For Lisa Liegl Rees, it was not a question of if, but when, she would start her own RV manufacturing business. In 2017, Rees incorporated East-to-West, North-to-South Inc.—crafters of affordable travel trailers and fifth-wheels—while skillfully juggling a career and family.
The thirty-eight-year-old fireball grew up in Elkhart, Indiana, dubbed the “RV capital of the world,” where about eighty percent of RVs are manufactured. The only child of Peter and Sharon Liegl, Lisa’s happiest memories center around many camping trips and traveling in various towable and motorized RVs with her parents. After many years in the business, her father founded Forest River, the nation’s second largest RV manufacturer, in 1996. Thirteen years later, Peter Liegl was inducted into Elkhart’s RV/MH Hall of Fame.
Forest River Camping Memories
It’s no wonder that Rees is following in her dad’s footsteps. “We calculated that my dad has been in the RV industry for almost forty-five years, so when I was born, I was already pretty much in the industry,” she says. Because of her dad’s business, they spent a lot of time traveling to dealer meetings and visiting dealer partners—all of whom were friends—camping along the way. From big motorhomes to little travel trailers, they were all fun, she says, but she particularly enjoyed the smaller RVs because they had the fun sleeping spaces for kids back then.
Lisa Liegl Blazes Business Trails
“We had a lot of fun, and we did a lot of cooking,” she recollects. To this day, she maintains that watching lightning bugs, roasting marshmallows over a campfire, and making s’mores epitomizes RVing. And the people, of course. All the folks in the RV business became like an extended family, especially the Forest River team members who are part of her one big happy family. With the idea of making a career in the RV business percolating in the back of her mind, she went off to college and graduated from Butler University in Indianapolis in 2004 with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in marketing. But why stop there? In 2006, she graduated with another BA in fashion design from the Illinois Institute of Art-Chicago. So, what do you do with a fashion degree? You work for the National Football League’s Chicago Bears, naturally! Rees applied for the job after finding it on Craigslist and worked in a temporary position as a magazine designer and for the Bears’ apparel. She then worked her way into purchasing for the stadium and website for the organization.
“That’s where I have a lot of purchasing background, especially with doing bills of materials for the RV, as well as working with software. I have a good understanding of what needs to go into our trailers, and what costs, and where our margins need to be. I’m so thankful for that experience,” she explains. Blazing another trail, she purchased the assets for a small company and became an importer and distributor for home fragrances and home decor from Europe, growing the company. For Rees, this translates to becoming a successful salesperson and negotiator, and strengthening dealer and customer relationships.
That was the turning point for Reese. Being a distributor meant having no control over product manufacturing quality. She wanted to be in the thick of developing a good product, one that she could control, and if there were issues, they could be fixed. So, Rees finally did what she was born to do: “I knew I wanted to start manufacturing, and I could take what I learned and work in the RV industry with that expertise.” She established East-to-West, North-to-South Inc. (for simplicity, shortened to East to West), and at the end of 2017, the first Della Terra travel trailer rolled off the line.
Lisa Liegl on Developing a Good Product
The plan from day one has been to keep it simple and manufacture entry-level towable RVs in an innovative way: offer one exterior color (with the company’s prominent signature East to West coast mountain ranges logo), one interior decor, and limit the floorplans. This way, explains Rees, “The people on the line can continue to build basically the same floorplans every time with little differences, increasing the quality. There’s standardization, and it’s an easier way of doing things. Instead of giving the plant thirty different floorplans, we can get eight or ten consistently right, and improve upon each floorplan as we go.”
In July 2018, she sold her company to Forest River because it was “best for my team and for the brand to be part of a larger company.” Now as co-general manager of Forest River’s newest division, her dad and her have become even closer. Their common knowledge has grown their relationship, and they can’t help but get overly enthused when talking about RVs. She describes them as a “really tight, close family,” who regularly spends time together. But, she chuckles, they have to zip it when it comes to talking about RVs at the dinner table since her mom and husband have banned the father-daughter duo from talking about— shhhh—RVs.
Check out the full interview from RV.com here.