An interview with the 2023 Canadian RV Dealer of the Year…
RV Lifestyle Magazine and RV Dealer News had the pleasure of talking with Jason Friesen, of Voyager RV, Winfield, B.C., who was nominated by the RVDA of BC for the 2023 Canadian RV Dealer of the Year Award, and was selected as the winner of the award by a committee consisting of five previous RV Dealers of the Year – here are the members of the selection committee:
Assisting the selection committee were: Eleonore Hamm, the representative from the RVDA of Canada – the organization that oversees the annual award, and Melanie Taylor, representing RV Lifestyle Magazine and RV Dealer News, sponsors of the award.
The annual Canadian RV Dealer of the Year Award is a very prestigious honour – an acknowledgement from the RV dealers across Canada who recognize one of their peers as being an outstanding example of the finest character, an outstanding dealership manager, an individual who is very generous to the community, and a leader who is very active within the RV Dealers Association of Canada and their provincial RVDA.
We had the opportunity to chat with Jason following the presentation of the award.
Here is the transcript of that conversation.
RV Dealer News: Jason, congratulations on this honour – it certainly is very well deserved!
Please tell our readers about your background, the history of Voyager RV, and the impact that RVDA has had on you personally and on your businesses.
Jason: Thank you, Norm, and thank you to the RVDA of Canada for this wonderful honour.
It was pretty humbling to win the award, and while the award has my name on it was really an acknowledgement of the many years of effort by our Voyager RV team.
Voyager RV was established in 1984, and we are now celebrating our 40th anniversary year.
It all began as a vision by my dad Rod Friesen, who created the dealership at a location that had been an old gravel pit. Rod saw the potential and the site was affordable – which I think was a key at the time. His amazing entrepreneurial vision led to the creation of the dealership, and his first employee, Reg Pixton, is still here with us, still working as employee number one – he’s our consignment and purchase manager these days, but my dad and Reg basically started with just some consignment RVs, and they went around and knocked on doors to tell the community that “hey we’re going to start an RV dealership, and we think we’re going to be one of the biggest in western Canada – will you trust us to try to sell your RV for you?”
That was basically what it was at the outset – if it wasn’t for the trust of some of our local RV owners, Voyager RV would have had no inventory – it was just the two of them doing everything, and they started with a single-wide office trailer – like lots of businesses, it was a sort of humble beginning.
In 1987, after they had grown the business for a few years, they picked up their first new RV brand and that was Winnebago motorized. They sold the Itasca brand by Winnebago at the beginning, and the business grew, with some new units, some used RVs, and some consignment units.
After a while, my dad hired John Schat, who was our parts and service manager in the late 1980s. He soon became the first general manager of Voyager RV, and that was really important to my father, to have some support staff that he could trust wholeheartedly and who would help co-manage the place from the employee side of things, as well as oversee the day-to-day of the business. John retired in 2009 but he played a huge role in helping build the culture here.
Today, Voyager RV has a staff of 70, and we have obviously expanded from that single-wide trailer to have a 2-storey office building and a very busy sales and service facility.
Some of our RV dealer friends pop in here from time to time, and they are always surprised at what we do with our current surroundings, because we’re a little bit squeezed with the real estate around us, but we’ve done a really good job of making it feel relaxing and comfortable for the customers when they come in. We built a separate off-site detail and service shop in 2007, and in 2014 we added another shop for our PDIs. In 2020 we bought a 6-acre storage lot to help with our used RV display and for our new RV arrivals from the factories, so we have enjoyed some growth in our ability to stock inventory, and we are pretty fortunate now to have 16 indoor service bays and seven or eight outside covered service bays as well.
RV Dealer News: With the business celebrating 40 years in 2024, you obviously didn’t start there as an infant – when did you become active at Voyager RV, what are your roles today, and where do you see yourself in the dealership in the future?
Jason: When I was in high school, in grade 8 to 12, I would be in here working on weekends or during the Summers, doing a range of jobs in the detail department, and in the parts and service departments – and running around doing some errands for whatever they needed. I was really fortunate to have that opportunity, and to be able to have the flexibility to work and still enjoy those summer times that you want to when you’re a teenager. After high school, I went off to university to become a secondary school teacher specializing in PE and biology. I wanted to teach, and I wanted to coach sports – that was my passion – and so I went and got that degree, and when I moved back to the Kelowna area, I was on the “teacher on call list” for a couple of school districts, so whenever I was called in to be a substitute teacher, I would go in and teach, and whenever I didn’t have a teaching assignment I was able to supplement my income and pay the bills by coming in to work here at Voyager RV. The flexibility gave me the opportunity to develop my RV dealer skills, and I learned the techniques of the modern era – working on the company website, and handling tasks on the technology side of things, as well as the marketing efforts.
That’s when I realized that I might fall in love with this place and with the RV business. Up until then, I had no great interest in it, and my dad never pushed me – he never even asked really, so my transition into the full-time RV dealer mode happened in neat way, as opposed to being groomed to become a second-generation RV dealer.
As I developed some skills in marketing, and watched how we could maybe drive the business and be creative, that really got the juices flowing and it made me realize – hey maybe I have a thing for this – maybe I’d be okay at it, and actually I think I really want to do this!
So that’s where it all started. It’s been an interesting route to get here.
RV Dealer News: How many years have you been in the management role of the business?
Jason: It was in December 2003 when I stepped into this role – it started off as a bit of a hybrid sales management role, learning to take over from the GM who we knew was going to be retiring in the coming years. After a few years I became the vice president of Voyager RV, so it’s been about 21 years that I’ve been in this leadership role.
I was young – just 25 years old, when we stood in front of our great staff of 40 – 45 team mates, and the GM at the time said “you know Jason’s going to be coming in here and is going to be taking a bit of a management role”, and you know I felt it was awkward, but I made sure to tell everybody that “I promise you I will earn your trust”.
Before you know it, I was waking up every morning excited to come in here. I realized that I really liked it and maybe I had a bit more of my dad’s entrepreneurial spirit, or the DNA from that side of him started to “kick in” and that’s been the case for the past two decades. It all seems like yesterday.
RV Dealer News: Jason, prior to being named the Canadian RV Dealer of the Year you won the award as the British Columbia RV Dealer of the Year. Your contributions to the RV industry, the RV lifestyle, and the community at large, have been recognized by your peers.
What accomplishments are you are most proud of – for the dealership, the community, and your own personal career?
Jason: I think for the dealership it has been the ability to grow creatively and embrace technology. From the early days when I became active at Voyager RV, in 2003 and 2004, there were not a lot of dealerships that had a website, let alone an active online presence. After a few months, I embraced the technology and it was really neat early on to have the support to try to take us into the future a little bit quicker than some other places went, and luckily, we had a staff that was willing to embrace some of that change.
As far as the community contribution is concerned, my dad has always been an awesome supporter of the community, and I grew up watching his charitable efforts, and I saw how important that was to him. So I think our Voyager Cares initiative, which is something we started in 2019, where the staff vote on certain charities that are important to them, and as the year progresses, we make a donation to the charity for every RV we sell – all of our departments donate a certain amount of money to that charity, and we have a collective goal, and we make a donation every month or two. We invite the charity representatives in to visit the dealership and talk to our staff about what our contributions mean to them and what their charity offers and then we present them with the big check. It has really been a wonderful thing both for our community and for our staff.
I know that our whole staff is proud of the Voyager Cares project, as we have donated well over $250,000 through this initiative in the last couple of years, and we are looking to keep that going – so that’s been pretty rewarding.
As far as my personal career achievements are concerned, I am still learning on the go here, and learning every day, and I think the first real learning experience for me was during the recession in 2007 and 2008. I learned about what you can do to be successful, how to react to be able to help the dealership, and to be able to survive things like that and keep your staff employed. We all learned to adapt to the changing market conditions, and we were able to grow – and it felt like we were growing a new business – almost like a startup, coming out of that recession. These lessons helped me when the pandemic hit – that was another huge learning experience for me, and I am sure for every dealership – no one had ever gone through that before, but we persevered, and we came out of that era in pretty good shape.
I am very proud of how our whole team got through those two challenging times.
RV Dealer News: Over the years, you and your Voyager RV team have been very active within the RVDA of BC and the RVDA of Canada. How has your work within the RVDA movement benefited your dealership, the industry, and the community?
Jason: I think that part of being a good leader is the ability to recognize when people on your team are able to do a job better than you can do it, and I think in our case, our two general managers John Schat, and then our current GM Ward Fraser, are those special types of people who can make a substantial contribution to the RVDA movement. They have been on the board of the RVDA of BC and the RVDA of Canada for over 20 years consecutively, and that has been a really important factor for the associations. When I came in, and when Ward replaced John as the general manager, we wanted to keep our participation in the RVDA going because the connection to the industry is really important to Voyager RV, but more importantly, people like Ward and John can bring so much to the industry. Ward is a rockstar for the RVDA of BC. He is the current president of the association, and he is currently a director on the RVDA of Canada board as well, and he brings a ton of value to the RVDA, and that helps our dealership, and every RVDA member dealership across Canada.
The value that the RVDA brings to the dealerships across Canada, and to the industry as a whole, is extremely important – so we want to make sure that as Voyager RV we do our part to support the associations.
RV Dealer News: How would you think the trends in the industry are going to affect business in the short and long terms?
Jason: I love the RV industry, and I think we are in a great place to grow for the coming generations. I think we are in a bit of a challenging era, but this is not unusual, and there is nothing that we haven’t been able to navigate through as an industry.
I think the big challenge, if you look at the big picture within the industry, would be the consolidation on both the manufacturer side and the dealer side – and that isn’t always a bad thing – that can be a good thing and positive things can come. However I think that the industry’s changed a little bit because of it, with fewer manufacturers that are actually controlling what’s being built, and the pricing, so we just have to monitor that and watch that as a dealer body.
I think on the dealer level, a lot of the consolidation has led to a bit of a trend to only service what you sell, and that concerns me. If I step outside of the Voyager box, and just look at the RV industry as a whole, I think on the consumer level I want to know that if I am going to buy an RV, whether it’s from the dealership right down the road or from one that’s 200 or 300 kilometres away, I want to know that the industry is going to stand behind the product and help do the work – whether it is warranty work or customer pay work, and I think right now we’re at that spot where that isn’t always the case. There are lots of customers that get turned away from various dealerships. The first question they will ask is “did you buy it from us” and you know that isn’t a great question to get asked as an owner of an RV.
I know that with cars and trucks, for example, you can take your Ford wherever you find convenient, and that Ford dealer will help you – and we have to find a way in our industry to get back to making sure that everyone has a great experience when their RV breaks down or needs regular service. I think we (Voyager) shouldn’t be one of the only dealers that are still servicing vehicles that originated at other dealerships, or helping RV customers who are on the road and in need of assistance – regardless of where they bought their RV. This is a work in progress, but I think we need to watch closely as an industry, so that the RV customers are always helped to the best of our abilities.
RV Dealer News: The Canadian RV Dealers of the Year are role models for younger RV professionals – are there any words of wisdom that you would like to share with RV dealers across Canada – especially the younger people just coming into the field?
Jason: I don’t think I’ve been doing this long enough to be a role model, that doesn’t feel like who I am, but you know if I was asked “what do you think” I would tell the younger RV industry members that I think it’s really important to know that whether you face a challenge in certain departments, or in certain customer situations; if you pay more attention to your culture than your profitability, then it pays off big time in the end. This is something that we tell our staff and our employees every day – that’s how we manage this place and that’s how we expect them to be able to make decisions in their day-to-day tasks. So, you truly have to focus on your culture, don’t just hang up a sign or say it on your mission statement – you truly have to focus more on the culture than profitability, and usually good things will happen.
Being part of the RV industry has been so great – At Voyager RV we’ve been so fortunate to have this dealership be profitable, allowing us to employ 70 staff and help their families, and then help a bunch of customers get into the RV lifestyle. Beyond this, we enjoy the opportunity to support the community and help out any chance we can. So I’m a pretty lucky guy.
When you have a positive attitude toward your job, your role in the community, and your place in the industry as a whole, it just a makes it a pleasure to come to work every day.
The Canadian RV Dealer of the Year Award
This prestigious award, presented annually since 1989, recognizes the Canadian RV dealer who best exemplifies the criteria: long-term contribution to the RVDA movement at National and/or Provincial level; dedication to the RV community at large; long-term contribution to the local community; and recognition by customers and peers as a person with the highest integrity and credibility in both work and personal life.
The Award honours the memory of Walt Paseska, of Walt’s Trailer Sales, Headingly, Manitoba, whose dedication and commitment to the RVDA movement and his community established a benchmark for all Canadian RV dealers to emulate.
The Award was created and sponsored by RV Lifestyle Magazine and RV Dealer News and is supervised by the RVDA of Canada.
The Award nominees are submitted by the Provincial and Regional RVDA chapters across Canada.
List of previous winners of the Dealer of the Year Award:
2022 Roland Goreski, Campkin’s RV Centre, Whitby, ON
2021 Andy Thomson, CanAm RV Centre, London, ON
2020 Al Robinson, Great Canadian RV, Peterborough, ON
2019 Bruce Marsh, Cape Breton Trailer Sales, Bras D’Or, NS
2018 Jim Gorrie / Kevin Betzold, GNR Camping World RV Centre, Winnipeg, MB
2017 Jason Bell, Chemo RV, 150 Mile House, BC
2016 George Goodrick, Adventure Sports, Dartmouth, NS
2015 Sam Parks, Camp-Out RV, Stratford, ON
2014 Gérard Dufresne, Caravanes de la Petite Nation, L’Ange-Gardien, QC
2013 Ian Moore, Big Boy’s Toys, Nanoose Bay, BC
2012 Garth Bromley, Transcona Trailer Sales, Winnipeg, MB
2011 Tom Ramsay, Meridian RV Mfg. Ltd., Port Coquitlam, BC
2010 Daniel Morin, Roulottes Desjardins, St-Jérôme, QC
2009 Dave Dobson, RV World, Waasis (Fredericton), NB
2008 Wayne Hambly, PEI Home & RV Centre, Charlottetown, PEI
2007 Marty Vellner, Vellner Leisure Products, Red Deer, AB
2006 Kim Stone, Stone’s RV & Home Center, New Glasgow, NS
2007 Robert Rémillard, Centre du Camping Rémillard, St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, QC
2008 Jack Bell, Chemo RV Sales & Service, Williams Lake, BC
2003 Shelly Shewchuk, Recreation World RV’s, Thunder Bay, ON
2002 Derek Dobson, Leisure Time RV Sales, Saint John, NB
2001 Woody Paylor, Woody’s RV World, Red Deer, AB
2000 Art Pike, Westgate RV Centre, Kelowna, BC
1999 Bill Redmond, Bucars RV Centre, Calgary, AB
1998 Ken Langevin, Walt’s Trailer Sales, Headingley, MB
1997 Don Sneyd, Ruston RV Centre, Burlington, ON
1996 Louis Gaudette, Roulottes RG Gagnon, L’Assomption, QC
1995 Don Main, Pik-A-Dilly Trailer Sales, Brandon, MB
1994 Eleanor Powers, Claynor RV World, Langley, BC &
(tie) Fred Benninger, Mobilife RV Centre, Kitchener, ON
1993 Gary Hodgins, RV City, Morinville, AB
1992 Gil Robert, GNR Camping World, Winnipeg, MB
1990 Doug Williams, Twin City Trailer Sales, Bedford, NS
1989 Doug Petrie, Niagara Trailer Sales, St. Davids, ON
For our feature article on the 2023 Canadian RV Dealer of the Year nominees, please follow this link: