Editor’s Note: Fox News picked 10 “must see” factory tours across the U.S. One of them is the Airtsream Inc. factory in Jackson Center, Ohio. Here’s what Fox had to say about that facility:
A tiny town set amid the central Ohio farmfields is the setting for the factory that produces those iconic silver travel trailers. It’s a pilgrimage site for owners, who bring their houses on wheels here to be serviced, camping out at the on-site RV park. Whether you’re curious about joining this elite group of nomads or not, the free, daily factory tour is good fun, even if just to see one of the country’s most stubbornly unchanged companies in action.
Click here to read about the other nine factories.
This week’s segment of “RV Capital Talk” features an interview with Bob Wheeler, president and CEO of Airstream Inc.
Airstream Inc. announced the introduction of the stylish Airstream International Sterling Edition travel trailer during the Jackson Center, Ohio, company’s annual meeting attended by 34 dealers May 20-21 at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn.
The 2013 Sterling, designed by noted architect Christopher C. Deam, was first shown as a prototype at last year’s Louisville Show and is set to go into production in late June. It will be available in 25- and 27-foot lengths with striking “fabric-look” yellow and violet vinyl floors.
The modernistic Sterling has anodized-aluminum interior sidewalls accented by aluminum cabinets, LED lighting and white ultraleather furniture. It’s the third Deam interior commissioned by Airstream in the past decade.
In addition, Airstream for 2013 ”tweaked” its travel trailer and Class B motorhome lineups, Airstream President Bob Wheeler told RVBUSINESS.com. The builder also outlined a variety of matters addressed by the 12-member Airstream Dealer Council during a May 21 awards dinner.
”We talked about our focusing on increasing our support of the dealer and dealer operations,” Wheeler said. ”We are going to increase lead generation and provide point-of-purchase display options to allow the dealer to create an Airstream boutique in their dealerships.”
To that end, Wheeler reported that Airstream is in the midst of establishing a Customer Relations Management (CRM) system to provide and track higher quality leads for Airstream dealers.
”We generate a tremendous number of leads through airstream.com,” Wheeler said. ”We are trying to make those leads the highest quality possible.”
Check out the next issue of RVBusiness magazine for expanded coverage.
Airstream Inc. announced today (Feb. 23) that its Airstream Interstate was named the number one selling Class B motorhome model in the U.S. for 2011, according to Statistical Surveys Inc.
In a press release, Airstream said the Interstate grew its market share by 68% in the touring coach segment against a 15% industry decline during the same period.
Airstream Interstate unit sales in 2011 increased almost 43% over the previous year. Airstream attributes the heightened interest in the company’s touring coaches to “the Interstate’s sophisticated style and dedication to consumer satisfaction.”
“By listening to and acting on customers’ requests we were able to establish the Interstate as the most desired B-van on the market today,” said Airstream CEO and President Bob Wheeler. “As we move into 2012 and beyond, Airstream will continue to provide market-leading motorhomes built with our legendary attention to luxury and quality.”
The Interstate is built on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis and, according to Airstream “fuses the legendary quality and design of Airstream with Mercedes-Benz’s comfort, control and luxury.”
Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a New York Times article featuring a Q&A with Christopher C. Deam, who has designed several units for Airstream Inc., including the new Sterling Concept trailer. To view the entire article click here.
If you’re the sort who falls into an escapist dream at the sight of an Airstream trailer, you may want to stop and see the company’s latest, the Sterling Concept Trailer, being shown in Palm Springs, Calif., this weekend as part of Modernism Week. Designed by Christopher C. Deam, a San Francisco architect who has been helping Airstream with its interior design for 13 years, it is still a prototype that may or may not be put into production.
You would certainly want to wipe the campground mud off your shoes before walking into this trailer. The aluminum interior is sleek and shining, with a queen-size bed, a streamlined bathroom with a shower and rounded cabinets for the sink, and capsule-shaped accent windows. And, of course, the trailer is Wi-Fi ready.
Deam, who runs CCD Architecture-Furniture, is married to Lara Hedberg Deam, the founder of Dwell magazine. They have 9-year-old twins, Cal, a son, and Macy, a daughter, and have done a bit of trailer travel themselves. Recently, Mr. Deam talked about his work.
How did you get involved in trailer design?
I was remodeling my brother Eric’s house with my friend Thom Faulders. This was around 1996. It was very small, like a 26-by-26 box, and we were looking at really efficient uses of space. So we turned our eyes to boats and R.V.’s to figure it out. The house won an A.I.A. Award and was in Sunset magazine, and they titled it “The Airstream Cottage.”
A light bulb went off in my head, and I thought, “I have to approach Airstream.” My idea was to review their interiors.
How did that work out?
They turned me down. They were, “You’re just not for our audience.” But then the opportunity arose for me to do a project with Wilsonart. They make plastic laminates. We came up with the idea of using a trailer for their trade show booth. Honestly, before the trailer arrived in my shop, I had never set foot in an R.V. before. For my brother’s house we had just looked at pictures.
What I found was, you had this great streamlined aerodynamic modern exterior, and then you opened the door and it was like grandma’s kitchen. There was a disconnect between the exterior and the interior. You approached the trailer and there was the magic promise of the future, and you walk in and it was like a log cabin on wheels. What we decided was, we had to do some kind of archaeology, stripping it down and getting rid of all the gewgaws and clunky interior, and taking it back to something really essential. I simplified it and emphasized the horizontal lines and put in a lot of fluid, curved laminates. We took that trailer to the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, and we got the attention of an Airstream executive.
To view the entire article click here.
Airstream Inc. unveiled its latest family-oriented five-berth trailer at the ExCel Motorhome, Caravan and Camping Show in London yesterday (Feb. 14), according to a report in Caravan Times.
Having flown in from the U.S. to take part in the show, Airstream President Bob Wheeler, said: “Airstream has always been synonymous with great style and design and these two additions to the European range have got both in abundance.”
The new 685 has a neat layout that includes three fixed bunks at the rear, with a clever partitioning door allowing a children’s bedroom to be created in addition to the traditional double or twin singles at the front.
Anthony Slocock, technical director of Airstream, said that in creating the 685 the company was responding to demand for a bigger family model.
“The Series 2 534, meanwhile, is still gracefully compact but is incredibly roomy for a single axle trailer,” he added.
National Motor Club (NMC) and Airstream Inc. recently announced a partnership agreement that will provide Coach-Net RV technical and roadside assistance to be included in the Airstream 2012 models.
The agreement also provides owners of earlier Airstream models the ability to purchase a membership at an Airstream negotiated rate. Legacy Airstream owners will be notified within the week of this special, limited time offer.
The program, that began mid-September, amplifies Airstream’s premium level of customer service, said Justin Humphreys, Airstream’s vice president of sales.
According to a press release, Coach-Net’s 24/7 availability expands Airstream’s service and provides factory-trained reps to assist Airstream owners wherever they travel throughout the United States and Canada.
“We believe the addition of Coach-Net is a great way to round out our service offering and add support to our valued owners,” said Humphreys. “Whether they are on the side of the road, in a campground, or just have a technical question after hours, we want to give our owners peace of mind knowing that they have a respected, knowledgeable RV industry leader available to help.”
“Airstream is a great example of a partner who mirrors our commitment to service and quality,” said Mat Krzysiak, CEO of NMC. “As Coach-Net approaches its 25th year serving the RV industry, we remain focused on delivering a valuable service to our partners and peace of mind to their customers.”
The following is a Q&A with Airstream Inc. President and CEO Bob Wheeler conducted by The Street.
Airstream trailers are finding new life along open roads in the U.S. and abroad, but that shiny, iconic aluminum body is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to wooing consumers.
The Airstream was born in 1929 when founder Wally Byam built the first model on a Model T Ford chassis using only a teardrop-shaped shell of a shelter, an icebox and a kerosene stove. The trailers went into mass production in 1932 after Hawley Bowlus, the man who designed Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit Of St. Louis aircraft for the first non-stop flight from New York to Paris, designed the rounded aluminum body to reduce drag by 20% compared with square trailers.
It became one of the great symbols of roadside America from the 1950s through the 1970s, but has found an audience beyond the greatest generation and baby boomers in recent years. Airstream CEO Bob Wheeler says an increased focus on Airstream’s design elements helped double trailer sales to more than 1,500 in 2011 and nearly tripled sales of the company’s motor homes. Thor Industries Inc.-owned Airstream is also predicting 15% to 20% growth in 2012 against a forecast of 4% industrywide decline.
Recent company partnerships have only helped matters as the company’s 27-foot trailer collaboration with Eddie Bauer has built on the company’s work with outdoor-oriented brands such as surf- and skate-focused Quicksilver. Designer Christopher Deam, meanwhile, last year unveiled an Airstream concept trailer replete with stainless steel appliances and storage, bright white vinyl seating, illuminated translucent cabinets and Kennedy-era lime carpeting and throw pillows juxtaposed with Obama-era tech such as flatscreen televisions and super-slim climate-control systems. Nintendo uses an Airstream trailer painted with a giant Mario face and illuminated with LEDs as a mobile testing facility for its games and consoles.
Wheeler gave us a call a few days ago and spoke about the Airstream’s resurgence, tinkering with an icon and the delicate business of growing a legacy brand:
The Street: During summers my family and I spent camping in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains in the mid-’80s, there was always a lot of chatter when an Airstream pulled into the campground. I remember being drawn by that aluminum exterior, but getting the feeling that there were tight quarters inside. How has Airstream approached consumers who remember its trailers during eras of stripped-down amenities?
Wheeler: That’s been our constant challenge: to get people to understand that this iconic shell that they recognize from their childhood, when you walk inside, isn’t your grandfather’s Airstream. It’s modern both in its technology and interior design and meets people’s current tastes and lifestyle needs.
The Street: What features in recent models have been getting the buyers’ attention and bringing them beyond that novel exterior?
Wheeler: First and foremost is some of the interior design work we’ve been doing in the past 10 years specifically. Starting in 2001, we introduced a line of travel trailers called the International Line that represented very cutting-edge, modern design in any venue — either residential or, certainly, in the RV world. Those products started to get the attention of the design aficionados and design press. more than anything, that has attracted attention to our brand and cemented it in people’s thinking as current and relevant to their lifestyles.
To read the entire interview and view photos and a video click here.
Editor’s Note: The following is a Q&A conducted by Forbes with Bob Wheeler, president and CEO of Jackson Center, Ohio-based Airstream Inc.
Some products transcend their milieu to become icons. In the world of recreational vehicles, Airstream is the icon. The aluminum-skinned “silver bullet” trailer has retained the same streamlined aesthetic since its creation in 1931. A division of Thor Industries since 1980, Airstream produces a lineup of six travel trailers and two touring coaches. Airstream’s products are considered by many to be the finest production RVs in the world.
Bob Wheeler has been president and CEO of Airstream Inc. since August, 2005, having previously served as the company’s vice president of product development and engineering. Before working in the Airstream division, Wheeler worked for Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. and Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. Wheeler began his professional career at General Motors after receiving his MBA from the State University at New York in Buffalo and a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Rochester.Wheeler spoke about the current state of the recreational vehicle market, projections for the future, and Airstream’s plans for the future in a brief telephone interview.
FORBES: Airstream sales for 2011 were up 175%, with trailer sales doubling and coach sales increasing as well.
BOB WHEELER: Coming out of our big industry trade show in Louisville, those numbers are in comparison to last year’s result.
FORBES: What’s the trend been over the last five years? I’m assuming that the 2008 financial crisis hit you hard.
BW: Yeah, since RVs are a big-ticket discretionary purchase industry. It got hammered and we were no exception. ‘08 and ‘09 were pretty bad years. Significant recovery in 2010. 2011 was a strong year as well. Things have leveled out industry-wise. But everything continues to grow at a pretty good clip.
FORBES: And you’re anticipating 2012 to continue the trend, level or are you looking towards a growth trend?
BW: Well the predictions for the industry are down about 4% but our plans show us growing 15% – 20% in the calendar year.
FORBES: Can you give me an idea what the raw numbers are? How many trailers and vans?
BW: Sure, we’re building about 27 trailers a week right now. So that’s 1,550 trailers at our current clip. And we’re building 5 vans a week. We plan in the spring based on an uptick in spring demand that we see typically to increase production to at least 30 maybe more trailers and vans probably to six or seven a week.
FORBES: And you have a dealer network, how many dealers across the country?
BW: We have about 65 dealers, they’re not distributed evenly. We have a lot of dealers in key markets like Southern California and California in general. About 65 dealers coast-to-coast and Canada. We’ve got about 5 in Canada. Most of them are multi brand outlets. We’ve got a handful that are exclusive. Most of them carry other lower price products, helping bring cash flow.
FORBES: Are you building to order or do you maintain stock and inventory?
BW: We build to order no, those orders pertain to the dealer orders. But we’ve been able to go several years now without having to build any open units that we call them, unsold units. We’ve tried to maintain that position as you might imagine.
FORBES: What’s the build time from order to delivery?
BW: Right now, trailers are running about 12 weeks and vans are about 8 weeks. Between the dealer placing an order today and the delivery of a trailer or van.
FORBES: Are your dealers maintaining stock or are they pretty much taking orders and promising delivery around your schedule?
BW: All of our top dealers contain a strong inventory. When someone comes in to buy an Airstream, as you might imagine, they want to be able to see all the options, all the floor plans, all the colors. That helps them make a decision on which one they want to buy. So our top guys maintain a pretty healthy inventory and they reorder usually on a monthly basis, so that 12 weeks out or 10 weeks out they can get the trailers they need to keep inventory of the stock.
To read the entire article and view photos click here.
Airstream Inc. reported significant order input during the recently completed National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., for both travel trailers and motorhomes.
According to a press release, “these numbers reflect strong continuing growth for the company, which more than doubled its sales at this important event when compared with last year.”
Airstream said that the Louisville sales come on top of an already strong year where Airstream has experienced a doubling of trailer sales, and a 175% increase on vans.
“The spike in orders is directly related to dealer confidence in inventory turns and strong retail interest from customers who are intrigued by new units Airstream is bringing to market,” the release stated.
“The growing interest in Airstream can readily be attributed to the iconic design, premium quality, and the sense of community our brand represents while on the road,” said Bob Wheeler, CEO for the Jackson Center, Ohio-based Thor Industries Inc. subsidiary. “Furthermore, we are seeing now more than ever that people are multi-purposing their Airstreams for both commercial and personal use, and our market share is growing accordingly.”
Airstream introduce several new products in Louisville, including the extended Interstate 3500 EXT Class B motorhome and the 27-foot Eddie Bauer Airstream travel trailer. Most notably, the company unveiled the “Sterling Concept” trailer designed by Christopher C. Deam, offering strong hints about future design direction.
At its core, Airstream’s stylish trailers and touring coaches are designed to give consumers the ability to experience the outdoors to the fullest. For more information, visit www.airstream.com.