Question: Does it make sense for someone who is new to the motorhome world to purchase a “starter” coach or go all-in upfront and purchase their Last Coach First?
In a previous post I mentioned that during my search of my first and possibly last motorhome, during a conversation with a Newell sales rep, I was informed of a pre-owned, 2008 Newell bunk model that featured a master bedroom that converted into home theater. This layout piqued my interest and set off a seemingly rapid chain of events that had me traveling to the Newell offices in Miami, OK and participating in two days of supervised driving instruction.
Needless to say, that due to Newell’s reputation for quality, reliability and 24/7 customer service, I gave this opportunity my full attention.
The supervised instruction took place in a 2009 Newell coach and I was impressed. It was quiet, smooth and considering its size, probably due to the active steering tag axel, it seemed a bit easier for this newbie to maneuver in somewhat tight parking lot situations. Upon completion of the two days of instruction in a 2009 coach, I then took a brief test drive of a 2017 model which triggered a conversation that resulted in the presentation of an interesting incentive to build a model to my specific needs. If I was to accept this offer and design and build a custom Newell Coach, there’s no doubt in my mind that I would be buying my last coach first.
So, what was the reasoning behind this incentive? How would this work? And, the big question is: Did I press the “buy button?” The answers are contained in this post. Read on…
Newell is an enigma of sorts in the motor coach world as it caters to specialty markets such as racing teams and ultra high net wealth consumers. These customers that comprise this segment of the market are seemingly less sensitive to sticker shock, but expect a white glove purchase experience and the highest level of quality in the products they purchase and an enhanced level of service and superior customer support. From what I’ve learned to date, in terms of overall quality, craftsmanship, reliability and after the sales support, Newell does not disappoint and stands tall among its few competitors.
Business must be good at this luxury coach builder as, like a few select motorhome manufacturers, production levels seem to have rebounded. Let’s face it, the recession of 2007 took its toll on the motorhome industry and Newell was one of the brands that although was affected by the adverse economy, it survived and seems to be striving. As stated in a press release from April 2014:
“Newell has maintained a production of 24 coaches annually for the past five years. Over the past six months, however, sales have gradually increased, with sales in January and February nearly doubling the monthly average in recent years. The positive trend has continued into March. As a result, beginning April 1, 2014, Newell will increase production to 26 coaches per year. If this trend continues, production will increase incrementally to an annual rate of 30 new units in 2015—a 25 percent increase.”
It’s now 2016 and as stated in an interview I conducted with Brian Pitts of Newell Coach in April, while annual production has remained at 26 coaches per year, the units that roll off the line, for the most part are pre-sold to anxiously awaiting customers who ordered at least six months in advance.
Unlike some motorhome manufacturers, it seems there’s little need for Newell to build spec coaches. That’s because its coaches are built to order and at a boasted retail price of $2M, having excess inventory or building coaches that are not pre-sold is most likely not a solid business practice. But Newell does things in a different manner than other manufacturers and while they may occasionally build a spec coach that’s used as a display model for rally and events, this coach is also used to travel to where its customers are located…high end motor coach resorts.
Somewhat like Tesla’s sales practices, Newell understands that to get the attention of its customers, in many cases it needs to bring the product to them. After all, considering that Newell does not use the model of selling its coaches through independent dealers scattered around the country, interested new coach purchasers need to visit its offices in Miami, Oklahoma to create a floor plan that results in a one-of-a-kind, custom built coach. However, unless you enjoy driving through the great plain states, traveling in and out of Miami, OK is not an easy task.
The closest regional airport is located in Tulsa and is 90 miles from Newell headquarters. While the drive features those somewhat rare 75mph speed limit signs, for the person who can afford a coach in this price range, Newell’s location in the southern plains could be deemed as an inconvenience. I can only guess this is the motivating factor in taking a spec coach to the resorts that are populated with high end motorhome owners. Yes, it makes sense.
Most likely due a customer base that includes a strong percentage of experienced users and repeat buyers, Newell has ridden the wave of upbeat financial markets to a nearly sold out production schedule.
However, there’s the rare occasion where seasonality comes into play and since production time on each unit requires six months, there are periods when the factory’s production schedule is not perfectly aligned to customer demand. And, that’s what appears to have happened when I was offered a flat fee price to build a coach anyway I desired…within reason of course. But, I had to act quickly.
Was the price quoted truly advantageous? I honestly don’t know.
The timing was interesting as during my “driver training” visit to Newell, I was informed that in just a few weeks, a yet to be claimed new coach chassis was scheduled to commence production. From what I was led to believe, this is an odd occurrence for Newell and solely based on the press release quoted above, I can only wonder if the goal of an increased production quota was a bit aggressive or if possibly, the market for this type of coach was reaching a point of critical mass. However, the reasoning behind this incentive made sense as I was to understand that much of Newell’s non-commercial/consumer sales are focused in seasonal Winter vacation areas, October deliveries were just ahead of the peak tourist season. Since I live in the South Florida are I can attest that the last thing my insurance company needs to hear is that I’m bringing a $2M motor coach to the Sunshine State during hurricane season! But, I agreed to move to the next step to see if designing my last coach first was to become a reality or just a fantasy. After all, my concept looked good on paper, but in reality, was it a viable plan? After months of analyzing my theory, in just a few days those questions would be answered.
Due to this unfilled hole in the production schedule, if I chose to purchase that specific slot and agreed to accept an October delivery, I could create a $2M custom coach for a notably lower price. Was the price quoted truly advantageous? I honestly don’t know. Here’s why…
Using automobiles as an example, I’ve found a simple method of determining what I consider to be a fair purchase price and trade-in value without experiencing buyer’s remorse. Attempting to avoid car dealership theatrics, as surely the dealerships are better at this game than I am, when I find a car that I desire to purchase, I offer a two part deal:
- I will pay the price that Edmunds.com states is the market value for a comparable vehicle to the one under consideration.
- I will ask that I am credited the same price that Edmunds.com states is the market value for my exact vehicle, in good condition, for the trade-in on my existing vehicle.
Sometimes, after the salesperson takes a few strolls back and forth to the manager’s office, I receive a yes. More often than not, I’m told, “Edmunds doesn’t sell cars…I’m being unfair.” I’ll respond, “You’re correct, Edmunds doesn’t sell cars, but what they do is collect data from Government entities at the State level and base their posted prices on what specific models are receiving on actual transaction prices.” Simply stated, Edmunds gathers recorded dealer sales information, logs it into a database and utilize sophisticated algorithms to achieve average prices based on model, condition and location. Typically, after the salesperson takes yet another trip or two to the manager’s office, I’ll receive a yes. If not, I’ll shake hands and leave feeling I gave that dealer an opportunity. When I arrive home I’ll then go online and submit my offer to other dealers. And yes, I have been stopped in the parking lot while exiting on more than one occasion.
Is this considered to be a shrewd practice? Personally, I think it’s a method that insures that I’m being treated as fairly as someone who monitors automobile prices more frequently than I do.
I truly don’t believe in the theory that if you have to ask how much, it’s probably too expensive as those who actually purchase high end goods are typically skilled at negotiation techniques.
With motorhomes, I’ve yet to find the equivalent of an Edmunds that can tell me the fair purchase price of a new motorhome, so I couldn’t tell you if the price offered to me by Newell was truly a greatly discounted price or the same price other buyers are offered. Yes, I could go to the forums, but as I stated in a previous post, owners of new Newell coaches are not known to discuss specifics on prices paid. I truly don’t believe in the theory that if you have to ask how much, it’s probably too expensive as those who actually purchase high end goods are typically skilled at negotiation techniques.
But, what the heck, this is something I’ve wanted to do for decades and I made the decision that if I was going to do this, I wanted to do it right. I decided to move forward in my attempt to purchase my Last Coach First.
Less than two weeks later, I would return to Miami, OK along with my Assistant, Barbara and Cindy Wilson, a top-tier ASID Certified Interior Designer.
Cindy and I explored a remodel project last year and are currently in the planning stages of a new project. While she has quite a long resume comprised of noteworthy commercial projects as well as complex residential home redesigns, she had never attempted to tackle the interior design of a motor coach. Things were falling into place and by pure coincidence she had an opening in her schedule and accepted the last minute challenge of tailoring the interior choices of my first motor coach.
Since the only way I could meet the timeframe set by Newell to have the design completed by the production deadline and to make it home in time for an event that had been on my calendar for quite some time, I had no choice but to charter a private airplane. While I’ve only chartered upon occasion and only when other modes of transportation simply were not possible, I have an existing relationship with charter operator Adam of Great Flight who juggled his schedule to have this plane available to transport us for my coach building adventure.
Since seating was not an issue, I brought Lucy the Dog along, if for no other reason, since she had never flown on an airplane and I thought this would be a nice opportunity to see if she would stay seated during this four hour flight.
She’s a great car rider and since she’s accustomed to a seat belt harness when in the back seat, I was hoping she would adapt without incident. This experience could be considered a precursor to Lucy’s future travels in a motorhome and would speak volumes how she does on longer trips. But, how would she do on a four hour flight? Time would tell.
Looking back, I laughed as I read the new coach contract from Newell as there was a line item highlighting a sizable fee to bring in an outside decorator.
One would think that selecting the colors, fabrics and overall design theme for a 500 square foot coach would be an easy task, but I’m sure that anyone who has gone through this process this will attest that it’s far from a simple process. Because we were starting with a blank canvas and could use virtually any materials we desired, this is nothing short of a major project and well above my pay grade. I’m glad that Cindy was up to this task!
Looking back, I laugh as I remember a clause in Newell’s new coach contract form as it included a line item with a sizable fee to utilize an outside decorator. I can only guess that some outside interior designers may want to utilize specific imported materials that could throw a monkey wrench into Newell’s finite series of production deadlines. My chuckle came from the point of view from someone who can build a social network from concept to completion, but has difficulty selecting a color for the walls of my kitchen. Yes, they should be offering me a discount for not having to waste their decorator’s time in working with me in attempting to determine the various design selections!
Prior to this visit, Cindy and I participated in a conference call with Newell’s in-house decorator who quickly had her fears calmed that she would want to use some obscure or rare woods, fabrics, tiles or countertops that could possibly delay production of this coach. Remember, Newell will build a coach with any materials the buyer desires and the designs are only limited by the size of the checkbook. If the buyer desires imported Italian leather sofas with solid gold sinks and diamond encrusted light fixtures, it’s done. Me, I’m more of a Naugahyde kind of guy who is happy with functional sinks and lighting fixtures that are easy to maintain! For me, a proper interior design project follows the theory that “form follows function.”
After just a few minutes of Cindy learning which interior product lines Newell’s design department offers, and based on her input, there’s quite a nice selection of vendors to choose from and Cindy agreed that we could work within Newell’s offerings. I could feel the Newell decorator’s sigh of relief on my side of the conference call.
In just a few days we would be flying to Miami, OK to complete the process of designing my last coach first.
After four hours in the air, we arrived at the Miami, OK airport and hit the ground running. An Enterprise rental car was awaiting our arrival adjacent to the tarmac and we unloaded the luggage and drove to Newell Headquarters just a few miles away.
While Cindy worked somewhat independently in the design studio and spent time touring coaches in various stages on the production lines, I was working with Newell’s VP of Engineering and we began the process of laying out the interior floor plan of what could be my first and last motor coach.
I’ll add that Cindy completed the task at hand in record time and was told that the only time it was accomplished quicker was with a well known Nascar driver who had owned coaches in the past. Evidently he went through the same process, knowing exactly what he wanted before entering the design studio. So, while Cindy didn’t come in with the checkered flag, she was waved into the pits with a respectable second place trophy!
Yes, “Last Coach First” sounds like a solid plan of avoiding the rapid depreciation of a starter coach and it’s one of those recipes that’s seemed like a solid concept, but…
I’ll spare you the details of this process other than saying that Newell engineering, based on overview phone conversations, had prepared a suggested floor plan that while far from being completed with my wish list items, it gave us a starting point for customization. Of course with each modification and selection came trade-offs, but we were moving forward at what I felt was breakneck speed. While this is may be an exciting experience for someone who knows exactly what they want, for a first time buyer, this process can be overwhelming and it seemed that every answer posed a new question.
For something that would result in a recreational vehicle, there was tremendous pressure to make decisions at every turn.
During this brief, less than three day process, while I had the benefit of going from the paper plan to comparing some of the features to partially completed coaches on the production line as well as looking at specific features on selected pre-owned models on the lot, I wasn’t feeling comfortable with the process. Quite possibly, if I had the knowledge and experience to fully comprehend the trade-offs that came with each selection and if I had experience in coach ownership, things may have had a different outcome. Yes, there were some other issues, but this post has gone much longer than initially planned and I’ll spare you the details.
Yes, my “Last Coach First” concept sounded like a solid plan upfront and the best path of avoiding the rapid depreciation of a starter coach that may or may not serve my future needs. It’s a good in concept, but for me at least, it failed upon execution.
Looking back, if I was given the luxury of an extended timeframe and could have taken multiple visits over a period of a few months to evaluate various floor plans and features and had the time to think things through, this chapter may have had a different ending and my dream coach would already be in production. But, due to the tight deadline to secure that open spot I was not provided the luxury of time and was while I was advised that the only way to get the advantageous price was to act now, there were simply too many decisions for this rookie to make in the given timeframe.
Simply stated, for a first-timer to even think this entire process could be completed during rushed sessions is simply unrealistic. But, it was a solid learning experience.
It’s one thing to walk through a new or pre-owned coach that’s sitting on a dealer’s lot or order a semi-custom coach from a manufacturer where the major choices are selected from one of just a few predetermined floor plans and interior and exterior color schemes. It’s another to fully design a coach from scratch and it presented its set of challenges.
I’ve taken on some difficult tasks and solved complicated equations in my life, but nothing on my resume has prepared me for attempting to build the ultimate motor coach from scratch with such a tight deadline. Attempting to design the various aspects of a custom motor coach is no different than working with an architect, a variety of contractors and an interior designer to build a new home from scratch…it takes time and each decision needs to given thought.
When all is said and done, my experience with Newell was noteworthy. And today, I can look back and say it was quite a learning experience.
Q: Was it perfect?
Q: Did I do my best in reacting in a timely manner?
A: I don’t think I could have reacted in a more efficient manner.
Q: Would I try it again?
A: Maybe, but a year or two of motorhome ownership experience will be required to attempt to build a custom coach from a blank piece of paper.
What I learned by this “last coach first” experience
I left Newell with the understanding that while they build what I consider to be the finest motor coach in the industry, it’s a business that like others that produce tangible products, is judged by quotas and year over year sales. It seems I had an opportunity to assist in allowing them to achieve what was evidently an aggressive sales target and in turn, I was offered an incentive to act quickly. Had I been experienced in the motorhome world, this could have been a positive opportunity. But since I’m not, it was turning into a recipe that resulted in me questioning my decisions and it was not in my best interest to proceed.
As one chapter closes and another one opens. The search for my first, and maybe my last motorhome continues…
While I’ve ruled out a few coach manufacturers and am still evaluating purchasing a new vs a pre-owned coach, my next stop will be at a growing motorhome manufacturer that is quickly developing a strong reputation for delivering the best bang for the buck in the business. A desirable coach from this manufacturer will be priced approximately one-third of what a new Newell Coach would have cost.
Q: Will it be of the same quality?
A: Most likely not.
Q: But could it make for a wonderful first and maybe last coach?
A: Quite possibly.
One more thing..
In case you’re wondering how Lucy handled her first airplane trip, she was a champ and like me, took the quiet time on the airplane to take a nice nap!
Answer: While I embraced the concept of avoiding the rapid depreciation associated with trading a starter coach for a new model, in my case purchasing a custom designed Newell as my “Last Coach First,” just didn’t work out as I had hoped.
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