General Coach Canada

Standing the test of time

At first glance, it might seem like General Coach Canada—the Ontario-headquartered RV manufacturer—naturally owns the room. However as Roger Faulkner, company President, explains, General Coach’s leading position in its chosen market today is the result of quality products, flexibility and a lot of hard work.

“The company started 60 years ago making mobile homes. We are the oldest, continued-running manufacturer in the RV industry in Canada,” he explains. “We have been through several owners and we’re now owned by the largest RV manufacturer in the world, a company called Thor Industries.”

Thor, headquartered in New York City, represents a new chapter in General Coach’s lifespan—a chapter focused on providing the piece of the RV spectrum that the company does best: park models. In concentrating on this key area, the company has survived where many have fallen by the wayside. Faulkner says that there used to be some 85-plus RV manufacturers in Canada. Now there are about five left.

“We have changed our focus as times changed, over the years. We didn’t get caught up in the, ‘I’m great and I’m going to stick with what I’ve always done’ scenario. We adapted to change very quickly and we’re lucky enough to say that we are still here,” he says. “We have gone through different managers and have changed our focus more than a few times along the way, and here we are today. We are still around, and that’s saying something.”

Not only is General Coach still standing, but it is still growing. Faulkner explains what it really takes to remain in Canada’s RV industry, the mounting competition of others playing in the market and the company’s plans to continue.

Competing in a quieter room

Faulkner says that out of the company’s 60-year history, roughly 50 years have been dedicated to working in the RV market. “We produced travel trailers, fifth wheels, motor homes, truck campers and we’re no longer in that end of the industry at all,” he says. “We now 100 per cent produce a product called park models, which are in essence a different form of a cottage. The competition is certainly less—maybe three or four major competitors in North America.”

Compare this to General Coach’s previous arena and the benefits of focusing on park models begin to become clear. “If I was in the RV business, I would have 140 competitors in North America and that room tends to be very crowded,” Faulkner says. “The winners in that room are always the Americans, because they produce product more cheaply than we do.”

Of course economical production does not necessarily always win out, as Faulkner explains that by getting out of “the crowded room and into the room where there weren’t too many people,” General Coach has been able to continue to grow.

“It’s certainly turning out to be the right move,” he says.“We just hired another 15 people about a month ago and we’re running two lines right now, instead of busting at the seams.”

Regardless of the room, the goal remains the same for General Coach: to produce a product that the market needs. “We’re constantly looking out of the box, trying to find a niche for ourselves, which is something I believe most Canadian manufacturers are going through—the same soul searching today in order to stay afloat in what is now a world market,” Faulkner explains.“I don’t think we’re doing anything different than a lot of other Canadian companies are doing.”

The battle here, he explains, is not with native competitors but with neighbouring American ones.

The Canadian manufacturer

While Faulkner says “it’s tough being a Canadian manufacturer,” this is by no means any indication that it is impossible. The challenges begin with the cheaper production rates offered by American companies. These stem from the nation’s surplus population to employ and ability to produce in close proximity to the markets targeted, to name just a couple of advantages. There are certainly a number of obstacles presented by the comfortable positioning of American manufacturers.

“We’re trying to position ourselves as being the best in what we do and we’re there to let everybody else run after us. Whether they’re copying a floor plan or something else, we’re always looking to be doing something different and that’s really what we do,” Faulkner says. “The Canadian competition that we have is limited and it’s good competition. There’s a difference between good competition and bad competition.”

However this does not prevent General Coach from giving as good as it gets from its neighbours in the United States, as Faulkner explains by drawing our attention to a recent success. “We have a contract with KOA (that’s Kampgrounds of America) who are the largest franchise unit in the world and we have an exclusive agreement for them to produce product for their Canadian franchisees,” he explains.

“We recently went to a conference and we actually sold just as many units to Americans as we did to Canadians. The reason the Americans bought it is because of our quality; no other reason.” Quality products are General Coach’s reason for being. If there is one business incentive to outweigh all others ranging from economical production to market competition, this is it. Luckily for General Coach, quality is exactly what they offer.

Quality people, quality product

In order to excel in this game, Faulkner stresses, the focus of your workforce proves key. “Everybody in our organisation is focused on that one task and that’s to stay ahead of the competition,” he says. “I’ve got 110 people here and I need them to be focused on the task in hand every time they come to work, and they are.”

By honing in on park models, this focus is strengthened. General Coach is gathering its operations in order to strengthen focus too. “We have two factories in Canada: one in B.C. and one in Ontario. We just recently closed our B.C. office to bring everything under one roof so that we are definitely now 100 per cent focused and we’ll ship the product to B.C.,” Faulkner says.

 Heightened focus equates to greater assured quality standards, and Faulkner explains just why a concentrated workforce with a key area of manufacture has allowed General Coach to safeguard its high standards.

“Prices are way down the ladder as far as the decision-making process is concerned and generally speaking Canadians produce product with more quality than our American friends or other countries around the world,” he says. “In our immediate market, Canadians definitely produce a better product, without a doubt. Our market is based on baby boomers, and baby boomers aren’t going to second settle for anything that is inferior. They’re looking for quality because it’s the last one they’re going to buy.”

Quality is the cornerstone of General Coach’s plans for tomorrow, and as Faulkner says, the company is clearly, here for the long-haul.  Some 60 years of adapting, meeting market demand and staying in this increasingly tough game suggest that General Coach’s highest-quality manufacturing is here to stay, grow and impress.