“Surreal” and “humbling” are just a few of the words local RV dealership owner Jason Bell uses to describe the recent experience of being named BC RV Dealer of the Year.
“It’s pretty special to follow in my dad’s footsteps and prove that I belong in this industry,” the Chemo RV owner said of the recognition, whose family, including Chemo RV founder Jack Bell, kept the award and their attendance at the event a surprise.
“I had no idea I was the winner,” Bell said, describing the moment he saw his young son running up to give him a hug as he walked to the podium to accept his award.
“It was surreal and special,” said Bell. “Receiving this award with my family there, my son, was pretty impactful. In front of my mentor, my dad. He’s definitely my idol and hero. He set the stage a long time ago and now I’m just trying to follow the path he already laid out for me.”
Chemo RV has two locations in the Cariboo, one at 150 Mile House, which was started in Williams Lake in 1976, and one in Quesnel, which opened its doors in 1989.
In 2003 the business was named BC RV Dealer of the Year, and in 2004, it received the honour of receiving the Canadian RV Dealer of the Year award.
Jason took over the company from his dad in 2009. Currently, Chemo RV employs 14 staff at 150 Mile House and eight in Quesnel with annual sales of about 200 RV units per year between the two locations.
This year’s honour was awarded Sept. 6 where Chemo RV received provincial recognition for its business excellence and also for community involvement.
“This isn’t my award,” said Bell, deflecting the recognition. “This is my community’s award, it’s my customers ‘award and it’s my staff’s award. They are the ones who deserve it. It is for them.”
Chemo RV’s dedication and supportive role in the 150 Mile House community was most notable during the 2017 wildfires when, on a moment’s notice, Bell sent more than 20 new and used holiday trailers to the nearby 150 Mile House Volunteer Fire Department and set them up for fire- fighters to sleep in following the start of the July 7 wildfires. Crews ended up using the trailers called Rink City for four to six weeks, with Fire Chief Stan McCarthy calling the donation a remarkably generous gift.
A resident of Lac La Hache himself, Bell was dealing with his own evacuation alert at home when the fires broke out at 150 Mile House July 7, and he raced back.
“It was fairly intense. They gave me 10 minutes to get in and get my computers out,” Bell said of the situation that Friday afternoon, adding he felt his building would be OK because it has a perimeter of gravel.
“I was more concerned about the community than the building.”
Bell credits the “incredible, tireless efforts” of 150 Mile Volunteer Fire Department and other first responders with the success in saving the community from the large, out-of-control fires that threatened it this summer only a half kilometre away from Chemo RV.
“It could have been a lot worse.”
In an effort to show their appreciation, Chemo RV is hosting a community barbecue Oct. 14.
“It’s so important, the work they did. We need to show them our appreciation,” Bell said of first responders. “They are heroes, but they never think that they are.”
At the event Bell plans to make a cheque presentation to the 150 Mile House Volunteer Fire Department, Williams Lake Fire Department and Canadian Red Cross with money raised by Chemo RV’s pledge to donation $1,000 per RV sold since the fires started, to be shared three ways.
“We are pretty proud of that,” Bell said of the dollar amount, which he is keeping a secret.
Chemo RV’s 150 Mile House location was closed for 20 days because of the wildfires. During that time, Bell paid all of his employees, which meant no financial stress for staff and no loss of employees for Bell.
Thanks to the business’ second location in Quesnel, Bell said the company managed to have their best year ever in their 40-year history in 2017, in part because of the wildfires.
He said they feel fortunate to be in a better position than most local small businesses, many of whom took a direct from the wildfires, road closures and evacuations.
The event will see the Chemo RV site at 150 Mile House turn festive Oct. 14 with live music, food and drinks, raffles, bouncy castles and more.
“It’s just a thank you to everyone and a chance to get together.”
Chemo RV is also up for Canadian RV Dealer of the year. That award is handed out in November.