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Airstream CEO Shares Secret Of Resurgence

Stocks in this article: THO

What kind of changes are you seeing within Airstream customers themselves? Who's buying Airstream these days?

Wheeler: We're very lucky in the fact that we have a strong foothold in the greatest generation. It's a product they've known and loved their whole lives. We've also maintained this uber-cool hip factor with design aficionados in their 30s and 40s. We've managed to straddle two very different worlds and create products that are relevant to both groups.

When we develop new products, we focus on understanding those customers. We have one line of products called the Classic Limited that's traditional, upscale residential design. It's something that many customers who are in their 60s and 70s can understand, access and appreciate. At the other end of the spectrum, we have the International trailer line, which is very clean, Danish modern design that appeals to the younger consumer that's grown up with the IKEA generation.

It's all encapsulated in the shiny aluminum exterior that everybody knows and recognizes.

What has the recent economic climate in the U.S. done for Airstream?

Wheeler: The entire RV industry benefited enormously from a post-9/11 stay-close-to-home, family-focused, don't-travel-by-air environment. There was a huge run-up in the industry from 2001 to 2006. Some of that effect was mitigated by the downturn in 2008 and 2009, but now we see that starting to come back.

Air travel's a hassle, there's no two ways about it. Taking a family of three, four or five on vacation anywhere by air is enormously expensive. People look at an Airstream and say they can have the same experience in a product that they've always wanted that retains its value. That's starting to make sense economically for a lot of people where, 10 years ago, it didn't.

Now that Airstream is broadening its customer base, what are some of the requests the brand is getting for additions to the product that Airstream may be considering?

Wheeler: There's an interesting trend that reflects the wireless communications capabilities that have become so prevalent in the last eight or 10 years, and that is for a mobile office. So many more people have a job that doesn't tie them to a location: They can work virtually.

For many, the next level is to take that experience on the road. There's no reason they can't work from an Airstream in a campground just as easily as they can for a house. We've had more request for desk space and thoughtfully designed workplaces in both the trailers and mobile homes as well as better communication tools.

We haven't pulled the trigger on it yet, but we're taking some big steps in that direction.

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