About Arlington RV Supercenter, Inc.
WHEELS ON THE GROUND
It started, like so many things do, as a side hustle.
It was 1947 and college sweethearts Jack and Shirley Moran were getting on their feet. Since Jack’s return from the Pacific Theater two years before, life had moved fast. They’d married, graduated college (Jack, Brown; Shirley, Pembroke), and managed to land jobs.
Shirley, a math major, worked as a civil engineer, laying out roads, septic systems, and house lots in the Governor Francis Farms development in Warwick, RI. Meanwhile, chemistry major Jack took up a job with U.S. Rubber in Providence.
Jack’s job required a lot of travel, so he felt conflicted when Shirley sprang the joyous news that they’d be expecting their first child the very next summer. Less conflicted about the news was Shirley’s boss, who summarily fired her when she told him she was pregnant because “pregnant women aren’t allowed on the job site.”
Suddenly left with a lot of free time, ambitious young Shirley became increasingly involved in her parents’ quest to buy a new travel trailer to haul down to Florida for the summer. Ahead of their time and a bit quirky, parents Earl and Hattie Blinkhorn were “RVing” before the RV industry even existed. There were no showrooms or trailer lots to visit in those days. Buying a travel trailer involved a lot of catalogs, letter mailing, and long-distance phone calls.
As she sorted through poorly printed ads and chased down one-garage “manufacturers” a thousand miles away, Shirley had the great insight that her parents couldn’t be the only ones in Rhode Island looking for a trailer to haul to their favorite campsite. The war was over and America was looking to kick back. So, when she found the perfect trailer for her parents, Shirley didn’t order one. She ordered two.
The one hitch: Shirley’s trailers were from a manufacturer in Indiana. And, no, they didn’t deliver. So Shirley arranged to pickup the trailers on the weekends. She and Jack would drive to Indiana, pickup a trailer, and make a beeline back to Rhode Island so Jack could report back to work on Monday morning.
This process would repeat itself many times in the coming years. Shirley sold the trailers and Jack prepared and delivered them after work on weeknights. On weekends, it was back to Indiana again.
In June 1948, Jack and Shirley’s first child, Stephen, was born. Not long afterward, the family moved from a tenement house to a trailer located on a lot on Cranston Street in the Arlington section of Cranston, R.I. One trailer was “home.” All of the trailers, including “home,” were for sale.
In 1950, Jack resigned from U.S. Rubber to become a full-time trailer dealer. He immediately began setting milestones in the business, bringing the first trailer with a shower and toilet to Rhode Island in 1951. In 1953, he displayed a special motorhome-like trailer and tow vehicle that cost $75,000 (in 1953 dollars} and had a built-in pool. He designed and had built a 50′ trailer for his family (huge by 1950’s standards), a move that proved there was a market for large “mobile homes” in New England.
The business was named Arlington Trailer Coach Sales, after the section of Cranston where the firm was first located. The family grew with the birth of Linda in 1951 and Sandra in 1954. Jack and Shirley expanded the business by opening a branch mobile home sales lot in Groton, Connecticut in 1957.
They also began manufacturing and renting utility trailers in the late 1950s. These trailers were rented through a network of substations strung throughout southern New England. In the early 1960s, Shirley and Jack Moran and Shirley’s parents, Earl and Hattie Blinkhorn, developed a 150-site mobile home park; Arlington Acres Mobile Home Park, in Stonington, Connecticut. It was the finest mobile home park in New England at the time.
In 1966, the first discount warehouse for recreational vehicles was opened by the Moran family in the Apponaug Mill complex in Warwick, R.I. This 3/4 acre indoor showroom was the talk of the industry until it burned flat to the ground in a spectacular fire that took 32 other businesses as well as Arlington’s Discount Warehouse. The fire that occurred on that fateful night in September of 1969 remains the largest ever to hit the City of Warwick.
Shortly after the fire, construction began at the present Route 2 location in Warwick. The facility had three service bays, a parts store, and a covered vehicle display area. The business flourished in the early 1970s as the R. V. industry experienced a huge growth spurt.
A SECOND GENERATION
In 1973, Steve Moran came on board at Arlington after graduating Brown University. Steve had grown up in the business, working teenage summers as “rentals manager”, a job where he managed no one, but had to single handedly clean and prep 60 rental units each weekend for immediate redeployment (this family hazing through hard work would continue through the generations).
Now a bit older and wiser, Steve immediately saw inadequacies in the expanding business and set out to correct them. He convinced his parents to construct an addition to the facility that took the service facility from three bays to nine bays, doubled the floor space of the parts store, doubled the outside display space, created a customer storage area, and built new offices for the sales department.
Steve’s bets paid off and he was promoted to general manager in 1976. Sisters Sandi (Moran) O’Leary and current Arlington president Linda (Moran) Tarro joined the company in 1976 and 1985 respectively, making Arlington the epitome of a “family” business. All five family members worked at Arlington during the mid-1980s. Steve took care of all the buying and selling of campers; Jack took care of the finances and was the company’s industry representative; Shirley handled the warranty, billing, and office functions; Sandi was the bookkeeper, and Linda worked in the parts department.
The company thrived. During the 1980s Arlington was a consistent “Top Twenty” performer for Winnebago Industries and a consistent “Top Ten” performer for Prowler travel trailers.
Shirley would pass in 1986 after a battle with cancer. Jack would join her four years later after a fatal car crash on return from a business trip. Though the founders had gone, they passed along their dedication to customer service and a “fair shake” to the second generation. Their three children would do well by them in the coming decades.
In 1989, Arlington expanded again. The facility was completely remodeled and the company renamed Arlington R. V. Supercenter, Inc. The name change reflected the fact that the company’s services had expanded and that, by the late 1980s, motorized units accounted for 80 percent of sales. It wasn’t just about trailers anymore.
The Supercenter was super in more than just name. With Steve at the helm and sisters Linda and Sandi as VP and treasurer respectively, Arlington won nearly every industry award.
The company continued its physical expansion, adding the building that is now the Pre-Delivery Inspection (P.D.I.) department in 2003. It also expanded to a third generation.
In 2004, Steve’s son, Jay Moran, came on board at Arlington in the sales department. Though all six of Shirley and Jack’s grandchildren had at some point spent summers sweeping the shop or working the parts counter, Jay showed true interest. He would be the first, but not the last, of the founder’s grandchildren to make Arlington RV their livelihood.
Arlington maintained consistent growth over the coming decade despite the sad losses of Steve (2005) and Sandi (2017). Equipped with a team of professionals put in place by those two important figures in the Arlington story, The Supercenter weathered the financial crisis of 2008 and, today, thrives.
THE NEXT GENERATION
Seventy years after the story began, Arlington RV Supercenter is the oldest RV and trailer dealership in Southern New England, with over 200 units in stock and it remains a family affair.
Walk in today and say hello to General Manager Jay Moran or Fixed Operations Manager Jim Tarro. Both are grandsons of founders Shirley and Jack and both have been instilled with their grandparents’ ethic of treating the customer fairly.
Over the coming years, Arlington will further expand its service and selection, providing customers with the very best products and service the RV industry has to offer.
Proud of the past and excited for the future, Arlington RV and the Moran family look forward to continuing success in the generations to come.