How to be a Successful Family Business Owner
“Easy, spend almost 50 years perfecting your niche”
says James Epp of Abbotsford BC, owner and operator of Adventurer Group, the largest RV company in Canada.
Navigating the Journey to Success
While the media loves quick “overnight” success stories, the fact is it takes time to build a company that can survive the ebb and flow of the marketplace. For James, the process involved learning hard lessons, making wise strategic moves , and pursuing innovations to deliver a valuable product that consumers would buy.
As part of an entrepreneurial family, James and his family grew their modest business of five employees to 800. The business now has 13 dealerships across Canada, a rental division with a fleet of 1,300 units, a parts division for retail and wholesale distribution, and an RV manufacturing plant in Yakima, Washington.
James started in the RV business as a teenager when his father Erdman, purchased a camper manufacturing business in 1969. He worked 20 hours a week during school and full time in the summer. He was involved at different levels
over the course of the company’s growth. James will often joke that he attended his father Erdman’s “School of Business.” In 1980 , the company experienced its first significant growth opportunity. James and his father purchased an RV manufacturing company in Penticton, BC. This led to the company’s first expansion and gradually, James took over the leadership of the company.
- In 1983, when James was 29 years old, he and his wife Vanessa purchased from his parents Fraserway Camper Manufacturer, the Abbotsford operation.
- In 1990, James arranged terms to purchase from a receiver 90 motorhomes from an RV rental firm that closed. Fraserway then became not only a retail company, but a company for dealers and manufacturers to sell their surplus inventory to.
- In 1992, James opened a rental division in Vancouver, BC. Over the past 25 years, this division has greatly expanded to serve thousands of local and European customers every summer.
- In 2013, James’ younger brother Chris passed away. Chris owned four RV dealerships in the Okanagan region.
- By 2014, James purchased those dealerships.
- In 2015, James purchased an existing RV dealership in Prince George, BC, bringing the total number of dealerships to 13.
In addition to the business operational divisions, James is a philanthropist with a generous heart. He has established The Adventurer Foundation that supports a range of worthwhile causes. He and his employees have collectively sponsored hundreds of children in Kenya since 2005.
Six Lessons Learned
- Invest in your human infrastructure as a platform for growth.
James has a devoted team that he cares about and takes the time to communicate with. It is clear that the employees want to work for him. He humbly states that God has blessed him over the year with great managers and employees.
- Align yourself and your business with great mentors.
James respects his father’s role in laying down the company’s foundation of strong ethics and customer satisfaction. His father’s mantra was: “Never satisfied until good is better and better is best.”
- Have clear company values and reflect them to your staff.
The company is rooted in biblical principles that are founded in James’ Christian faith. Integrity and respect are evident through teamwork, recreation, innovation, community and social action. Hold yourself and your employees accountable to those principles.
- Think long-term.
A successful organization is put together piece by piece, over an extended period of time. The key is to re-invest back into the business and into the community.
- Know your customers well.
James is an “RV’er” himself, using his own product. The success growth of the company is because he listens to his customers and has learned how to serve them.
- Never become complacent.
James remains on the cutting edge in serving customers. The market is constantly changing and James knows that the company needs to remain innovative or it will be eclipsed by others.
James is an inspiring leader. He will encourage you to find what you love, dedicate yourself to it and remain focused for a long period of time. Keep investing in and expanding your expertise. If you follow these basic principles – there is a great chance you will succeed – over time. His experience underscores the truism that there are no shortcuts to success.
Since 2004, Covenant has had the privilege of coming alongside James on his journey providing:
- Advisory Board & Strategic Counsel
- Business Planning
- Buy Sell Agreements
- Career & Personality Profiling
- Corporate Re-Organization & Leadership Structure
- Emergency Response Plan
- Financial, Estate & Trust Planning
- Legacy Structure
- Wealth Management