Brawley's RV closing

Modesto RV dealer fought losing battle with falling sales, high cost of doing business

December 22, 2008 

The faltering economy has taken its toll on Brawley's RV, which wasn’t able to turn a a profit despite cutting costs. (Marty Bicek/ Modesto Bee)

  • At A Glance

    NAME: Brawley's RV
    LOCATION: 5933 McHenry Ave., north of Kiernan Avenue, Modesto
    EMPLOYEES: 22 last year, five today
    OWNERS: Terry Davis and Jimmy Harris
    WHAT HAPPENED: Going out of business after 30 years. Doors close Jan. 4
    WHAT'S NEXT: Sale of the remaining 100 RVs, trailers and pop-up campers

Brawley's RV is adding its name to a growing list of vehicle dealerships going out of business in the valley.

The recreational vehicle sales center on McHenry Avenue has slashed its prices 30 percent to 60 percent. Manager Steve Jessup said he also will consider customers' offers on RVs in an attempt to move Brawley's inventory by Jan. 4.

"We're going to liquidate as much as we can before selling to other dealers and at auction," said Jessup, the self-proclaimed RV Guy. He can be seen shouting and waving his arms for attention on modbee.com as the Web site's most animated pitchman.

Brawley's isn't alone. Five car dealerships in Turlock Auto Plaza will close their doors over the coming weeks. Dan Gamel, formerly the nation's fourth-largest RV dealer, closed its Salida RV center Friday. The Salida closure is the most recent of several Gamel closures from Bakersfield to Redding.

Even as Jessup read about other dealerships and businesses closing, he remained hopeful and avoided comparisons.

"I don't see us as just another RV place. This place is special. The people who work here are special," he said. "There are people that are going to have to find jobs, and I had something to do with it."

Brawley's staff has been whittled down along with its business. Last year, the sales center employed 22 people. Now, it's down to five people. Its sales this year were half of what they were in 2007, Jessup said.

"I would see the profit-loss statements every month. I kept cutting costs, but we still weren't making profit," Jessup said. "We've spent a lot of time and money trying to keep our heads above water. It's not just the economy that's killing us, it's workers comp and all of the other regulations that add to the cost of doing business."

Dave Tenney, general manager of Manteca Trailer & Camper Inc., shares that view. "The government is eroding us. Our insurance has gone higher and higher," he said.

Tenney attributes Manteca Trailer & Camper's success to its service and parts center. While sales have fallen about 35 percent since over the past three years, the service department's business has doubled. People are trying to extend their vehicles' lives to avoid replacing them, Tenney said.

RV and motor home producer Winnebago blames its fiscal first-quarter loss on the economy.

According to Winnebago, RVs are generally a discretionary purchase, which are easy to put off when employment is uncertain, household wealth is shrinking and consumer confidence is waning.

RV sales are down nationwide. Shipments through September were down 24.6 percent from 2007, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. Shipments are expected to drop by another 25 percent in 2009.

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at ehightower@modbee.com or 578-2382.

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