Uncle Ben’s RV, one of Western Canada’s oldest recreational vehicle dealers, has changed hands.
The dealership, which is located on the east side of Gasoline Alley, has been purchased by Go Auto. The deal took effect Feb. 1.
Go Auto, which is based in Edmonton, operates more than 30 vehicle dealerships across Western Canada. It acquired CARS RV & Marine and Suzuki Automotive Superstore in Red Deer in 2012, followed by MGM Ford Lincoln Sales, Honda Red Deer and Acura of Red Deer in 2013.
Kevin Allison, who is Go Auto’s VP of operations for MGM Ford Lincoln, Go RV & Marine and now Uncle Ben’s, said the new dealership is a great addition. It increases Go Auto’s presence in the largest RV retail corridor in Western Canada.
“We’re going to keep our north-side location open,” said Allison, referring to Go RV & Marine at 7414 Gaetz Ave.
Uncle Ben’s is now operating as Go Uncle Ben’s RV and Marine. Other changes include an expanded product range.
“We’re now carrying product from every major RV manufacturer,” said Allison, adding that this includes entry-level units that Uncle Ben’s previously didn’t focus on.
“We’ll have everything from a $15,000, 16-foot pull-behind trailer to a $500,000 luxury diesel coach.”
Work on a new service and detail shop southeast of Uncle Ben’s is already underway. It will contain eight, 100-foot-long bays, said Allison.
“We’re really expanding the size of the service and parts department.”
For Rob and Andy Janko, the dealership’s former owners, Feb. 1 marked the end of more than 35 years in the RV business. Last year, they saw Uncle Ben’s send its 10,000th unit down the road.
Andy said he and his brother had been contemplating a sale for about a year. He explained that there was no one in place to take over the family business that their father Ben bought in 1958.
Then operating in downtown Red Deer as a White Rose service station, it had opened four years earlier. Ben became service manager in 1955, when he was 17, and after he acquired the business he obtained the British Ford franchise.
Ongoing expansion included the opening of Southmoon Mobile Home in 1970, with that operation evolving into Uncle Ben’s Recreation Centre by the early 1980s.
Andy joined the business around 1979, when he was 16. His older brother Rob preceded him by about two years.
Andy remembers his father dividing his time among business locations in Red Deer, Brooks and Grande Prairie. He was also active in the community, including spearheading development of the Kin City Ice Centre as building chairman for the Kinsmen Club of Red Deer.
“He was busy. He had a phone in his ear all of the time back then.”
An aneurism in his stomach claimed Ben’s life when he was 43. Rob and Andy, along with their mother Joy, assumed responsibility for the business.
In 2000, Uncle Ben’s moved to its current location.
“It was a good move to be on the highway for that business,” said Andy.
Changes in the RV industry have been “unbelievable,” he said.
“Even the size of the buildings you need to fix them in, it’s totally changed.”
Slide-outs revolutionized RV designs, said Andy, and technological advancements have been steady.
Uncle Ben’s still has customers from Ben’s days, and many of its approximately 31 staff have also been there for years. Andy said it’s gratifying that these will remain with Go Auto.
“That’s one of the reasons we dealt with those guys,” he said. “They’re a good company.”
Andy said he and Rob will remain in Red Deer. He expects to keep busy, including work as chairman of the board of eQube Gaming, an Edmonton-based public company (TSXV: EQG) that develops and distributes electronic devices and software for the bingo industry.
It’s strange to step away from Uncle Ben’s, Andy acknowledged, but it’s also nice not to have to worry about the business’s day-to-day operations.
“That’s a relief.”
Allison said Brent Fullerton is the general manager at Go Uncle Ben’s RV. Among the perks available to purchasers are free firewood and propane for life.
“Hopefully we’ll continue to expand in the Red Deer market,” he said of the Go Auto name.