How’d They Do That?
By Kristopher Bunker
May 20, 2016
Filed under Feature Stories
RV factory tours give visitors an up-close-and-personal look at the motorhome manufacturing process
RVers tend to be a curious bunch, in terms of discovering the best scenic routes, campgrounds and national parks, and also about what makes all things mechanical tick. Over the years, much of the time I’ve spent with fellow campers around the campfire has been discussing our quests for learning about how something is made. When I was growing up, I would often enjoy going to work with my general contractor father, who would oversee — and participate in — the residential-home-building process, from planning to pouring the foundation to framing the house all the way up to the final paint job. It was always fascinating to me to see professional craftsmen ply their trade in order to deliver so many of the residential comforts we take for granted on a daily basis, and to this day I continue to appreciate the finer points of things like insulation, ceiling texture, rise and run and P-traps in the sinks because of my father.
It was only natural that, as I grew up and became enchanted with the RVing lifestyle, the same type of precociousness I exhibited as a child would translate to my new passion. Many times, after spending time in an RV, I’d wonder, “How did they do that?” or more importantly, “Why did they do that?” These questions are no doubt the result of my childhood experiences on construction sites, but it continues to become more and more obvious that I am not alone in my musings about the RV construction process.
And luckily for me and other curious folks, digging in to the RV manufacturing process is both an exciting and educational experience, as many manufacturers offer factory tours, which not only shed some light on some of the more common RV-construction processes, but also allow potential buyers the opportunity to view firsthand the stages of a motorhome being built from the ground up.
“We love to share with our customers, and potential customers, our build process,” said Don Gephart, marketing manager for the REV Group, which includes American Coach, Fleetwood, Holiday Rambler and Monaco, among others. “We take great pride in our construction techniques and welcome the public to come see firsthand what makes our motorhomes some of the best built on the road.”
This customercentric sentiment is shared by a majority of the manufacturers, as a quick Internet search for “RV Factory Tours” will result in dozens of potential destinations. These factory tours are becoming more and more popular, and are a valuable tool for manufacturers to begin building a sense of trust among not only potential customers, but the general public as well. By presenting the entire manufacturing process on full display, these companies are perhaps easing any tensions that RVers may have about a particular company’s building practices … or simply reinforcing that customer’s satisfaction with their already purchased motorhome. “Factory tours are a way to build trust in our brand,” said Steve Gerzeny, vice president of Coach House Inc. “A plant tour allows the customer to inspect our materials and methods firsthand and make a truly informed decision about our products. We find that the more people know about our vehicles, the more they want to buy one.”
“At a Nexus tour, visitors can see all 17 stations at work and be able to ask any questions about construction techniques or engineering principles that make the product great,” said Claude Donati, president of Nexus RV, which offers a factory-direct sales model. “Having factory tours allows the public to touch and feel the actual unique construction of [our] products,” he added.
Offering RV factory tours also helps to open up a line of communication between the public and the manufacturer. “Truly driving our design and innovation, Newmar customers are an integral part of the life of a Newmar motor coach,” said Shannon Stover, marketing manager for Newmar Corp. “We feel our daily factory tours help visitors to experience the entire process of creating these fine motor coaches,” she said.
“Our potential customers and current owners are always impressed at how the units are built and the care that goes into every model and the passion our employees have for the product,” said Karyn Torcoletti, director of marketing for Erwin Hymer Group North America Inc., which represents Roadtrek motorhomes. “It is something you can’t quite understand until you see it firsthand.”
And some companies have even taken the personalized experience a step further. “Sit down with the owners of Nexus RV, Dave Middleton or Claude Donati, and they will personally answer all of your questions while you decide on specific options and colors,” said Donati. “No other manufacturer offers these VIP treatments,” he said.
“In the past, our customers would walk around the plant on their own,” said Mark Richardson, marketing director for Tiffin Motorhomes. “The tour answers questions they might have, but it also gives them information that may answer questions they have never posed.”
In addition to the informative tours, a few well-placed extras, like refreshments, a motorhome showroom or multimedia presentation, may also go a long way toward creating brand loyalty and respect. Attending an RV factory tour can be a fun event, as it’s not simply arriving at the plant and walking the production line; many manufacturers go all-out to create a special experience. “When visitors first arrive for the tour, they have the opportunity to peruse the Jayco visitors center, where we have key moments from Jayco’s history displayed,” said Ashley Lehman, Jayco’s director of marketing. “We then show them a short video about Jayco before we take them to the plant in the tour trolley.”
Winnebago also recognizes the opportunity to turn the factory-tour excursion into a destination-type experience that benefits both visitor and manufacturer. “Before or after the tour, visitors can also take a look at items in the Winnebago Outdoor store and visit the Winnebago museum, which is located in the upper level of the visitors center,” said Sam Jefson, public relations specialist for Winnebago. “The museum chronicles the company’s history as well as the design and construction of the company’s motorhomes.”
Once the tour begins, visitors will likely notice one thing right away: total transparency. “Tour participants will see the full manufacturing line from chassis prep to paint, all the way through final inspection,” said Gephart. “Tour participants are encouraged to ask questions before, after and during the tour.”
“Normally, clients are toured through the entire facility — the welding shop, sewing shop, fiberglass shop, sandwich department, paint department and shipping department are walked through,” said Mark Ratzlaff, sales administrator for Triple E/Leisure Travel Vans. “Some of our R & D [research and development] and prototype departments can be seen, even our service department if requested,” he added.
Getting answers straight from the people who work on the motorhomes is perhaps the most effective way to understand the construction process, and certainly beats asking a salesperson assigned to several different brands on a large dealer lot. “Tours are a great way to meet and interact with the public, while also offering us a way to educate them about the manufacturing process,” said Wes Bogan, marketing manager for Thor Motor Coach.
The benefits of an RV factory tour aren’t limited to the visitors, as the manufacturers themselves also get a firsthand look at what the potential customers are asking … not to mention a boost in sales. “I’m very positive and optimistic that the factory tours definitely translate into more unit sales,” said Ratzlaff. “I could give you countless examples of clients who, through our factory tours, made a decision to buy our product because of the information given and the person witnessed the building of the product.”
“Customers often visit our showroom out of curiosity and then, once they have inspected the models on display, ask for a tour,” said Gerzeny. “A gratifying number of those people purchase one of our vehicles.”
And, while all companies aren’t necessarily looking to begin customizing RVs based solely on tour input, this exchange of information is invaluable to both parties. “At the heart of our engineering and manufacturing process are our customers and future customers’ involvement,” said Donati. “This makes a better motorhome overall. We will work together with the customer to provide a unit the customer is satisfied with.”
In fact, many manufacturers even offer unique opportunities for visitors who are currently in the midst of the purchasing process. “If someone has a unit online, we will locate that unit during the course of the tour and will allow them the opportunity to take a closer look as it’s being constructed,” said Bogan.
One thing that’s certain is these RV factory tours continue to be an important part of the motorhome-buying process. “Our tours have been well-received by the public,” said Lehman. “We host many large groups (requires planning ahead) ranging from school-age groups to alumni groups passing through the area to camping clubs.”
“About 10,000 visitors from all over the United States will tour our factory yearly,” said Jefson. “We strongly believe in the value the tour gives our visitors.”
An RV factory tour is a great way to gain perspective on the construction process, and may even assist you down the line when the time for maintenance or repairs rolls around. It’s the closest thing to being a part of the design team … and can definitely make your motorhome-purchasing decision a bit smoother. “Our customers are extremely important to us; we know that buying [a motorhome] is a big decision and our customers put a lot of effort into their buying decision,” said Torcoletti. “Offering tours allows them to see how the units are made, meet some of our staff, ask as many questions as they want and become part of the overall experience,” she added.
Coach House Inc.
800-235-0984 | www.coachhouserv.com
574-825-5861 | www.jayco.com
800-731-8300 | www.newmarcorp.com
855-786-3987 | www.nexusrv.com
REV Recreation Group
888-762-3873 | www.roadtrek.com
Thor Motor Coach
800-860-5658 | www.thormotorcoach.com
256-356-8661 | www.tiffinmotorhomes.com
Triple E Recreational Vehicles/Leisure Travel Vans
204-325-4361 | www.tripleerv.com, www.leisurevans.com
641-585-3535 | www.winnebagoind.com