There are few things in life that make Gerry Wright of Bolton, Conn., happier than hauling vehicles.
But Wright, a Vietnam veteran, spent several years dabbling in a number of industries — construction, logging, and working on his family’s dairy farm — before finding his niche at age 45: storing and hauling campers, according to the Hartford Business Journal.
Now 61, Wright stores about 150 recreational vehicles on his Bolton property. He operates his own 24-hour a day business, Happy Hauler Towing, and Recovery Bolton Notch RV Storage, which he says has grown to be Connecticut’s largest RV storage facility.
His interest in RVs began by accident. In 1982, after stumbling upon a help-wanted ad seeking an RV salesman, Wright discovered not only that he enjoyed selling RVs, but that he was also good at it.
“I had a full beard and had never sold a camper in my life, but I got the job. I fell in love with the business right then and there,” he said.
Within a year, Wright was promoted to sales manager.
But his personal life crumbled as he struggled with alcoholism and marital problems. Following a divorce and the loss of his home, he lived in a friend’s basement for several months before driving to Alaska on his motorcycle one summer.
When he returned to Connecticut, he says he got lucky; a friend offered him another job working with RVs.
“I stayed there two years and turned my life around. I was making a six-figure salary,” Wright recalled.
However, he realized that a critical need to haul campers was not being met by the company he worked for.
“I ended up leaving my comfortable job [in 1987] to start my own trucking camper business. I made $17,000 my first year,” Wright said, noting that he dipped into nearly $40,000 of his savings to stay afloat.
“I love working for myself,” Wright said.
As Wright’s business started to grow steadily each year, he saw a second need that was not being met. People who lived in apartments or condos had no place to store their recreational vehicles.
Wright spent six months looking for property where he could establish a storage facility.
After selecting land in Bolton, Wright received a “guaranteed Veteran’s Small Business Loan,” putting down 5% of the cost.
By 1996, Wright was storing 75 campers at about $50 to $60 a month. In 1999, he decided to expand again and bought another four acres.
Wright’s peak year was in 2006, when he stored nearly 200 campers and boats; now he stores about 150 recreational vehicles and attributes the drop in business to the recession. He has weathered the economic storm by being resourceful, diversifying his business and living an “unselfish” life by spending much of his free time giving back to veterans in need.
“I dropped 30 units in storage this past year and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to hang on. So I got out the phone book and called three car rental agencies to see if they needed help transporting cars. Enterprise in Bradley Airport hired me that day,” said Wright, who noted the contract generates $30,000 a year.
He also launched a wrecker service for the state police, which he says earns him an extra $60,000 a year.
In addition, Wright merged his business with another veteran who operated a camper repair business.
“Every year, I make a five-year plan. I’m 61 right now and by the time I’m 66, I want to be wintering with my wife at Lake Mead. I can look back at all my RVs and rollovers and say, wow, what a ride,” he said with a smile.