The people that report directly to Smith include Dick Parks, vice president, Motor Home Group; Larry Hughes, vice president, Towable Group; Pat Scanlon, general manager of the Folding Trailer Group; Bill Toy, director of marketing for the RV Group; and Jim Smith, RV Group controller.
Smith explained, "We have quarterly meetings where the general managers come in and tell us what they are doing, where they’re going, what they anticipate, what their results will be and what the results were for the previous quarter.
"Then they go back and implement those decisions. The only controls that I have on any of these organizations are goals and objectives for market share, returns on assets, returns on sales, cash flow returns, and the opportunity to review their strategic plan and their directions on a quarterly basis. And in addition to that, I travel fairly regularly just to get to know them; to see what they’re doing; to understand their problems and their needs and their challenges, so that as we make decisions, those decisions are relative to the whole company."
It’s also an interesting observation that if these organizations were independent companies, Parks’ motor home group would be a $750 to $800 million company, making it the industry’s largest company. Hughes’ towable group would be a $500 million company putting it near the top of the heap. Folding Trailers would be an $80 million company, and the truck camper operation would be a $20 million company. Part of the complexity of Smith’s responsibility is providing the support needed for such a diverse organization. Smith said, "We have to have within our organization the flexibility of being able to provide the resources and guidance to a $800 million group as well as a $20 million group."
Smith said that one of the keys to being able to achieve this stems from the basic philosophies and principals that John Crean put together that has guided the company from the middle 1960's to today. "There’s strong focus on performance," Smith continued. "We recognize that the consumer is the person that we are all striving to satisfy. That cornerstone is what we use for product development. Fleet-wood is a product company. There are some very strong marketing companies in this industry; there are not very many strong product companies.
"We believe that the key to this is not what you tell the customer before he gets to the sales lot or even what you tell him on the lot, but rather the experience that he has when he uses the product."
Fleetwood does not necessarily measure it’s performance on the annual profit and loss figures. The company looks rather to how the customer feels about the product and the service he received from his dealer. Every-one who purchases a Fleetwood product is contacted six months later and asked to fill out a survey. And from those surveys Fleetwood prepares its customer satisfaction index (CSI). Those dealers that have a high CSI rating are honored by being named to Fleetwood’s Circle of Excellence program. But the real value is that it gives Fleetwood a report card on how it’s products measure up to the expectations of the consumer. Smith said, "We are product people. We see significant differences in product. If we have a problem and something isn’t going well, we don’t go out and accuse our dealers of not representing the product properly. We don’t create an advertising program to get more people excited about what we’re doing. We go straight in there and say, ‘what is it about this product that people aren’t buying it.’ And that’s the way we have worked forever."
Smith has seen the market change over the years. "I don’t think that the purchase of an RV is the emotional decision that it was a couple of decades ago. I think that people buy smarter and understand their needs and their desires and their personal situation well enough so when they go into the market, they have a pretty good feel for what they’re looking for and what they can afford and whether or not the products they see will meet their needs.
"Our products are a means to enjoy something else. They’re being sold to people with more active life styles, who like to hunt, fish, hike, bike, and whatever else; and our vehicles make it more comfortable for them to do that. Twenty years ago people who lived in the biggest house in town, wanted the big-gest RV in town. Now people with more money than God buy very ordinary RVs because they’re only going to use it a couple times a year. They want it available and they can afford it.
"So we need to understand the motivations of the people that are buying, why they’re buying and what they’re looking for. Those are the kinds of things that we focus on.
"Year in and year out over a 30 year period, product has changed. If you look at the surveys, people don’t buy advertising programs; they don’t buy promotions; they buy floor plans. Every survey we have ever done - that was the most important thing -- the floor plan. The other thing is, they don’t buy vehicles to tow them around or to drive them; they buy them to live in. If we have not succeeded or have been beaten somewhere in the marketplace, it’s be-cause somebody else gave them a better, more attractive floor plan at a better price. Value."
Fleetwood’s determination to give the consumer what he wants is reflected in its commitment to new product development. Fleetwood has the most extensive research and development program in the RV industry. And as an added advantage, CEO and founder, John Crean, focuses on innovative new products personally. The Bounder Class A motorhome, for example, was a product that had its roots in Crean’s imagination. Continued