The Best of Both Worlds
When Guy and Joan Diandriole bought their very first trailer, a Serro Scotty aluminum-sided camping trailer in 1962, little did they know the impact it would have on their careers and the future of their three daughters.
Seeking some fun family time and a little adventure, the family set up camp at Promised Land State Park in Pennsylvania. All five squeezed into the 13-foot Scotty and had the time of their lives. Guy was hooked. Daughter, Francine (Fran) Ogonosky, was only 6 years old at the time. She reminisces, “We were crammed and we loved it.”
Four years later, in 1966, the Diandrioles visited a mobile home and travel trailer trade show in Harrisburg, Pa. There, they met reps for Apache and Norris camping trailers. Guy, who had originally intended to only sell pop-up trailers, decided to expand before he had even gone into business and Old Forge Travel Trailer Sales was born.
Wide World RV is very much a family-run business. Pictured here are (left-to-right): Faith Hales, store manager; Guy DiAndriole, owner; and Christine Hales, parts manager.
In 1967, with no zoning laws to contend with, they set up five Apaches and three Norris’ trailers in their backyard in Old Forge, Pa., using the family’s three-car garage as office, service center and store.
“We wanted to seem more business-like, so we set up a desk and chair in the garage so people wouldn’t have to come into the house to sign papers on the kitchen table,” Guy says.
Oldest daughter, Faith Hales, remembers, “When they first brought them (trailers) in, it filled our whole backyard. When we had sleepovers, all the kids would sleep in the trailers.”
The family quickly expanded to a dozen pop-ups and trailers, filling every nook of the backyard. “If someone picked a trailer that was in the back, we had to pull all the trailers out into the street to get that one unit out,” Guy recalls.
Guy’s dedication to his family, his day job, and his sideline RV business often stretched him to the limits. Working a full-time job at a Capitol Records factory manufacturing musical records from midnight to 7 a.m., he would come home, sleep a few hours, and then sell trailers until late into the evening.
“Customers would come by at 9 or 10 o’clock at night and knock on our door. It was a 24-hour-a-day business. It was kind of crazy,” admits Guy. He continued that hectic schedule for five years, until 1972.
Wide World RV sells a wide variety of towable RVs, including toy haulers. However, the dealership no longer sells fifth wheels or motorhomes, after determining those products weren’t a good mix for the business.
The dealership offers a large selection of parts and accessories. Wide World believes in carrying a large inventory so that customers don’t have to wait for a factory to deliver a needed part.
Disaster Prompts Business to Upgrade
Their small trailer business might have stayed in the family backyard indefinitely had it not been for a natural disaster. On June 23, 1972, Hurricane Agnes – one of the largest hurricanes on record – hit the Harrisburg, Pa., area.
While the power of the hurricane dissipated as it reached land, the rain it brought hammered the East Coast. The Susquehanna River surged over its levees, flooding everything in its path. Florida, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York were declared disaster areas by then-president Richard Nixon, qualifying them for federal assistance.
For the first time, HUD (which is now FEMA) used trailers as residential homes for people to live in. HUD purchased 85 trailers from the Diandrioles. This opportunity in the midst of tragedy allowed the business to relocate a larger location in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Guy quit his job. The business built a new building, designed by Guy himself, incorporated and changed the company’s name to Wide World RV Center.
While a natural disaster provided the boost the dealership needed to grow the business, a disaster of another type almost sent the family back to where they started. The OPEC oil embargo of 1973 sent gas prices skyrocketing, bringing the RV industry to a halt.
“It was a struggle to stay alive,” says Guy.
“To stay afloat, they robbed Peter to pay Paul,” says Fran, explaining how her parents emptied out their savings accounts and cashed the savings bonds they’d set up for their daughters’ college educations.
“They watched every penny,” says Faith, “They used the back of paper, reusing carbon until there was no carbon left. They did not waste anything.”
While the business muddled along in the summer months, even without an oil embargo and high gas prices, the winter could be brutal to trailer sales in snow-bound Pennsylvania. The Diandrioles continually sought a niche to bridge the off-season gap, at one point selling bicycles, CB radios, chainsaws, wood-burning stoves and even riding mowers.
Faith remembers, “They tried everything to keep it alive. They had a mortgage on the building; if it foreclosed – they’d lose it all. Dad wasn’t about to let that happen.”
Wide World RV prides itself on servicing everything it sells. Pictured here are (left-to-right): Dennis Wall, RV technician; Robert Gubino, maintenance; and Jerry Pedley, RV technician.
Trailers & Toy Haulers Prove Valuable Additions
As the economy improved, sales for Wide World once again began to pick up. The Diandrioles continued to seek out a winter niche product to get them through the months of severely reduced trailer sales.
About 15 years ago, the dealership introduced enclosed cargo trailers, utility trailers and dump trailers, which proved to be an ideal combination. Faith notes that in the winter months, utility trailers sell 3-1 over camping trailers. Although the dealership’s profit margin on those units isn’t as high as RV trailers, it brings steady revenue during the slow season.
“Finally, we narrowed it down to what part of our business is successful. Today, we are very busy – even in this economy,” says Guy.
Now, everything Wide World sells is towables. “We tried selling motorized briefly, but it just wasn’t our market,” Guy says.
Fran adds, “We sold fifth wheels along the way, but that didn’t work for us, either. Our customers didn’t have the right truck or they wanted to see more product. It just didn’t work.”
However, toy haulers turned out to be very successful for the dealership.
“We were the first dealer in the area to introduce toy haulers – the Thor Tahoe from California,” Fran says.
While California is a long way from Pennsylvania, Thor originally subsidized freight costs, until rising gas prices stopped the practice. Recognizing the popularity of the product type, Wide World turned to Forest River in Indiana and introduced the Work and Play, which it continues to retail.
Today, Wide World RV Center is gradually but happily passing the torch from father and mother to the daughters. Fran’s official title is finance manager, although she wears many hats. Faith is the general manager, and youngest daughter, Maria Torre, works for the business part-time.
Several grandchildren also work there, including Christine Hales as parts manager and a grandson who is their web designer. Others work part-time, mostly in the summer months.
At age 77, Guy and Joan are both still very much involved. Faith says, “Dad says when you don’t have to ask him anymore questions, he’ll retire. But he’ll never retire – he loves it too much.”
Even now, Guy is indispensable. “Customers will come in with a bag full of parts from an old trailer and dad can look at it and know exactly what it is. He’s trying to teach me as much as he can,” says Faith.
Parts, Service & F&I Keys to Success
Another essential ingredient to their business model is the full-service aspect. Even while the business operated out of the family’s backyard, it serviced what it sold. “We did wiring, installed hitches and made repairs,” says Fran.
Financial service was also a key element in the dealership’s full-service offerings. “We offer everything from selling the unit, insurance, the extended warranty, and we also notarize the documents,” Fran says. “We’re online with the state and process through them. We’re knowledgeable in all of it.”
The parts department reflects a third aspect to the dealership’s success. Space is maximized with neatly organized, but very full shelves of necessary RV products, making the dealership the largest parts department in the area.
“We have at least 75 percent of what’s in the catalogs,” says Fran. Customers, who need parts right away and often can’t wait even a day for a delivery know to stop there before looking anywhere else, she says.
A fourth factor in Wide World’s success is knowing when and what to change.
“One of dad’s dreams was to become computerized,” says Fran. From inventory to scheduling, computerization has changed the way Wide World does business. “We went from pen and paper to computers. Our service schedule was computerized. Before, we wrote the schedule in an appointment book and the techs would have to come up and look at it. We’re too busy to do that today,” says Faith.
The investment to upgrade to computers, both in time and expense, has allowed Wide World to become more efficient, to run more smoothly, and to grow the business. Inventory is better controlled, reordering streamlined and profit eroders are identified more quickly through easily generated daily reports.
The dealership now sells more than a dozen different brands of trailers, pop-ups and cargo/utility trailers, including units from R-Pod, Sunnybrook, Sunset Creek, Brookside, Palomino, Surveyor and Wells Cargo.
“We don’t sell anything entry level,” says Fran. “We pride ourselves on that. We feel that by not selling a low-end product, we don’t have to deal with the many warranty issues.”
Wide World RV’s focus on selling quality products and servicing what it sells has earned the business loyal customers dating back to its founding, according to Faith.
“We still have customers who bought from us from our backyard over 40 years ago,” she says proudly.