Fifteen years ago, we started Suncoast RV Rentals along with our son Walt.
Starting as a franchise with just a few owner-supplied coaches, we were in business just less than a month when Wally, Walt, and his son Warren flew to Oklahoma City to pick up “The Revolution”, a 40-foot owner-supplied coach for our new fleet. The coach was parked in such a manner that Walt, although never having driven a coach of that size, had to back it up a hill with 3 turns to get it out of the airport-hotel parking lot. The entire time we had the coach it was rented to home developers who used the vehicle as a sales office before their model homes could be built and permitted. As the Revolution’s owners lived in Arkansas and were unable to travel at the time, the first opportunity to meet them wasn’t for 3 years. All our communications by phone email and at that time fax.
We are both from Dallas, Texas, and are not exactly spring chickens, as this year will be our 70th wedding anniversary. After graduating from SMU, Wally started his career in a large grocery chain; working first in the bakery production, manufacturing and then later in retail obtaining experience in processing and marketing. I (Wally) spent the next 30 years working up the corporate ladder living in many different states and Canada. While living in New Jersey, I (Marlene) went back to college first studying interior decorating but soon finding my true calling earning a degree in education and teaching hearing-impaired children in different states. Walt earned degrees in mechanical engineering and later business finance. Besides us, other involved family members are daughter Suzanne and grandson, Warren. Suzanne works in the office and Warren assures the coaches look their best and helps deliver coaches while he is working towards his degree. Being a small firm, needless to say, we also truly consider the rest of our crew Sharon, Theresa, and Karen as part of our extended family.
Over the years our business model has changed, we’ve gained so much knowledge from our experiences in the RV business since our first month of business. We were in business only a matter of weeks when Hurricane Katrina hit. Our RV’s were running up and down Interstate 10 with doctors and supplies, for engineers and recovery personnel many for lengthy stays. We rented to church groups going along the coast of Mississippi to help clean up and rebuild. Once Warren lost his cell phone in the driveway of a truck stop. Fortunately, someone turned it into the counter. After calling his number constantly, he was able to find the truck stop where it was dropped and retrieved it on the way back.
We’ll always recall one of our most heartwarming stories. Within one of our first months, we had a client reserve a coach for what he considered was a trip of a lifetime, a bucket-list item if you will. We felt like we got to know him quite well as we talked with him many times over the next couple of years as due to his illness, he postponed and re-scheduled his trip a number of times. He was so determined to check that off his bucket list always refusing to accept his deposit. At one time, it really seemed like he was going to be able to take that journey. He was never able to take it on his own, but with the help of his family, he finally did, when they took the coach with his ashes back to Connecticut.
When the Katrina business calmed down, we started renting almost exclusively to home developers for months at a time. Some of the developers we have rented to for long periods of time were Highland Homes, Horton, KB Homes, U. S. Homes, and others. We would drive to development locations all over the state and set up coaches for months at a time and deposit the check and set up on-site services to keep the coaches properly serviced. That lasted ‘till the housing boom faded and then we had to totally refocus and go to work serving a more traditional recreational user.
Once upon a time, we had a renter from Israel. Because of language and telecommunications, communication was difficult at best. Everything was communicated by, text, or e-mail. This gentleman was taking his family, and his son, who was entering the Israeli military, up the east coast for a family vacation. Late one Friday afternoon, I (Marlene) got a call from him that I could barely understand, and he asked, “Where do I drop this RV off in Manhattan?” I was so stunned that even I couldn’t even be diplomatic. “I said, you don’t, you bring it back to Tampa.” Fortunately, last-minute arrangements were made for him to park it at the NJ Port Authority and we flew someone up to pick it up.
Another eventful rental was the Republican National Convention. Once we completed the mountain of paperwork and received government clearance, all (haha) we had to deal with was getting the coaches through security and squeezed on to the site.
Another year, we had several coaches at the Super Bowl with our coaches occupied by Bruce Springsteen and other celebrity singers.
Every year we provide coaches for Daytona, Rolex, and Sebring. The last three we years have provided coaches for the WINNING teams of Rolex and Sebring. This year was a little different. In March, we had all of our coaches rented for the races including NHRA Winter Nationals, Sun ‘N Fun Air Show and etc. We had the coaches cleaned, gassed up and drivers selected and ready to go. Boom, then COVID hit, and everything was canceled. I am sure that this too will one day be another unforgettable event.
Suncoast RV Rentals belongs to RVRD, a best practices “GROUP 20”, made up of select RV rental agencies around the country. We network with monthly conference calls and two meetings a year at owners’ locations to share and learn the idiosyncrasies of our different businesses.
As we look back with all our experiences since starting the business 15 years ago, we consider ourselves dedicated, well “seasoned” and certainly qualified to hold our place in the RV Rental and management business. We make every effort to take care of our owner’s property, the safety of our clients, and the fiduciary responsibility to both. In the last few years, we’ve transitioned to purchasing most of our fleet new directly purchasing from manufacturers, primarily featuring Thor products. This has allowed us to order specifically for the needs of our clients.
Business is like life. It is a constant transition. Our first transition was the change of our focus on renting to developers to the focus on renting for recreation and events. Our second transition is to focus on using owners’ coaches to our own newer coaches.
Our first fifteen years has been quite a trip!