Keystone RV makes the No. 1 and No. 2 top-selling toy haulers, a feat accomplished in part by focusing on consumer wants rather than competing products.
If you want to dominate a market segment in the RV industry, you’d be well served by following Keystone RV’s plan of attack: start small, listen to your customers and then expand your offerings. It’s a plan that sounds simple enough, yet it works, as Keystone builds the best-selling toy hauler – and second-best, coincidentally – in the U.S. and Canada today, according to Statistical Surveys, an industry market data firm.
While many of the Goshen, Ind., company’s 20 towable lines (it doesn’t make motorized units) include a toy hauler model or two, the segment is led by the trendsetting Raptor, an upscale line of mostly fifth wheels available in eight models up to 38 feet long. Keystone pegs Raptor’s success to the fact it doesn’t look, or live, like a typical, West Coast-styled toy hauler.
“What I’ve seen in the industry over the past couple of years is similar to the automotive industry with the crossover vehicles,” says Sean Ryan, general manager of the Key Performance Group, the Keystone unit responsible for the Raptor and Energy lines. “These toy haulers have become not just utilitarian; they’ve become more luxurious and more focused on the customer in addition to hauling whatever toy they have.”
That means Raptors aren’t decked out in chrome or loud primary colors on every surface. Instead, the gel-coated fiberglass exteriors feature tasteful graphics packages, while the interior contains contemporary furniture fabrics and kitchen surfaces drenched in earth tones. It’s a marked difference from many of Keystone’s competing manufacturers, as the company’s design process is driven by those who use buy the units.
“One of the things I’ve always done – at least with my brands and I believe it to be true with most of the Keystone brands – is (solicit) the vast majority of feedback from retail customers and dealerships who are talking to retail customers,” says Ryan, who admits to not paying too much attention to units from other companies. “I don’t let my competition direct my product.”
The Raptor, along with sister brands Fuzion (the second-best selling toy hauler) and Energy, a new line of entry-level toy hauler, owes its existence to Keystone’s Tailgater. Introduced in the late 1990s, it was a lower-priced product that marked the company’s first try at the growing toy hauler segment. Although it has since been discontinued, the Tailgater was a successful seller for Keystone, and it made management examine the niche more closely and develop additional products.
Keystone’s New, High ‘Energy’ Model
One of those products is the Energy, introduced late last year. Like the Tailgater, the Energy was designed as an entry-level trailer and is offered in three lengths up to 26 feet. Although it’s definitely geared for the lightweight category (the heaviest model weighs 6,685 pounds), the Energy offers many of the same features available in its bigger brothers. Among them are electric beds, integrated fuel cells, generators and larger holding tanks.
Keystone – which builds the Raptor and the Fuzion in Indiana – also has taken an uncommon manufacturing and distribution approach with the Energy; the line is built at the company’s eight-year-old Pendleton, Ore., plant and is only available in the western U.S. and Canada. It’s not unlike what rival Jayco did in 2004 when it built a plant in neighboring Idaho to meet high product demand in the West.
It just makes sense to build Energy models in Oregon, says Ryan, given that the line was designed for consumers in the Western states, where competition is fierce.
“What you see is two distinctive tastes in product. The uses vary from East Coast to West Coast as far as the climate goes, as well as where you’re camping and what’s in the area. If you’re taking a unit out to the desert, you’re not going to have mosquitoes, for example, so having a unit that is a little bit more open lets you pack it full of everything you need,” he says. “It’s really more focused on the West Coast customer; what they’re using it for and where they’re camping.”
Keystone is owned by Thor Industries, the world’s largest RV manufacturer, and Ryan says Keystone prides itself meeting customer needs, hence the company’s staggering variety of toy hauler products. The Fuzion rounds out the Key Performance Group trio. While alike, in many respects, to the Raptor, the Fuzion – offered in six fifth wheel models up to 40 feet long – does have a unique feature: a sliding glass door that separates the living area from the garage.
Even though the Fuzion, like the Raptor, is a highline brand, Keystone is introducing in the fall a limited-run Fuzion model dubbed the Touring Edition that will save buyers money.
“What we’ve done there is taken the Fuzion, which has got a ton of momentum in the marketplace with a lot of buzz out there, and threw in a lot of upgrades, thousands and thousands of dollars worth, into the product,” Ryan says. “We’ve thrown in the icemaker, we’ve thrown in the larger refrigerator. We’ve also thrown in a more aggressive graphics package and electric ramp doors.
“The goal there was to do something that you may not necessarily want to put in every single unit due to cost, but it’s something that a lot of people do want and if we can give it to them at a discounted rate, then we’re hoping to capitalize on even more momentum in the marketplace with this,” he says. “It’s more of a marketing tool, but it is something that a lot of customers ask for.”
A New Raptor on the Way
The offering will be followed by a new Raptor model that Keystone officials are tight-lipped about. “We’re not ready to talk about that yet,” Ryan says simply. “There’s still a curtain over that unit.”
Regardless of what the new Raptor will look like, one thing is certain: it wasn’t created in a vacuum. Not only does Keystone get feedback from customers, it also listens to its dealers regarding new products.
“We collect information from numerous dealerships because I like to say we have some of the best relationships in the industry with our dealers. We get all those tidbits, we collect up and then say, ‘Hey, what’s next for us? Being No. 1 is really not good enough; we’re trying to see how far ahead of everyone else we can get.”
Once the basic outline of a new product is formed, Ryan says, it’s presented to Keystone’s version of a 20 Group for review. From there, the design is tweaked again, if needed, before it’s turned into reality.
Judging by the numbers, it’s a process Keystone has down pat, as the company not only leads the toy hauler segment, but also occupies the top spot in travel trailers and fifth wheels, based on a recent Statistical Surveys report. In other words, Keystone is a dominant player in the towables market. To Ryan, the numbers aren’t the only things to consider, though.
“At the end of the day, the stats don’t really matter because when everybody’s going after the same customer. Being No. 1 or being No. 10 doesn’t matter. You’ve got to grab everybody you can and you’ve got to have the best product,” he says. “It’s all about value and giving the customer what they want. You can look at sales numbers, but to me, it’s somewhat irrelevant just for the sheer fact that you’re only as good as the product you make for the customer.”
So how does Keystone address dealer questions regarding warranty issues, a common refrain heard from coast to coast?
“We don’t exist without our dealers, so you have to take care of all sides of the business,” Ryan says. “I would say Keystone is one of the best, if not the best, at looking at all sides and making sure that we take care of all our dealerships.”
Another item Keystone places great emphasis on is unit specifications, he says. Ask customers where truth in advertising matters most and the response will often center on the spec sheets. Of course, it doesn’t help that some buyers expect to pull a loaded, 30-foot toy hauler with Harleys in the back with an economy car.
“What makes it difficult when you’re talking about some of the larger fifth wheels is you still have to build something that a customer’s products, such as quads or motorcycles, can fit in the back,” he says. “What you find is someone may want to tow something with a half-ton pickup, but that’s not realistic once you put all your gear in. You’re going over that weight.
“The key thing is just being truthful about your product with the retail customer and being honest with the weights and what it actually weighs, the tongue weight and the hitch weight and what it can really safely tow,” he says. “That’s always been important to us and that is really let the customer know what they’re getting.”