Lee Starts Up Country Coach Service Center
Could the legendary Country Coach brand make a comeback in the hands of one of the line’s original founders?
That’s the plan, according to Ron Lee, 68, president of Country Coach Corp., which Monday (Jan. 3) opened a 200,000-square-foot service center on 34 acres in Junction City, Ore.
”Right now what we are doing is motorhome service,” said Lee, who worked with his brother, Bob, to morph the 1973-vintage Country Camper nameplate into a leading highline motorhome builder, Country Coach Inc. ”We will work on any motorhome, but we are specializing in Country Coach motorhomes, and we are now making Country Coach parts.”
The original Country Coach Inc. was sold to California-based National RV Holdings in 1996. A group led by Los Angeles investment banker Bryant Riley that included Bob Lee bought it back in 2007, shortly before the recession hit. Country Coach Holdings Inc., which had financial problems, attempted to reorganize under the protection of bankruptcy court, but was unable to do so and last year was liquidated.
Ron and Bob Lee and Bob’s wife, Terry, bought the company’s intellectual property as well as key pieces of equipment at a court-ordered auction.
Bob Lee is not associated with the current venture.
Ron Lee, in turn, is seeking $5 million in private capital for the 11-employee company before making a serious run at motorhome assembly. ”I don’t know if I can pick this thing up and make it work,” Ron Lee said. ”But I’m going to try real hard.”
”I own the property and I am leasing it to the corporation,” he said. ”The property is an asset we can work with to get a private investor. If I had the money, I’d start manufacturing tomorrow, but I don’t.”
The bankruptcy auction garnered the Lee brothers Country Coach’s brand names, blueprints, steel fabrication and fiberglass lamination equipment, 13 paint booths and chassis testing equipment.
Ron Lee said he wanted to restart Country Coach because of his connection with the Junction City community, Country Coach’s former employees and to help ”orphaned” Country Coach owners.
”Even after I left, my friends continued to work here and they lost their jobs when the company closed down,” he said. ”This community is just dying on the vine because of what has happened in the RV business. Country Coach was a big part of my life for 35 years.”
Lee said he is drawing on employees who were laid off from Country Coach at the time of the bankruptcy. At one time, Country Coach Inc. employed 1,500 people.
”The first 10 people I hired have a combined experience of 245 years with Country Coach,” he said. ”There’s nothing wrong with the Country Coach product. Country Coach was just a victim of bad management and the economy.”
Lee said that his new firm will pursue ”other projects that are not RV related,” and is awaiting a dealership license from the state of Oregon so that the company can sell coaches on consignment. ”We have a huge facility and a lot of talent here,” he added. ”We want to utilize that to make jobs in Junction City.”
Lee said he is undaunted by the decline in the motorhome market during the Great Recession. ”I believe we are six months to a year ahead of the recovery curve,” he said. “That should put us in a strong position.”