Many of those who have made the journey to Tiffin Motorhomes’ factory in Red Bay, Ala., know that Bob Tiffin has an open door policy and will gladly sit down and chat with an RVer about anything from slide outs to Bear Bryant. They may also know that the invitation to talk with any member of the Tiffin family is an open one that extends from the founding father to the last person on the assembly line and everyone in between.
Visitors to Tiffin’s factory know a lot about the company that has raised the bar and set the pace among manu-facturers of luxury diesel motorhomes. What visitors to Tiffin’s factory may not know is how crucial a role the RVer played in the company’s survival of the darkest economic storm the RV industry has ever known.
It’s a Friday morning, which means that about two-thirds of the 1,200 workers at Tiffin’s plant are wearing Crimson Tide apparel in allegiance to University of Alabama which, in less than 36 hours, will take on the University of South Carolina in a gridiron showdown of conference foes. On this Friday, Bob Tiffin is away, but his son Tim welcomes us to his office and opens up about hard times endured. “We went through some tough times in ’73 and another downturn in ’80 and ’81. Daddy had a lot of experience [surviving recessions] and kept us ready for when the next one hit.”
Like much of the RV industry, Tiffin was unaware of just how crippling the economic downturn of 2007 and 2008 was until they were in the middle of the worst. “We really didn’t see it coming,” says Tim Tiffin of the recession, “but we were positioned well and were fortunate to have resources to withstand it. We had a great dealer base with strong dealers who could withstand the tough times with us.”
South East Sales Manager Danny Inman has been part of the Tiffin family for 37 years. His gracious and booming presence has endeared both he and his company to the hearts of RVing customers for equally as long. Maybe longer. When asked how Tiffin survived the gauntlet that forced so much of the RV industry to early retirement, Inman spoke from the heart. “Being a family-owned company with as good a group of employees as we have who have been here as long as they have made a big difference,” says Inman in a husky Southern voice that should be made an official Alabama state treasure. “Knowing that we’ve got a company that will stand behind the product and do what’s right for the customer … it makes you want to come to work every day.”
Tiffin Motorhomes was certainly not immune to hard times. Yet the company stayed true to the principles that have guided their steady rise since Tiffin’s founding in 1972. Production has doubled since October 2009, a sign that perhaps the most treacherous of times are in its rear view mirror. “Our employees held together,” says Tim Tiffin with the kind of compassion in his eyes that those who have never lost can never understand. “We kept our quality up, even when production slowed way down. I’m real proud of our guys for hanging in like they’ve done.”
As I listened to Tim Tiffin and recalled the images of Tiffin’s diverse menagerie of workers pouring their hearts and souls into the artful task of creating dreams for their customers, I’m reminded of a conviction spoken tome by Bob Tiffin, whom I interviewed some 18 months earlier at the absolute zenith of the recession. Sitting in a 2010 Zephyr with one of the most iconic of the RV industry’s living legends, I quietly asked, “Mr. Tiffin, what motivates you?” He spoke to me as I’m sure he’d speak to anyone who sat down in his office at Red Bay. Calmly, humbly, to the point, what he said resonated with a truth I knew echoed beyond the walls of Red Bay and was the reason Tiffin, and indeed the rest of the RV industry, has emerged from the storm of the great recession with an even stronger commitment to making their customers’ dreams come true for decades to come.
“The spirit of the RVer … is what drives our company.”