How this research initiative is facilitating RV industry growth
While listening to a conversation at the 2018 Xscapers Annual Bash between two different generations of RVers, Winnebago Product Planner Nick Davis, had one of those all-important lightbulb moments. Nick was listening to a more seasoned RVer share that he didn’t relate to some of the new and unique ways the next generation of RVers are approaching the lifestyle, but that he could respect and understand the desire to want to do things differently than past generations. It was clear that there was a new wave of RVers making their way into the market and Winnebago needed to make sure they were facilitating conversations to stay informed with the changing needs and preferences of the RVing community.
Winnebago has relied on valuable product feedback from their own owners’ group, WIT Club, for decades and has also had a growing involvement at various rallies and RV events, such as the RV Entrepreneur Summit. While these grass roots efforts to better understand the customer through product feedback have been successful and will continue to be an important part of the voice of customer efforts, Winnebago wanted to take it a step further. Although the relationship wasn’t formalized until later in the year, Nick’s experience at the Xscapers event was a great example of the insights that could be gained from working more closely with the Escapees RV Club. The company also stood out due to its community-focused nature and “total support network” for RVers, as well as its more than 60,000 members and 40+ years of experience in the industry.
For Travis and Melanie Carr, president and vice president of Escapees and founders of Xscapers, it was obvious that “RVers were underutilized” in the RVing industry. Their goal was to connect their community to a manufacturer who would listen, so that their valuable input would be taken into account for future designs. By observing interactions at shows and events, the Carrs made note that Winnebago was not only hearing the customer feedback, they were actually implementing it by coming out with product innovations based on those insights. The launch of the Horizon – Winnebago’s luxury Class A motorhome with a standout contemporary design – especially got their attention. This re-imagined diesel pusher resonated so much with Travis & Melanie that they even decided to purchase a Horizon of their own!
While the voice of the customer was being heard from various audiences and platforms, Escapees knew that “a combined voice goes a lot further” and wanted to help facilitate that level of communication between their diverse member base and Winnebago through a formal research initiative.
Innovation Through Insights
With more than fifty years of experience hosting the annual Grand National Rally, Winnebago knows the value of RVer events and wanted to be part of some of the great social and educational events that Escapees hosts throughout the year – including the annual Escapade. In 2018, Nick and the Winnebago team saw the 58th Escapade event as an opportunity to better understand who the Escapees are, get more exposure for the Winnebago brand, and do a lot of research. Since the event was only a state away in Missouri, about a dozen Winnebago team members drove down with around 10 motorhomes.
While initially unsure how their presence would be received, Winnebago was excited to be welcomed and embraced by the friendly Escapees community who were happy for the chance to provide their genuine thoughts on how the RVing lifestyle could be improved. At the event, Winnebago hosted targeted focus groups and workshops where they shared product mock-ups and collected feedback from Escapees members. They also spent time interviewing individual RVers and were especially impressed with some of the ways these owners “hacked the RV experience” with creative mods.
The feedback collected at this event helped to influence the redesign of the Winnebago Forza 38D floorplan – complete with a workspace that can be used by multiple people at once as a formal desk or craft area. Nick Davis notes, “it was an idea that was defined and developed by an entire team of people, not just Winnebago.”
Clearly, engaging with RV enthusiasts is a source of inspiration for Winnebago and, according to Travis and Melanie, Escapees members felt it was “uplifting to know the input they gave was actually implemented in a product.”
Making It Official
The success of this collaboration is what led to the establishment of a more formal, long-term working relationship to make sure this passionate group of RVers continues to speak into Winnebago’s product decisions. In fall of 2018, Escapees RV Club became Winnebago’s primary non-owner-specific research group – an important milestone for both organizations and their shared goals of furthering innovation and creating a better RVing experience.
Knowing the benefits of the more hands-on, in depth experience available at events, Winnebago expanded their presence at the 59th Escapade in March 2019 by bringing along the towable group as well and hosting multiple events – including an “Ask the Manufacturer” session to provide an opportunity for attendees to interact directly with representatives and learn more about current and future Winnebago projects. After the Q&A event, which was opened to more than 1,000 RV owners, attendees were welcomed to schedule appointments with the Winnebago Product Planners to give further insights and share more specific improvement ideas.
In addition to in-person events, Winnebago has furthered their research with Escapees by inviting a group of members to participate in their RV Experience Council in order to gain a deeper, more specific understanding of the customer experience and pain points, as well as offer an opportunity for members to participate in a broader range of research activities – including interviews and online discussion boards. In early 2019, nearly 1,500 Escapees members opted-in to Winnebago’s research panel, sharing detailed insight into how RVers use their rigs. Of course, any information collected is confidential and participants can opt-out at any time.
Through in-person interviews, surveys, event workshops, and online discussion boards, Winnebago has been able to engage with this diverse group of RVers and collect important feedback which has, along with other voice of customer efforts, led directly to enhancements in products.
While the Winnebago-Escapees relationship has already helped to inspire multiple innovations, this is just the start. There are regular meetings to discuss ways to further these efforts and work together toward the goal of improving the RV lifestyle for current and future generations. Nick Davis explains it is important to “continue the relationship in a way that creates meaningful change for RVers.” Winnebago doesn’t want to just ask “what are the true needs of RVers and how are they evolving?,” but actually act on that feedback and make sure those insights are reflected in products.
Escapees RV Club has been providing support to the RVing community for more than 40 years and is now instrumental in facilitating input for Winnebago’s voice of customer efforts to improve RV design and overall experience.