Wayne County, Ind., and Tom Raper Inc., an RV and manufactured housing megadealer based in Richmond, Ind., are at a stalemate over an exclusive contract for Raper products at the eastern Indiana county’s fairgrounds.
“It’s still pending,” Commissioner John Catey told the Richmond (Ind.) Palladium Item newspaper over the weekend. “They (attorneys) wanted to do interviews a couple months ago, and I haven’t heard anything since. Those things tend to drag out.”
Dave Bane, the owner of Tom Raper Inc. for the past year, said he’s in the dark, too.
“I wish I knew,” Bane said. “To date there hasn’t been any activity. Frankly, it’s frustrating. I have been sued by Wayne County and, to a certain extent, tried in the public’s mind.”
The Wayne County Board of Commissioners asked for a declaratory judgment to throw out an agreement with the company that excludes competitors of Tom Raper RVs or Tom Raper Homes Inc. from displaying their wares during events at the fairgrounds.
The restriction on exhibitors is part of a rental agreement signed in June 1998 by the county commissioners after company founder Tom Raper donated money to build the Raper Center. The contract assured Raper an option to rent the center and use the fairgrounds on or around the Labor Day holiday every year for an RV rally for a period of 20 years. That timing overlaps the Wayne County 4-H Fair.
The agreement also bans any other event that “involves the promotion or sale” of RVs, modular homes and boats.
County attorney Ron Cross said lawyers representing both parties have been talking, but a resolution doesn’t appear near.
“We just have to get it off square one,” Cross said. “We need to get everybody focused on this.”
He contends there is a middle ground.
“That’s been the sentiment I’ve taken from the commissioners. It’s not an all-or-none situation,” Cross said. “Unfortunately, if we go to court, that’s the way it will turn out.”
A middle point could include limiting the geographical area of the agreement and making certain events exempt from it.
Bane, who bought Tom Raper Inc. last June 19, just before the request for the change, feels the contract should be enforced. “We’ve had to spend a lot of money on the lawyers,” Bane said. “We continue to believe it’s a legal agreement. The Indiana State Fairgrounds has the Pepsi Coliseum. They don’t sell Coke there. Public facilities are replete with arrangements that allow exclusivity. It’s everywhere. It’s not a bad thing.”
Bane said exclusive agreements can benefit the public because “they can get things they couldn’t have.”
Raper reportedly spent about $1 million at the fairgrounds, including $550,000 to build the Raper Center and additional improvements that include utility hookups for RVs.
Meanwhile, because of the way Bane does business and the traffic Tom Raper Inc. draws to Wayne County – located near the Indiana-Ohio State Line – the dealership is apparently viewed sympathetically by many in the local community, according to a Sunday (June 1) Palladium Item editorial:
“In the past year,” the Palladium Item editorial reads, “Bane has not sat still on Raper’s base. He’s been expanding the business into more related areas. He’s growing into new markets, starting satellite operations in cities nearby, getting into campground management at high visibility auto races, selling scooters and selling more of a full line of equipment for rural residents.
“Like Raper, Bane is taking the base business into new, but related, areas. He’s making decisions and acting on them with long hours and hard work. In the process, he’s keeping the thousands of visitors coming to Richmond, and his company is providing employment for a couple of hundred workers.
“Richmond should be glad Tom Raper sold the business to Dave Bane. Like Raper, Bane is the example of what it means to be a successful entrepreneur, putting in hard work and long hours to continue the successful tradition of grow or die.”
Although there are larger RV dealerships in terms of sales revenue, Tom Raper RV, located at the fringe of the Dayton, Ohio metro area, is the nation’s largest towable RV dealership in unit volume.