Fri Jul 19, 2019
Author: By RVIA Staff
In its July member spotlight, the RVIA interviews RVIA board Treasurer Jeff Rutherford, president and CEO of Airxcel. In a wide-ranging interview, Rutherford discusses his background in manufacturing and business, his experience since joining the team in 2013 and the impact of RVIA programs from training and education to efforts on Capitol Hill. Check out this informative Q&A with Jeff as he shares his story in his own words.
Explain the structure of Airxcel
Each one of our businesses operates as a specific division. So, when you think about Coleman-Mach, MAXXAIR, Dicor or Aqua-Hot, name your group, they all operate as separate divisions. Each one of those divisions is a product expert in the category that they're in. What Airxcel does that's different from anybody else in the industry is—as we develop or acquire new brands—we keep that brand identity intact.
How does the sales aspect operate?
When we come to the sales aspect, we do have a sales organization that, at the very top, is holistic and includes all the brands. When you get to the next level, they are actually sold by product experts. For example, Suburban has their brand experts and sales team who are responsible for the proper placement and specification which ensures the customer gets the product that they want. It’s the same thing with Coleman, Dicor, MCD and many others—there’s a bit of collaboration at the very top. But again, once you get to that next level, it goes right back to that area of product experts.
Share what being a product expert involves.
Well, when I think about our groups, Coleman-Mach has been making RV air conditioning since 1966. Over time, people have retired, and new people have joined the team. But, throughout that time, they have focused only on making RV air conditioners and it is something the business has become reputable for. As you bring a new employee in, whether it is in engineering or sales, they're immersed in that environment. They have the benefit of history. They also bring in new ideas and new talent. I make the same statement as it relates to Suburban who has been producing propane gas appliances since the 1950s. And again, that’s what they're known for, that's what they do. We don't make air conditioners at the Suburban plant. We don't make gas appliances at the air conditioning plant. They're all set up to be product specific.
How do you separate your teams’ work in concert with one another?
When you think about our business, Airxcel is really separated into two groups, an RV group and commercial/industrial group. The commercial/industrial group services the telecom, commercial cooling and multi-tenant housing industries and has different technical requirements. Using the technical requirements that we have in this group, and bringing those over into the RV group, leverages some of that skill set and talent to make our RV group products that much stronger.
Do the teams physically get together at some point to share information?
The teams work together at meetings a couple of times a year. We have get-togethers with the management where we focus on things that impact everybody. Things such as tariffs or new regulatory requirements for air conditioning or things associated with different types of technology, like controls or systems of that nature. In doing this, we're able to leverage our scale and our size. But again, it comes back down to the specific detail level.
What opportunities will the RV Technical Institute provide to the RV industry?
When you think about training technicians, it's really about training employees on the latest technologies and the newest things that are coming to the market and going out to our consumer. With that technical skill, opportunities exist in sales, engineering, customer service and in the field, as well as trade events. There are all kinds of things the RV Technical Institute will help leverage that could be transferred to RV supplier, manufacturing and dealer communities. The opportunities are there, and this institute will aid people in getting the training they need in multiple areas to be successful.
What impact does the RV Industry Association have on the RV industry?
I've been involved with the RV Industry Association for a long time. I joined the Board of Directors in 2004. Prior to that, I was involved in committees, annual meetings and the like–my personal affiliation with the association has been in place much of my career in this industry. The list is pretty long when I think about the value this association brings to the industry. When you think about self-regulation, it's probably the most critical. We've been able to keep outside government agencies, for the most part, out of our business and allowing us to do it ourselves. We have continually worked towards developing and providing better products, better resources, to all members, to help manage business such as statistics and data. I think the association has talented staff, but it also encompasses a great circle of volunteer members who contribute. That combination has really made the RV Industry Association one of the stronger trade associations in the market today.
Describe the influence of the RV Industry Association’s signature programs to the industry.
The ability of Go RVing to help elevate the RV industry has been a tremendous support for everybody associated with the industry. The association’s focus on the Repair Event Cycle Time, ways to improve on customer experience and developing training for technicians with the RV Technical Institute, will be a long-standing accomplishment. I would also note the work accomplished in government affairs to ensure that the RV industry is not sucked into legislative activity that would be unfavorable for this industry. Establishing the RV Caucus has been impactful to make sure our elected officials continue to understand the value of the RV industry and its economic contributions. I could go on and on about all the amazing things this organization is doing for the industry.
Share the value you and your team experienced at the RVs Move America week in Washington D.C.
The primary purpose of RVs Move America Week (formerly known as Committee Week) is the committee work itself. This time of year is carved out for members of the RV industry to come together and set the objectives and the direction going forward. In addition, RV industry colleagues storm our nation’s capital as part of the association’s annual advocacy event. The industry has always done a great job of going up to Capitol Hill and meeting with congressional members to enlighten them on some of the things that are going on in the RV industry, as well as asking them for their support on upcoming legislation.
What are some of the community outreach programs your company is involved with?
We are major employers in most of the communities that we are in. In Elkhart, we've been a supporter of the LoveWay organization that transforms the lives of individuals with special needs through equestrian experiences and we are involved in the Boys & Girls Club. We've also been a major contributor to the new aquatic center in the area. The president of Suburban in Dayton, Tenn., coaches a baseball team for developmentally challenged students. In Georgia, where we have Marvair, we work with at-risk high school students, providing them internship opportunities during the school year and throughout the summer where they can learn valuable skills of how to get a job. In Colorado, we support the Northern Colorado Manufacturing Partnership where we work with small startup companies to help advance skill sets in business and employee development.
What makes Airxcel standout in the RV industry?
One of the things that makes Airxcel unique is that we have a long history in support of sourcing our components globally but manufacturing locally. What that means is the vast majority of our products are produced here in the United States. The idea is to always give us the flexibility to meet our customers' needs and requirements.