Dixie RV Superstore owner Crosby Forrest doesn’t cry often. However, when he received a call about his induction into the Recreational Vehicle/Manufactured Homes Hall of Fame, Forrest said he broke down.
According to a report in The Daily Press, Newport News, Va., Forrest said there’s a lot of emotion wrapped up in starting a small business that has grown to be the second-largest RV dealership in Virginia.
“It was an uphill struggle,” Forrest said about the start of his business in Newport News. “The office was a 12-foot-by-60-foot mobile home in the beginning.”
Forrest was inducted into the Hall of Fame in an August ceremony in Elkhart, Ind. The Hall of Fame is maintained by the RV/MH Heritage Foundation Inc..
Forrest, the son of a waterman, said his grandmother – known as Baby Sis – didn’t want him to work on the water. Soon after he graduated from high school, she gave him $200 to attend one semester of business school. He learned enough to know he wanted to be a business owner.
Forrest and his wife, Mary Virginia, bought the Dixie Trailer and Gas Co. from Bill Hollingsworth for $10,000 in 1967. The rent for the corner lot, where the business still stands, was $500 a month.
“I didn’t have a dime,” Forrest said. “So on a handshake, George Ivins (who owned the property) said when I get enough money, I could buy the property.”
He did just that in 1973. The following year, he moved from the trailer into a new facility.
Forrest also convinced RV manufacturers to let him have the vehicles without buying them first and pay for them after they were sold.
“We were scared to death,” he said. “But we had an open house and sold 22 units in one weekend.”
During that period, Forrest began talking with other RV dealers throughout the country about the poor relationship between dealers and RV manufacturers. According to Forrest, dealers felt manufacturers controlled too much of the distribution process. “We never had a voice, so in 1971 we formed the RVDA – Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association,” he said.
Forrest is credited as a founding member. He later served on the board and was its chairman in 1980.
The chilly relationship between manufacturers and dealers began to thaw in the late 1970s during a convention in San Francisco, Calif. A group of dealers, including Forrest, went to dinner with a group representing manufacturers.
“That dinner broke the ice,” he said.
Forrest’s role in bridging the divide between manufacturers and dealers is one of the reasons he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Dave Altman, owner of Altman’s Winnebago in Los Angeles, Calif., nominated him for the honor.
“He is an unsung hero of the industry,” Altman said. “It is harder for a dealer to get in the Hall of Fame. Most inductees are manufacturers.”
Altman, who is also in the Hall of Fame, said Forrest played a vital role when the RVDA was being formed and years later. The association is based in Fairfax, Va.
Forrest was also recognized because he regularly guides new RV dealers throughout the country, he added.
Forrest said his wife of nearly 45 years has been a major force in his success.
“When we got married, she became the foundation for my life,” he said.