A new AIRSTREAM for everyone
By Rich Luhr
Airstream Life | Summer 2015 | aistreamlife.com
In the early 2000s, Richard E “Dicky” Riegel was in “the best job anyone could ask for” as the President & CEO of Airstream. Under his leadership, Airstream more than doubled sales and introduced popular new product ranges like the International CCD. In 2005 he stepped up to a senior management position with Airstream’s parent company Thor, where he had broad opportunities. Then in 2012 he did something completely unexpected. He resigned his high-flying corporate job and launched a small new company to rent new Airstreams to vacationers.
It had never been done before. Renting shiny new Airstreams to the public had been considered by many to be impractical. Imagine the potential for dents, the liability, and inexperienced customers trying to back up a trailer for the first time. But, bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and infected with a deep love of Airstreams, Riegel invested his own money to start Airstream 2 Go with a fleet of 22 custom-ordered Airstream International Signature Series 23 and 28 foot trailers--and a matching fleet of new silver Chevrolet Tahoes to pull them.
“Will people look back on me and say, ‘Oh what an idiot for leaving Thor’ ?” muses Riegel. “Knowing there was a market for a rental business, it all made sense.”
Airstream 2 Go customers love the idea. Upon arriving at one of the pickup locations in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, or Bozeman MT, customers are greeted by the Airstream 2 Go team to begin a thorough orientation before their journey commences—a necessity given that many clients have no prior experience towing an Airstream, or towing at all! An iPad loaded with custom software and an interactive reference guide answers their questions while using the Airstream, and in the event of a problem on the road, CoachNet is just a phone call away. The tow vehicles are well equipped too, including a wireless rear-view camera so drivers can see what’s behind them at the campground or on the highway.
It’s a luxury package. Airstream 2 Go has partnered with Off The Beaten Path, a preeminent travel outfitter, to develop custom “turn-key” itineraries, and of course the Airstreams come fully loaded with everything a vacation traveler needs. Each trailer has been upgraded with extra insulation, dual air conditioners, and power Zip-Dee awnings to make the experience especially comfortable.
Still, the business was far from a slam-dunk. “There was a lot to create first, to build awareness,” says Riegel. But now, with hundreds of successful Airstream rentals completed, Riegel says the company has “100% customer satisfaction.” Observers who were scoffing at the concept are now paying attention.
“Even if the company were not to thrive, I could always be super proud of what I’ve built. We understand how magical the Airstream experience can be,” says Riegel. “We rent to non-owners, people who are somehow constrained from ownership because of lack of storage space, lack of a tow vehicle, or because they just don’t have the free time to justify the purchase. They want a real experience, at the intersection of wonderful American venues and the ‘silver standard’ of Airstream.”
These customers are both couples without kids and families, in about equal proportion. Typically they take the Airstreams for seven or eight days, at a cost ranging from $6,000-8,000. It’s far from a cheap trip, but they love vacationing “the quintessentially American way,” as Riegel calls it.
Corporate rentals are also big. Airstream is a natural when companies want to make a splash. Aston Martin Lagonda held a new product launch in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park using Airstreams to house automotive journalists, complete with butler service under the awnings. D-i.d. Denim launched a new line of denim to editorial staff in New York with an Airstream customized by a vinyl decal that said, “What’s Your D-ID?” Video game companies used Airstream 2 Go trailers as meeting rooms at the E3 Gaming Convention. When Audi arranged a “think tank” on new car interiors at the Sonoma Raceway, they called on Airstream 2 Go, too.
Perhaps the biggest acknowledgement that Airstream 2 Go has made its mark is its recent acceptance as a listed property by Exclusive Resorts. This organization has over 4,000 members who pay $120,000 to join, and then buy annual membership days granting them access to any of 350+ properties around the world. Thanks to Airstream 2 Go, Airstream trailers have now joined luxury houses and cruise ship apartments as destinations that Exclusive Resorts members can visit.
Airstream 2 Go wasn’t profitable in 2014 with nearly one million dollars in revenue, but is expected to get into black ink in 2015. Riegel is taking the opportunity to expand with an equity funding round later this year, which will propel additional marketing, more commercial rentals to smooth out the seasonality of the business, and a doubling of his Airstream fleet.
Ambitious, definitely, but Riegel is proving his concept and learning rapidly what his customers want—and where they want to go. “Northern California and the Pacific Northwest are nobrainers,” he says, with an eye toward Arizona, Colorado, and Texas hill country, among other markets, in future years.
“We’re bringing the Airstream experience to people who otherwise wouldn’t have it. That’s what we’re all about.”