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mojoracing 11-04-2015 11:38 AM

Visited 4 different RV plants
 
My point to what I'm about to tell you is that "brand, or more accurately, who assembles them, matters. Monday and Tuesday of this week I had the good fortune to visit four different trailer and fifth wheel assembly plants. All of them fell under the Forest River umbrella but although they shared the same parent company, they couldn't be more different.
The four companies were Cedar Creek, XLR toy haulers, Sierra and Wolfpack/Cherokee. While all seemed to be very good products based on their price points, there was a huge difference as to the energy and pride put into their assembly. We have all heard the term "Amish built" when speaking of and about the RV industry and perhaps the woodworking and cabinetry that goes into RV's. I have also heard some mention that it was a farce and that some companies used the term purely in a marketing sense. I can tell you that it in fact is a "feature that those companies that employee the Amish should use as a major selling point.
While at the cedar creek plant, I noticed that near the entire workforce was Amish. I was later told that 98% of the folks working there were Amish. They were energetic, friendly and very proud of their work. I noticed that they literally ran between jobs. They ran to get the next part needed and even jogged to go eat lunch so they could be back working as soon as possible. I also noticed, unlike other plants that their work seemed much more focused and although it was being performed at breakneck speed, the attention to detail was there. Even the way the unit came off line was massively different.
Once a unit is built, all plants had an area where they used red tape to go around and mark areas or things that needed further attention. In the Amish plants, there was very little red tape and when I looked for the reason they had red taped it, I either couldn't find the defect or as a consumer, the tiny cosmetic defect would have gone unnoticed. At the non amish plant, the amount of red tape was staggering. To their credit, they did find the defects and I assume repaired them but I don't think many of the issues should have occurred in the first place. Even the cleanliness of the units varied greatly. The amish units were literally spotless while the other plants left something to be desired. For instance, a look inside a cabinet revealed a large layer of dust. Not so in the amish units.
Now, some of this could fall back on plant management and what they expect out of their teams. In all fairness, Cedar Creek is a higher price point than the others but what Im talking about doesn't cost money. The line workers at the other plants just didn't have the enthusiasm for their jobs like the amish workers did and you saw that pride show through.
My trip was extremely interesting in all facets and all the plants really seemed to build nice products but I did take mental note of one thing. Before I buy my next RV, I will visit all the plants that build the units I am considering. Trust me when I tell you, it won't take you five minutes to know what units to exclude and what units stand head and shoulders over the competition. This also applies to the components and construction techniques used. Id also like to say that I have no allegiance to these brands as I don't currently own, nor am I looking to purchase a towable rv. I did also come to some independent conclusions as to what I would look for as far as construction techniques in my next RV by using my own common sense and limited construction experience. Again I didn't write this to sway anyones opinion or to bad mouth any brand. Im simply stating my admiration for the values and pride the Amish folks exhibited toward their product and livelihood. The rest of America could certainly learn a few lessons from them, I know I did.

Steverino 11-04-2015 11:44 AM

Thanks for this valuable post. I'm not in the market at the moment, but this is really good food for thought. Doubly interesting for me, as there is a vibrant Amish community here in Lancaster, PA where I live.

Gordon Dewald 11-04-2015 11:52 AM

Nice write up. Yup quality has to do with the happiness and demeanor of the employees. Good leadership make sure the employees are happy.

And it appears that family values are a big item as well.

Too bad that we are teaching our children that all you have to do it show up and you will get a blue ribbon. What happened to working for it?

mojoracing 11-04-2015 12:04 PM

Another big factor is that most of the employees were long term. I mean like 15 years, 17 years, that kind of thing. Also, some were 2nd and 3rd generation employees. One of the most interesting things was that I learned they had no HR department. The Amish police themselves.

450Donn 11-04-2015 12:34 PM

Now you know why those of us that own one would buy another. 10 years and counting and my CC is still a dream to live in and tow

jimcumminsw 11-04-2015 01:33 PM

I went to the F.R.O.G. (Forest River Owners Group) rally this year in Goshen IN., with our CC34RL. I had a couple of issue that were resolved there by one of the CC employees. He informed me that he had worked on the first CC that came off of the line in 1998 and was now the quality control person responsible for the R. T. S. (ready to ship) on them. When talking to him he remembered my unit. Because he called the sales department over one of the attachments we wanted and it would not work on that model. The 34RL can not have the couch placed on the rear wall, slides will not extend or retract and then have theater seating next to the dining table. He was the only one to catch this issue during the build process.


So yes; they do have long term employees working on them and they take pride in their work.

Smitty77 11-04-2015 10:02 PM

I have had the opportunity to involved with well over 60 manufacturing plants over the years. Some with as few as 400-500 employees, and some with over 10K employees.

While Management can for sure have an impact, and slowly turn things around in different areas of problems on an fabrication/assembly floor, nothing is better then seeing the employees themselves having the right attitude to start with.

Some of it is culture of the different states/regions and countries in general. But I noted several times that when new employees are mentored by more experience employees - the attitude of the experience employee is quite often picked up on by the new employee. Sort of the 'culture' of that shop.

Top Down management us often a buzzword used about good plants. I've frankly found it more important to have Bottom Up pride in workmanship, and as willingness to do it as right as possible. It is the mechanics, technician, assembler, painter, machinist, inspector, etc. - that 'builds' a product. Not the management, the design engineer, etc... Real magic, and quality, and thus usually profits - occur with the management, design engineer, etc. - listen to the input, and respond, from those that build the product.

Thank you for sharing this info, and my sincere hopes for overall american manufacturing in general - that more partnerships and mutual trust and respect cultures and expectations of doing things right, spread thru all sectors.

Best to you all,
Smitty

CampingCajun 11-05-2015 07:22 AM

Our Fifth Wheel was a Cedar Creek. Trouble free & if I ever get out of a Class A it will be to get back into a Cedar Creek.

minnow 11-05-2015 02:53 PM

Thanks for the write up. Very interesting indeed. Were all of the plants in close proximety to each other ? We did a factory tour of the Sunline plant 20 years ago and would love to do another now. It would be (to me anyways) fascinating to do what you did.

DC8Captain 11-05-2015 03:24 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by mojoracing (Post 2812001)
Another big factor is that most of the employees were long term. I mean like 15 years, 17 years, that kind of thing. Also, some were 2nd and 3rd generation employees. One of the most interesting things was that I learned they had no HR department. The Amish police themselves.

Thanks for your review.

Did they make any TT's at that factory or just the CC 5th wheel? Any ideas on how to tell if a specific factory has a majority of the workforce from the Amish community?

DC8Captain 11-05-2015 04:23 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by mojoracing (Post 2812001)
Another big factor is that most of the employees were long term. I mean like 15 years, 17 years, that kind of thing. Also, some were 2nd and 3rd generation employees. One of the most interesting things was that I learned they had no HR department. The Amish police themselves.

mojoracing - can I copy and paste your main post to another RV Forum site that I frequent?

schrod 11-05-2015 06:44 PM

I am sorry but I have to disagree with the fact of all Amish doing quality work. Yes, a lot of them work very fast, too fast in most instances. I have watched the Amish work. I have hired the Amish to work for me. I had my house re-roofed two years ago by an Amish crew. They hurried too much. I got a sub par job. I have noticed that the Amish that work quickly yet without hurrying do the best work.

schrederman 11-05-2015 07:01 PM

One thing to note here... RV manufacturers don't pay by the hour. They pay each worker by the function they perform, and by the piece. That's why you see them running, throwing parts, and generally hurrying. On the cleanliness thing... some plants pay as above but penalize for having to clean up after their workers... and some plants don't give a rat's patoot if the unit's clean or not. This method of payment is why RV build quality is so poor at times. Let's face it, if they're behind a little, a spot that should get 2 screws may only get 1. This is not a scathe at the Amish, as every one of them I've known has been a very hard working person... but I don't think being Amish makes that much difference as to pride of workmanship.

mojoracing 11-05-2015 10:29 PM

Yes you can paste it to another site. I didn't see them working at a pace that would have contributed to poor build quality. I saw them work8ng at a fast pace and being incredibly efficient. Yes they get paid by the piece but the proof is in the quality as many have stated here. I think a major reason these units have the quality they do is due to the workers being there a long time and being intimately familiar with the product they are building. Many other shops have workers that hear plant A 8s paying 25 cents an hour more and off they go. They barely get the rythm of their job down pat and they're off to the next plant


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