ELKHART — In early 2012, nearly five years after opening, the RV/MH Hall of Fame was struggling financially and facing possible closure.
But today, after two years under the leadership of volunteer president and treasurer Darryl Searer, the hall’s financial health is “excellent,” Searer said.
The nonprofit’s debt has been reduced from $5.5 million to about $2.5 million, and the hall made its May 2014 loan payment in November, six months ahead of schedule. Searer attributed the turnaround to a series of belt-tightening measures, reorganization and rebranding of the facility’s event center, renegotiation of financial obligations with major creditors and some innovative fundraisers.
“We have exceeded the goals and expectations of all of the creditors of the Hall of Fame,” Searer said.
Searer, who in March 2012 agreed to lead the hall for two years, has decided to stay on another two years as he tries to make the hall debt-free by 2020, if not sooner.
To achieve that goal, he pointed to two outstanding obligations: paying off a $550,000 bank loan used to complete the purchase of the David Woodworth Antique RV Collection, and a $3 million loan by the “Boots” Ingram family.
The amortization schedule calls for paying off the Ingram loan by 2033, but the family’s generosity could shorten that time, Searer said. As long as the hall meets its monthly obligations, the Ingrams will continue to match the principle payment by 50 percent, which means the $3 million loan will pay off with $2 million.
As for retiring the $550,00 bank loan, the hall is hoping a donor will step forward and is offering naming rights to the Woodworth collection for any company or person who pays it off.
Searer outlined several steps the he has taken to cut costs:
• Changing the hall’s insurance policy saved $16,000 a year, while finding a new accounting firm saved $7,600 a year.
• The staff has been reduced from five employees to three.
• Negotiated with the Woodworth family to settle a $1 million debt for $600,000.
• In July the hall hired Jeff White as vice president of sales and marketing, with the goal of generating more revenue by utilizing the facility more. Searer said he has been “extremely pleased” with White’s work.
White is the first person ever to work full-time at marketing the center’s exhibition space, which has been branded the Northern Indiana Event Center to convey its own identity. As a result, the number of events held there last year increased 40 percent from 2012, creating about $40,000 in new revenue — after less than half of a year's work by White.
White has also been tasked with finding corporate sponsors for the booth spaces in the supplier exhibitor center.
Some creative fundraisers also are in the works. At its meeting Tuesday, the board approved a plan to hold an auction as part of the RV Open House Week in September, where manufacturers show dealers their new products. RV supply vendors and manufacturers will be asked to donate items for auction before the show starts, with proceeds going to the hall, Searer said. He hopes to make it an annual event.
Searer said the hall is keeping its expenses down to about half of its annual revenue, which was $800,000 last year.
In August Searer will take on the additional responsibility of board chair, following the expiration of chair Barry Cole’s term.
Searer, 71, said he is up to the challenge, despite undergoing quadruple bypass heart surgery last year.
“The reason I volunteered for another two years is it will keep virtually the same management at the Hall of Fame that has been able to ensure the success of the Hall of Fame,” Searer said. “I think it just gives confidence to people who want to support the Hall of Fame that the money is going to spent to pay off the debt.”