Carefree, Outdoor Living

Homing in on products that create additional livable space outdoors proves successful for this Colorado company.

Fast turnaround times, plus a dedication to quality materials, seems to be the winning recipe for Carefree of Colorado.

A mainstay in the industry since Carefree’s founder, Gene Upton, introduced the first true automatic rollup awning for RVs in 1971, Carefree’s relationships with its dealer contacts, OEM partners and distributors are critical for its success.

RV PRO spoke with Carefree of Colorado’s President Eric Cannon and Vice President of Sales and Marketing Kevin Mayer to learn more about what customers are looking for and how the company strives to fill those needs.

RV PRO: What would you say are your top-selling products for dealerships?

Mayer: Our top-selling products include replacement parts for almost every awning model we have manufactured over the past 50 years. We are proud to be able to provide parts that extend the life of our products rather than forcing consumers into buying replacement units.

In addition to parts, we sell a healthy amount of replacement canopies for both patio awnings and slideout covers. These are one of the most common wear items on an RV, so replacing them again extends the useful life of the product. We have a variety of price points, from entry-level cut-to-fit fabrics to higher-end, custom-manufactured premium vinyl and acrylic canopies with options for add-on guards that protect the canopies from future degradation. Most of those custom replacement canopies are manufactured and shipped within 48 hours.

Carefree President Eric Cannon

Cannon: We’ve got a really fast turnaround time. Most things we can ship custom, whatever you need, within 48 hours. So even if your distributor doesn’t have it on the shelf, you can order it with us and we can create a replacement canopy for most things with a really fast turnaround time.

The other thing that I would say is we have a wide variety of custom canopies. And so, as you’re looking at wanting to upgrade [an] awning canopy that might give a little bit longer life, we have all of those options available too.

RV PRO: Why are replacement canopies and slideout covers important to your business, and why would a customer want these?

Mayer: Slideout covers are not always standard equipment from the manufacturers despite being critical in preventing debris from falling on the slideout and ultimately jeopardizing the slideout seals. Once the slideout opens and closes a few times with a few leaves or sticks in the mix, the seals deform and tear, then water begins to breach the RV and bad things can happen.

Our range of slideout covers easily retrofit onto most units to instantly provide debris protection while shading the slideout, minimizing heat gain inside the unit. Carefree’s patented lock design prevents billowing while driving.

Cannon: Whether it’s a towable, a small teardrop or big Class As, expanding the livable space is always something that we talk about. Our awnings and awnings in general create additional livable space. The whole point is to be outdoors, and [for] most people it’s not safe for our health to be in full sun.

So our awnings provide some level of protection there. And we’ve done some consideration of how we [can] expand that livable space thought beyond just an awning.

But we fundamentally feel that our bread and butter is a mechanical and electrical design to create shade and do it efficiently and seamlessly at the push of a button. So, I think that’s kind of the lane we stay in right now.

RV PRO: What is it about the construction of Carefree of Colorado’s products that make them stand out? What materials are used in manufacturing?

Carefree of Colorado’s products are all assembled in the United States.

Cannon: We design our products in the United States. We do all of our canopy assembly, final assembly of all of our awnings, here in Colorado. And we distribute all over the country. We’re Americans making things in America for other Americans to enjoy the outdoors, and I think a lot of our customers consider value in that. The industry in general is tightly ingrained in the U.S. You don’t see things being imported and we love being a part of that, and we think it adds value to our economy and certainly our employees — the work that they are able to do to provide these products.

Mayer: All of our awnings are manufactured in Colorado. We are proud to be an American manufacturer and the quality that comes with that. While we offer a variety of price points, we do not compromise on some core materials — for example, we only utilize 6063 aluminum in our product. You will not find any steel in our awnings like you will in others — steel is heavy and rusts quickly. Our vinyl fabric is the benchmark for design and weight — patterns are hand-selected and production standards are high. For higher-end units, we utilize Sunbrella and Recasens acrylic fabric and sew with Tenara thread, which does not degrade in the elements.

RV PRO: Can you tell me about durability? Do any of your products come with a warranty?

Mayer: All of our products come with a one-year warranty. As mentioned earlier, we strive to provide replacement components as much as possible rather than forcing repurchase.

RV PRO: How about installation — should a dealer assist a customer with installation?

Mayer: Dealers should install when possible. Awnings are a great category to become familiar with servicing — they are a heavy wear item and play a critical role in the comfort of RVing. Once a dealer becomes comfortable, servicing awnings will usually grow into one of their best service categories.

RV PRO: What is your customer service like for a dealer or an end-user?

Mayer: We pride ourselves on customer service. Our team of agents in Colorado is standing by to answer technical questions or provide direction with replacement parts or custom configurations. Each agent participates in extensive product training, including exposure to the manufacturing processes.

RV PRO: Where do you gain insights on what will resonate with customers?

I think one of the places that we’ve gained some insights from [is] we’ve got a really strong relationship with the RV Industry Association. They do a lot of broad market studies — what do people want, how do we improve the buying experience, the user experience? And we’ve been investing a lot in [that] here. People are looking for improved quality and reliability.

Historically, RV ownership has been a lot of DIY. You’re fixing things by yourself. And I think as the industry evolves, people are looking for a more white-glove experience. They want things to just work reliably the way they do in other parts of their lives.

And so, we’ve taken that and worked to invest in the reliability of our products and the quality of our products over time.

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