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.
Tom Raper, philanthropist and former owner of Tom Raper’s RV, has established an endowed scholarship fund for Ivy Tech Community College’s Richmond, Ind., campus. According to a press release, Raper finalized the gift during a signing ceremony at Ivy Tech’s Indianapolis location.
Steve Tincher, chancellor of Ivy Tech’s Richmond region, said, “This scholarship endowment is a wonderful example of Tom Raper’s continued significant support for education and investment in the lives of individuals in our community. We are honored to have the Tom Raper Foundation Inc. Scholarship Endowment for Ivy Tech students.”
“We’re grateful to Tom and Suzanne Raper for establishing the scholarship endowment. Their generosity will support five Richmond area students with financial need to learn skills to be employees or employers,” said Thomas J. Snyder, Ivy Tech President.
The five scholarships will be awarded annually in fall semester. To qualify for the scholarships students will need help with college expenses and have a 2.5 or higher grade point average.
Tom Raper’s RV is headquartered in Richmond with Ohio-based dealerships in Cincinnati and Columbus.
Tom Raper RV announced the appointment of Eddie Unger III to the position of general sales manager for the dealership’s two locations in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, and its headquarters in Richmond, Ind.
According to a press release, Unger is a 2004 MBA graduate of Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., a 2001 graduate of Cumberland College, and a lifelong resident of the Richmond area. He began his career at Tom Raper RVs in 1999 as a finance office representative and was named sales manager for the Richmond store in 2006.
“Eddie grew up in our company and we have a great deal of confidence in him, his experience, work ethic and leadership skills will fuel our continued growth in the marketplace,” said president and CEO David Bane.
It was a fairly typical Friday at Tom Raper RVs in Richmond, Ind. Until the White House called, that is.
Seems the vice president of the United States wanted a motorhome to relax in before and after his speech Monday (Sept. 5) at the Cincinnati AFL-CIO’s annual Labor Day picnic at Coney Island, the Richmond Palladium-Item reported.
Ed Unger, director of corporate operations for Tom Raper, first took a phone call Friday from the AFL-CIO, asking if the Richmond recreational vehicle company would be willing to provide a motorhome for Vice President Joe Biden.
Unger said yes. Then the White House advance staff called — first to say thanks for filling the need on short notice, then to work out the key details.
Unger brought in one of his sons — he has four who work for the company — to help meet the request.
“Dad was pretty surprised (to get those calls),” Eddie Unger, sales manager at Tom Raper, said Sunday.
Biden’s temporary home was a 2008 Phaeton, a 40-footer made by Tiffin Motor Homes Inc. in Red Bay, Ala. The vehicle was delivered Sunday so Biden’s staff could make sweeps and security checks before the vice president climbed aboard.
“President Obama took a lot of heat for using a million-dollar bus made in Canada (during his recent bus tour),” Eddie Unger said. “They requested the one for Biden be made in America and I wanted to make sure it was one we actually sold new at Tom Raper so we could get some recognition, too.”
Eddie Unger included one request of the White House: A chance to meet and shake Biden’s hand, and perhaps have a photograph taken with the nation’s second-in-command. The White House agreed to the request and Unger attend the event on Monday.
Biden’s speech was expected to fire up the troops on the biggest issue to face organized labor in Ohio in decades — the effort to pass a referendum doing away with Senate Bill 5, which would limit public employees’ bargaining rights, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported last week. At least 15,000 area union members and their families attended the annual picnic.
Tom Raper RV in Richmond, Ind., expects as many as 50 people to RSVP for a ”career night” Feb. 15 when the dealership anticipates hiring five new sales people.
”As the economy and our business is picking back up, we need some quality people on board,” said Eddie Unger, Raper general sales manager. ”It’s a no-strings-attached opportunity to show people what we offer and give them the possibility of having a sales career here.”
The career event will feature a two-hour presentation that will explain the details of the positions available followed by one-on-one interviews with Raper managers. Health insurance, a 401(k) retirement plan, a training program and a $5,000 signing bonus are included in the positions that Raper is looking to hire.
”They could have experience in any type of sales — RVs, furniture, cars — but that’s not necessarily required,” Unger said. ”It does help, though.”
This is the second career seminar in recent years, which looks to build on last year’s 20% sales growth versus 2009. The first was in pre-recession 2006. ”We had quite a few folks that came out and we hired several people as a result of that event,” Unger said.
Raper currently employees about 125 people at its headquarters location in Richmond and at two satellite stores in the Cincinnati suburb of Fairfield, Ohio., and a six-month-old store in Columbus, Ohio.
The company currently has 23 sales people handling a full line of RVs at all three stores.
An ad for the Feb. 15 career night has been placed in the nearby Dayton (Ohio) Daily News and one likely will also appear in the Indianapolis Star, about 70 miles to the west. Unger said Raper already employs several people from the Indianapolis area who make the daily drive down I-70.
So, Unger’s looking aggressively at 2011.
”Last year was a great year for us,” Unger said. ”And the opening of the Columbus store was a huge success.”
He said retail sales at recent RV shows in Columbus and Dayton were promising. ”We are seeing demand for RVs picking up,” Unger said.
Those interested in attending the career night should RSVP to (800) 727-3788 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ed Unger hopes Tom Raper Inc. can do for Exit 79 on Interstate 70 in central Ohio, what it has done for Exit 149A in Indiana, Columbus Business First reported.
The recreational vehicle dealer, after decades of wooing central Ohioans to visit its complex in Richmond, Ind., has decided to bring its inventory to the Columbus region with a 14-acre dealership in London, 15 miles west of Columbus.
“Columbus has always been a great market for us,” said Unger, Tom Raper’s corporate operations director. “When gas was cheap, people could drive to our superstore. People are more reluctant to drive now.”
Central Ohioans now need travel only minutes west of Interstate 270 rather than make the 100-mile trek into Indiana to peruse Tom Raper’s trailers and RVs. Unger said the London dealership, which opened last month, also makes sales and service operations reachable from other parts of the state.
Recently formed Prime Time Manufacturing, a division of Forest River Inc., celebrated a manufacturing milestone Tuesday (May 11) with the delivery of its 1,000th travel trailer from its production facility in Wakarusa, Ind. The company also used the opportunity to announce a planned expansion and the addition of “a significant amount” of employees.
The towable builder recognized the achievement with a brief ceremony and luncheon attended by more than 130 production workers, vendors and Wakarusa town officials. Many of the employees have been with the company since its inception in September 2009.
Special guests included the management team of Tom Raper RV, who were presented the keys to the milestone unit — a Tracer 3000 BHD. With three locations in Indiana and Ohio, Tom Raper RV is Prime Time’s largest volume dealer.
“Both the Tracer and LaCrosse have proven to be very innovative, well-built and quite popular with our retail customers,” said Dave Bane, president of the multi-site dealership. “We love Prime Time’s aggressive approach to product development and are proud to take delivery of their 1,000th unit.”
During the ceremony, Prime Time President Jeff Rank announced plans to introduce the company’s first line of fifth-wheels, to be called Crusader.
“We will begin production by the end of May and expect to be hiring a significant amount of additional employees within the next few weeks,” he noted. “The management team at Prime Time understands the fifth-wheel market and we look forward to making Crusader an industry leader.”
For more information regarding Prime Time Manufacturing, go to www.primetimerv.com or call (574) 862-3001.
Consistent with widespread projections that the RV industry is poised for a recovery in 2010, many dealers for recently formed Prime Time Manufacturing in Wakarusa, Ind., have enjoyed dramatic increases in retail traffic and sales during the first two months of the new year, according to a news release.
“This year’s Indianapolis show was the best I’ve seen in several years,” according to Dave Bane, president of Tom Raper RV in Richmond, Ind. “Customers are starting to feel more comfortable about their finances and seem ready to make the commitment to a new RV.”
Tom Raper RV, Prime Time’s largest dealer, is focusing on the towable market in 2010 to compliment its existing motorhome sales.
According to Bane, “For years, Tom Raper RV has been one of the nation’s largest motorized dealers. But we believe that towable RVs are going to lead the recovery so we are aligning ourselves with aggressive, innovative manufacturers like Prime Time in order to maximize our sales and profits. Prime Time has made a considerable contribution to the direction of our dealership with their product offering.”
Colleen Botello, sales manager at Hi-Way Campers in Plainfield, Conn., saw similar action at the recently completed Springfield RV and Camper Show where they sold nine Prime Time units.
“Traffic has been exceptional, retail sales are good, and we are starting to see some daylight. Consumers are taking more time in the buying process and are more cautious with their money, but they tend to be looking forward,” noted Botello. Two factors that are more of a priority for consumers, according to Botello, were weight ratings and value. “Prime Time’s LaCrosse offers a lot of bang for the buck with its upscale look and features while Tracer has opened up new markets for us with its low weights and towability,” Botello said.
Prime Time Regional Sales Manager Jason Gill said that many dealers will benefit from the pent-up demand that has been created the last two years as retail sales have slowed along with the national economy.
“Across the board, we are seeing huge increases in retail traffic and most dealers are selling more than they have the last couple of years,” commented Gill. “We are feeling confident about 2010 and Prime Time continues to increase production rates in anticipation of strong retail demand.”
Prime Time Manufacturing is a division of Forest River Inc, a Berkshire Hathaway company. Prime Time offers towable RVs under the brand names of LaCrosse and Tracer.
Some may say that good fortune doesn’t strike the same place twice. For Tom Raper RV’s in Fairfield, Ohio, this is not the case. From Feb. 19 through March 1, the dealership hosted yet another successful RV disposal sales event which brought more than 320 interested RV buyers through the dealership’s doors in only eight days, according to a news release from G&A Marketing which assisted the RV dealer in the event.
This event, which was slightly longer than the dealership’s first asset disposal event, helped the dealership to successfully sell 54 new, used and old aged units; 25% of which were motorhomes.
The recent sale was once again facilitated by G&A Marketing, a promotional sales and marketing agency based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Since first working with G&A in January of this year, Tom Raper’s Fairfield location has hosted more than 640 interested buyers during the advertised events, resulting in the sale of over 80 units in a combined total of 11 days.
“We are ecstatic about these results,” said Pat Gunning, president of G&A Marketing, “This sale was 48% better than the first event which took place between Christmas and New Year’s. It is always our goal to help our dealers improve upon previous events, and we are happy that we were able to help Tom Raper achieve this.”
The market exclusive program offered by G&A is continuing to gain in popularity among RV dealers for a number of reasons. As Gunning points out, the traffic being generated for RV dealers as a result of staffed events offer a number of both short-term and long-term benefits. While the influx of customers creates a show floor buying frenzy and increased profitability during the sale, the dealership is also presented with a number of follow-up opportunities which help to clean out old age inventory, boost the morale of the sales force and continue the momentum that was initially created by the event.
“Our events are about more than just a shock to the market. It’s about helping our dealers create a strategy for prolonged success,” said Gunning.
G&A Marketing is a promotional sales and marketing agency that recently resumed providing support to help RV dealerships market and sell old inventory.