June 9, 2020
A few months ago, Airstream CEO Bob Wheeler was talking about the possibility of tinkering with some of the most important strands in the DNA of the upscale recreational-vehicle brand, in order to better attract young buyers to its products
But, within the past three months, his mindset has changed: As he seeks the best way for his company to slingshot out of the pandemic, Wheeler is considering how Airstream can facilitate a more permanent form of the work from home (WFH) dynamic that was created during the Covid-19 lockdown.
“From our position, ‘work from home’ means ‘work from anywhere,’” Wheeler recently told Forbes magazine. “A contingent of our [customers] have always worked from anywhere. But how this is happening now opens some exciting possibilities for us on both the retail and commercial side.”
Similarly, he said, more parents may be interested in turning Airstreams into mobile home schools, amid uncertainty about the future of traditional physical schools – at least for this year. “If you have good Wi-Fi at home, that means you can learn from anywhere,” Wheeler said. “I’m excited about potential live-play-work-learn developments that we’re uniquely suited to support, with some product tweaks that we’re working on.”
As the U.S. pandemic started in March, Wheeler and his team projected a 70% April drop-off in Airstream sales. “But our guess turned out to be grossly wrong, in the right direction,” Wheeler said. In fact, Airstream sales fell by only 30% that month and then rapidly rebounded in May.
“Things have been on fire,” he said. “In the last two weeks, we have seen record retail sales across the country, well beyond anything we could have anticipated … We started to think that the post-Covid travel landscape might stack up really well for RVs. People don’t want to get on cruise ships or airplanes or go into crowded places now. They want to travel in their own home with their own kitchen and bed. But all of that was just theory until we started to see it manifested in the marketplace.”
Indeed, Wheeler told Forbes, he wants to make Airstreams even more appealing as “permanent” homes for work-from-home Americans by, for example, improving wireless internet connectivity in the vehicles. “We’ve had in place for a year a top-shelf connectivity solution with an antenna and 4G Wi-Fi with AT&T, so [owners] can get coverage in many places that they can’t with just a cell phone,” he said. “We’re also looking at satellite uplinks and other things that literally can give people a connection anywhere they go. For a certain set of our customers, that might be a very appealing option.”
And for potential customers who want to home-school kids in an Airstream, Wheeler said, the company has begun looking at “how you partition space differently to create dedicated work spaces for adults and potentially for kids. You can sit at the dinette, but people may need to have a space carved out just for work, for their computers and papers.”
Research contact: @Forbes