Neff Brothers RV Celebrates 10th Anniversary

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Multi-generational, family-owned RV rental business is ready for the road ahead

Neff Brothers RV

The three generations of Neff Brothers RV. Brothers Ralph and Bill (back), daughter/niece Angela (right) and granddaughter Sarah (front).

I’m so excited for the changes that are coming!

Ten years ago, two brothers from Northeast Ohio, who had a couple of recreational vehicles (RVs) between them, decided to start a business. Bill and Ralph Neff wanted to rent RVs, and they thought the operation would stay small forever. Ten years later, the two brothers have a fleet of 35 RVs and trailers for rent, 10 full-time employees, a 9,000-square-foot facility, and an on-site RV and camping supply store. Neff Brothers RV (NBRV) is now a Northeast Ohio institution.

Download complete press kit with high-res digital photography here: http://bit.ly/1qkfKL2

“The past 10 years have gone by so fast and have been so rewarding,” said Ralph, who raised his family in Westlake, Ohio and now lives in Lorain. “We stood out front of the building the other day and gazed at a completely empty lot and were actually in awe of ourselves. That’s when we knew we were heading into the next decade of our business plan with guns blazing.”

The past decade has brought more than just change to the size of the business. Bill’s daughter, Angela Dudziak, has been general manager of Neff Brothers RV since day one, and recently became part owner. At 73, elder brother Bill is also “retiring” this year, which will allow his daughter to take a more active role in the operation with her uncle.

Retirement, in this case, is an evolutionary process according to Bill, who currently lives in Wellington, Ohio. “The funny thing about retirement is that you have to feel you are doing what you enjoy, and for some of us that is our job or business that we are involved in.” You can expect to see him still at his desk or delivering RVs to customers at least two days per week, and during the peak rental season of summer, it’s like he’s back in the saddle.

How did this small, local business grow so big -- even through the “Great Recession” -- and what are its plans for the future? Those questions require a bit of history, which starts back in 2002 when the brothers were enjoying a couple of beers together at their favorite pub and decided to start their own RV rental company.

Bill was co-owner of another local RV rental company and Ralph had spent the last few years as a successful realtor. Dudziak, who had learned the RV rental business working for her father’s first RV rental company, joined them as general manager in 2003, and the company was incorporated as Neff Brothers RV in February 2004.

Outgrowing the brothers’ garages almost immediately, the company moved into its own facility in Lorain. This two-bay building housed them well for a couple of years, but the up-and-coming business quickly needed more space and moved across the street to a much larger 9,000-square-foot building with six giant service bays in 2006.

NBRV, as the company is often called, then added a propane station and dump station in 2008. This was a welcome addition that made the rental process much easier and allowed customers a place to stop while traveling through Lorain County on their way to popular attractions like the Lake Erie Islands and Cedar Point Amusement Park. They also eventually added a full paint booth for the NBRV Service Department and renovated the facility’s office spaces and reception area in 2013. With over 2.5 acres of land, this property has allowed Neff Brothers RV to consistently expand its rental fleet year after year.

The RV rental business has also changed the culture of vacationing during the last 10 years, and NBRV has changed with it. While Bill and Ralph’s motivation for starting the business was “to supply people with an environment for a happy vacation,” they quickly discovered the market for RV rentals in the area was bigger than just families bound for Disney World.

“We had just scratched the surface in 2004 and were rookies at what we were doing,” stated Dudziak. “Now we are in the major leagues and know our business well. We know what our guests want and need from us and we know how to provide it.”

Northeast Ohio’s booming film and commercial industry soon found its way to NBRV, which began customizing RVs to suit specific needs; bedrooms were gutted and replaced with salon chairs and extra lighting for doing hair and makeup, larger generators were installed to supply more power, and mobile Wi-Fi hotspots were available upon request.

The company’s services have been used by a number of TV shows, including “Supernanny” and “Kitchen Nightmares,” as well as dozens of commercial shoots with famous athletes like LeBron James, Johnny Manziel, and Shaquille O’Neal. Additionally, the nationally syndicated radio show Rover’s Morning Glory also uses NBRV for promotional events that have been shared with the public via the airwaves and social media over the last two years.

Sporting events arose as another surprising market. With stadiums for the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Cincinnati Bengals -- not to mention Ohio State, the University of Michigan, Penn State, Purdue and Notre Dame -- all within driving distance, tailgating with friends in a brand new, rented RV quickly became an easy sell. Then there is the NASCAR crowd, which loves to rent from Neff Brothers RV so they can watch the action from a race track’s infield.

“Just when we think the summer rush is over, then our tailgate season starts,” said Ralph. “We go from happy family renters to die-hard fans hitting the open road. Everyone living in Ohio has a football connection somewhere and they love cheering their team in person.”

Neff Brothers RV also discovered that some of its customers were searching for temporary housing. Families who were building or remodeling a home often rent an RV so they can stay on site and watch the progress of construction. People who have lost their home to fire or natural disaster are also glad Neff Brothers RV exists. In these cases, the cost of renting an RV or trailer during a home’s reconstruction is usually covered by insurance and much more affordable than staying in hotels for such extended period of time.

The only reason Neff Brothers RV can celebrate 10 years in business today is because it made it through the “Great Recession.” According to Dudziak, it was the proudest accomplishment to date. “In 2008, it was dive in and hold on time and everyone pitched in to do what they could to help us survive… and we did!”

Today the business is back on solid ground and investing for the future. Hiring new employees to handle more customers has been a top priority, and another point of pride for the brothers. This small business currently has 10 full-time employees and two part-time employees, while subcontracting more work out to other local small businesses. Bill said, “I think I’m most proud of the fact that we are able to keep 10 people working in our community.”

One of those workers is Service Manager Tim Pettry, who has been with the Neff brothers since the very beginning. Pettry is one of the most qualified technicians in the industry today, having been certified in more than 10 repair and technical programs across the nation and received his master technician certification from the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. He oversees his own staff that keeps the NBRV fleet in perfect running order, as well as performs service and repair work for RV owners in the area or just passing through.

Also on staff is the family’s third generation of entrepreneurs. Dudziak’s oldest of three daughters, Sarah Dudziak, is now 14 years old and has been working at the business answering phones since she was 10.

“I have guests who want to recruit her for their own businesses,” said her proud mother. “It makes me laugh, but that’s how professional she acts. I’m waiting for someone to offer her more money and I’ll have to start negotiations.”

Sarah’s little sister, 12-year-old Grace Dudziak, has also joined the team at Neff Brothers RV and heads up the housekeeping division. Youngest daughter, Hope Dudziak, has to wait until she is 10, a family rule, before she joins the workforce.

According to mom, “All three girls were raised in my office and know the staff like family. Besides being good at what they do, they are good to have around the family atmosphere that permeates our offices.”

While the goal is to someday graduate from being a small business, being a family business will always be a part of this company’s DNA. Built on the relationship of two brothers, both Bill and Ralph say that working with their sibling has been an amazing experience. They don’t always agree, but according to Ralph, “We discuss things and stick to whatever decision we make.” Bill adds, “To keep things running smoothly, we meet at Ziggy’s (a local pub in Amherst, Ohio) after work on occasion to have a beer and relax.”

Ziggy’s is actually the location of the brothers most memorable experience while working together. They arrived there one evening after work in 2011 to have dinner with their wives, only to find the pub swarming with men in black suits. President Obama was in town and planning to stop in for a drink, so the Secret Service had arrived ahead of time to prepare. That night, the President made his way around the room to Bill and Ralph’s table and spent 10 minutes talking about issues important to small business owners. He left knowing a little bit more about hardworking families from Northeast Ohio, and this one in particular.

The next 10 years is on the horizon for Neff Brothers RV, and Dudziak is leading the way. Having recently graduated from a prestigious small business course in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program, she has already begun changing how the business looks and operates.

“I’m so excited for the changes that are coming,” stated Dudziak. “For so long I was working in the day-to-day operations and never knew how to step away and see the business in any other light. Now I know how to do that and I have the tools to get these new projects done.”

A new company logo was commissioned this summer to celebrate the company’s 10th anniversary and usher it into the future. The website (http://www.neffbrosrv.com) has been redesigned with a new look and updated with new vacation package and destination ideas. The checkout process has also been revamped to make the renter’s experience even easier, and now includes a 12-minute video tutorial and written manual to help them feel comfortable and confident about operating an RV for the first time.

Work is also being done to identify and reach new markets, especially opportunities to rent RVs during the winter months; retirees who crave the freedom to travel where and when they want are now being offered a generous 50% discount for renting an RV outside of the peak season. This will make leisurely, multi-month rentals an incredible deal for go-at-your-own-pace, cross-country adventurers.

Since NBRV sells as many as half of its RVs at the end of every summer season in order to keep the fleet fresh, it will also apply up to half the value of a winter guest’s rental fee towards the purchase of an impeccably maintained RV from the fleet.

But what Dudziak imagines for the future is even bigger. “I see multiple locations for Neff Brothers RV happening eventually. We won’t just be Lorain-based. And I look for investors to join us and help us grow in the next decade.”

That sort of drive and ambition is what got the brothers this far, and it’s evident in Dudziak and the next generation of Neffs. It’s a safe bet to start planning for this company’s 20th anniversary right now.

#jmn#

Download complete press kit with high-res digital photography here: http://bit.ly/1qkfKL2

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John Neff

Angela Dudziak
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