James: In 1980 our family purchased another company, Trav-L-Mate Industries, that had gone into receivership. Trav-L-Mate later purchased Okanagan and then merged. Originally, I was going to move up and run Trav-L-Mate, but dad said that he appreciated the job I was doing at Fraserway Camper Manufacturing and was happy for me to continue managing that company. Dad and my brother Chris took on running Trav-L-Mate. At that point we were still manufacturing and selling retail out the front door.
Then in 1983, dad made me an offer to purchase the company. It was September of 1983 and I was twenty-nine years old. When I took over operations, we had twenty-five employees.
TCM: What did it feel like to then own the company?
James: You know, there was a great feeling that I owned my own business, but I don’t recall doing anything different. I knew it was an exciting opportunity, but I had always worked for the company as if it were my own anyway. My working style and energy didn’t change a whole lot.
TCM: Getting back to your family when you were growing up, did your family go truck camping?
James: Not as much as I would have liked. On occasion, I remember riding in the upper bunk with my brother and sister looking out the front window as mom and dad were driving below. I have good memories of the family time and campfires. For my honeymoon in 1978, my wife and I spent two weeks in a camper exploring the West coast from British Columbia to California.
TCM: How about now? Do you go truck camping?
James: I have taken my family truck camping when my children were smaller. We were always towing a boat. More recently, I’ve gone camping with my youngest son and my brother towing dirt bikes up into the mountains. We still don’t get to go often enough. I always have an Adventurer camper available.
TCM: Good deal.
James: It’s a benefit of being the boss.
TCM: In the past few years, you have opened Fraserway RV locations in Whitehorse, Halifax, Toronto, Edmonton, Airdrie, and grew your dealership in Abbotsford. How do you know when and how to grow the company?
James: I have to go to my vision for strategic and profitable growth. A lot of our growth has been driven from the rental side of our business. There was a strategy from the mid-1990’s to be a national supplier for RV rentals. From a marketing perspective, renting is very valuable to Fraserway with over 1,000 RVs with our name on them. All but two of the ten Fraserway locations is a stand alone full-service RV dealership with parts, service, sales, and rental. This is part of our business plan, to ensure full service to our customers.
TCM: How did you get into the camper rental business?
James: I bought the inventory of a rental company that was upside down and subleased their RV units to other companies. After a few years, we decided to set up our own rental company. A respected rental’s manager from the industry joined our company in 1992 and today we rent over 1,000 RVs!
TCM: Now that you have a foothold in the United States with Adventurer in Yakima, Washington, would you consider bringing the Fraserway RV model of renting truck campers to the US? I can tell you that we get inquiries for rentals on a regular basis.
James: That’s an interesting question because I’ve had that question asked of me a lot recently. We will certainly consider it in the future, but for now we’re focusing on maintaining our position and growing our market share. There is a good chance that you’ll see someone renting Adventurer campers in the United States in the next few years.
TCM: What are you doing to position Adventurer to weather our current economy?
James: We’re doing a lot of small things. We are trimming our staff at Fraserway and I’m challenging all management to look at all costs and make the necessary adjustments. I’m encouraging managers to get out on the floor more often. We are challenging our managers to draw ideas from our team that save money and improve efficiency. Your staff can have a much bigger impact on making the company more efficient and customer friendly. We’re really pushing the team. Our initial target is to have about 10% of the US camper market, or about 500 to 700 units per year. We are a very strong contender in the Canadian market and we want to break further into the US market.
TCM: It seems like you see the current economic challenges as an opportunity.
James: Yes. Having said that, it’s difficult. We’re all going to have to work harder and smarter. In the end, I believe we’ll get through this difficult time and emerge as a stronger and better company.