George Dodd recalls the day a customer brought a trailer back to Portsmouth, Va.-based Dodd RV, complaining about the new Fleetwood Citation.
The Citation, the customer said, leaked almost everywhere, and Dodd knew immediately what the problem was: condensation.
“It’s cold outside, you turn the heat on and they sweat,” he said. “But he would not believe that; he could not believe it. He said it wasn’t right; that trailers don’t do that.”
Dodd was getting frustrated with the situation when his daughter, Susie, pulled him aside.
“Daddy, let’s give the man a new trailer,” Susie said. “Let’s make him happy.”
The elder Dodd agreed, and gave the man a new trailer, selling the faultless Citation two weeks later.
“That man probably bought three trailers from me after that,” George said of the original Citation owner, adding that the new Citation owner never complained of the leaks reported by the previous owner.
The story has become indicative of the dealership’s attitude toward its customers, and George said it’s how the company has stuck around for 60 years.
George Dodd works only part time at the dealership these days after ceding leadership of the company to his son, Jaime, who works alongside Susie, the dealership comptroller, Jennifer, who oversees F&I, and Paul, who manages the service department.
The company began in 1956 as a Texaco gas station and auto sales lot.
After visiting the National RV Show in 1972 with RV/MH Hall of Famer Bill Gorman (class of 2011), Dodd got the contract with Fleetwood to become a Terry dealer, and received his first shipment of trailers the following year, just in time for the 1973-75 recession.
“We had eight or nine trailers, and they just sat on the back lot and nobody would even look at them,” George Dodd said. “They just sat there, and I thought ‘What in the world have I got here?’”
Eventually, the economy improved, and Dodd “could sell all the trailers (he) could get.” A few years later, he gave up the car-selling business in lieu of an RV dealership.
“Success in the early years came from being very conservative,” said the elder Dodd, who preferred to own his inventory and properties outright to protect against economic downturns.
Today, the company employs more than 50 people across its Portsmouth and Yorktown dealerships. Late last month, the company wrapped up its annual Virginia Beach RV Show.
A lot has changed in how the dealership operates these days, but Jaime still implements some of his dad’s approach to low overhead. The company, for example, owns its dealership property and likes to keep overhead to a minimum to protect against economic recession.
Among the business changes is that service and sales go hand-in-hand in today’s dealerships, according to Jaime.
“One of the challenges in the RV industry right now, especially with us, is the ever-growing demand for service without the capacity of technicians to do the work,” Jaime said.
Because of that, Jaime said his company, which employs more than 50 people in two locations, pays for employee training, ranging from business leadership courses to certified technical training.
Among the biggest influences George had on his children was the importance of reputation.
“They treat them like they’re part of the family, and I think it pays off,” George said. “We had the same philosophy, and we had a tremendous amount of repeat customers.
“People come back with a problem, we try to fix it, and that’s made us successful, and Jaime still does that.”