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RV maker Country Coach unveils unique balcony feature

Source: The Register-Guard
Publish Date: Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Summary: Country Coach Corp. officials on Friday unveiled the company's new Veranda line of coaches that offer a ground-breaking feature,a balcony on the side of the RV.

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Tim Christie

Jun. 21, 2008 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) -- JUNCTION CITY -- It's one of those ideas that makes you wonder, why didn't someone think of this before? Why not put a retractable balcony on the side of a luxury motor home?

Country Coach Corp. officials on Friday unveiled the company's new Veranda line of coaches that offer that ground-breaking feature, and they have high hopes that it will help spur sales and give the company a competitive edge at a time when the nationwide RV market is suffering one of its worst slumps in years.

"We're intending this to be a real shot in the arm for Country Coach," said Matt Howard, the company's vice president of marketing. "We can't wait to see where it takes us."

On a Veranda coach, a panel on the right exterior side folds down and turns into a 13-foot-long, 4-foot-wide deck that connects to the interior through sliding glass doors. The balcony, secured by cables to the side of the RV, is located in the same slot that a slide-out room would normally be. One push of a button, and the deck drops down into place in 16 seconds.

Dealers and RV industry press are giving the retractable deck strong reviews.

"I think it's absolutely the best thing I've seen in the RV business in the last 15 years," said David Robertson, owner of Motorhomes of Texas in Nacogdoches. "I think it's going to be a tremendous hit for Country Coach.

"You think about it: Anywhere you go to get a hotel, the first thing you ask is for a room with a view, a room with a balcony. That's the American way. ... Now you can take your patio with you. It's an incredible thing."

Robertson was part of a group of RV dealers from around the country that Country Coach invited to Junction City to unveil the Veranda line. He ordered three, and expects he'll have no problem selling them.

"Stuff like this goes over huge in Texas," he said.

Bob Livingston, publisher of a group of publications covering the RV industry, has put the Veranda on the cover of the August issue of MotorHome magazine. He called the coach "one of the most unique and innovative features I've seen in a long time."

"The industry hasn't had a major innovation since slide-out rooms came out about 15 years ago," he said.

"This will have a gigantic impact on extending the comfort level and luxury of a coach," he said.

Country Coach developed The Veranda in top secret conditions over the past 18 months. CEO Jay Howard came up with the idea and is co-holder of a patent on the technology, Matt Howard said.

Engineers worked on it behind a canvas curtain in the company's research-and-development building, a secure, restricted-access facility away from the main plant. Only about 10 people in the company knew about the project, Howard said.

The secrecy was necessary in order to get a leg up on the competition, said Dave Diamond, Country Coach's research and development director.

"Until we had our patents submitted, we didn't want that out," he said.

Howard said the Veranda will be sold in five different models, with prices ranging from $380,000 to $850,000.

The official market launch is July 1, and consumers will get their first glimpse of the coach at the Family Motor Coach Association international convention in St. Paul, Minn., starting July 14.

Matt Howard said it's inevitable that other RV makers will try to copy the balcony feature. Country Coach will aggressively defend its patent, he said.

"This gives us a substantial competitive edge," Howard said. "This gives us a feature-compelled differentiation that will last for years."

Privately held Country Coach, along with its competitors in the $14.5 billion RV industry, is looking for a boost, as the downturn in the economy and rising fuel prices have hammered the industry. Country Coach, like other RV makers, has been forced to lay off some of its workers over the past year.

RV shipments were down 9.5 percent in 2007, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association.

In the first four months of 2008, retail sales of motor homes declined 26.1 percent, including a decline of more than 30 percent in both March and April, which are typically some of the motor home industry's strongest months, according to Statistical Surveys, Inc., a retail reporting service for the RV industry.

Newstex ID: KRTB-0061-26227285

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