Known primarily for its RV and truck glass replacement business, this company has evolved into a full-service repair and replacement operation.
By Pamela Selbert
A large sign stands outside the complex of tan and forest-green buildings that house Duncan Systems Inc., C6151, in Elkhart, Indiana. It reads: “America’s #1 RV Specialist.”
Spend a few minutes talking with company chairman and CEO Ron Duncan, 61, and you’ll learn why the company makes this claim. Mr. Duncan and his brother, Ralph (now retired), and business partner Ron Dole founded the firm in 1990. Listen as Mr. Duncan outlines the many services the company provides to motorhomers, and you’ll soon realize that Duncan Systems is a name to remember “” particularly if your motorhome ever sustains damage by flood, fire, traffic accident, or other means and you have trouble finding a shop that can repair it, or an insurance adjuster who can properly assess the damage.
The company provides a wide range of services, which include replacing broken windshields and side glass in motorhomes, even for models that are years out of production; repairing coaches that have been so severely damaged that they have been classified as “totaled” by insurers; and providing coach replacement service when there is a total loss.
Mr. Duncan’s firm, originally called D&D Custom Service Inc., began as an RV repair and salvage business. It evolved into a glass replacement operation when an officer from a major insurance company spoke to him about the high cost “” and seemingly impossible task “” of replacing an obsolete motorhome windshield.
“He wondered if we could help with the glass cost, which is high for an RV compared with auto glass,” Mr. Duncan said.
The request helped Duncan Systems discover its niche in the industry. Mr. Duncan said that the company now does more than 30,000 glass installations per year, 18,000 of which are windshields. Side and rear windows make up the rest. The company also does replacement glass for heavy-duty trucks.
Duncan Systems maintains a combined 175,000 square feet of warehouse space for stocking “all types of windshields ever produced by the RV industry,” Mr. Duncan said. The glass is stored in five Elkhart facilities, as well as buildings in Tempe, Arizona, and Lakeland, Florida. The company’s inventory includes approximately 500 different windshield styles, including more than 300 by manufacturers that are no longer in business. Mr. Duncan said that no other company in the United States stocks as many RV windshields. He estimated that at any given time, the company has more than 25,000 RV windshields available, plus 100,000 units for International and Freightliner trucks.
“We own our own tooling and have duplicated that of most manufacturers,” he said.
Mr. Duncan is well aware that providing speedy service to customers is vital and, as such, the company relies on local trucking companies to get the glass where it needs to go. “When a motorhomer is on the road traveling and his windshield gets broken, he needs to have it taken care of quick,” Mr. Duncan explained. “We have a nationwide network of about 9,000 glass shops specializing in big rigs, buses, and RVs that we deal with, and no matter where you are in the United States or what type of windshield you need, we can usually get it to you within two days.” And should the glass be damaged along the way, either in transit or by the repair shop, Duncan Systems guarantees a replacement.
The Duncan family is originally from West Virginia. Ron joined the Navy out of high school, but 13 months as a radio operator on a frigid mountaintop in Iceland helped change his mind about making a career of the service. So he left the Navy in 1965 and followed his brothers Barry (now deceased) and Ralph to Indiana.
The following year he went to work at the Swinger motorhome factory in Elkhart, and four years later he and Ralph founded their own manufacturing firm, Sprinter RV, which, Mr. Duncan said, built one of the first high-end fifth-wheel trailers and originated the slanted roof. They expanded the operation to include type A motorhome manufacturing in 1976, and then sold the company to Mallard in 1984.
“I’ve built 35,000 RVs but have never owned one,” Mr. Duncan said. “But I take one on vacation now and again.” He also admits to being something of a golf nut, and despite his many hours on the job, he makes it to the links three or four times a week.
According to Mr. Duncan, replacement glass is the company’s main business. However, it has led to another endeavor for this licensed dealer and manufacturer: an RV and boat replacement service in cases of total loss.
“When you have a motorhome, you pay insurance on it,” he said. “But what a lot of motorhomers don’t know is that since 1997, for a few dollars more per month, they can add a total replacement clause to their policy.”
Mr. Duncan noted that total loss replacement policies will vary in coverage and value limits from one insurance company to another. The Replacement division at Duncan Systems does more than simply find another motorhome for the insured customer. Representatives will help the customer make decisions about their new unit, such as the floor plan, standard equipment, equipment no longer offered, chassis changes (engine size, etc.), interior colors, collateral exchanges with the bank, and much more.
“The insurance company “” we deal with 124 major firms “” turns the customer over to us,” he said. “Then we take care of the replacement. We buy about 250 new replacement motorhomes and boats [from dealers] every year.” Some motorhomers choose to pay more and upgrade, which Duncan Systems also can assist with.
When a coach owner has an accident in which the RV is destroyed, the first person called is the insurance agent, who in turn calls Duncan Systems to assist with the replacement, Mr. Duncan explained. The company’s role, he continued, is to help the insured “make a smooth transition from the horrible thing that happened to getting a new motorhome.”
It’s a “win/win/win/win system,” he said. The “customer gets what he deserves to be paid by the insurance company with the least time delay and hassle. The dealership wins by getting to sell a vehicle. The manufacturer wins by being able to build a new coach. And the insurance company, which wants to pay what it deserves to pay, wins by keeping the customer happy.” Mr. Duncan noted that the company’s fee for the assistance is small, but he considers it a “service to the industry.” He added that it also helps to keep the company’s core glass replacement business solid.
Duncan Systems added the repair facility, headed by manager Jim Deavers, nearly two years ago to help insurance companies take care of their customers more quickly, Mr. Duncan said. At the time of this interview, 10 to 12 motorhomes, many of which had been deemed beyond repair by other shops, were undergoing rehab at Duncan’s 30,000-square-foot facility, which employs a staff of 13. According to Mr. Duncan, this number includes two master certified technicians.
“A recent successful repair was on a high-dollar coach that [was] driven over tree stumps, sustained frame damage, and [had] been considered totaled,” he said. “But we were able to fix it.” Through September 2005, Duncan Systems RV service and repair had put 400 coaches back on the road.
“Our facility is state-of-the-art,” he said. “We handle all types of warranty situations for Newmar, Monaco, Damon. Any coach with a major problem the manufacturer can’t take care of can be sent to us.” The same is true for all motorhome appliances.
Duncan Systems also can provide replacement parts for coaches. Because the “biggest share of the RV industry is in Elkhart, it’s easy for us to get the parts,” he said. He added with a chuckle, “If we can’t get it, it can’t be got.”
Also, since 1992 Duncan has offered a training school for insurance adjusters in conjunction with the company’s repair facility, the only such certified school in the United States and Canada, according to Mr. Duncan. He also said that unless an adjuster is familiar with RVs, and many are not, giving an accurate estimate is difficult.
Duncan Systems offers two programs to help with the process. The four-and-a-half-day Appraisers School includes classroom discussions, lectures, video presentations, off-site plant tours, and hands-on experience. The less costly Estimating Seminar, a two-and-a-half-day program, is not as extensive, and uses audio-visual materials in place of manufacturer and repair facility tours. Both programs are taught by licensed adjusters with 25 years experience in the RV industry, and are available in Indiana, Texas, Florida, and Oklahoma.
Because Duncan Systems has been accredited by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training and the state of Texas as an authorized provider, students can receive Continuing Education Units (CEUs) after completing the courses. Motorhome owners also have taken the courses to gain more knowledge about their coaches.
Duncan Systems is in large part a family operation. Of its 100 employees, 13 are related, including Ron’s wife, Pam, who’s in charge of marketing, and his sister, Arlene Troyer, vice president and general manager of the truck division. His son, Shane, is executive vice president and general manager of the company, and Shane’s wife, Debbie, takes care of the billing.
Mr. Duncan added that the company has offered assistance during major natural catastrophes. For instance, immediately after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast region in August 2005, Duncan Systems sent two command centers to a site north of New Orleans, along with several adjusters. Several insurance companies, preparing for another bad year for hurricanes, have already asked Duncan Systems to purchase mobile command centers that can be used in disaster situations.
Clearly, Duncan Systems is capable of dealing with just about any difficulty motorhomers could possibly have with their coaches. “After 40 years in the industry, we’re RV experts,” Mr. Duncan said.
Duncan Systems Inc.
29391 Old U.S. 33
Elkhart, IN 46516