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Airstream CEO Shares Secret Of Resurgence

Stocks in this article: THO

The company is still primarily known for its trailers, but Airstream's motor home business has nearly tripled within the last year. What has spurred the recent growth?

Wheeler: Airstream has been making motor homes since the early '70s, so we've got a long history. It's only been in the past few years, when the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van platform became available to build on for a small, Class B motor home that our business has really taken off.

People think "Well, they're Airstream and they're a trailer company. What do they know about motor homes?" Let me go back to those three tenets of design, quality and innovation. Those three things can be applied to things other than our silver bullet trailer, so when we developed this Interstate motor home and our Chevy (GM)-based Avenue motor home, we apply those same values. We know what consumers want and expect and that they're willing to pay for it.

We take the opposite approach of the RV industry, which tends to be building as inexpensive a product as you can because that's where the volume is in the marketplace. We were able to carve out a niche in the Class B motor home segment much in the same way as the travel trailers, although obviously it looks much different and doesn't key into the heritage of the company in the same way.

That premium seems to attract the designers. Does Airstream get many inquiries from designers about partnerships, and are there more partnerships in the offing?

Wheeler: We get approached fairly regularly. It's one of the singular blessings of being in a company with such a strong design heritage and that's so beloved by the design community.

We politely decline most of those, but in some cases when we see something particularly special -- like the work that Chris Deam has done for us in the past -- we see it as an opportunity to broaden our horizons. We're a small company out here in the middle of Ohio and we need outside influences or we'll end up just creating the same buggy whip over and over.

Chris has been a great collaborator for 10 years. We've done three iterations of trailers based on his design. We partner with other outside companies like Ford (F), Quicksilver brands, Swiss Army, most recently Eddie Bauer -- not just individuals, but companies that share some of our core values.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post,, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.
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