Background and Location
In early February went to Red Bay, Alabama to have warranty repairs fixed by the manufacturer on our 2016 Allegro RV. Tiffin is a family owned company and the family has been in the Red Bay area since turn of the last century. They started the Tiffin manufacturing plant in 1972. Red Bay has a population of around 3,000 people and roughly 1/3 that amount are employed in RV-related jobs. Public guided tours are 9:30am Monday through Friday and no reservation is needed.
I'll start by saying our first tour of an RV manufacturing facility was at Winnebago and they really impressed us. Our overall first impression of the Tiffin plant, was that it is an old cotton warehouse retrofit to house a couple of production lines. The production process seemed very manual. Don't get me wrong, they have automated cutting machines for things like styrofoam and wood. They also don't make as many of the RV parts themselves as Winnebago. I think there were only 2 production lines at Tiffin – one for diesel and one for gas RVs. The guides were a little fuzzy about this or I just missed it. The production lines were not easily discernible to a passerby and were broken into 18+ workstations. In general, the facility was cluttered and seemed a little chaotic.
Our tour guides were very friendly, but didn't do a good job of explaining how an order gets built. The layout and clutter of the facility probably contributed to this. It was difficult to see a defined production line looking from one end of the building to the other, but there were many workers busily working and moving about.
Our tour guide joked that they weren't able to take the same path through the facility from one tour to the next because they were always moving things around. At no point during the tour was any mention made as to why Tiffin products were better or how their construction was superior to other manufacturers.
The guides advised that current production is approximately 12 RVs completed each day with a low point of 3 per day during the financial crisis in 2008. So they have the ability to scale down production, but likely are limited by the current facility to do much more than current levels. Our guide advised it takes them about 8 weeks from order placement to having the product finished.
For comparison purposes, Winnebago produces 12-50 RVs each day depending on orders.
Show Me Your Stuff – The Yellow Brick Road
From the first day we walked into the Tiffin service center, we heard about all of the great models we'd be able to see at the Yellow Brick Road when we went on the factory tour. If you have ever looked for a Tiffin, you know they are not easy to find and no dealer seems to ever have more than a couple of the different models for you to look at, so we were very excited to be able to actually walk through the product line.
When we finally got to the Yellow Brick Road, we found that not all models were available to walk through and the few that were there didn't have their slides out. This isn't helpful when you are trying to imagine yourself living in one. AND I hate having to crawl over a bed to see the back bathroom (I'll do it, but I really don't like it).
It also appeared many of the vehicles on the Yellow Brick Road were waiting for repairs (some obvious – steps not working, missing doors and some not obvious – refrigerator broken). It was kind of a big disappointment overall, but we looked at what they had.
We also understand that it is expensive from a business perspective to have multiple $200,000 – $600,000+ models just sitting around for folks to walk through. Perhaps they could have a showroom with actual size mocked up floor plans since there are also no dealers with enough inventory to do this. I can look at 100s of floor plans online, but until I actually walk through it, I don't know if it works for me. I also don't have the patience or desire to travel the US trying to hunt one of each down just for the privilege of looking at it. Don't ever make me work hard for you to sell me your product.
My take on the Tiffin factory tour is that it wouldn't persuade my purchase decision one way or the other. I still like the vehicle we currently have, but wouldn't consider myself a loyalist at this point.
Curiosity Sets In
Since there was such a wide disparity between the manufacturing process for Winnebagos and Tiffins, we now want to visit other manufacturers to see what we can learn about their processes in preparation for trading in our current RV for another model. We should be able to visit 3-4 of these sites on our way back to Iowa this summer. More to come…