The Early Years
In 1969, a young Canadian Forces Airborne Regiment officer was taking stock of his future. At 28 years old Captain David McKee had been very successful in the military. He had climbed the officer ranks rapidly, had been one of the first officers assigned to the newly created Airborne Regiment, had run the Airborne Test Facility in CFB Rivers, Manitoba for two years and was just informed of his upcoming promotion to Major. Married with two young daughters Dave took an incredible financial and professional risk and resigned from the military leaving behind his promotion and the prospects of a very successful career in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Dave was extremely passionate about business and sales. He was constantly buying and selling cars privately and he felt that as an officer he just couldn't keep selling used vehicles out of his driveway. Dave had purchased his first RV, a Travelaire Travel Trailer in Winnipeg and he was sold on the product, the company and more importantly the RV industry.
After working for Travelaire for several months Dave decided that being his own boss would be best. In August of 1969, Dave negotiated a deal to rent a Fina gas station on Hwy 11, just outside of Barrie, Ontario. The newly minted businessman had the option of renting the station "AS IS" for $400.00 per month or if he pumped gas he could rent the station for a mere $1.00 per month. Dave liked the idea of saving $399, so in 1969 The Hitch House started pumping gas and selling Travelaire Travel Trailers.
During his first month in business, Dave had the experience of an Airstream trailer owner dumping the entire contents of his sewage holding tank into the "high-test" fuel storage tanks. This took place in the middle of the night and initially Dave couldn't figure out what was wrong. However, the high-test gasoline smelled rather "ripe" - a dead giveaway. Unfortunately for the RVer he was still on the gas station's premises and had no idea that he had mistakenly evacuated his entire sewage tank into the high-test fuel. This was Hitch House's humble... very humble beginnings.
1973 - 1980
Success came quickly and by 1973 Dave was convinced that in order to continue and be a serious long-term player in the RV industry he had to expand his property and facilities. Dave purchased 8.9 acres adjacent to the Fina station and built his first facility. Dave believed that in order to maintain success he had to have a full service dealership.
In 1977 Dave added a large outbuilding or as we affectionately call it, "the barn" to accommodate sheltered summer work.
In 1978 an additional 2.1 acres was purchased to bring the overall property to 11 acres.
By 1980, "the barn" was enclosed and insulated to provide year round facilities for mechanical work and metal fabrication.
1980 - 1991
By 1985 sales and service volume had increased dramatically and The Hitch House underwent an extensive renovation. The original building saw the addition of 5 service bays, the parts storage was doubled and office space was expanded including a boardroom to accommodate staff requirements.
Between 1980 and 1990 Dave's business interests grew to include two car dealerships, a highway service centre, a building development company all of which were very successful. It got to a point that the success came so easily that Dave started to believe he could do no wrong. In Dave's words, "I started to believe my own BS." It was time for a major lesson in humility. Dave claims he got it in spades.
A major expansion into the manufacturing industry combined with unfortunate market timing resulted in the collapse of everything Dave had spent the previous 20 years building.
While many other might quit Dave had 3 young children at home to feed and so he looked at this as another major challenge. With the support of the Vice-President of the Toronto Dominion Bank, his friends and family Dave restarted his business immediately - The Hitch House. He knew that he understood the RV industry well, furthermore it had treated him well and he would find success there once again.
His change this time - one focus and one focus only - The Hitch House exclusively.
1991 - 2000
In 1991, Dave made one of the most important business decisions of his career. He decided to specialize in motorhomes and The Hitch House Motorhome Specialists was born. Dave dedicated the sales staff, service department, and parts departments to motorhomes.
In 1994, Dave approached his daughter Hiedi Stoate to join The Hitch House team. Hiedi was reluctant at first, she had completed her degree - an Honours Bachelor of Business Administration at Wilfrid Laurier University, she was married and living in Toronto and had a successful career holding increasingly progressive positions at Black & Decker's head office in Richmond Hill. However, she had been raised in the RV industry and she too liked the idea of being in charge of her future. A chip off the ole block - so to speak.
By 1997 it was clear to Dave that he needed to improve the facilities yet again and The Hitch House added a 7,500 sq. ft showroom. How can you be a Motorhome Specialist without a showcase to display your Motorhomes? Once again, ground was broken and The Hitch House was expanded.
2000 - 2011
All the way along The Hitch House continued to grow. Dave knew that he had to increase the depth of the managerial experience within The Hitch House and equally important, create a succession plan for the business. Aside from Hiedi, Dave's other children were not yet in a position to help. In 2001, Dave approached his son-in-law, Tom Stoate. At the time Tom was a Director at an Information Technology services company with offices in Toronto, Ottawa and Europe. Tom was feeling the itch to venture out on his own and he had just attempted to purchase a small, local telecommunications company. As usual Dave's timing was near perfect. In June of 2001, Tom and Hiedi became full-time business partners with Dave in The Hitch House.
In 2004, "the barn" was expanded to include a state of the art body shop housing a 60 foot cross-draft paint booth, comprehensive paint mixing room and 2 body shop preparation bays. That is not all. Two 50 foot mechanical bays complete with service pits, additional parts storage, a new Service Reception and Customer Lounge rounded out the service expansion.
In 2006, The Hitch House acquired a further 3 acres to bring the total property to 14 acres.
By 2009 and early 2010 two motorhome display lots were expanded and professionally landscaped to properly merchandise the vast selection of inventory available to Hitch House customers.
Dave's son Chris completed his education in 2009 and graduated from Georgian College with a diploma in Automotive Marketing. Chris has grown up at The Hitch House . During high school Chris worked weekends and summers at The Hitch House learning the business from the ground up - literally. You see Dave made Chris start by cutting the lawns. Chris progressed first to washing motorhomes, then working in Parts and Service , he spent a year in our Business Office and graduated to our Sales team where he spent the 3 years while going to college full-time. Chris is now The Hitch House's Wholesale Manager and responsible for purchasing quality used motorhomes for our inventory.
2012 and Onward
On November 27, 2012 early in the afternoon The Hitch House suffered a massive fire. The fire broke out in our showroom and the fire departments from Oro-Medonte and the surrounding municipalities struggled to fight it. The fire consumed nearly all of our main building rendering what was left irreparable. We are most thankful that all of our staff was evacuated safely and no one was hurt.
With the cooperation of our staff, Aviva Insurance, The Township of Oro-Medonte and the support from the community, our family and friends we were able to quickly get back on our feet. Within days we had temporary office space on site and we were making the best of a challenging situation. Dave McKee made a bold statement the day after the fire in front of all of our staff and to the media. He said, "We will be back - Bigger, Better, Stronger!"
From December 2012 until the end of April 2013 Dave McKee focused almost exclusively on the rebuilding. Tom Stoate, Hiedi Stoate, Bruce Baier, Debbie Tanner and Chris McKee focused on reconstructing the different facets of the business and operations that were destroyed. This was a deliberate, tactical decision - divide and conquer was the goal. It worked to near perfection. Dave McKee spent countless hours in meetings with designers, engineers, contractors, building inspectors and other dealers. He planned, organized and budgeted in order to get started on our new main building as soon as humanly possible. On May 15, 2013 we broke ground. Almost every member of our team was involved at one stage or another throughout the rebuilding. It was a uniquely busy, challenging, exhausting and gratifying experience.
On November 27, 2013 one year to the day after the fire we were granted "Occupancy" to our new showroom. By mid-December 2013 we had received "Full Occupancy" to our new state-of-the-art 50,000 sq. ft. main building. As usual Dave fulfilled his commitment; We're Back - Bigger, Better, Stronger!
On behalf of Dave, Tom, Hiedi, Chris and all of Management and staff of The Hitch House we invite you to come and see for yourself.
For more information on the history of the fire and the subsequent progress
- CLICK HERE -