Spurred by the popularity of the retro Vintage Cruiser and Ameri-Lite travel trailer brands, Gulf Stream Coach Inc. increased its dealership base by 175 outlets in 2016 for a total of more than 400 retailers, according to officials for the Nappanee, Ind., firm.
Family-owned Gulf Stream, founded in 1983 by the late James Shea Sr., builds travel trailers, fifth-wheels and Class B and C motorhomes.
“We feel we give dealers something special, like the Vintage, which is something different, and Ameri-Lite with its growing market,” said Phil Savari, executive vice president of Gulf Stream, which is one of North America’s dwindling number of independent manufacturers in an age of rampant consolidation. ”The other thing is that we give our dealers larger territories, and a lot of our focus has been on small, family-owned dealerships.”
Savari also noted that the ability to reach top-level management, including himself and Gulf Stream President Dan Shea, works in the company’s favor over larger companies and their “inherent bureaucracies.”
”There is easy access for dealers to talk to top management here,” Savari said.
Many of Gulf Stream’s new dealerships, Savari said, are on the West Coast. ”They’ll take on one brand and because they see success, they’ll take on another brand.”
Savari noted that the retro-style Vintage Cruiser received the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) DSI Award last year for dealer satisfaction and the Ameri-Lite won the award the year before.
”We don’t build things in large batches so dealers can get floorplans that they can sell quicker,” Shea said.
With regard to manufacturers’ consolidation, Shea added, ”I don’t think consumers or dealers like consolidation. It’s obvious, from the dealers standpoint, that they want to have more choices, and that’s true from the consumer standpoint too.
”It used to be that people expressed themselves with their RVs. If you look back dozens of years ago, the hundreds of brand were what drove customers to RVing.”
The fact that Gulf Stream focuses primarily on smaller, lightweight travel trailers and motorhomes also works to Gulf Stream dealers’ advantage, Shea said.
”If you look at the residential housing market, people no longer want McMansions,” he said. ”Americans are used to downsizing at this point. You see that on the motorized side where people are downsizing from diesel motorhomes. People are realizing you don’t have to bring everything on a vacation trip.”