When George Dodd began selling recreational vehicles in 1973, RVing was for snowbirds and outdoorsy families, according to a report in the Pilot Virginian, Norfolk. Winnebago was just making it big and KOA Campgrounds were growing fast, with 600 sites across the country.
The industry has changed since then. Baby boomers have reignited an RV boom and Dodd RV, based in Portsmouth, Va., has evolved along with the industry, shifting to younger leadership and expanding in size and selection.
In 2001, Dodd’s son, Jamie, 35, took over as the company’s president. Since then, Dodd RV, which sells, rents and services RVs, has grown from three to 40 employees and added a 5-acre second location in Newport News. Revenue in 2005 was about $14 million, up from $3 million in 2001 when Jamie took the helm.
“The success has really come from the foundation dad built for us, Jamie’s vision and a team effort, by the family and our employees,” said Jennifer Moore, 37, George Dodd’s daughter and the general manager of the company’s Portsmouth location.
The business has expanded in today’s high-dollar-gasoline environment even though many RVs get only between eight and 13 miles per gallon.
The bigger challenge has been passing the family business to the next generation with four siblings involved.
Besides Jamie and Jennifer, Paul Dodd, 40, is the president of Dodd’s Auto Service, which repairs both cars and RVs. Another sister, Susie Shiflet, 37, acts as Dodd RV’s comptroller. The four, recalled father George Dodd, did not plan on joining the business, but “it gets in your blood.”
“We had always camped,” said Shiflet, the youngest daughter and the first to get on board. “We’d take two or three trips a year, and we’d to factories with Dad and bring back motorhomes.”
Three days after she graduated from Old Dominion University in 1994, she began filling in at Dodd RV. “Then,” Shiflet said, “I never left.”
Next was Paul Dodd, who became president of the RV and auto repair division in 1996. Jamie Dodd, fresh from graduate school at the University of Florida, joined five years later.
“My dad called and asked if I wanted to discuss employment at Dodd RV, and that was not what I wanted to do,” he said. “I had to think about it. I talked to my professors, and they recommended the RV industry. But I never imagined ending up here.”
Fifty years ago, his father bought a Texaco station on Portsmouth Boulevard in Portsmouth, and operated it with friends William Boyd and Bobby Branch. That Texaco station is now the location of Dodd’s Auto Service. Across the street is Dodd RV of Portsmouth.
George Dodd and Branch still work at the Portsmouth location. Boyd retired in 1996.
After Jamie Dodd assumed leadership in 2001, he started researching the industry and suggested an ambitious expansion of the company. He persuaded his sister, Moore, to join the business to help with the expansion and “complete the family circle” in 2002.
“We work together well,” Moore said, “and we’re able to translate that family atmosphere into all of our business.”