Wednesday, April 23, 2014

RV dealer says he’s expanding, buying location of Jim Tawney Auto Center

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 2/19/2014

Motorists on K-68 might think they’re seeing double this fall.

Central RV, 3190 K-68, Ottawa, plans to open another location at what is now Jim Tawney Auto Center, 2324 E. Logan St., Ottawa, Nick Ford, Central RV owner, said Wednesday.

Motorists on K-68 might think they’re seeing double this fall.

Central RV, 3190 K-68, Ottawa, plans to open another location at what is now Jim Tawney Auto Center, 2324 E. Logan St., Ottawa, Nick Ford, Central RV owner, said Wednesday.

The business will take possession of the building from owner Jim Tawney in June, Ford said, but he expects to begin construction at the dealership in a little more than a month. After all is said and done, Ford said, he plans to spend between $800,000 and $900,000 on the purchase of the building and its renovations.

“We’ll have a soft opening probably around Aug. 1 this year,” he said. “Then a grand opening Jan. 1, 2015.”

The move is expected to put Central RV across the highway from another relocated dealer, Midwest RV, which announced plans last week to move into a vacant portion of the former Crist Auto dealership at K-68 and I-35.

Having outgrown Central RV’s current location twice, Ford said, he considered adding another building in addition to the two already on-site at the business, but thought such changes wouldn’t give him the exposure the dealership needs.

“I own the 32 acres behind this building and thought about expanding there, but I didn’t want to go investing $700,000 in another building that wasn’t adding any visibility or exposure to the business,” Ford said.

The business started with just one building, Ford said, followed by the addition of a parts store, and a few years later, a second building was constructed — which Central RV already has outgrown.

“I want to build a place on I-35 here in Ottawa,” he said. “But that’s a five- to eight-year plan down the road.”

When he knew it was time to expand, Ford said, he looked at a few different locations in Ottawa, never considering moving away from the city.

“I was the high bidder on [the former] Advantage Ford location [402 N. Main St., Ottawa] and we couldn’t come to terms on a number, so I started looking again,” he said. “I’d passed Tawney’s a million times and never thought the doors were high enough to fit RVs in. The walls ended up being 16 feet high, so I could put 14-foot doors in there. Once I found that out and started negotiating with Jim Tawney, it took about a month and a half and then we finally came up with a number, and the rest is history.”

Not only does he still need the space at Central RV’s current location, Ford said, but the business gets a lot of traffic from the surrounding cities and counties to the east.

“Right now, I have a lot of traffic from Hillsdale,” he said. “Now I’m going to get traffic going toward Pomona when you get off I-35. So now I’ll have two demographics — Hillsdale people and the Pomona and Melvern people. There’s a lot of people that go to the baseball fields, the pool — just a lot of activities that go to the west and they’ll be passing me.”

Central RV’s new location will look a lot like the current one, Ford said, providing a one-stop shop for anything RV related, including a parts and services department, as well as sales.

“There will be a nine-bay facility and the whole glass showroom is going to be parts, and it will look like a Walmart for the RV industry,” he said. “You can go in there, whether it be from toilet paper, to an air conditioner, to a water valve — everything is there.”

The new location also will mean adding jobs, he said. Three employees from the current location are expected to be shuffled to the new location to help train the new employees, he added, and said he hopes to add three new employees each month in the beginning.

Keeping the business healthy and growing is about three key things, Ford said, which has been his motto for the past 11 years.

“Workmanship, getting the product done in a timely manner and customer relationships,” he said. “Those are the three keys to making any business stand out above the rest. I’ve been around here for 22 years, and I’ve grown this fast. I don’t need to go anywhere else and start all over.”

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