Jayco Taps Rich Traditions to Develop, Market Product Line
For 36 years, Jayco Inc. of Middlebury, Ind., has manufactured recreation vehicles with two rather traditional goals in mind – build in quality and provide service to both dealers and consumers that goes beyond their expectations.
“We feel that is what sets us apart from the crowd,” said Derald Bontrager, president and COO.
Jayco was founded in 1968 during the seminal years of the recreational vehicle business by Bontrager’s father, Lloyd J. Bontrager, who previously had worked with Starcraft as plant manager.
“The name came from his middle name, Jay,” Derald Bontrager said. “He liked the idea of the Blue Jay, which became our logo because it was symbolic of the freedom that the RV lifestyle offered.”
Jayco’s first product, a folding camping trailer the company manufactured during its first two years, was built in three buildings on the family farm in Middlebury in the heart of Indiana’s Amish country. Within a short time Jayco moved to a factory nearby and began to build travel trailers, then fifth-wheels and later Class C motorhomes. “When mom and dad started the business, they had no long-range plans other than to do the best they could each and every day,” said Bontrager, 46, who went to work full time for the company in 1979 and became president in January 2002. “I have worked in virtually every area of the company.”
That holds true for several members of the Bontrager family. Derald’s mother, Bertha, along with his brother, Wilbur, and sister, Cindy Hawkins, still hold positions with the company and are among a small group of family owners. Wilbur Bontrager’s son, Jason, represents the third generation and is now actively involved in the Jayco marketing department.
Derald Bontrager said the heavy family involvement began after his father’s tragic death in a 1985 airplane crash in Muncie on a return trip from Florida that also claimed the life of his youngest brother, Wendall, and two others.
“Up until that time, it was just dad’s company,” Derald Bontrager said. “His death caused the family to become very involved.”
Bontrager is direct about difficulties Jayco has dealt with in recent times – hurdles the company faced after decades of quiet and consistent growth.
“It’s no secret that we lost market share for a few years,” Bontrager said. “We are seeing that come back, though. We have a great team of people, and also, in our ’04 product lines, we were very deliberate about getting back to our core products. In turn, we’ve made it a lot easier for our dealers to do business with us. And we have a very aggressive marketing strategy.
“We are trying to get back to the basics of what made Jayco what we are: the values and principles that guided the company for years. Our strategic vision commits us to being the most respected name in RVs.”
Jayco has a network of 320 dealers throughout North America, with about 50 selling Jayco exclusively.
“Among a large number of the balance, we are the primary line on their lot,” said Sid Johnson, director of marketing. “One of the things we take great pride in is that the tenure of our average dealer is more than 15 years.”
Bontrager said the company has no regrets about a two-year venture into making Class A’s that ended last year.
“Not for a minute,” he said. “What we learned as a company is that motorhomes are truly a different market than the towable sector. We underestimated as a company the consumer’s expectations in terms of performance and features of the product.”
Johnson said it was hard to characterize Jayco customers, stating, “One of the things that is interesting in our market is we have a broad product line and it’s difficult to generalize who our customers are.” Jayco folding camping trailers typically appeal to people who have never owned an RV, or a family with small kids, although lightweight travel trailers have supplanted that market to an extent, Johnson said.