When Randy Scianna announced in April he planned to move his
charming, almost campy RV dealership from a San Martin lot to a
huge abandoned former Walmart store in Gilroy, unabashed optimism
The prospect of more jobs, more sales tax revenue and more
cash-toting RV purchasers to the city had Scianna and local
When Randy Scianna announced in April he planned to move his charming, almost campy RV dealership from a San Martin lot to a huge abandoned former Walmart store in Gilroy, unabashed optimism reigned.
The prospect of more jobs, more sales tax revenue and more cash-toting RV purchasers to the city had Scianna and local officials beaming.
That’s when the work began.
Saturday’s grand opening of the new See Grins RVs, at 7900 Arroyo Circle, was a milestone not just for the business, but for the old Walmart building itself, which, at more than 120,000 square feet, might now be the biggest RV showroom in the United States.
The former Walmart closed in 2005 when a new, 219,570-square-foot Walmart Supercenter opened at the Pacheco Pass Shopping Center down the street. For six years, the property sat barren, and plans to open a go-cart racetrack fell through in August 2010.
The building was heavily vandalized, with approximately $330,000 in electrical damage alone, Scianna said.
Of the 36 original air conditioning units on the roof, 30 were damaged, he said, and leaks and damaged water lines only made things worse.
“This place was a pig’s pen,” he said.
Scianna added, “Somewhere along the way, this building died. It was almost like we had breathed oxygen back into it.”
See Grins’ new home will feature 350 RVs, including 120 inside under the lights arranged via size and price, with the biggest, most-expensive RVs at the end of every row.
“It’s so wide open. It’s perfect for a nice display,” he said.
Sales manager John Jaque said during Saturday’s grand opening the showroom’s size became a popular topic for shoppers.
“They’re pretty overwhelmed,” Jaque said.
The new Gilroy location is loaded with side attractions, too.
Competing for shoppers attention will be a small coffee shop, a burger cafe and a flat screen TV showing episodes of famed 1960s talking horse sitcom Mr. Ed, the latter a play on See Grins’ famous wide-smiled equine mascot.
Scianna said visitors munched on 350 burgers and 100 hot dogs over the opening weekend, and more than 20 RVs were sold. On Monday, more than 100 people were lined up to browse the dealership, Scianna said.
In the future, the business will include a petting zoo and pony rides for children, a travel agent to guide spur-of-the-moment road warriors and rental options for those not yet ready to buy, Scianna said.
See Grins is a certified dealer of Heartland RVs, which Scianna described as the “king” of the modern RV market.
See Grins has Class A diesel RVs listed on its website ranging between $30,000 and $199,000. Those looking for fifth-wheels can find the popular Heartland Bighorn model for between $68,000 and $74,000, according to the See Grins website.
Scianna’s prized possession, however, rests near the front of the store. It’s a trailer “just built like a fortress” known as the Mavric that was the No. 1 best-seller at an RV show in Pleasanton last year. And it’s a See Grins original design to boot, Scianna said.
“It’s pretty hot,” he said, describing the fifth-wheel’s aluminum frame and cabinets so strong that Scianna later hanged from by his fingers above the trailer’s kitchen table.
As a dealer, See Grins will keep approximately 1 percent profit from its sales, Scianna said.
That small-sounding percentage should still generate quite a bit of cash with the way RV sales are going, Scianna said.
RV sales have exploded over the last year despite a lackluster economy, Scianna said. The industry grew by more than 40 percent above average in 2010, and See Grins’ sales jumped more than 80 percent.
Scianna said he knows why.
“Baby boomers are selling their homes, and they don’t have the kids living with them anymore,” he said. “People are turning to buying RVs and they get hooked” on the traveling lifestyle.
Scianna said he sold about 50 RVs in January and 47 in February, but thinks 100 sales per month wouldn’t be out of the question at his new location.
“Now with the right product and the new place, this will really take off, I think,” he said.
Scianna said in April the city could expect as much as $1 million annually in sales tax revenue from See Grins.
Scianna said he will still operate his San Martin store, though mostly as a way for people to rent space to sell their own RVs.
Kim-Anh Nguyen, Scianna’s wife and co-owner of See Grins, said they were looking to expand their business, but the fear that the impending construction of the California High-Speed Rail Project would slice through nearby land and send sales plummeting sped up the move to Gilroy.
“We needed to look for a viable way to expand our business,” she said.
She said the majority of See Grins’ clients would come from Santa Clara, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, though the business advertises within a 10-county territory. Buyers won’t have a hard time finding See Grins, she said, because its adjacent to Gilroy’s famed outlet stores.
“We are in retirement now, and we are working harder than before,” Nguyen said. “And if we can get anything out of this, we want to help people.”
And Scianna said the growing market for online auto sales won’t have a negative effect on RV sales. People shop for RVs with all their senses, not just the click of a mouse, he said.
“An RV is so unique,” Scianna said. “People really have to come out and look at them. You really want to hear it, you want to see it.”
And those looking to purchase an RV should buy from a dealer in his or local area, Scianna said. Just about every dealer – including See Grins – will almost never agree to service “out-of-towners.”
In April, Dan Hudson, of Hudson Jones Commercial Real Estate Property, which owns the old Walmart, and Scianna declined to say how long the deal was for, simply stating it was “a long-term lease.”
Dispatch intern Cat Pierotti contributed to this story.