surprise turn of events prior to the induction ceremony, as RVBUSINESS.com reported earlier, the foundation presented its Spirit Award to Gary LaBella, RVIA vice president of communications and chief marketing officer, who took the opportunity Monday night to announce his early retirement after 32 years with the trade group.
Here’s a few highlights of the inductees’ remarks:
Rex Floyd, Floyd’s RV, Norman, Okla., joked at the outset,” I thought you had to be dead to get in it!” He said the RV industry has treated him well over the 40 years that he has been part of it and thanked the staff of the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) for its hard work through the years. Floyd served 12 years on the RVDA board and was a leader in the early years in organizing a national marketing program which evolved into today’s Go RVing campaign. He was the first dealer to receive RVDA’s Jim Summers award.
Jim Fogdall, Ace Fogdall RV, Cedar Falls, Iowa, said the first award he ever received was “a cherry pie from a satisfied service customer.” He said his parents, who started the company, “stressed customer care and hard work” as keys to success. Now run by the third generation of the Fogdall family, the dealership has been profitable in each of its 77 years. He thanked the RVDA, The Spader Co. and praised the 20 Groups that allowed him to interact with – and learn from — other successful dealers.
Don Lougheed, RV Group Inc., Austin, Texas, thanked “God and thousands of friends and associates since he started his business in 1963.” Loughheed gave credit to a number of RVDA pioneers, such as Hilton Fitt-Peaster and Jim Summers, and the late Bill Gorman, an industry consultant whoLougheed called his “idol who taught dealers how to sell RVs.” He also recognized manufacturing legends such as Winnebago Industries Inc.’s John K. Hanson, Holiday Rambler Corp.’s Richard Klinger and Airstream Inc.’s Wally Byam.
Carl Pfalzgraf, Atwood Mobile Products, Elkhart, Ind., recounted his early years as “a troubled teen” who built cars and drag racers and told how he joined Atwood in 1965 and spent his career as “an apprentice,” soaking up knowledge from those around him. He served 18 years on the RVIA board, the last two as board chairman, and called his industry service “a career within a career.”
Clarence T. Yoder, Carriage Inc. Millersburg, Ind., an Elkhart County legend who was sporting his trademark hat, lived up to his reputation as a man of few words. One of 15 children in an Amish family, he quit school at an early age and went to work sweeping floors at a nearby factory. He led his company, Carriage Inc., for 30 years and had a primary role in research and development. He pioneered seamless fiberglass end caps, motorized slideouts on fifth-wheels and developed the first flat floor for fifth-wheels with no step up to the bedroom. He holds several patents.
Inductees from the manufactured housing industry were Raymond F. Bassett, Jim Boyts, Jerry Haggadone, Morris Hylton Jr., Jess Maxcy and Jeff Wick. Bassett and Boyts are deceased.
A total of 14 foursomes competed earlier in the day in the charity golf tournament. The shotgun tournament was won by the team of Doug Bassett, Steve Bassett, Brian Younkin and Rick Grise.
Rex Floyd and his RV dealership — Floyd’s Recreational Vehicles — have survived seven recessions since 1969, but nothing quite like the current one.
“This one is the worst by far,” Floyd told the Norman (Okla.) Transcript. “Haven’t seen anything like it before . . . and that’s saying a lot.”
Not that hard times are anything new for the RV industry.
When the business was “born,” as Floyd likes to say, it was nothing more than two “cabovers” and three “toppers” in Pauls Valley, his hometown.
There was no glass-enclosed showroom or 20-acre lot. The combined value of his inventory was just $2,200. A former engineer who worked in the field for 13 years, Floyd and his wife, Helen, were the only employees.
On top of that, when Floyd moved to his current location just south of Norman in 1973, the U.S. was in the midst of an oil crisis. Many RV dealers and manufacturers across the country were going under.
Floyd was in the middle of an expansion. It became a struggle.
“There was an article in the paper about how all the RV dealerships were going out of business,” he said. “There wasn’t a banker around that would loan me money to finish the building.”
Floyd said he and his wife “finished the building as we got money, but we learned how to run a business during that time.
“As you learn, you work hard to change or you’re gone . . . I didn’t want to lose the business we had worked to build.”
Floyd’s dealership did survive and it has since thrived, expanding a dozen times in the last four decades.
What started out as a small RV lot with $2,200 in inventory has grown into a 20-acre dealership, with a busy service department, a 100-space storage area and more than 20 employees.
“It’s definitely grown,” Floyd said inside his hunting lodge-themed showroom Friday morning. “We’ve got millions in rolling stock now.”
The dealership’s 26-bay service department, which has grown with the company over the years, is an important part of the business, especially in an economic downturn.
“When sales are down, parts and services usually go up . . . people tend to fix ‘em up instead of buying new ones in a bad economy,” Floyd said. “That’s how we’ve stayed in business for 40 years.”
The dealership sells an array of new and used RVs, including fifth-wheels, travel trailers, motorhomes and folding camping trailers. Its lobby has a customer waiting area with cable Internet connections, a flat screen TV and free phones, all situated with antlers and stuffed game hanging on the walls.
“Like I said, it’s grown a lot over the years,” Floyd said. “We’re one of the biggest RV dealers in Oklahoma.”
All of Floyd’s hard work — and the fact he and his wife’s business has survived all these years — hasn’t gone unnoticed by his peers. The RV/MH Heritage Foundation, based in Elkhart, Ind., recently announced that Floyd will be inducted into its hall of fame on Aug. 2.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Floyd said. “They’ve had it for years now, but I knew very little about it. I thought you had to be dead to get in.”
Floyd said he plans to attend the induction ceremony in Indiana, a special place for those in the RV business.
“There (Elkhart) and South Bend, they’re kind of like the heart of RV manufacturing,” he said. “That’s kind of where it all started.”
Today, Floyd is semi-retired, a process he said wasn’t as simple as it should’ve been.
“I guess I retired four or five years ago,” he said. “You just don’t step out of a company you gave birth to and made successful… overnight. That’s something I found out, for sure.”
Floyd is now a consultant to the company, his middle son Kenneth runs the day-to-day operations.
Kenneth Floyd, like his brothers and sisters, grew up in the family business. He said some of his best memories from childhood revolve around the dealership.
“It was hard to get up during the week for school, but I couldn’t wait to get up Saturday to go to work with my dad,” Kenneth Floyd said. “I’ve been in it since I was born, basically. As the business grew, I grew, too.”
Kenneth Floyd has worked at the RV dealership with his father since 1986, with a few years in between working at a car dealership. After becoming sales manager, he said he was drawn back to the family RV business when his younger brother left the dealership to start his own training company.
“I felt like it was my turn to leave, go out on my own,” Kenneth Floyd said. “I wanted to make sure it was me who got the job and not just because it was the family business.”
Kenneth Floyd returned to the RV dealership that bears the family name in 2003. His said he hopes this job will be his last — if his dad doesn’t fire him.
“You never know with him, but I love the business, I love the atmosphere and I love the lifestyle,” he said. “It’s not every day you get the opportunity to do a job you love, so I’m lucky.”