From left, Paul Evert and Curt Curtis pose at RV Country, formerly Paul Evert's RV Country.
Written by Edward Smith
On Saturday, Paul’s Evert’s RV Country will be holding a retirement party for its eponymous owner, Paul Evert, after 57 years in business. Evert will be on site to say goodbye to his longtime customers from 1-5 p.m.
The business isn’t going anywhere, though, as the dealership awaits a new sign that will bear the name RV Country. Curt Curtis, who has been with the company for more than two decades, along with Dale Cantrell and Curtis Power, will soon be the ones in the driver seat as the dealership owners.
Evert, 88, got into the RV business “by accident,” he said.
He originally wanted to get into farming, but losing his arm at 17 upended those plans.
“I had this crazy notion, which I shouldn’t have had, that I couldn’t be a farmer with one arm. That was a mistake,” Evert said. “So, I changed vocations.”
He used his accounting degree from Fresno State to get a job with a distillery while selling new cars with a friend after hours. Pretty soon, he found he was making more money at the dealership than at the accounting job.
In 1961, he opened a small lot selling used, high-end cars, which he said new car dealers steered away from.
“New car dealers back then were afraid of these specialty cars,” Evert said. “I was making a thousand dollars profit per car.”
A lot of those same dealers began coming over to count the cars on his lot. They would ask him how his sales were and he’d try to downplay his performance, but with the momentum his dealership was getting, it was hard to disguise his success.
“I was knocking them dead,” Evert said.
After that, some of the dealers around town caught on and started carrying more used cars of their own.
“They froze me out of the business,” Evert said.
By then, though, keen investment moves kept him afloat. He had made sure to purchase property around town. It was Evert’s property that attracted an RV dealer from San Diego who wanted to bring his business to the Central Valley.
It only took the RV dealer three or four years to move back to San Diego, but in that time, Evert had made a relationship with the dealer. He told Evert all about his inventory, the margins he was making and how to sell RVs. Evert bought up his inventory and opened his dealership on Abby Street in 1970.
“I took a liking to it and it was the right time,” Evert said.
“I bought his inventory and took over his lot that he was leasing from me, that’s what got me started,” Evert said. “It was just luck.”
Now, Evert is passing the business onto Curt Curtis, president of RV Country.
Curtis began working with Evert at 14 on his walnut ranch in Sanger. He’s been with Evert for 31 years now, starting at the RV business when he was 24.
“After he was here a short while, I knew I wanted him permanent,” Evert said.
He made a deal to “hook” Curtis into taking over the business that included an offer of equity ownership. Over 15 years, Curtis was given 1 percent of the company with an option to buy at the end.
“We had this planned a long time ago,” Evert said.
They grew the business in Fresno over the course of four decades into the 16-acre lot where it is now off of Central Avenue and Highway 99. They opened up a dealership in Yuma, Arizona in 1988 and another location in Laughlin, Nevada in 1989.
By 2007, they could see what was happening in the market and they didn’t renew the lease in Laughlin. Like many other industries, RV Country had to cut back.
They went from around 175 employees before the recession to only 40 people a short time later. But it didn’t take long before it came time to make moves again.
“In 2010, we branched out to Oregon because we were starving here. California didn’t rebound like a lot of the other states did,” Curtis said.
Now, they have seven locations across Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona and California with an eighth location opening in Sparks, Nevada in March 2019.
“I don’t know if (RV sales) are back to as good as they were, but it’s good,” Curtis said. “The RV business is alive and well.”
While the 60-somethings are still their “bread-and-butter,” Curtis can’t deny the attraction that 30-and-40-somethings are bringing to the industry.
“They’re not wanting the big fancy RVs, they just want a little trailer,” Curtis said. “We’ve had to change our whole product line-up to accommodate.”
Curtis has already begun doing that. Part of the shift he put in was a new indoor showroom, putting all of the salespeople together along with the campers and trailers.
Now, Evert is coming in only about one day a week, and has been for the past couple years. As he moves away, Curtis and the two other partners, Dale Cantrell and Charlie Power, have taken more control.
Evert has a tractor named Gertrude at his home in Shaver Lake. He converted a barn into living quarters for a couple that will act as caretakers for him and his wife Sherri.
Evert said he plans to live to 102.