The go-to people for motorhome renovations and more.
By Lazelle Jones
“We renovate RVs.” Those three words form a simple message for visitors to the Classic Coach Works Web site. Yet, as you take a longer look around the site — even better if you visit the company’s Lakeland, Florida, facility — you’ll learn how Greg and Stephanie Williams are carving out a valuable niche in the RV industry with their focus on RV renovation and customization.
Classic Coach Works has been in the coach renovation business for more than 10 years. Greg joined the company three years ago as general manager, after having worked as vice president of manufacturing at Featherlite Vantare‘ and as general manager for Optima Motorhomes. Last year Greg and Stephanie became the principal owners of Classic Coach Works. Their daughter, Alana, and son, Alan, are involved in the business as well.
By all indications, Classic Coach Works has found a sweet spot in the RV world. The company offers renovations of all kinds, be they major or minor. As company literature states, no matter how ambitious or modest a project might be, Classic Coach Works will approach it with a concentration on fit and finish, and a watchful eye to timely completion.
Classic Coach Works had a banner year in gross sales in 2009, and 2010 proved to be even better. One can surmise that this is not simply luck but the result of several factors.
For starters, Greg’s years of experience in the luxury motorhome market have enabled him to accumulate the business acumen and enthusiasm needed to serve the company in its niche market. He also performs the role of general manager, calling upon those years of experience and attention to detail when overseeing renovation projects.
Second, the recent economic downturn caused some motorhome owners to conclude that they could renovate the coach they already owned far less expensively than what it would cost to purchase a new model, and thus derive many more years of service and enjoyment from their current unit.
The type of work performed by Classic Coach Works varies widely. The list includes replacing worn-out carpeting or flooring with new floor coverings; installing new furniture or reupholstering existing pieces; designing and constructing custom cabinetry; adding state-of-the-art electronics and appliances; installing new interior lighting; replacing tired, worn, or broken window treatments; installing new wall, door, and ceiling panels and wall coverings; and performing exterior updates.
Sofas have been removed and replaced by floor-to-ceiling wall units that include a computer workstation, cabinets that surround a flat-screen television, and/or new woodwork and cabinets. Picture-tube televisions are upgraded with LCD and LED flat-screen models and are often relocated. RV-style refrigerator-freezers are exchanged for residential units (12-cubic-foot units routinely are replaced with 22-cubic-foot French door models with bottom freezers). Safes can be added and cleverly disguised. Conventional RV showers can be exchanged for residential-size showers. Other updates include heating and air-conditioning upgrades, as well as electrical improvements.
The broad scope of renovations that Classic Coach Works routinely makes to seasoned motorhomes is amazing. In fact, some owners even take delivery of a new unit and have the company customize it to be a better fit for them. As most coach owners know, it always seems that some improvement can be made to increase functionality, livability, or to add luxury to one’s home on wheels. Some of the company’s clients regularly return for additional modifications as they update their motorhome improvement wish lists.
Despite its extensive renovation services, the company does not work on chassis or power trains. Technicians will perform service and maintenance on coach house systems and will help direct the client to a reputable chassis service company. They also will not add a slideout where one does not already exist. “There are just too many structural and engineering issues that have to be dealt with when you penetrate the integrity of a wall, some that are safety issues and cannot be resolved,” Greg said. Otherwise, everything else is open for discussion and price estimation, he noted.
That said, if technicians or designers see that a proposed coach modification or renovation might cause a safety issue, they will counsel the client about any possible consequences. Unless they, as the specialists, feel totally confident in the finished renovation, they will decline the job.
One example is a client who wanted to add ceramic tile to the forward end of the coach interior. However, if the renovation had proceeded as the customer requested, the additional weight would have caused the front axle to exceed the gross axle weight rating (GAWR). Greg and company made recommendations and offered an alternative floor covering suggestion, which the client accepted. When the client took delivery of his coach following completion of the work, and had it weighed, Classic Coach Works’ renovations had actually improved the margin between the actual and allowable axle weight by a couple hundred pounds.
When a prospective client enters the front door and asks about renovating a current motorhome instead of trading it in for a new one, the process that follows is this. The client is given a complete factory tour to become acquainted with Classic Coach Works and its capabilities. The company’s designers spend one-on-one time with the customer, putting together alternatives for the client. A detailed cost estimate and approximate timeline are provided. Many renovations or upgrades are completed in a day or two. The most complex renovations can take up to three weeks.
Classic Coach Works often adds features that will help the physically challenged RVer to more easily enjoy life on the road. Technicians lower showers to make them accessible; add grab handles where needed; incorporate tie-downs in the floor to anchor wheelchairs for travel; and enlarge interior wall openings, where possible. Greg noted that if a physically challenged individual has an idea that will permit him or her to enjoy greater RV mobility, they will discuss the feasibility of implementing the modification. “A partial loss of mobility doesn’t have to mean that someone needs to give up the RV lifestyle they’ve grown to love.”
In addition to RV renovation, Classic Coach Works also offers complete collision repair service. The company will work directly with the RV insurance company. If exterior fiberglass and body paint repairs are extensive, they coordinate with an outside vendor to do the fiberglass work and painting or graphics.
Consignment sales is another business component. The company keeps about a dozen consignment motorhomes at its facility at any one time and coordinates the sale, financing, and insurance needs of both the sellers and buyers of these vehicles. The consignment inventory includes units that are 10 years old and newer. (The age limit is determined by the willingness of banks to provide loans on later-model motorhomes.)
Classic Coach Works attends and exhibits at approximately 15 to 17 RV shows a year. The company typically attends shows held east of the Mississippi, such as FMCA’s 86th Family Reunion and Motorhome Showcase in Madison, Wisconsin, this past August. Classic Coach Works also exhibits at FMCA area rallies and the Florida RV SuperShow.
The Lakeland facility sits on 4 acres of land between Tampa and Orlando. It encompasses more than 15,000 square feet of indoor space, with six interior bays set up to accommodate all sizes of motorhomes. The facility includes a cabinet shop; display rooms with fabrics, furniture, lighting, and accessories; and administrative offices. Although customers normally do not stay in their motorhome during the renovation process, overnight parking is available for four coaches, complete with 50-amp power and city water hookups.
RVers who have thought of updating and renovating their existing motorhome can realize a sizable cost savings — quite possibly cents on the dollar when compared to trading it in for a new coach. This makes sense to Greg Williams. “When you hear our slogan ‘Don’t Trade; Upgrade,’ our intent is to point out that the cost of most renovations will be close to what you would spend in taxes when trading your existing motorhome,” he noted.
Classic Coach Works, 3340 U.S. 92 E., Lakeland, FL 33801; (800) 971-0017, (863) 510-0017; www.classiccoachworks.com.