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Old 07-26-2008, 12:59 AM   #1
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Investigating a business plan for a turn key AS

I would appreciate your input. I am and architect who has also built and remodeled homes by my own hand. I have cabinet making experience and various finish skills also. I have also done some marine refitting design. I say all this only to confirm that I have the skill set for efficient quality work. I have found my most satisfying work being my own projects and find the scale and challenge of an AS redo to be an exciting prospect.
I have spent some time with the economics of the project and have a clue as to the amount of work.

I guess the real question is if there is a market for turn key body off remodels. Accurate restorations are of little interest to me, these would be custom interiors with top quality finishes.

What size range would cover the largest buyer base? 25-28 seams right from my research, but there are also arguments for going bigger. The cost per foot certainly goes down as the trailer gets larger so the profit potential increases.

Would you consider the cost of a new AS of similar size to be the limit of what the market would pay or is there room beyond that for the better finish work?

I am sure I will expand on this as time goes by.

Thanks in advance for your input.
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Old 07-26-2008, 03:30 AM   #2
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I don't think you should limit your client base to 25-28 feet. The best client base is 18 to 34 feet.

If you have some other reason to stay within 25-28 feet, such as the size of your facility, that may be a reason to stick with a certain size range. Otherwise, don't limit yourself.

There are clients out there who would definitely pay more than new prices for quality work, but it will be a top to bottom shell-off restoration. There are also clients who are just looking for someone to do the "heavy work" of replacing the floor or repairing a broken frame at a reasonable cost. If you are able to do the heavy lifting you are in a good position to sell the client on your interior design and fabrication services.

It goes without saying that you will need to show pictures of your restored Airstream to convince potential clients that you have the wherewithal to undertake a project.

There are more than a couple restorers out there who have completed several projects. You will need to offer either a better price, a quicker completion, or a better design, to compete in this business.

Location is also important. You are fairly close to another restoration company on the west coast. Would you be willing to set up shop somewhere else, in a less crowded market? Like Florida or Wisconsin?

Finally, nobody wants to be on the bottom of your learning curve. Remodeling a house or a boat is one thing, being good with a rivet gun is another. Have plenty of pictures of your completed project to showcase your skill set.

Push forward with your plans. Have a portfolio. You've found a huge list of possible clients on the Airforums. This is where smart people come to look for people like you.
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Old 07-26-2008, 08:32 AM   #3
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There is a large following of the older Airstreams that are will to spend money on quality restoration. However I think there may be and even larger number of people that would spend well above MLP for a new trailer that really has quality built into it. Have you considered approaching Airstream and purchasing just the frame, over sized axles, the body frame and outer skin and designing custom interiors? Much the same as coach builders did with production vans 20 years ago.

Airstream, while an expensive unit, has had to down size the overall quality in resent years to remain a volume manufacturer and compete with the likes of Fleetwood. This reduction in quality is the void you could address.
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Old 07-26-2008, 08:51 AM   #4
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Welcome from the Florida Panhandle

First off, welcome to these Forums. We're glad to have you with us.

I think that there is always room in the marketplace for a person who does quality work at a fair price. I don't think that you should limit yourself to complete restorations. There is a market out there for quality upgrades to late model Airstreams.

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Old 07-26-2008, 12:09 PM   #5
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Here is a link to some of what is being done out there currently. David is the guy who also designed the 75th anniv Bambi for Airstream:

custom vintage airstream travel trailers

I think your research is correct that 25s and 28s are selling more than larger units lately. Proof of this is the folks here on the forums that have been out to the factory. The production lines are mostly now made up of 25 and smaller.

I think there is a market for larger, but IMHO, given the state of the economy and energy prices, larger may be a niche market right now.

I also recall a person decking out an older 30 or 31' Airstream and asking around $115k for it, I don't think it ever sold and if it did, sold at the price he was hoping.

Keep in mind that trailers, unlike houses have certain needs. Balance, weight considerations and of course axle loads. I'm sure it's not rocket science, but it is something worth mentioning.
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Old 07-26-2008, 03:12 PM   #6
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Rivet would they?!

Quote:
Originally Posted by HowieE View Post
Have you considered approaching Airstream and purchasing just the frame, over sized axles, the body frame and outer skin and designing custom interiors? Much the same as coach builders did with production vans 20 years ago.

Would Airstream DO this?! My plan for my eventual fulltime AS is a vintage exterior (approx. 30 - 34') with completely modern systems all the way around, the best insulation available, and lots of custom woodwork. I would seriously consider just starting with the shell described above and have someone with a fine reputation pull it all together for me! I hope to know how to do the woodwork myself by then, but we'll see.

Though I do really love the looks of the vintage Airstreams.

If we decide our current unit is the right size (25FB), we will be putting serious money into custom upgrades in a few years.

Always dreaming
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Old 07-26-2008, 03:56 PM   #7
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NO LIMITS.... well within reason that is.

First, I've been in business for 30 years. Want a short list of what I'd do differently if I were giving a time trip back the beginning with all the knowledge I've gained to date? (Even if you don't... that's tough, here goes.)
  1. Filling all roles - even if you DO build a better mousetrap, people will not automatically beat a path to your door, you need a marketing/advertising department, an accounting department, and of key importance you need a workforce with a supervisor/manager who can be trusted to work independently when necessary. When you start a business... all of those departments are usually YOU. That load alone brings down most of the 95% of new businesses that fail within 5 years of their startup. Get help from day ONE - hire an accountant, start searching for effective ways to promote your business (there are 10000 ways to advertise, 9990 of them are a waste of money), keep meticulous records of the effectiveness of every networking event, every rally, every poster you hang up.
  2. Money, money, money - and a financial plan with goals, and a drop dead date. How far will you go in debt before you are ready to call it quits - and how close to the edge of that cliff are you? That is the first or second most important question you have to keep your business on track. If you look at the direction your profits are taking every month, you'll correct your path (raise prices, improve efficiency, lay off or fire people, change advertising plans, etc.) to keep yourself on track or better yet, ahead of predicted growth. It's really NOT a luxury to have another person (accountant) oversee this part of your financials, and give you painful reality checks. Do NOT let someone else actually control the check book, its an invitation to embezzlement.
  3. Know your market and your industry. Widen your scope wherever possible. We started out as a "no doctors" answering service because we were afraid of the liability... then found out where to get good insurance, how to manage the risk, etc. and grew our business by 30% in one year. D'oh! In your place I'd do Airstreams, Avions, Silver Streaks, high end motor homes, even boats. If it brings in a profit and exposes you to a new group of potential customers, it's work worth considering. Think about finding work that brings you publicity! Doing something on a local PBS channel...GOLDEN.
  4. Hiring - make yourself an expert. You WILL have to hire 2-3 helpers and hiring mistakes can kill your business. Do background checks, check the DMV, even Pay the employee to go down to the local Social Security admin office and get their records. Hire only those who will show your their prior employment record. One sentence to remember: The best predictor of a person's future performance is his or her past performance. Someone who switches jobs every six months will be gone in six months...... just when they are reaching a point of knowing what they are doing.
  5. Socializing-running in the right circles and exposing yourself to the right customers is important. Participating in RV shows will be vital too.
  6. Hobby turned into a career - Lots of people find all of the fun of their hobby is destroyed when they try to turn it into a career. Do a fearless internal inventory on why you want to change careers and remember even a career you love... well some days it's a (expletive deleted) bad job.
Oh, two last bits of more specific advice, look for a "cheap hook" to attract customers. My demi-derriere idea - an RV Wash. I'd cheerfully pay someone $200 to detail my Airstream two or three times a year. I might pay more in fact. I've found no one within 30 miles who will do full service exterior detailing on my Airstream.... You might even consider making it a mobile service. If you go INTO an upscale park and do six to eight units, your truck should serve as a billboard for your business! Price it so you make money doing washing, and it is advertising that absolutely pays for itself!

Secondly, take small jobs whenever you can. Someone who only wants to replace their dinette table and kitchen counter today WILL tell others about you and your shop. As you grow, you can relegate this kind of work to your slow season only.


Good luck, Paula

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Old 07-26-2008, 04:02 PM   #8
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I don't want to rain on anyone's parade., but the market for creating custom Airstream renovations or interiors is extremely small. As someone with a degree in Fine Art,who has spent most of my life building custom furniture,with eight years of historic renovations in Baltimore, it's not a path to wealth. You can contact Airstream about buying just a shell but they won't sell you or anyone else one as far as I know . I looked into it myself with the intention of building my own interior.To many liability issues. As for anyone with essentially no or very limited woodworking skills planing on building there own interior, unless your a savant, I can only wish you luck. I don't mean these comments to be rude but it takes years to become a really good cabinet maker no matter what Home Depot or Lowes would have you believe. Having said that there are any number of talented people on this forum who have done truly amazing interior renovations on their Airstreams. Doing it for a living is far different than working on your own projects. I don't know how much if anything you have invested in your shop but the tools and the space large enough to work on more than one Airstream at a time would be substantial. I'm not saying that it can't be done but it's a huge challange and I do wish you luck.
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Old 07-26-2008, 04:03 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HowieE View Post
There is a large following of the older Airstreams that are will to spend money on quality restoration. However I think there may be and even larger number of people that would spend well above MLP for a new trailer that really has quality built into it. Have you considered approaching Airstream and purchasing just the frame, over sized axles, the body frame and outer skin and designing custom interiors? Much the same as coach builders did with production vans 20 years ago.

Airstream, while an expensive unit, has had to down size the overall quality in resent years to remain a volume manufacturer and compete with the likes of Fleetwood. This reduction in quality is the void you could address.
I really appreciate all the input. This a great idea, but is it even an option? Not knocking any manufactures quality, it just see a potential good fit for my life, exploring design and crafting art.
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Old 07-26-2008, 04:12 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by moosetags View Post
First off, welcome to these Forums. We're glad to have you with us.

I think that there is always room in the marketplace for a person who does quality work at a fair price. I don't think that you should limit yourself to complete restorations. There is a market out there for quality upgrades to late model Airstreams.

Brian
Thanks. Quality upgrades are something to consider, but after many years of high end residential clients I am reluctant to go that direction.

At this point I am looking at providing a finished product in the 25'-28' size in the low $40K range with a few of the pricer items like solar left as options.
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Old 07-26-2008, 04:16 PM   #11
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[B]Would Airstream DO this?...
no, they don't sell shells to the general public or refinishers and rehab'ers.

there are many threads on this issue and the whys n whynots.

although given the SLOW MARKET, anything is possible...

IF ya wanna buy 50+ units they might bite...

to the o.p. there are already several dozen shops doing this work....

they either buy old units, used units or contract to remodel units owned by clients.

another shop would just be another shop.

the market is pretty small for custom jobs, because the costs are WAY more than most folks realize...

i'll eventually have a total interior redo on the 34, but want an experienced team on this...

-would u do something different/unique?
-do u understand what is involved in rv remodels, in particular 'streams?
-who will do the work? u alone or a team of folks?
-while the issues of running a custom restoration business are bascially the same as houses or boats or airplanes...

this is also true for automobile repair shops, but i would NOT have a honda tuner,work on my truck...

although i would let chip foose do my truck AND 'stream, on OVERHAULIN'....

cheers
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Old 07-26-2008, 05:15 PM   #12
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I don't want to rain on anyone's parade., but the market for creating custom Airstream renovations or interiors is extremely small. As someone with a degree in Fine Art,who has spent most of my life building custom furniture,with eight years of historic renovations in Baltimore, it's not a path to wealth. You can contact Airstream about buying just a shell but they won't sell you or anyone else one as far as I know . I looked into it myself with the intention of building my own interior.To many liability issues. As for anyone with essentially no or very limited woodworking skills planing on building there own interior, unless your a savant, I can only wish you luck. I don't mean these comments to be rude but it takes years to become a really good cabinet maker no matter what Home Depot or Lowes would have you believe. Having said that there are any number of talented people on this forum who have done truly amazing interior renovations on their Airstreams. Doing it for a living is far different than working on your own projects. I don't know how much if anything you have invested in your shop but the tools and the space large enough to work on more than one Airstream at a time would be substantial. I'm not saying that it can't be done but it's a huge challange and I do wish you luck.

No rain, its all sunshine on the Central coast of California

Getting rich is not the interest for me here. A booming economy over the past few years has left me comfortable and satisfied. I am not looking to build a large business. I am looking to do some personal craft work on a full time basis and not end up doing it for free. I appreciate your insite into the skills needed for interior renovations. My experience in cabinet in furniture making goes back 20 years, although I have never done cabinetmaking on a production basis. I certainly could not match the output of a production shop, but I have little concern about the quality. Yes, I am well stocked in the tool area, no rivet shaver though. I really am looking to produce about 4 a year.
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Old 07-26-2008, 08:55 PM   #13
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I'm a retired architect and an accomplished craftsman, but I've also owned an RV related business and my take on it is you'd have a very tough time selling your work. Some buyers are willing to throw big bucks at high end new diesel pushers, but they won't throw even reasonable dollars at a redone used trailer. The people who buy used trailers are usually on a budget and nearly always looking for a bargain. I doubt they'd appreciate the quality construction as much a they'd like a sale on polyester linens at Wal-Mart. I owned a business which made high quality RV mattresses and let me assure you it was a tough sell to RV'ers. OEM RV mattresses are among the very worst mattresses produced but selling a good mattress was nearly impossible. Airstreamers were the very worst of the lot. I remember having a beautiful pair of twin mattresses for an Airstream and I couldn't even get any Airstreamers to look at them let alone buy them. I wound up giving them to some desperate desert people who had been sleeping on the ground, when I closed the business. People would spend money on toppers and pads trying to make a miserable mattress tollerable. I recall on one installation, the owner's mattress had 8 different pads stacked together on the OEM mattress to make it tollerable, and it still was miserable. It was difficult to sell people a new quality mattress, so I would expect fancy interiors to be nearly impossible to find buyers at any price, let alone a profitable price.

If you want in the RV game, you will need to build high end, completely over the top RV's for rock stars and pro athletes. None of them are buying spruced up used Airstreams.
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Old 07-27-2008, 12:34 AM   #14
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Hey rwrussom,

As you know, a niche market product placement that is intended to be associated with an established brand name like Airstream, demands at the minimum, the same quality production standards, plus superior product performance and design elements.

An example would be the Shelby Cobra GT series, which had enhanced interior style features and a kickass powerplant that establish much higher than the norm performance numbers.

These features combined became a niche marketing sub-set of the Ford Mustang automobile line.

What is it again that you are offering high-end RV purchasers?
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