Innovative ideas and expansion plans are in this company’s sights.
By Lazelle D. Jones
Rexhall Industries Inc. entered the motorhome manufacturing scene in 1986 and very quickly established a niche in the RV industry. Only four years later, company chairman, president, and chief executive officer William J. “Bill” Rex was hailed in Business Week as leading “the hottest public company with sales under $150 million.”
But, as anyone so honored will tell you, the real challenge is to continue to improve on success. Bill Rex has weathered the many ups and downs of running a motorhome manufacturing company. He and the cadre of new talent with whom he has surrounded himself are keeping their eyes on the bubble and staying focused on the customer. They’re doing their best to stay ahead of the game.
During a recent visit to Rexhall’s corporate offices in Lancaster, California, I met with Bill and revisited the interesting story of Rexhall’s beginnings. Even more importantly, we discussed the measures Bill has taken that are tailored specifically to benefit today’s motorhome customer. I also spoke with Bill’s brother Jim, vice president and general manager of service and warranty.
Rexhall builds five type A motorhome models: Aerbus, American Clipper, RexAir, RoseAir, and Vision. Of those five, the RoseAir is available only on a diesel chassis, while the others are available on either a gasoline or diesel foundation. In its diesel coaches, Rexhall uses the Spartan Mountain Master NVS chassis and the Workhorse rear diesel pusher, both of which include a Cummins engine. Rexhall offers buyers the choice of a Ford or Workhorse gasoline chassis in the Aerbus and RexAir coaches, and a Ford chassis only is available in the Vision and American Clipper lines.
The biggest new development with the company involves chassis. Rexhall has purchased 14 acres adjacent to its current plant and plans to build a facility where it can accomplish two things: increase production capacity and add space to build its own diesel chassis. The diesel chassis program and enlargement of the plant are forecast to begin within the next couple of years. Bill will tell you that these are indeed exciting times for everyone at Rexhall.
As with any company, Rexhall has experienced its challenges. In 2001 the company had an unprofitable quarter. Bill Rex responded aggressively. He put in place a new and energetic middle- and upper-level management team. But this shift in management was only part of a set of corrective measures.
He took action to create major changes and improvements in the company’s product line as well. In the 2003 model year, Rexhall introduced several new floor plans, new decor package options, and new exterior graphics. For the first time ever at Rexhall, a full-body paint scheme is now offered as an option on the company’s high-line diesel pushers.
Perhaps the most amazing change implemented is the new triple-slideout motorhome, the 35TS, a coach that features a first for the RV industry. Its main entry door is located in the curbside living area slideout, not fore or aft of it. The power entry steps are designed to extend and retract with the slideout. (A review of the Aerbus 35TS begins on page 120 of this issue.)
The company also introduced new 34-foot and 36-foot double-slideout diesel pushers, the Vision and the American Clipper. And to top it off, Rexhall now produces a 40-foot diesel pusher with four slideouts, the 40Q RoseAir.
Additional options now available on Rexhall motorhomes include solar panels, cargo trays, and remote keyless entry. All 2003 models contain Generac’s new gen set, the Guardian RV Quietpact, as standard equipment, and Onan generators are available as options.
Rexhall officials also have taken steps to improve the company’s dealer and service network, placing a new emphasis on selecting and cultivating dealers and expanding service to Rexhall customers throughout the United States. New dealers with service centers in Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Iowa, and some New England states have been added to the Rexhall family.
On the administrative side of customer service, which is headed up by Jim Rex, the company has improved the mechanisms that facilitate the authorization process for warranty work. On the technical side of customer service, Jim said that Rexhall now tries to bring all of the technicians in its service network to the factory in Lancaster. There, the technicians can glean a complete understanding of how Rexhall motorhomes are designed and constructed.
“The way we build motorhomes is in some respects different from conventional wisdom,” Jim explained. “It’s extremely important that our field service technicians who routinely perform service and maintenance on our products actually see for themselves how our coaches are built.” For example, Rexhall uses a unibody steel superstructure (a welded tubular-steel cage construction) that is unique to the industry. Jim noted that it is extremely important for the Rexhall technicians who perform structural collision-type repairs to be familiar with this infrastructure.
Visiting the plant also enables technicians to observe the inner workings of the coaches; for example, it lets them see the electrical raceways that lie hidden in the ceilings. “Only this way can we ensure excellence in service and timely repairs,” Jim explained.
In addition, the company is using digital photos to ensure that the Rexhall factory technical support people and the dealer technicians are on the “same page” when discussing service or repair issues. Photos are shared via e-mail between dealer technicians and factory personnel when discussing technical issues and solutions. This enables the factory technicians at Rexhall to provide support to the service network.
Rexhall is a vertically integrated builder of motorhomes. This is a fancy way of saying that almost everything that makes up the motorhome is designed and built at the factory. Exceptions to this are the coaches’ chassis, seats, sofas, windows, and appliances.
If you take a tour of the Rexhall manufacturing facility in Lancaster and walk through the 120,000-square-foot factory floor space, you will see a fiberglass shop, a venue that creates all of the fiberglass parts (front and rear caps, dashboards, showers, roof caps, etc.) — with the exception of the sheets of gel-coat fiberglass used for the skin on the exterior walls. The factory also includes cabinet-making and upholstery shops, as well as a station where solid-surface countertops are made. All of the electrical harnesses used in Rexhall motorhomes are designed and built on site as well. When one considers all of this productivity, the idea of the company building its own diesel chassis doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch.
Aside from the chassis-making plans, what else does the future hold for Rexhall Industries? The answer, quite simply, is that the future is today. Bill Rex is taking this company to the next level through a series of aggressive measures that are designed to put Rexhall Industries ahead of the curve. From the early days when his company went public with an initial stock offering in 1989 to today, Bill Rex is still on the move. With all-new products now at their dealers; with new concerted efforts and programs in place to improve their dealer and service networks; and with a reinvigorated corporate mind-set, Bill knows the future is now. Rexhall Industries plans on being there.