One of APRO’s pioneers and a rent-to-own legend, Chuck Sims, passed away on August 16. Ed Winn III, APRO’s general counsel who was there alongside Sims when APRO began in 1980, shares his thoughts on a great man.
Chuck Sims died last week and I will miss him terribly. He was one of the first rental dealers, along with Bud Holladay, whom I met way back in 1980. He was largely responsible for the creation of the Association of Progressive Rental Organizations because he wanted to upgrade the whole rent-to-own industry and the image it portrayed to the public. Chuck owned Remco, at the time the largest RTO company in the country. It was a far-flung enterprise with stores in major metropolitan areas from Atlanta to Seattle.
Chuck was always incredibly generous with his time. He was a major seminar presenter at the first APRO meetings. He originally told the rental dealers that he was not going to help them get into the rental business, but he quickly relented and told each assembled group whatever they wanted to know about how he ran the Remco business, the mistakes he made and the successes he achieved.
Here is a bit of the Remco business philosophy: “We believe that the value received by our customer is a direct result of the services we provide. We intend to improve the quality of these services consistently…We believe that we have capable, cooperative and highly motivated co-workers who, working together as a team, are the key to the attainment of our goals and the success of our business.”
In many ways, he was prescient about the possibilities of rent-to-own and knew it could become a vital part of the retail world if dealers could be schooled in the right way to run the business. As general counsel of the trade association, I have been trying to carry out Chuck’s vision ever since. And really, APRO as a whole has sought to honor his vision since the association was founded in 1980.
When Chuck started, working as he did for Ernie Talley at Mr. T’s, it was a rough business, to put it kindly. Everything was week to week. There were only televisions for rent and the prevailing wisdom among rental dealers was that “nobody watches my TV for free.” By the time APRO came into being, Chuck had undergone an RTO transformation. First, he converted all of his stores to monthly accounts and grew huge—at the time, 2,000–2,500 BOR stores. He trained his employees at Remco to do everything possible to get customers to ownership. When he saw keep rates well below 50 percent, his conclusion was that the industry was disappointing that many customers, but he was convinced that the rent-to-own business model could be modified to enhance ownership and overall customer satisfaction.
Chuck looked at taking Remco public in the early 1980s, but decided instead to sell at the then-unheard-of multiple of 10 times monthly revenues. The sale to Jim Graham made Chuck a rich man. On one occasion, however, he confided that he was fretting about money and I asked him if he didn’t have enough not to worry; “There is no such thing as enough,” he replied.
After selling the business, he lived the comfortable life of a country gentleman with his wife, Sally, in Sugarland, Texas, a suburb of Houston. I visited him from time to time to soak up more of his insights and wisdom—about rent-to-own, to be sure, but also about life and how to live it. He had a robust life after RTO, raising bulls, emus, ostriches and tilapia, and I am sure that is an incomplete list of his entrepreneurial adventures after he left the industry.
Chuck was one of the few people one meets who was truly larger than life, and there remain any number of former Remco employees still in the business who regularly sing his praises and doubtless will miss him as I do. He was really and truly one of the good ones.
Ed Winn III is APRO’s general counsel.
Read a profile of Chuck Sims in RTOHQ: The Magazine, March–April 2010, which can be downloaded at goo.gl/PX9C3g.
The history of APRO, part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35DKbhBkZMc#t=11