. . . how off-the-shelf buying is making prices higher and quality lower
Our biggest surprise at the RV shows over the last few years has been the amount of components for RV interiors that are no longer built by the RV builder. Those of us who have been around for more than a couple decades —like I have—know that RV interiors usually distinguish the RV builder. My staff and I have been to many RV factories where the managers would proudly exhibit their cabinetry while emphasizing a special touch. A few builders, like Newmar and Winnebago, still have departments that specializes in building cabinetry and furniture. But it appears that this “old-fashioned” way is fast becoming a thing of the past and out-sourcing is a thing of the future.
Most builders are buying off-the-shelf or custom-made components from companies like Lippert (a big travel-trailer chassis builder) and its sister companies who appear to be buying some of their products from China and other Asian countries. (We will have more of this in another issue.)
This trend should worry the RV consumer because brands will lose their individual characteristics, which will diminish their value and the consumer’s pride of ownership. Remember how a decade ago brands were not all built the same? You could see distinct differences as you walked through any RV show and at dealerships that sold a number of brands. If this trend of off-the-shelf buying continues, RV manufacturers will become RV assemblers. Almost anyone with a few bucks can buy the components and put an RV together in their back yard.
Galley components, such as the sink or stove backsplash, are a good example of this trend. The photo shows you how galley backsplashes made with laminates that imitate tiles can work wonderfully or can be really crappy. At shows you can walk from one manufacturer’s RV into another manufacturer’s RV and see exactly the same design for the kitchen. And don’t kid yourself by minimizing the value of a good backsplash. A good backsplash will help keep the galley walls solid, make cleaning much easier, and protect your investment in a motor home, travel trailer, or camper. Like the quality of cabinets and drawers, the backsplash should be carefully inspected by a potential buyer.
Notice the photos. If you have been paying attention to the galley backsplashes at shows and dealer lots, you have most probably seen the same backsplashes far too often regardless of brand name or price. And after you have looked at a number of brands like we have, you’ll experience Deja vu again and again.
As you look at backsplashes like those in photo #1, you’ll see why this is a terrible backsplash. Between these tiles there are open gaps just waiting for you to fill with scrambled eggs or anything else a backsplash can catch.
The backsplash in photo #2 is behind the sink and counter work area. Notice the ‘grouted’ gaps that don’t look like they would be easy to clean without a stiff toothbrush. For most of you, this one might be acceptable if the rest of the RV is acceptable.
In photo #3 the designer has opted for a more conventional backsplash that is more of a water catch than backsplash. Still, the wall behind the galley appears washable so this back will probably be much easier to clean than those in photos #1 and #2,
The backsplashes in photos #4 and #5 are almost elegant. But since they are installed by the assemblers, they need to be carefully scrutinized if you’re going to use the RV for snowbirding or fulltiming. Because this type of installation requires almost perfect application of adhesive and pressure, if not perfectly installed it will most assuredly give some trouble down the road. If the workmanship is good, however, you’ll probably be happy with these types of backsplashes.
In addition to backsplashes, there are many components of an RV that need scrutiny; and that’s exactly what we’re going to be doing in coming issues of RV Confidential. But in the next issue, I’ll be telling you about how RV manufacturers and dealers are working with new pricing techniques that might get your head shaking and pockets emptier.
Until next time.
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