Paul Evert visits with guests at Saturday’s retirment party

Paul Evert still rises around 5:30 every morning and, at 88, continues to channel the same energy that drove him to found and manage one of the most successful RV dealerships on the West Coast.

Now, however, instead of thinking about bottom lines and inventory levels, Evert looks forward to the latest gardening project on the 14 acres he purchased at Shaver Lake, nestled in the foothills of California’s Sierra mountains.

“I’m not a person that can just sit on the couch,” said Evert, who recently announced his official retirement from Paul Evert’s RV Country. “My wife, Sherri, and I enjoy gardening. We love it here. There’s always something to keep us busy.”

Last week, Evert was busy partaking in the tributes and celebrations to mark his retirement, culminating Saturday (May 26) with a party at the dealership attended by past and present employees along with former customers.

“It’s going to be a nice sendoff,” Evert said last week. “I’m looking forward to seeing old friends.”

Changing of the Guard

The transition in management includes a rebranding initiative under the direction of President Curt Curtis, including dropping Evert’s moniker from the company name. It’s a move initiated by Evert as he told RVBUSINESS.com, “It’s time to say goodbye to good ol’ Paul. I told them to even get rid of my picture on the interstate billboard. Things are in Curt’s hands now. He’s the man.”

Curtis has actually been in charge of day-to-day operations for several years, still applying the same principles and strategies he learned from Evert that allowed the dealership to steer through the down years while thriving in the boom times.

“During the recession he actually managed to grow the dealership,” said Curtis who hired on with the dealership in May of 1987 after working on Evert’s walnut ranch in his teens. “He was smart. He closely monitored our inventory — something he did throughout his career — and made the necessary cuts. It allowed us to buy up several dealerships that went under.”

Evert noted he used that same strategy during the oil crisis that devastated the industry in the 1970s. “That was a tough time, much worse than the recession,” he said. “You can’t survive cutting your sales in half unless you’re ready. I’d say that 50% of the dealers closed — mainly the mom and pop stores.

“But I was able to take advantage of the situation, picking up some of the lines that we couldn’t get from the stores that closed. You have to be lean and mean to survive, which we’ve been since the very beginning. Because of that we were able to keep going and blowing.”

New Ownership Follows Evert’s Lead

The shift to new ownership has been in motion for nearly a year through the initiation of a three-year accelerated buyout plan, according to Curtis, who now owns a 55% equity share in the dealership. He partnered with Controller Dale Cantrell (17 1/2%) and Director of Operations Charlie Power (10%) while Evert currently retains a 17 1/2% equity interest.

While the leadership has changed, Curtis said the dealership, which has grown to nine locations in five states, continues moving forward with the framework instilled by Evert.

“We are going to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” he said. “We’re going to branch out into other markets that we’ve been eyeing, but that won’t happen for a few years. Right now, we’re in a very good position to take advantage of a strong market.”

Curtis reported that the company is currently in the process of opening a new venue in Sparks, Nev. “We’re building that store from the ground up,” Curtis related. “Our target date is to open at the end of July. Sparks is different in that we will own the property and the building, which we haven’t done in past acquisitions.”

RV Country President Curt Curtis

“We’re going to focus on what we have,” he added. “We’re in key market areas on the West Coast so we’re going to work on streamlining our existing operations. Our model is different from the some of the larger multilocation dealerships. We have a much lower overhead with smaller stores, but we are still able to do really good volume.”

Curtis noted that the model is based on a laundry list of directives that Evert used to build the business.

“One of the main things is to hire good people and then take care of them, let them know they’re appreciated,” Evert said. “I’ve preached this to Curt over the years. Pay your employees well, above the going rate, and they will stay with you. That way they won’t be changing jobs.”

Customer service, a current hot point issue in the industry, is also an area that Evert has always emphasized. “You have to take care of your customers,” he said. “If you don’t, then they’re not going to come back.”

But the heart of his success, he maintained, was to always understand that you’re in the business of selling fun. “Never lose sight of that,” Evert noted. “It’s perhaps the most important thing in being successful. The dealership, and your employees, should reflect that owning an RV is appealing and fun.”