Bob Wheeler – President & CEO of Airstream

Episode 265

How do you build on a brand with already so much authenticity, nostalgia and loyal consumers? You never stop focusing on quality AND your consumers. Including the ones you haven’t met yet. Learn more as Bob Wheeler, President & CEO of Airstream, shares what it takes in this terrific conversation. Hear this and more on this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone. It’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I’m thrilled to have my next guest. Here we have Bob Wheeler, who is the president and CEO of Airstream. And if you have not heard of Airstream, you are living under a rock, I was even chatting with my college daughter today and telling her that I was going to be interviewing Bob this morning. And she couldn’t even describe what Airstream was. So it’s definitely brings generations together. And Bob is the, as I said, the President and CEO of this incredible classics. So more than anything, they are a recreational company, that I can’t wait to hear a little bit more about the last couple of years, because that, of course, was when so many people set out on the road and really, really incredible time. So Bob took over Airstream in 2005, and has led the company through, I think one of maybe two of the most challenging times in history. Maybe Bob will add to that when we get him talking a little bit more. But Airstream is set record sales product innovation is incredible and cutting edge marketing, the public’s renewed appreciation for Airstreams authenticity and quality is at its top top top. And I’m just thrilled to speak to Bob today. So welcome, Bob.

Bob Wheeler 2:16
Hey, Kara, thanks for having me on. I’m excited as well.

Kara Goldin 2:20
We always speak first a little bit about you before we actually get into the company and and I’d love to know a little bit more about Bob and and really understand who were you as a kid? I mean, did you always know that you’d be running a company and iconic company I mean, something that is just so known for, for quality, that that just is something that I think everybody would want to own?

Bob Wheeler 2:49
Believe it or not, I had no idea what an Airstream was when I was a kid. So no, this was not on my radar. Yeah, I grew up in the country in upstate New York theory country. But I always was drawn to mechanical things. My dad was an English professor, but always kind of a renaissance man very good at fixing stuff, which he had to be when you live in a big old house in the country. So I picked up a lot of mechanical love for him figuring out how things work. So became an engineer in college, you know, predictively. And I’ve left a lot of that behind. But that’s kind of how I got started with a lot of things mechanical and things with wheels. I’ve always it was always a car guy. So yeah, it’s been a long and circuitous path.

Kara Goldin 3:32
Why engineering?

Bob Wheeler 3:33
Yeah, I, you know, honestly, I related to things better than people at that age. You know, I was 18. And, you know, I understood how machines work. But people are this black box, you know, in the last several years have started to figure out that there’s, you know, there’s another way to manage, and that’s part of my growth arc as well, but that at the time, it just seemed to make sense. And I came from a family of English professors, English majors, too. So I was the black sheep.

Kara Goldin 3:59
So interesting. So you didn’t get pressured to go into become an English major, or

Bob Wheeler 4:05
it wasn’t there was no overt pressure. But they looked at me funny when I said I wanted to declare for engineering so but they are very supportive. And this the that was always marvel to them, how it succeeded in business and area that they really knew nothing about. It was as much a mystery to them as anything.

Kara Goldin 4:22
So interesting. So what was your first job out of college? Yeah, so

Bob Wheeler 4:26
I graduated from University of Rochester with a degree in mechanical engineering went to work for General Motors. So started at one of the biggest automotive companies, but this was an a, an old school plant that they used to have in Buffalo, New York, built in the 20s. It’s the kind of place where in the Second World War, they stopped building cars and started making airplanes. I mean, literally, Mrs. Rosie the Riveter. It’s that whole generation and the plant was at all a great place for a first job because it was very strong union, strong management at odds really old school plant with a lot of skilled trades. And I learned a lot. I learned a lot about what I didn’t want to do as a career, which isn’t as important as anything but great place to cut your teeth as a young engineer and met some great people there who I still think of often today.

Kara Goldin 5:17
That’s awesome. And so you transitioned into product development, was this all part of General Motors? Did they want you to get into that?

Bob Wheeler 5:27
Now, that all happened after I left, and joined the RV industry, I was with GM for about five years, got my MBA, and then I got a call from a recruiter one day, randomly, actually, she called somebody else in the department and they forwarded the call and I happened to be at my desk. This is how life is right. If I hadn’t sat at my desk, you and I would not be talking today. There’s no question. So she got me randomly sold me on the job she called this other guy about and I moved to Fort Wayne join the RV industry. And I worked in manufacturing, manufacturing management for several years in the RV industry before I got into product design to get back to your question. As at that time, I was working for a company called Fleetwood, which some of you will miss listeners may know, they used to be the big RV company starting in the 50s. And got into product design and development with them. And then stayed in that until I transitioned to my general management role now as president of Airstream

Kara Goldin 6:21
so interesting, so So was this your first product development, then sort of role? And and I think it’s so fascinating that you’ve worked in so many different areas, right. And I think that, again, speaking about the Gen Z generation, and I was chatting with my son who is in college, too, I have a million kids, so I chat with them a lot. You know, it’s I’m always trying to explain that, just because you go into one thing, it doesn’t mean you’re going to stay and that and that’s just a journey to go on to do bigger and better things. And I think that you are just a shining example of that. But how does working in different areas and having a more than basic understanding of mechanical engineering and product development and manufacturing? And how does that inform your ability to not only be a great CEO, but also a great leader?

Bob Wheeler 7:27
Well, it’s your point, if you really want to become successful in a leadership role in the broader organization as a whole. Working in those functional areas. And understanding, you know, how the sausage gets made is really important. And I I have not worked in every area of business, I’ve never worked in accounting, I’ve never worked in sales. In fact, I couldn’t sell water in the desert. It’s just not a strong suit of mine. But I’ve worked in purchasing, obviously, product design and development, manufacturing. I’ve never worked in HR. So you know, nobody’s gonna be able to do all those things, right. But especially in an industry, it’s a manufacturing industry, you know, we make stuff. So understanding how the manufacturing part of the business works, is really been key. And you sprinkle in a little bit of, you know, business school, kind of broad business education and a lot of kind of shoe leather boots on the ground experience. And, you know, it comes together, at least from a functional standpoint, as the toolbox, you need to be a good manager, there’s a whole lot more that goes into being a good leader. A lot of which, you know, you don’t get in those. They don’t just come organically and those experiences that come from a lot of things. But I’ve been lucky in my path. I’ve had some great mentors and the right jobs and the right exposure at the right time and the right opportunities. And next thing you know, here Yeah,

Kara Goldin 8:52
absolutely. That’s, that’s incredible. So you get the phone call for Airstream you obviously are interested, you said you had never you didn’t have an Airstream as a kid? What was it that really interested you the most about this brand?

Bob Wheeler 9:07
But it’s a great question because even I’d worked in the industry for a number of years at that point, the RV industry, recreational vehicle industry. And I came over to Jackson Saturday to interview and I walked into the manufacturing plant where they make the shiny silver bullet trailers. And I immediately I just felt at home I could see people working with purpose and focus and obvious care and craftsmanship. And even though I didn’t, I wasn’t deeply steeped in the brand even at that point, I recognized the place where they were doing something very different than the rest of the industry. And I thought alright, this is a place I think I could really sink my teeth in and never looked back. I couldn’t work for another company in the industry at this point. We’re just different and special enough. I’m not taking credit for that, that that’s part of the brand that goes back 21 years. So that that’s what attracted me. And then once I got to know more about the brand it’s such an amazing Using the word iconic here it gets overused. But it’s this brand with deep history and heritage deeply woven into the fabric of the American psyche. world known as the ultimate tool for travel and adventure, people just and people get so excited about the products and the lifestyle that it engenders that. Once you get in, you kind of never want to get back out.

Kara Goldin 10:25
The CFOs that get it, get it and the CFOs that don’t down. Let’s talk about the CFO, the Chief Financial Officer, today’s CFO is critical to the strategy and success of the business. And in growing companies. There are two kinds of CFOs. One who’s struggling to keep up spreadsheets everywhere, manual processes, errors and lack of visibility into the numbers. And it takes weeks to close those books. The other kind is on top of their game, automated reporting, inventory, e commerce and HR flow into the financial model seamlessly, and insights coming in with the click of a button. NetSuite is the perfect program to help you manage your business better, whether it’s financial modeling or inventory management. NetSuite is the number one cloud financial system that provides everything you need to grow your business all in one place. With NetSuite, you can automate your processes and close your books on time, from HR to budgeting to Financials. NetSuite is the platform for scaling your business. Over 29,000 businesses already use NetSuite head to for special one of a kind financing offer. That’s So how would you articulate the airstream brand, you know, to somebody who had maybe been familiar with it, but had never entered an Airstream before?

Bob Wheeler 12:06
Well, what we do and this is what we try to maintain focus on what we make is this beautiful piece of industrial art. But it’s really, it’s a springboard. It’s an enabler. It’s a conduit for adventure and experience. So we make a thing, but what that thing allows you to do are the things that really change your life, to create those memories, make connection with the community. See places you’ve never seen, see cultures you’ve never been exposed to. So when I talk about Airstream and you see it in the spark in the eyes of our customers, it’s the possibility that it presents, to think things to go and see and then adventure to have ways to change people’s lives. I know that sounds like a lot of hyperbole, but it really isn’t. So when I talk about the brand, it’s about that passion for travel, and adventure and learning and experience that really are the heart and the soul of the brand. And the things we make that allow people to do those things are our enablers.

Kara Goldin 13:06
Definitely well, and I think that, you know, trips and travel are the memories that that you won’t throw away, right? It’s, they’re things that you are constantly remembering whether it’s just with by yourself or you know, with a friend or your family or you meet new people on long away, whatever it is. So talk to me a little bit about the last couple of years. So everybody, I certainly knew a bunch of people who were taken off, and I think a few of them had an air stream. The lucky ones and others were running cars and different RVs along the way. But what was your life like in the beginning of 2020? When all of this hit all of us?

Bob Wheeler 13:52
Yeah, it’s funny, you reflect back in that period. Now it’s because it’s two years later, more or less, right? So we were scared and mystified as everybody else about what was going on. And then when things really started to get bad and middle of March 2020. We’re trying to figure out what was going to happen with the business and then the state shut us down for six weeks. And during that six weeks, and we were imagining the worst, because we had all these echoes from the recession of oh eight, no nine, we’re seeing high unemployment, a lot of recessionary pressures, dropping wages drop and personal spending that were all part of the pandemic. Well, historically, all those things lead to the big downturn in the RV industry. We make a big ticket discretionary, good. Nobody needs one. So we were bracing for a real downturn in the industry. And yet we came back after that six week down period, and you know, things weren’t as bad as we expected. And then within two months, our business took off like a rocket because as it turns out, and this is one of the things I would say it was a big oversight in my part Everything looks clear in hindsight, right? But there are only a handful of things you can do socially in a pandemic, you’re not going to get on a cruise ship or an airplane or go to Disney RVing. Let’s see, you’re taking your kitchen and your bathroom and your bedroom, you’re driving your own car. And when you get where you’re going, you’re socially distanced, you know, because nature. So a lot of people figure that out in a hurry in the spring of 2020. And the whole industry took off like a rocket and we were, we were no exception. So it was a roller coaster is the short answer. We went from kind of terrified about the pandemic, to really depressed about where we anticipated the business was heading. laid off 25% of the company. Because we were so confident that things were going to take a huge downturn, and then came back and got hold of the tiger by the tail. And it’s we’ve been holding on with all our might for ever since,

Kara Goldin 15:52
obviously, demand was way up. were you guys able to keep up with what was needed?

Bob Wheeler 15:57
The short answer is no. And we still haven’t caught up. I mean, this won’t sound like complaining, I hope because it’s a good problem. But yeah, we’ve been well behind the market for well over since spring of 2020, we can’t get caught up. And our ability to ramp up, we can’t just turn up the knob and start cranking out Airstreams are made by hand with a lot of care and craft. So we can only ramp up as quickly as we can maintain or improve product quality. That’s one of our core tenets. That has slowed us down along with you may have heard too, there’s some supply chain issues out there. And similarly.

Kara Goldin 16:31
Yeah. Gonna ask the what I mean that in every single industry, everybody is a little bit different. But what was what sort of your supply chain was right, that are out there? What is the challenge in your industry?

Bob Wheeler 16:46
So yeah, it started that was our first big obstacle, once we started to try to ramp up was supply chain supplier capacity at first, right, because they were dealing with COVID all over the world couldn’t make as much stuff as they had then. And then it was logistics, getting it. All those ships out at the Port of LA and Long Beach parked in the Pacific. And we don’t sort of stuff overseas, but our some of our suppliers do. So we had stuff on those ships waiting to get delivered, couldn’t get long haul truck drivers to get the stuff here. So we fought the supply chain issues crushed us. And then those started to resolve. And really about five, six months ago, those things started to get a lot better. And then the crunch became labor. You know, local employers are trying to hire wages ratcheting up, including an Airstream. So then we fought for labor. But this is one of the pivots I’m really proud of. We told our marketing team stop selling your streams and start recruiting employees. And they blinked a couple of times and said okay, and they put together a fantastic local campaign billboards and radio print TV. And now we’ve got all the applicants again, we need so amazing. Yeah. And so got our labor problem solved. So now we got material, we’ve got people now it’s just inflation. That’s there are challenges pricing the product, right.

Kara Goldin 18:04
So we’re heading into summer right now. And what’s your your outlook for for travel? Do you believe that it will still stay pretty local, that people are still a little nervous about maybe getting on getting on airplanes, or cruises or whatever. I mean, we’re as sort of the outlook for Airstream going forward.

Bob Wheeler 18:27
Yeah, for us. We’ve got such a backlog right now that even if people get more nervous about travel, and most of the trends, I think point the other way, you know, airline travels up. People seem to have made me the Omicron variants, most people seem to be ignoring, at least in this part of the country. So it’s still very bright prospects for us moving forward, we’ve got a long backlog we need to work through anyway, for the rest of the RV industry, though, you’re starting to see demand softening a little bit. And their capacity, they’re starting to get caught up with market demand if if RV industry has been able to put out a lot of product to try to get caught up. So a little different situation for us. But for us, we’re looking at a great summer. Again, trying to dig out of this hole we’ve been in for two years and get dealer inventories back to where they need to be which is going to take a while. So pretty pretty bright prospects here at the moment,

Kara Goldin 19:22
talking about innovation, so the East stream so data streams, new electric caravan, I’m dying to check this out. It sounds unbelievably great. So what what prompted you to actually go in and develop this product? I would imagine that this was kind of in the works before COVID Or did it actually come up during during the last couple of years?

Bob Wheeler 19:47
We had an inkling of it before COVID And for your listeners that E stream is a it’s an Airstream Travel Trailer with a fully integrated electric drive train 80 kilowatt battery, fully integrated with the house systems. 900 Watts solar on the roof. So it’s a it’s a travel trailer that powers itself. Amazing. We started thinking about this idea, probably three years ago, as we started to hear and see more and more about electric tow vehicles, right, starting with Tesla, and then especially car companies coming out with trucks that can tow Rivia N and now the Ford F 150. Lightning. And and and so we could see that there was this emerging segment of tow vehicles that we needed to think about how is that going to work with their traditional product, I mean, you, you put a traditional Airstream behind an electric tow vehicle and your battery range goes down by half if you’re lucky. So we started to consider how are we going to accommodate the needs of that buyer in the future. It’ll never be all of our business, but it’s going to be a growing part. And you know, you can’t open the automotive section of the newspaper without another car company saying by 2030 or 2035, they’re not going to be making gas engines anymore. So so we started down this, this path with our German partner, and who had started development on this drive train. And last January, we introduced the prototype eastream, that you mentioned, with this fully integrated power system, really a fully realized prototype, it’s not smoke and mirrors, it’s not a lot of smoke and mirrors. It’s mostly it’s mostly there. And of course the the product has been very well received both by the Eevee towing crowd, but also you can tow it with your gas vehicle. And this can help your gas mileage enormously. And also, if you want to camp off Korea, there’s a growing segment. As a result of all this induced interest in the industry and the lifestyle. campgrounds are overbooked, especially state national parks, you can’t get a site. So we’ve been encouraging people to boondock or dry camp. There’s so many places in this nation, you can go and camp in the wilderness on the National Forest Service lands. So this big power pack and eastream allows you to go off grid and live comfortably. So it started with a where the industry where the tow vehicle industry was headed. That was the original spark. Let me try to pack in a bunch of additional functionality we knew that our specific buyers would want and the results that you stream.

Kara Goldin 22:16
So the company is founded in 1931. I would guess that you have employees that have been there for a long time, not all of them. So was this the biggest innovation that you had done in the company?

Bob Wheeler 22:30
I don’t know if I can make that claim. Because our founder Wally Byam, he really invented the industry. And He also invented a lot of firsts. He invented products, for our V’s that have gone on to become their whole supplier base for the industry like, you know, RV flush toilets and furnaces and water heaters and awnings. So he created these things out of necessity back in the 50s. And now all of the things I mentioned have gone off to become their own significant companies to supply the RV industry in the marine industry. So I don’t know if I can claim the biggest innovation, but I’d like to think it’s yeah, I’d say it’s in the top 10.

Kara Goldin 23:06
Yeah, I know. I love it. So. So having employees who are, you know, kind of old school, maybe that’s not the right term versus the newer ones that are most interested in innovation? How can you manage that? I think that this is a pretty big jump for Airstream it’s, I think a great jump and and lots of but I would imagine that you would have people that are maybe they wouldn’t buy one of these because they they really want an Airstream that is this. But so how do you talk about choice? How do you talk about those things as you’re leading?

Bob Wheeler 23:40
Yeah, there’s a lot of push and pull within this company. As you note, first of all, we regularly retire retire people from Airstream with 50 years of service or more happens all the years that 20 years. When I started here, the average seniority was 22 years average. Oh, that’s

Kara Goldin 24:01

Bob Wheeler 24:02
So we were this kind of dichotomy of old school people that have worked here, a long time and a customer base, many them who were older and have gotten used to your stream being a certain thing. But, you know, all you have to do is look at the somewhat recent history of the company to see that if we allow ourselves to become stagnant and irrelevant for the new buyers, the company is going to become it’s going to fade away to nothing. And that was happening in the 90s. Actually, the product was stale, and there was no innovative marketing. No, no, no, no effort to connect with a new buyer younger buyer. And the business was declining even in a time when the RV industry was growing. So that that was a real very sobering to folks. And they recognize that unless we continue to push and innovate in a way that our founder Wally Byam, he staked out and said, Hey, we need to lead this industry. He created the industry, and it’s part of our DNA. aim to be innovative, push forward, develop products like the stream and others. So I think people have seen what happens when you don’t do that. And we seen all the benefits of doing it. And we’re in a great place now where we can honor respect and draw on our history but not be constrained by it. But instead, use the airstream platform and brand as a as a Petri dish for innovation and trying things some of which work, some of which don’t. And it’s just, it’s a fun company and brand with a lot of forward momentum. So, you know, my, my goal is just not to screw it up. I’m Stuart.

Kara Goldin 25:36
Hi, everyone. I wanted to take a moment to talk about my book. It’s called undaunted. And if you haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet on Audible or picked up a copy at Amazon or at your favorite bookstore, I think you’re really missing out. Hopefully, you’re enjoying listening to the Kara Goldin show with all the amazing guests that I’m so lucky to interview and be inspired by stories of challenges and breakthroughs. Lessons to each of these incredible guests teach me that being undaunted, really is the answer. And that is what you will learn from my story which I share in my book undaunted, not only how I came up with the idea for him, but also the journey that I experienced along the way. You see, most people don’t know all the challenges that entrepreneurs go through and building a company. And the journey, the ups and the downs, twists and turns, you will hear it all and undaunted. Probably the thing that has made me happiest about writing this book is hearing from people, and how the book has helped them push through hard things and try new things. I have heard from countless people how undaunted has helped them see that they are not alone in their hard times that they are experiencing, but also how pushing forward and finding a way is usually what it takes my real stories, with my observations, looking back that just might make you change your mind about what you can endure and what you can achieve. Don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t. It’s time to move past your fears and defy the doubters to my book undaunted is available everywhere books are sold on Amazon and audible as well. And shoot me a DM and tell me what you think. Back to the show. What do you see as the biggest opportunity for air stream today? Beyond the products? Where does this company go, based on what you see,

Bob Wheeler 27:42
we start to think about the lifestyle and the lives people live when they’re using our products. And today, when our customers leave the dealership, we lose track of them. We might see them on Instagram, but we don’t hear from them again till they come back for service or to trade in and trade off or something. So we know the whole their whole our whole universe of Airstream experience, camping and finding reservations and campgrounds and supply and resupply and adventures. Poi guys, if we can participate in a way in that part of their Airstream life in a way that makes it better, easier, more convenient, less hassles, then we can add value and stickiness to the brand. So we’re doing a deep dive into you know, understanding what those activities are, and how we can participate in a way that helps them and doesn’t get in their way. And some of that has to do with overcoming hassles and obstacles. I mean, an RV is like a boat in some ways. Anyways, there’s some friction points and there’s maintenance. And there’s things you have to learn the hard way. And if we can help get past those friction points and get people to the fun part of our being, which is amazing, will make the product and the brand stickier and they’ll people will have a better time and experience. So there’s kind of a whole laundry list of ways to participate, some of them with digital platforms and interaction, which we’re working on. So I see that as the next big opportunity for the company that’s not right in that your stream product category. It’s more of a lifestyle play and driven by a lot of really smart digital tools.

Kara Goldin 29:22
It’s funny, I feel like RVing used to be for retirees and and today I would say that your audience is getting younger. Would you agree?

Bob Wheeler 29:32
Yeah, absolutely. And we’ve introduced some products that price points that are more accessible to younger buyer too. So we’ve helped foster that but you know, the brand has gotten more youthful on a lot of ways. And we still have our retirees and honestly if you want to live in your Airstream full time it’s pretty hard to to be working full time. Although I will say the pandemic has brought this whole new A subset of Airstream users because it’s driven this whole work from home movement, which, frankly, is work from anywhere if you’ve got good Wi Fi. So we’ve seen a number of couples and even families recognize that, hey, let’s get the Airstream. And let’s hit the road. As long as we have good Wi Fi, we can do our jobs from there, the kids, we can learn from there with all the digital learning platforms that became available during the pandemic. So it’s an exciting new chapter for us. And one I don’t see, you know, the learn from anywhere thing is going to slow down as kids really go back to school. But work from anywhere, there’s a huge piece of that that’s going to go on indefinitely. So the Fun, fun aspect to participate in as a company.

Kara Goldin 30:42
So outside of the US, do you see the same trends where people are hopping into their Airstream? I mean, where do you see the the future? So do you think it’s mostly a US type of trend? Or do you see it happening throughout the world?

Bob Wheeler 31:01
Well, I think that work from home trends is, is happening everywhere, just driven by, first of all necessity, that pandemic and then people realizing that it can be as a more effective way to set up a work, work life balance. And we’re, we’re barely sell any products overseas. So I’m not quite as attuned to the cultural trends in those markets. But I know that work from home thing is here to stay. And, you know, certainly there’s a strong industry surge in the RV industry in Europe, just like there was here in the US. So yeah, that was participate in but yeah,

Kara Goldin 31:37
I read that it’s that over half of your consumers are first time our viewers. And so I’m curious, how much does storytelling really fit into? You spoke about social media platforms? I mean, do you think storytelling and and does that kind of bring in some of those consumers the dream of being able to get out on the road? And I’m curious as a CEO, how much do you think storytelling fits into the overall brand,

Bob Wheeler 32:09
it’s a huge part of our marketing message, maybe the bigger part. And we’re really lucky in that our products and the way people use them lend themselves to great story creation. Like I give my cmo a hard time I said, Well, if you were trying to sell dishwashers, good luck getting people to send you their Instagram feeds and their passionate stories about their dishwasher adventures. You know, in a way, this stuff falls in our laps, and we curate some of it. But there’s so much amazing user generated content out there. And they’re all beautiful places, people having amazing experiences, with or without kids. And living a lifestyle that many of us can only dream of. So all of the storytelling around those experiences, really lends itself to presenting the brand in a way that’s not it’s genuine, it’s not superficial, and it’s not fake. These are real people using our products, having life changing experiences. So we we lean on that pretty heavily. And it just continues to grow and in the quality and quantity.

Kara Goldin 33:11
Such a fun brand to that, that I think those stories are really what drive so many people to just go try, right? Give it a shot. Give it a shot and see what happens. And once you do it once, then you get hooked and try to figure out the next next trip and where are you going to go. So it’s definitely a great iconic brand, for sure. So be a lot of fun to work on. Coming from somebody who’s really enjoyed marketing for a long time. Making my my head get really, really excited. So Bob, I always ask people to share a story about a challenge or maybe even a failure somewhere along the way. Maybe in the early days of Airstream but something that you just didn’t anticipate or you just weren’t sure you were going to be able to get through it. But you did. And and what were some of the lessons learned along the way? And how can you share that and more than anything share so that people can learn from your own experience?

Bob Wheeler 34:20
How many examples would you

Kara Goldin 34:23
I know, tell me about it.

Bob Wheeler 34:25
How much time to me. No, I appreciate the question. There have been no shortage of those but one. And I touched on this a little earlier one in recent history is we, for many years we lived in the shadow of the Great Recession of oh eight no nine because that really crushed our business we were down 60% in those two years, six zero, so pretty devastating. And the effects of that really, and the echoes of that really stuck with us for a long time even to the point when spring of 2020 when we saw some The same indicators, some of these recessionary markers, because of the, the pandemic, we just assumed the response and the reaction would be the same. And back in, oh, 809, we took way too long to, to reduce the size of the company, you know, we, I remember my first kind of headcount reduction meeting saying, Oh, this is gonna, this is cutting into the muscle, this is more than fat. Well, three rounds later, we were down to the size company we needed to be. So I was still living in that paradigm back in the spring of 2020. And we cut 25% of the company laid off just anticipating that a business was going to collapse. Well, you know, hindsight, if you if right, really thought about it, and seems so obvious now that some industries were going to be the beneficiaries of this pandemic dynamic. And the RV industry, it certainly turned out to be one, maybe one of the biggest. So we laid off 25% of the company, which I kills me, I hate to do that, I’ve only had to do it a couple of times in my career. And then we came back to this unprecedented demand. And it’s pretty easy to lay off and cut your rates, it’s very painful to build them back up. So we missed a real market opportunity there. And all that time we spent trying to build back up, just to get back to the rates we were, before we’d cut all those heads, you can’t get the people back or they’ve moved on and just get the supply chain fired back up. And so my lesson there was, you know, just because it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, doesn’t mean it’s a duck. And in this case, we should have thought about how is the situation different than a wait no. Nine? And how might we react differently, rather than kind of living living in the paradigm of what we did and did not do back then we would have been much further ahead ahead of the market, or dealers would have had better inventory positions. So we missed market opportunity. So that was a good lesson in that. Not assuming, and really thinking deeply about what’s happening rather than, you know, kind of on a more superficial level driven by an experience that was you know, 1213 years old.

Kara Goldin 37:11
Sure. No, it’s It’s, I think everybody’s got their their stories from the last couple of years. I mean, we at hint, we, you know, we’re an FDA regulated product in a category of water. So we were, we were definitely anticipating a big year, in 2020. But then when the pandemic hit, and being an FDA regulated product in a category like water, we were running our plants 24 hours a day we were we, we grew 40%. And in 2020, it was insane. Yeah, it was absolutely insane. And, and we definitely had roles that they couldn’t use those people in those roles. But we ended up figuring out a way to offer other roles to people within the company. So we had people who were, you know, typically doing events and, and we call it Field Marketing, and then we put them into sales. And so we were rejiggering things. We didn’t know how it was going to work. But it was it was an absolutely insane time and continued for 2021 Actually, it was absolutely crazy. So it was so many lessons learned during that time. I think, I don’t think anybody was really prepared, right? Do you just figured out how to actually, you know, do the best she can and more than anything and and try and try and think about you know what, what’s relevant here to try and make these decisions. But I think also just looking at your employees and understanding what they’re going through that seemed to be consistent across all industries. And it’s I bet inside of Airstream I bet it was just absolutely crazy given sort of the situation with with travel and everything else that people were doing. So it was really, really interesting. Well, thank you for that. And thanks, everyone for listening, Bob, where can people find out more about Airstream also? Your newest product too? Is it on the market? I mean, can people actually go in and try it and local dealerships?

Bob Wheeler 39:30
No, not the eastream That was a fully realized concept travel trailer and it’s probably going to be two years before you see some version of that actually available. So but you can learn about it and follow progress on it. Sign up for [email protected] That’s all of our products and great lifestyle stories and it’s great glimpse it really all the dimensions to the brand.

Kara Goldin 39:54
That’s great. Well, you guys have great social media too and like lots of great ideas. for places to go off of that, so it’s definitely check it out if you have not seen the airstream, Instagram and some of the other platforms that they’re on as well. And thanks, everybody for listening. Thanks, Bob for coming on. Definitely subscribe to the Kara Goldin show everyone if you haven’t already, so you do not miss incredible interviews like this one that we had with Bob Wheeler of air stream. And definitely give this episode a five star rating. It definitely helps with the algorithms and searches out there. So just want to remind everybody about that. And also, just reminder that I can be found on all social media channels at Kara Goldin and if you haven’t already picked up a copy of my book on daunted overcoming doubts and doubters. It’s all about the journey of Hinton and building it and from the ground up. Very, very fun and exciting, and definitely lots of lessons and mistakes along the way that I that I share in this book. So hopefully, you’ll get a chance to pick it up. It’s also on Audible, too. And we are here every Monday, Wednesday and now Friday with the Kara Goldin show. So thanks, everyone for listening. Thanks again, Bob. Everyone have a great rest of the week. Thanks,

Bob Wheeler 41:22
Kara. Appreciate your time.

Kara Goldin 41:24
Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening