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.”
California-based Pan Pacific RV Centers Inc. has upped its lifetime pledge to the Mike Molino RV Learning Center to $41,500. According to a press release, the recent renaming of the Learning Center provided the kickoff for the annual fundraising campaign to benefit education for RV dealers and staff.
“Jim Shields of Pan Pacific was just honored with the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association’s (RVDA) highest award for service to the organization and the industry, so I don’t think anyone is surprised by this level of commitment. Jim has not just given of his time and talent over the years to improve our industry, he’s taken out the checkbook, too,” said Learning Center Chair Jeff Pastore of Hartville RV Center in Hartville, Ohio. “This isn’t just about all the zeroes at the end of the lifetime contribution, it’s more about the value of continuing to give over time because education is a need that never goes away. Pan Pacific RV Centers is on our list of ‘Legacy Donors’ who first made dealership education a priority, and they’re also on the list of current donors, continuing to make a difference in our industry.”
Shields noted, “Education continues to be the single most important thing we as dealers can offer to our employees, that in the end benefits our customers, our dealerships and our industry. The Mike Molino education foundation is the best investment you can make in your future as a dealer.”
Names of other recent contributors are listed on the RV Learning Center’s website. Donations to the RV Learning Center fund programs including webinars on current topics, training and certification for dealership staff, essential publications and learning guides, and the convention/expo. Contributors can make online donations or use a printable form that accommodates customized pledges and scheduled donations as well as lump sum gifts.
Alpine RV in Morgan Hill, Calif., is the latest victim of credit market and general economic woes that have led to a string of auto dealership closures in this area south of San Francisco, according to the Gilroy Dispatch.
The recreational vehicle dealership that has been in business on Condit Road since 2006 closed its doors July 8. About $10 million in new and used inventory was cleared from the dealer’s lot and will likely be sold to other dealers, according to Alpine RV owner Michael Jacque.
“The economy has been a challenge,” Jacque said. He specifically pointed to the bank’s “unreasonable” tightening of credit and financing requirements since October that made it difficult for him to continue replenishing his stock of new vehicles.
“Our bank is now exiting the RV business and they’re no longer forthcoming” with financing for more floor models, said Jacque, who has been an RV dealer for nearly 30 years.
Jacque was at the former Alpine RV site Monday afternoon (July 20) cleaning out the dealership’s offices.
He hopes the 35 employees of Alpine RV will find new jobs with another RV dealer that might take over at the same location. One such company is Pan Pacific RV Centers Inc., which is based in the Sacramento area.
“We are contemplating coming to the (Morgan Hill) marketplace,” Pan Pacific President Jim Shields said. The most likely location for a dealership would be the former site of Alpine RV as the necessary infrastructure is already in place. But he noted that Pan Pacific is “at the mercy of the bank,” and if the company is able to acquire the RV shop it would not be able to open it for at least another 60 days.
Sales have declined steadily and significantly at Alpine RV since its peak in 2007. That year, the dealer made about $56 million in sales of new and used RVs. In 2008, sales dropped to about $38 million, and this year it was on pace to make about $18 million in sales, Jacque said.
That echoes nationwide trends. In the first four months of 2009, RV manufacturers shipped 43,700 RVs to dealers – a decline of 61.7% in the same time period last year, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). In 2008, about 237,000 RVs were shipped to dealers – about 33% less than were shipped in 2007.
Sales of smaller RVs, particularly towable models, were still strong at Alpine RV when it closed, Jacque noted.
“It was just difficult to ride out the storm” that began in early 2008, Jacque said.
The city of Morgan Hill has suffered from the lagging sales of RVs, and automobiles in general. Sales tax revenues from transportation-related sales — which include sales of new and used cars, RVs, motorcycles and driving fuel — have taken a “nose-dive” the last two years, according to City Manager Ed Tewes.
At their peak in the middle of 2007, sales tax revenues in the transportation category topped out at $2.4 million. In the first quarter of 2009, the most recent date for which information is available, those revenues totaled about $1.6 million.
Transportation sales tax revenues typically account for a third of all of the city’s sales tax proceeds. “We are very dependent on that sector,” Tewes said.
The city was dealt a substantial blow to its transportation sales tax revenues when Courtesy Chevrolet closed in April. Furthermore, down the road in Gilroy, the Pontiac Buick and Ford Lincoln Mercury stores closed in mid-February.
Although Tewes said he cannot legally disclose how much sales tax revenue an individual business generates, he said Alpine RV has “consistently” been one of the city’s top 10 sales tax producers.
And the city had an “economic incentive agreement” with Alpine to refund a portion of the sales tax it generated if it met certain overall sales minimums each year, according to city Business and Housing Services Director Garrett Toy. The city receives 1% of all sales taxes generated by businesses in the city limits.
Under the agreement with Alpine, the dealership received a rebate from the city for almost $56,000 earlier this year, and it agreed to make property improvements on its Condit Road frontage. Those improvements included the installation of a wrought-iron fence and decorative landscaping in front of the lot, Jacque said.
The city had a similar agreement with the previous occupant of the same lot, the Dan Gamel RV Center. They also have an existing similar agreement with the Ford Store of Morgan Hill, which so far has given an estimated $155,000 tax break to the auto retailer.