Airstream President and CEO Bob Wheeler came to Airstream in 2002. Since then he’s led Airstream through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and steered the company to new heights of success. Much of that success is built off an evolving understanding of how customers interact with the brand, with dealers, and with Airstream products – both in the real world and digitally.
Recently, Bob Wheeler sat down with host Kristin Carpenter on the Channel Mastery Podcast. Over the course of 45 minutes, Bob and Kristin discussed how Airstream has stayed relevant and evolved over its nearly 90-year history. From embracing the vintage Airstream community to building a modern dealer training program and creating high-quality, useful content that engages with customers, Bob covers a wide swath of topics in his conversation with Kristin. Through candid observations about where Airstream succeeds and where there’s room for improvement, Bob pulls back the curtains for a glimpse at how Airstream has harnessed the power of marketing in the digital age, developed their dealer network, and embraced user-generated content.
It’s a podcast well worth your time, but we’ve excerpted some of the best moments below. You can listen to the Channel Mastery podcast via their website, Spotify, the Apple Podcasts app, or wherever you get your podcasts.
On the timelessness of Airstream:
When I came to the company the brand was in disrepair – it was in decline. Even at a time when the rest of the RV industry was growing Airstream was shrinking…they only had one product line, the Classic. It was very traditional, aimed at the greatest generation, baby boomer customer and really not relevant for anyone any younger… But what we had here was this enormous asset, this brand power that went back decades, which people associated with travel and adventure and freedom and community and fellowship – we knew we had a lot to work with.
On Airstream’s biggest competitor – its own vintage market:
We love our vintage community…we would never want to and really couldn’t reject our vintage owners. They’re ambassadors for the lifestyle, they’re very passionate and they have this unbelievable creative range and energy to develop the Airstream to match their vision. And from that we draw a lot of inspiration, frankly, for future designs. They’re able to communicate that through channels that we just didn’t have access to back in 2002 (when I started at Airstream).
On creating content that helps customers after they’ve purchased:
More recently we started generating our own very high-quality content and storytelling around the product and the brand and its uses and destinations. That’s the next chapter for us in terms of how we communicate what our customers are doing, but also inspire users to get out and hit the road and give them great places to travel to.
On giving dealers relevant sales tools:
We bring dealership members back to the Jackson Center headquarters and we have these big training sessions. They take the tour, look at parts of the assembly process, and they see the people here in Jackson Center building these quality Airstreams with their hands. Seeing the care and craftsmanship for themselves is part of that experience and they go back to their dealership inspired. We can see the direct impact on their sales and customer reviews which is really exciting.
On being a leader in the outdoor recreation industry:
There are life-changing experiences within the outdoor recreation industry that a lot of people are afraid to tap into. If we can change that thinking a little bit in our own little way then we’ve done something good.