Arbutus RV owners Rose and Craig Little. Photography by Lia Crowe

Sales surge for Arbutus RV

Recreational vehicles on a roll for province’s largest RV dealer

  • Dec. 25, 2020 7:00 a.m.

– Words by Sandra Jones Photography by Lia Crowe

To say that the pandemic has been and issue for business is like saying the iceberg was a challenge for the Titanic. There is no question that the economic fallout from COVID-19 has been grim. But amid the coronavirus chaos, some businesses have not only thrived but seen a surge in sales in response to changes in consumer behaviour.

For Craig and Rose Little, owners of Arbutus RV, this has been an unprecedented year.

“We were enjoying record months in the early part of 2020 and that came crashing to an abrupt halt for about six weeks,” says Craig. “It didn’t stop altogether, but sales dropped by 50 per cent.After that, sales went straight up.”

Fortunately, as the largest full-service recreational vehicle dealer network in the province, Arbutus RV was ready to handle the increased volume.

“We always like to carry lots of inventory and we were fortunate to have 840 units on hand when the pandemic hit.”

Their large inventory has sustained the company as consumers—reluctant to fly, yet still eager to travel—regarded RVs as the ideal self-contained and safe solution. With units running the gamut from high-end luxury coaches to compact trailers, there are options for every lifestyle and every budget.

Rose says they’ve seen a lot of changes to RV amenities over the years.

“They can be a true home on wheels with residential-sized fridges, outdoor kitchens, TVs, home stereo systems with surround sound and fireplaces. We get a lot of feedback from customers who tell us the RVs are nicer than their permanent home.”

One popular option has been the travel trailer.

“The 17- to 30-foot travel trailer is especially appealing to the first-time buyer,” notes Craig.“Most people already have a suitable tow vehicle, for at least the smaller units, so you just need to have a hitch and away you go.”

And, while those in the boomer generation have long been fans of the RV experience, now millennials are rolling into the market too.

“Even before COVID-19, we were seeing a huge interest from young adults who had enjoyed camping as kids with their boomer parents. Now they want to make those same great memories with their own kids.”

Whether motivated by the pandemic, nostalgia or a love of the great outdoors, customers have been turning to Arbutus RV for more than 32 years. Craig, who opened his first store in Mill Bay after identifying a gap in the marketplace, has exponentially grown the business, adding six additional sales and service stores, stretching from Sidney to Courtenay.

“It’s been pretty organic growth,” says Craig. “After Mill Bay opened, we got a call from an operation in Nanaimo. They had been selling mostly park models and horse trailers and having a hard time making a success of it.We ended up taking over that location and shortly afterwards got approached to buy another dealership in Sidney. So suddenly we ended up with three locations, which wasn’t necessarily a well-thought-out plan.”

But the couple saw the demand was there and went to work to begin building up the infrastructure, systems and team to support the growth.

“With a marketing background, I spearheaded the marketing,” says Rose, “while Craig was in charge of ordering the product and managing the day-to-day business.”

As Craig recalls, the early years of growing the company weren’t always easy:“We worked long hours and I remember doing payroll at one location and staying up all night to get payroll done for the next location. It was challenging but fun.”

Now all-nighters are a thing of the past but the expansion of this going-places company didn’t slow down for long.

“There was a bit of a lull in our growth as we made sure the three locations were up and running smoothly,” says Craig. “But then opportunity knocked again.”

Rose remembers flying home from Alberta after assessing and ultimately walking away from a business opportunity that didn’t seem like a great fit.

“I told Craig that I’d rather open up another dealership on the island instead.”

So, when they landed in Comox, Craig had a suggestion.

“He said he’d had his eye on some property in Courtenay years ago and that we should drive by and take a look. Turns out that property wasn’t for sale but the one directly across the street was. If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is,” laughs Rose.

Two weeks later, they bought the property and as luck would have it, they ultimately bought the original property that Craig had spotted years ago as a way to expand their lot.

The company has since added two more locations—one in Port Alberni and the most recent acquisition this past September in Parksville.

“We want to make sure that our customers can buy their RV in their own community and get it serviced close to home as well,” says Craig.

Their team has also expanded to keep pace and now includes 150 staff.

“We’ve built an awesome team,” Rose says. “Many of them have been with us for decades.”

Employees aren’t the only ones who are a committed part of the Arbutus RV operation.

“We were at our Parksville location and one of our customers told me they were delighted to see us at the new location as they had purchased five RVs from us over the years,” says Rose. “It’s also not uncommon to meet people who are the second and even third generations of a family who keep coming back. We love that!”

On an island that is seeing significant population growth, the Littles see a clear road ahead.

“We’re so blessed to have this natural setting and so many opportunities for adventure in the most marvellous climate in Canada. Even though some people started RVing this year because of the pandemic, I’m pretty sure they’ll get hooked on the lifestyle.”

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

BusinessSeniorstravel

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The map shows the number of COVID-19 cases for the week of April 25 to May 1. The darkest areas indicate communities with a daily average of more than 20 cases per 100,000 population. (BC Centre of Disease Control)
Surrey and Abbotsford battle for top COVID hotspot in Fraser Health

Two communities are among areas across province showing highest transmission

teaser
Top-10 ‘Maxim’ magazine contest model got her start in Surrey

Kajal Kumar hopes to earn $25K cash prize and a cover photo shoot

Motorists breaking travel rules can be fined $230 for failing to follow instructions or $575 if the reason for travel violates the essential travel health order, at this Highway 3 check area near Manning Park. Photo RCMP
RCMP begin stopping drivers on B.C. highways – checkpoint at Manning Park

Four checkpoints are set up Thursday, May 6 around the province

A woman walks past a long lineup that snaked through the parking lot at the Cloverdale Rec. Centre April 27 after Fraser Health allowed people age 30 and over from “high-transmission neighbourhoods” to access the AstraZeneca shot. The temporary vaccination centre is located on the Cloverdale Fairgrounds. (Photo: Malin Jordan)
Cloverdale now considered a ‘high-transmission area’

Anyone 30 and over can now register for a vaccine

Ocean Athletics’ Roy Jiang – a senior at Southridge School – will study, run track and play clarinet at the California Institute of Technology beginning this fall. (Gordon Kalisch/Fast Track Sports Photography)
‘Triple-threat’ Southridge School student runs toward CalTech

Roy Jiang will compete on track team, play in the university’s symphony and study bioengineering

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The postponement of the event was put in place to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Ally Thomas, 12, seen in an undated family handout photo, died on April 14 from a suspected overdose. Her family says they are frustrated more public supports weren't available when they tried to get her help. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Minister says suspected overdose death of 12-year-old pushing B.C. to ‘do better’

Minister Sheila Malcolmson of Mental Health and Addictions says the government is working ‘as hard as we can’ to build a system of care for youths

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

A spectator looks on as the Olympic Caldron is relit in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, February 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Small majority of B.C. residents in favour of a Vancouver 2030 Olympic bid: survey

A new survey shows a split over the possibility of public money being spent to organize and host the winter games

Junior A team Coquitlam Express is offering all Tri-City residents who get vaccinated against COVID-19 a free ticket to one of their games. (Facebook/Coquitlam Express)
B.C. hockey team offering free tickets to hometown fans who get the COVID-19 vaccine

‘We know the only way to get fans back is people getting vaccinated,’ says Express’ general manager Tali Campbell

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon speaks in the B.C. legislature, describing work underway to make a small business and tourism aid package less restrictive, Dec. 10, 2020. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s latest COVID-19 restrictions cost thousands of service jobs

Part-time workers set back again by spike in virus spread

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Leaked report shows detailed B.C. COVID-19 data not being released to public

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Abbotsford school board trustee Phil Anderson has stepped down after sharing an offensive image on Facebook. (File photo)
Abbotsford trustee temporarily steps down after sharing post relating COVID masks to slavery

Phil Anderson to receive training to better understand provincial mask mandate after posting picture

Most Read