It’s rare to find someone who excels at both right-brain (creative) and left-brain (analytical) thinking, but that’s what Thetford Corporation uncovered when they hired former data integrator Mary Pouliot as a consultant in their customer service department in 2006.
“The opportunity to work in the RV industry just seemed to fall into my lap,” says Mary, who was recruited from the automotive world. “I like to say that I went from suits and handshakes to shorts and hugs!”
It was the collegiality and fierce passion she observed among RV colleagues and consumers that quickly convinced Mary that she had made the right career move. Since then, she has steadily risen up the ladder at Thetford to become Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based company’s Americas’ division.
Mary was born and raised in the “mitten state” where she got her undergraduate degree at Eastern Michigan University (then later, her MBA at Walsh College in Troy, MI). She is the youngest of six children and counts herself blessed to still live close to her parents and two of her siblings. This has allowed her own three children to build close bonds with them.
Mary and her husband of 25 years also like to escape Michigan occasionally and have taken their children on many trips, not only stateside, but to other countries as well. The travel restrictions of the past year have limited the family’s personal travel, but Mary has been thrilled that so many more people have been introduced to the advantages of the RV lifestyle. It’s a huge opportunity, she says, to attract many more buyer segments – from homeschooling families to work-from-home professionals.
“The RV Industry Association has identified seven archetypes of buyers now, which I’m sure didn’t exist 20 years ago,” said Mary, citing the recently released Go RVing RV Owner Demographic Profile. This study of 3,000 RV owners has identified the following market segments: happy campers (typically snowbirds), casual campers (who only camp a few weekends per year), adventure seekers (sports enthusiasts who travel up to 200 days per year), escapists (families and empty nesters who are often drawn to water venues), wide open spacers (who are split evenly among explorers and relaxers), full-timers (nomads) and family ties (many of whom grew up RVing).
Meeting the challenges of providing for this varied and rapidly growing market is what concerns Mary most. This includes ensuring that the supply chain is full and can support OEMs while also assuring consumers of quality products and support.
This is where Mary’s interest in data kicks in, and it has fueled both her career and the many leadership roles she holds in the industry.
“I’m a little bit of a data geek and, in my opinion, that is helpful in any role,” she says. “Data supports the decision-making process.”
As Thetford’s director of OEM Sales & Service from 2015-2018, she came to see the importance of data-driven education and training.
“On the back side, quality is critical. But the more units we have on the road, the more technicians we need to support them. We need to do a better job of reaching high school students with the message that there are training programs and jobs in the RV industry,” she says.
Mary has been an outspoken advocate for these in her role on the Board of Directors of the Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles and Campgrounds (MARVAC). And this past fall, she was elected to the Executive Committee of the RV Industry Association Board of Directors as its treasurer.
“If you want your voice heard, you need to be involved,” she says. “I wanted to provide a voice for Thetford and the supplier side of the RV business.”
Thetford, the world’s leading manufacturer of mobile sanitation products for the RV, marine, camping, and truck markets, has its European headquarters in Etten Leur, Netherlands and manufacturing facilities in the U.S., Netherlands, United Kingdom, Italy, and China. In 1997, Thetford purchased Sidney, Ohio-based Norcold, Inc., America’s leading manufacturer of RV gas/electric absorption refrigerators since 1959.
“Everyone in the chain is working toward a common goal: we want happy consumers – from purchase through the lifetime value of the unit.”
Of the many benefits of membership in the RV Industry Association, Mary cites training and networking, information about important issues facing the industry, and invaluable marketing data as the most valuable benefits of membership in the association.
“The RV Technical Institute and its focus on training is huge,” says the recently elected chair of the RV Technical Institute Board. “The RV Industry Association has lots of resources you can take advantage of, but you won’t see value unless you get involved. Being active in the industry is vital to being a part of its evolution.”
As if leadership roles on three RV industry boards isn’t enough, Mary is also a member of the RV Women’s Association. She is committed to recruiting more women into the industry and particularly into leadership roles. Diversity is important, she believes, and she is encouraged by the strides the organization is making into recruiting, mentoring, and encouraging young women.
“I have been so blessed to meet some amazing people in this industry who are now my very close friends – as well as some very influential individuals who have coached and mentored me on my journey to where I am today,” she says. “I don’t know too many industries where you can be competitors by day and friends by night.”
Where does Mary see herself after another 14 years of both working for Thetford and serving in the leadership of the industry?
“Well, as a relatively new VP, I feel like I’m always learning. But I hope that in 14 years, I’ll be retired and traveling with my husband,” she says. “If not, then I know I will still be in the RV industry, working hard, making connections, fostering data-driven positive change, and counting my blessings daily for the opportunities my job and the industry has allowed me.”