Forty years ago, James Epp got a phone call that changed his life. Here is James Epp on Fraserway RV, Adventurer LP, and a phone call that started it all.
James Epp and his entrepreneurial family have built a RV empire with Fraserway RV and Adventurer LP. It’s difficult to imagine that both companies started with just five employees and a small camper manufacturer in 1969. How did this happen? And where is James taking Adventurer LP now that the company has crossed the border into the United States? We talked with James last week and got his story.
TCM: Tell us about your father, Erdman Epp. How did he get started in the RV business?
James: At the age of forty-nine years, my father had been a general manger for a co-op store in western Canada for twenty-two years. Then he found himself looking for work and purchased a camper and canopy manufacturing operation with about five employees. The year was 1969.
I still remember the phone in my ear when dad told me that he had bought a company, Fraserway Camper Manufacturing. I was fourteen years old and very excited. I wasn’t sure what a canopy was, but I had a fair idea about campers. The building was 5,000 square feet and the property had a house in the back where my family moved to and lived.
TCM: What did your dad start you doing?
James: Sweeping the floor and taking out the garbage. Plus, our family was often the final finishing team getting the product ready the evening before a delivery to the customer. It was work, but always exciting.
As a family we lived from camper sale to camper sale. I remember often dad having to explain to the bank that he didn’t have enough funds to meet payroll, but in the next few days he would have a camper delivery and then he would get back within his credit line. We all bought into the company situation and understood that we needed to work hard.
TCM: Sounds like your father had a profound impact on you during those years.
James: Yes, my dad had a big impact on me. To him, money was the second side of the business. He wanted to build a company with good business ethics. Nothing made him happier than a satisfied customer. That’s what I saw him striving for.
My relationship with my father was very much a working relationship because he worked six days a week. When we saw him, we were generally working with him. Some days were challenging because we were both strong personalities. It was very important to him that we worked together as a family; extremely important.
TCM: If you were fourteen when your father bought the company, how did you balance work and school?
James: I spent my summer breaks and holidays working for the company full-time and then worked twenty-hours a week during school. The first summer I was counting inventory and being the go-for. I would go for this and go for that. I did whatever they needed me to do to help.
TCM: Twenty hours a week and school? What about your social life?
James: I was not always the greatest friend. The guys would be out playing baseball as guys in their teens like to do after work. I might show up at 8:00pm when I was supposed to be there at 6:30pm. There was never enough time at work and we would often stay to get things done.
TCM: How did you move up from sweeping floors?
James: For years, I was on the assembly line and gradually took on more responsibilities. I progressed to bolting on tie-downs and jacks and installing windows. Then hanging sheet metal. As my experience grew, I enjoyed it even more. At that time I worked with my younger brother, Chris. I’m sure he could tell you stories about some of my less gracious times with him.
In the mid-1970s, I got into into purchasing. Through the 1970’s, I was involved at every aspect at Adventurer. It was always about how well it could be done, and how efficiently. There was was never a dull moment.
TCM: At what point did you take over the company?