In the picturesque Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, Canada, where winters can linger into spring and even hurricanes can leave their mark, there’s an RV dealership that has learned to adapt to what nature throws its way.
Jerry’s RV, based in the village of New Minas near the world-renowned Bay of Fundy, is notable in that 20 percent of its annual gross revenue is from the lawn and garden side of its business, which includes generators and snowblowers.
“We typically carry approximately $250,000 to $300,000 worth of lawn and garden equipment in our showroom, which is constantly turning over each season,” says Chardell Brydon, business manager and head of sales at Jerry’s RV. The business was incorporated in 1987 by Chardell’s father, Gerald (Jerry) Weir when he bought out a small RV dealer.
“This side of the business – although it does round out revenue stream to be more ‘year-round’ – is very weather driven. We get exceptionally busy right after a hurricane or tropical storm with generators. Snowblower sales and repairs get crazy if we get a winter with a lot of snow. Spring is always busy with mowers and trimmers, while fall is leaf blowers and chainsaws,” says Brydon, adding that the business retails brands including Husqvarna, Echo, Generac and Ego.
“Our RV season here is short. You have a few months at ‘hard-at-it’ camping – and longer if you can survive the bugs and blackflies,” Brydon chuckles.
In 1990, Chardell’s husband, Scott Brydon, joined the company and brought along his lawncare experience to help Weir expand the seasonal business. Jerry’s RV also specializes in small equipment repairs.
“Scott wanted to do more, so Dad started to train him on RV repair; Scott is very capable and self-taught,” says Chardell Brydon.
Business is a Family Affair
Jerry’s RV has long been a family-run business. Chardell Brydon recalls how she came to work for her father, who dabbled in repairs of mobile homes and travel trailers.
“I just couldn’t say ‘no,’” she says. “Dad convinced me to leave a job I was in after a work experience term with Acadia University and to come work for him. My first days were in August of 1987. I knew little about the RV industry but listened and learned.
“Dad always gave me good direction. I was strong in math, so he encouraged my accounting. I did mainly his books and I would listen as he helped customers, but there was not a lot of action. For a while it was just me and Dad, and he would do all the repairs outside. He would say, ‘You mind the store, and if you don’t know what they want, just turn the catalog around and let them flip and they’ll find what they want!’
“Gradually, I learned the different parts and what questions to ask. Inventory was done by hand. It was fun, warm memories. I used to get laid off in the winter, when we would shut down the business for a few months,” says Chardell Brydon.
The Brydon’s partnerships were tested when, sadly, Weir passed in 1993.
“After dad died, Scott and I carried on; we just went to work,” recalls Chardell Brydon, adding that “the last couple of years while he was still alive the business struggled as he was battling cancer, but we dug in and began growing from that point onward.”
Since then, Jerry’s RV has truly become even more of a family. It’s also transformed into a destination dealership in eastern Canada, known for its service department and new and used travel trailers.
“We don’t handle motorized units. We concentrate on what works for us in our area. For many years we concentrated on repairs, so I would say this is our specialty,” says Chardell Brydon, explaining that there are about 15 RV dealers in Nova Scotia.
“It’s nothing for someone to travel three to four hours to get to an RV place to buy a trailer – it’s a big-ticket item,” she explains. “People will do the whole route around the province – dealership to dealership.”
Scott Brydon’s brother, Ashley Brydon, started with the business as a summer student and began full-time work thereafter.
“He’s established his name as a master in hitch and wiring,” says Chardell Brydon, adding that Ashley Brydon gets work from the auto industry as well.
Chardell Brydon’s sister-in-law, April Tanner, started with the business in 1996, when Chardell Brydon took time off after the birth of her son, Kyle.
“It was meant to be for a short time,” she says, “but April’s still with us today, playing a huge role in our IT systems and inven- tory requirements, as well as our service writing and warranties.”
Kyle Brydon, who is now in his mid-20s, started off working in the summers and by graduation, he quite naturally decided to join his parents in the running of Jerry’s RV.
“I would come into the store and put Kyle in a baby swing,” Chardell Brydon recalls. “He now oversees the lawn and garden equipment sales and our retail store and our first grandson, Levi, (Kyle’s son) was born this year, so could this be a fourth-generation business?” she asks rhetorically, adding that she believes people feel a sense of loyalty with Jerry’s RV, as it’s an established family business, with a staff currently totaling 15.
Dealership Inventory Targeted to Its Market
The dealership sells RVs from ProLite, Shasta, Coachmen, Heartland and Dutchmen.
“ProLite is a Canadian manufacturer and is the lightest trailer on the market,” Chardell Brydon says. “Because we sell a lot of lightweight trailers, we have to determine what the customers’ vehicle can tow and tow well, and you need to be honest about this. You have to ask the questions and find out what’s important to them and work with what you have to sell.
“I like to try to educate people when they come in. If you don’t buy from me, I’d at least like for you to know what you can get. It’s not all about the sale. You gotta have a customer that’s happy with what they bought and feel that what they bought suits them,” she says.
The first new line Chardell Brydon took on was Gulf Stream Vista and Innsbruck.
“We were selling mainly used trailers. It was starting to cost us more money in repairs than what we were selling them for,” she says. The dealership added the Gulf Stream Vista after visiting the company’s manufacturing facility in Indiana on a solo trip.
“I started small; it was all pretty scary,” Chardell Brydon says. “It can be a big boys’ club and I often catch people off guard until they have a conversation with me and realize that I know about trailers – the trailer side of things is my baby. We went through hiccups and growing pains for a few years and finally got our foot in the door with Forest River in 2014. From there, we grew fast and took on Coachmen, which is now our top-selling line,” she says.
Jerry’s RV has sold in all four Atlantic provinces, including shipping units to the island province of Newfoundland.
“We have also sold to British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and even into the U.S.
If you have the unit folks are looking for, distance isn’t an object – especially in this pandemic, where RVs are at such a shortage,” she says.
The majority of the business’s client base is from western and central Nova Scotia, and Chardell Brydon is conscious of other dealers.
“The important part of knowing your own products is also knowing what else is out there,” she says. “You want some security that you’re not going to have a dealership an hour away with the same product. If I’m looking for or if I get solicited by a rep to take on a line and if there is another dealership in the province that carries it, I just tell them, ‘No, I won’t do that’ – even though it may be something I want.”
Dealership is Growing, with an Emphasis on Service
What started off as a small business located in one unit of a mini mall has expanded to 5 acres over three physical locations. The most recent addition was last year with the purchase of a heavy-duty truck repair facility totaling 23,000 square feet of indoor facilities, both retail and service. Jerry’s RV now has six service bays and six techs, with Scott Brydon overseeing the team.
“At this point, we’re subcontracting some fiberglass repairs. However, we are a full-service shop doing everything from basic repairs to suspension, hitch and wiring, propane service and full rebuilds. It’s truly been a godsend to have such a fabulous facility to work year-round on any size rig,” says Chardell Brydon.
Future plans are for some retail space upgrades at the dealership’s original location, which now has more space.
Jerry’s RV has been getting larger contracts for automowers, and battery-powered lawn equipment is proving popular as customers seek out more efficient ways to run their gear with less environmental impact, according to Chardell Brydon.
She adds, “Our lawn and garden business has a separate service department from RVs, and we have two mobile service units, one each for lawn and garden and RVs. The RV units travel province-wide for repairs and cover on-site warranties.”
Expanding on off-season sales, she says, “In our environment people will put a deposit on a trailer in the winter and take delivery in the spring. About 90 percent of our winter sales are like that.”
The businesswoman says she “lives for RV shows, from open to close” and maintains that the best advertising money they ever spent was on the Halifax RV Show and Sale.
“Visits to shows held by the manufacturers and various parts buying shows have been very important to help us keep up with industry trends,” she says.
“We do try to stock as much product as we can. Nothing is worse than losing a sale because you don’t have something in stock, especially now, when so many order online,” she adds. Big sellers include back-up cameras, off-grid packages including inverters and solar panels, hitches, wiring and brake controls.
The business services the lawn and garden products it sells.
Jerry’s RV typically retails a lot of lightweight trailers. It tends to have between 100 and 150 units on its sales lot at any given time.
Jerry’s RV is an active member of the Atlantic chapter of the RVDA (ARVDA), and Chardell Brydon serves on the education training committee. She also chairs the National Education Committee and has just been appointed to the ARVDA Show Committee. She says that not having a facility with formal training in the RV field near Nova Scotia can make things challenging.
“Recruiting technicians means trying to find tradespeople who have some experience in carpentry, electrical, plumbing, etc., and then training them how to put this to use in the world of RV repair.” As for staff training, she says, adding, “We try to take advantage of courses or training offered through ARVDA.”
The Brydons love to camp and have a trailer on private land where they move to – and commute from – starting from May until the end of the season.
“Ten minutes there, I get a sense of calm,” says Chardell Brydon. “It’s my happy place.”
On work and family, Chardell Brydon says, “I love my job, I love trailers – it’s my life. My son is like me; we get together, and we start talking shop. I think Dad would be very proud to know that the business has grown. Either proud or see me as crazy – he wasn’t really a risk-taker and we’ve taken risks.”
With 100 to 150 trailers regularly on its sales lot, Jerry’s RV has steadily grown.
“Only a couple years taking a slight dip,” says Chardell Brydon, “and this year will likely be a record one should inventory be available to meet the demand.”
Reflecting on it all, she says, “You can’t always think of the big picture, you’ve just got to keep plugging away. It’s been quite a journey.”
– Story by Marney Carmichael