Much like a proud parent watching his prodigy hitting a home run, Robert Johans was enjoying himself last November at the 2017 National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.
He was holding court in the Airstream Inc. display, which was showing off a sneak preview of an aerodynamic, all-fiberglass travel trailer called the Nest – a trailer first created by Johans in his Bend, Ore., start-up company. In Louisville, two production prototypes of the single axle trailer were drawing lots of attention, and Johans – who sold his company to Airstream in April of 2016 – was busy receiving congratulations from a variety of well-wishers.
At the time, Airstream was prohibiting people from taking photos or allowing any media coverage of the Nest. However, RVBUSINESS.com was able to interview Johans – the “Father of the Nest,” as he likes to call himself – and embargo the conversation until today (April 12) when Airstream’s production-version of the Nest was officially introduced to the public.
RVB: Can you provide a brief background of how you developed the Nest?
Johans: I’ll try to make it brief. I’ve made a career in marketing and advertising, but got into restoring vintage fiberglass trailers many years ago just as sort of a hobby. My work was received in the community quite well. People were bringing their trailers to me for these restorations and renovations. I was spending a lot of money to have them done. I thought that there might be a market for a brand new product that delivered what I was delivering to these people as renovations.
I came up with this concept and started to develop it. With the help of an industrial end designer we came up with this design and built the product on our own. Then Airstream evidently had been looking at fiberglass trailers themselves. We made a connection and here we are.
RVB: Looking at these two Nest models now, obviously they are very similar to your creation but certainly there are going to be some differences. What are your thoughts on seeing it in this iteration?
Johans: It’s fantastic. Airstream just upped the ante completely. We had originally intended a much more modest trailer design, but this is so “Airstream” and it’s so wonderful what they’ve done to it. The overall concept and look of the thing is very much what we had done originally. No one was exact but they just imbue it with so much more quality and upgrades. It’s just tremendous what they can bring to the product.
RVB: It’s our understanding that even after you sold the Nest to Airstream you remained very much a part of its development?
Johans: I’ve been the product manager as Airstream has developed it. I’ve been along with them every step of the way. I get to oversee what’s going on, coordinate a lot of things. Because I’m an outsider, I get to bring a fresh perspective to the product. I think that was one of the things they were looking for as well.
RVB: Last question for you then. Your thoughts on how the public, the consumer, will receive this?
Johans: Already there’s been tremendous enthusiasm for the product. Frankly, there’s nothing else like it in the market. That’s what so wonderful for me, the guy behind it, is that we could bring something fresh to the marketplace. That’s why I thought there would be a market in the first place because the market needed some invigoration with something fresh, something new, and something exciting. That’s been borne out by the consumers.
Now, when we actually get to selling it? Well, that’s not on me anymore. But based on the people who have reached out to me, the enthusiasm is very high. We’ll just have to see what happens.
There’s a lot of stuff going on with it now; just a tremendous amount of inherent value, if you will. That’s the Airstream story and people will recognize that. I’m just glad to be able to participate in that process.