Surviving the Storm

SILSBEE, Texas– In the real estate business, the old saying goes, the three most important factors are: location, location, location.

Likewise, location has played a defining role in shaping the destiny of Sherrod RV Center – for better and for worse – in its 25-year history.

At first glance, Silsbee, with a population just shy of 7,000, might not seem like an ideal location for an RV dealership. However, it is strategically located near the Texas-Louisiana border and close to the Gulf of Mexico, with lots of lakes nearby, as well as some good spaces for camping. The region’s winters are generally mild.

Perhaps not surprisingly, then, it’s also an area with a big demand for RVs.

Also notable, Silsbee is less than two hours away by car from Houston – the fourth-largest city in the nation – with a population of 2.35 million. It’s not uncommon for some of those Houstonians to venture out into the country to avoid paying “big city prices.”

Sensing an opportunity, Bobby and Debi Sherrod opened Sherrod RV Center in 1993 with the idea of offering “the latest in travel trailer products at the best prices, along with unparalleled service.”

The dealership, located on 8 acres, is an authorized retailer for Forest River, Highland Ridge, Jayco and Keystone RV towables, as well as offering a healthy selection of used RVs. Sherrod RV also features one of the largest parts departments in the area.

Growing in Faith

Sixteen years of experience after first opening Sherrod RV, Bobby and Debi Sherrod took a leap of faith and opened Sherrod I-10 RV Sales in Rose City, Texas – another small community about seven miles to the east of Beaumont, which is also located on the Gulf Coast near the Texas-Louisiana border. This was in the face of the Great Recession and impending market turmoil. Undaunted, they held firm.

“God just opened the doors for us to go into this business 25 years ago,” says Bobby Sherrod. “We found this great place to meet people’s needs and have fun with people. That’s what we’re about; that’s what our organization is about, and plus, it’s fun to do. It’s a good way to make a living.”

Like the Silsbee location, the store in Rose City features a healthy inventory of towables from Forest River, Keystone (Thor) and Jayco.

“We carry the brands from each of these manufactures that we believe are the best in the industry,” says Deanna Sherrod, who manages the dealership’s rental program out of the Silsbee location, among other duties.

In spite of the Recession, both dealership locations thrived and grew through the 2000s. And the added Rose City location afforded a long expanse of exposure and name recognition along Interstate 10, where motorists traveling east had an uninterrupted view of the dealership and its inventory.

With a focus on being a full-service dealership, both locations offer repair and maintenance services, a good selection of parts and financing, as well as rentals. Those services are offered by a close-knit staff of 20-plus family members and associates.

Thanks to the dealership’s focus on retailing quality brands and offering a full range of services, by the summer of 2017, the future was all sunshine.

And then along came Hurricane Harvey.

Hurricane Harvey Strikes with Force

Hurricane Harvey slammed into the South Texas coast near Corpus Christi in late August 2017. When the wind died down, the storm stalled on the middle Texas coast for a few days, then moved slowly eastward toward Houston and the Louisiana state line. All the while, the storm was picking up buckets of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and pouring them down along a 20-mile swath of the Texas coastal plains.

More rain fell in a few days – close to 5 feet in places– than falls in most years in that part of Texas, which normally gets plenty of rain: 40-plus inches a year. All that water was filling the already swollen lakes and rivers in southeast Texas.

The rain eventually stopped, the skies cleared and Bobby Sherrod figured the worst was over.

“We went down there wading around checking the property,” he remembers, “in 3 feet of water.” Peeking inside one of the buildings, he saw a few small items floating around, but computers were out of the water sitting on top of the desks and everything else seemed to be OK.

That’s when his wife called saying the authorities were going to open up the gates at the dam and they’d better get out of there because it was going to get two times that deep.

“I thought, no way,” he says, and they stayed for another 45 minutes wading around taking pictures and checking things out.

“We were going to go back the next morning and start cleanup,” he remembers “and it was 8 feet deep.”

Interstate 10, the main route between Houston and New Orleans, became a series of lakes and rivers. In other places, the raised median became a dam, holding back the rising water.

On Sept. 2, in order to relieve the pressure, authorities used dynamite to blow up the median directly in front of the Sherrod I-10 RV Sales location so that the water would flow to the south. This relieved some pressure, but also caused a rush of water to engulf the dealership – at the time already under 3 feet of water – toppling trailers and relocating them throughout the property.

Sherrod RV

The water rose to a depth of more than 8 feet, sending the dealership’s stock of RV trailers and fifth wheels bobbing and floating around in the lot-turned-lake.

“We realized Harvey was coming toward us in plenty enough time,” recalls Deanna Sherrod who remembers taking normal precautions as the storm approached. “We – along with everyone else in our area – just didn’t think it would do the damage that it did.”

For some time, the only way to get to the area was on a boat.

“Some friends sent us videos of the dealership taken from a boat as they went past,” when the water was 8 feet up the wall of the service building, recalls Hayden Narramore, Bobby Sherrod’s son-in-law, who manages the I-10 location.

Several of the smaller Hummingbird models were at first assumed to be missing. They were later found floating at the edge of the property along the back fence, a couple hundred yards away.

The buildings on the property – along with their contents – were submerged in water, mud and glop.

A Slow Recovery

“Unfortunately for the Rose City location, we didn’t gather up any information – thinking, ‘it had never flooded before; so … surely it wouldn’t flood this time, either,’” recalls Deanna Sherrod. “The information not gathered included all customer files, record keeping documents, check books, all titles and MSOs from the manufacturers.”

Only the existing building’s outer walls and interior studs were salvaged; the rest of the building’s interior was a total loss. All parts, tools, supplies, furniture, computers, etc. were flooded. On the lot, all of the trailers (about 90 total) including service units were deemed a total loss.

“We did have flood insurance,” says Bobby Sherrod. “But that doesn’t cover everything. You find out when you have a catastrophe like this what insurance does not cover.” He mentioned things like damage to the sign, the fence and business interruption to the adjusters.

“And they say, ‘That covers wind and storms and fire – but not rising water.’ So it’s been a learning experience. You can have all the insurance in the world, but rising water is its own little deal. And also, it only covers the first floor of your building, not the second floor.

“There are a lot of issues there that a normal business guy doesn’t know anything about. You can’t get a rider to cover that – it’s just a loss.”

Besides the process of settling insurance claims, another challenge has been finding contractors to do the actual work of rebuilding. As of mid-April, one building was completely repaired and two others are in the contract stage.

Those will likely require several more months to complete.

Still, “we’re not griping,” Bobby Sherrod says, knowing it could have been much worse.

“Fortunately for us, we have a decent-size dealership in Silsbee and were able to accommodate the extra employees,” Deanna Sherrod says. “Also, because there were a lot of homeless people in our area that lost their homes to the flood, business was sufficient enough for both dealerships to keep up with the demand of the sales.”

Eventually the water receded, and by mid-December 2017, the I-10 lot was restocked with new inventory.

To nobody’s surprise, “the insurance process is challenging, not complete yet,” Deanna Sherrod adds. So, until that building is refurbished, for the immediate future, parts, accessories, maintenance and other services will continue to be done at the Silsbee location.

The delays, however, opened another door of opportunity for the dealership to grow – namely, the building in the adjacent lot became available and was recently acquired by Sherrod I-10 RV Sales. Plans are for that building to become a fully functional service department.

Reflections on the Changing RV Business

“As a whole, the RV business is still the RV business,” says Bobby Sherrod. But he also acknowledges that it’s changed.

“It used to be more territorial. Now, with the Internet, people can buy from long distances. So, it’s more of a challenge to keep people in their local areas to buy so they can be properly serviced and taken care of.”

Other customer demographics have shifted as well.

“25 years ago, it was more a retired-age group of people; now it’s a lot of young married couples buying recreational vehicles. And it used to be more seasonal. Now it’s year-round and more people are buying RVs now than ever have bought RVs.”

As for the future, it’s still looking pretty bright through Bobby Sherrod’s eyes.

“I feel like right now our economy is real strong; interest rates are still fair and I think the RV business will continue to be real strong.”

Besides, he adds, “We feel God is taking care of us; that He sustains us. He has met all of our needs and we move forward. This is just a little hiccup.”

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