Three generations of the Fore family compose this company’s successful motorhome manufacturing tradition.
By Lazelle D. Jones
Many of us have encouraged our kids in school, sometimes helping them with assignments that are intended to provide them insight into what the real world is all about. School projects typically do not grow into multimillion-dollar corporations, of course. But this scenario is a real-life story the Fore family can tell with pride. In the mid-1960s, C.M. Fore and his son Ray collaborated on a high school project, an endeavor that ultimately grew into Foretravel Inc., today a producer of luxury diesel-powered motorhomes in Nacogdoches, Texas.
The Fore family’s story of motorhome manufacturing success actually began before the high school project, in the 1950s and ’60s when the family traveled and camped in tents. It was not uncommon for them to leave their home in Nacogdoches to spend six weeks each summer touring national parks. As a precursor to the family’s foray in building motorhomes, C.M. constructed a folding camping trailer during those years, but later realized that he really preferred not to tow.
While planning a family vacation north to Washington in 1965 to see his eldest son, Roy, who was in the military, C.M. thought it would be fun to travel in a motorized, fully self-contained RV. Beneath a giant pine tree in the backyard, C.M. and son Ray took a Dodge chassis with a slant six-cylinder engine (which, Ray recalls today, did not deliver enough power) and commenced building their project. Ray remembers how they had to reconfigure the front steering and suspension so that the chassis would accept the house portion of the coach. It was 21 feet long and had aluminum exterior skin, residential-style insulation, a paneled interior, a galley, a toilet and shower, and a rear bedroom. It slept four, as the dinette converted into a bed. It also featured an Onan generator.
As the Fores took that first Foretravel up to see Roy, they were surprised by the tremendous interest their motorhome generated. As soon as they reached a campground, people would congregate and ask about the vehicle. Six weeks later, back home in Nacogdoches, C.M. began to think about how he could manufacture and market such a product.
Coincidentally, Ray had just begun his junior year in high school. During the mid-1960s, the Nacogdoches public school system offered distributive education programs, which were designed to provide high school students with experience in the world of business. C.M. suggested that a good project for this program would be to build motorhomes and rent them.
Father and son erected a building in the backyard (no more manufacturing under the old pine tree), where they proceeded to construct motorhomes to be used as rentals for Ray’s project, plus about 50 more. Early on, C.M. and Ray recognized that it was the manufacturing side of business that made their creative juices flow, not the job of renting the vehicles.
By the time the second energy crisis hit in 1978, the Fores were building 500 motorhomes each year and had moved the manufacturing operation to its current location on North West Stallings Drive in Nacogdoches. Today the plant sits on 25 acres, includes 220,000 square feet of floor space, employs 450 people, and turns out diesel-pusher motorhomes that range in price from $300,000 to $600,000. Not bad for a dad’s dream and a son’s high school project. Today Ray is the company’s president and general manager.
Whatever became of that first Foretravel motorhome? It was part of the rental fleet, and remained in the family. But during a Texas hailstorm “” the kind that includes grapefruit-size stones capable of killing full-grown cows “” the coach met its demise and was sent to salvage. Ray laughed at the irony of it all: the first motorhome they ever built was purchased by an insurance company.
The name Foretravel has always been synonymous with luxury motorhomes. To earn this reputation, the company has stayed ahead of the pack, often leading the industry in innovations. For example, C.M. decided that a motorhome chassis designed, engineered, and built in-house could specifically accommodate the Foretravel products. In the early 1980s, his idea “” the Unihome chassis “” became a reality, and today many luxury motorhome manufacturers also build their own chassis.
What is in store for Foretravel and the RV industry? Ray commented on consolidation that has taken place in the industry, and how many companies have passed by the wayside as a result. He said he believes that the consolidation also means the industry will tend to offer more generic-type motorhomes rather than a variety of coaches “” and choices “” for the consumer. In Ray’s opinion, one of Foretravel’s greatest advantages is that it remains independent and family-owned.
He also said he believes that today’s competitive RV market requires that a company remain fluid and capable of recalibrating the way it does business. Consequently, Foretravel recently began phasing out its factory/store system, and now is cultivating independent dealers to be part of an all-new sales and service network.
I met with Ray the day after it was announced that the first of several independent dealers (Saddleback RV at Travel Land RV Center in Irvine, California) and Foretravel had joined forces to market 2004 Foretravels. This independent dealer network is being carefully devised so that it will lace the United States with strategic locations. And to increase the factory-trained technical support available to Foretravel coach owners, an even larger service network “” in addition to the dealer network “” is being carefully assembled and groomed, and the technicians factory-trained.
As evidenced by Foretravel Inc.’s continued success story, the days of the family-owned RV manufacturer are still alive and well. Several years ago, C.M. passed leadership of the company on to Ray, who has successfully taken product development and customer satisfaction to the next level. And, if you visit the corporate headquarters today, you may encounter 25-year-old Tyle Fore, Ray’s son, who is being groomed to one day carry on the family tradition. He began working at Foretravel by pushing a broom. Today he’s responsible for the process of delivering new Foretravel motorhomes to customers. And what about tomorrow? Providing the guidance and management of Foretravel will fall on Tyle’s shift, and no doubt by then he will rise to the occasion. A third generation of Fores will continue to make this family-owned company a success.