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In this ongoing series, we share advice, tips, and insights from real entrepreneurs who run business battles on a daily basis. (The answers have been edited and compressed for the sake of clarity.)
Who are you and what is that to you?
I'm Geneva Long, Founder and CEO of Bowlus. We are a luxury RV company with modern technology and exterior design with Art Deco roots from the 1930s. We have reinvented the approach to luxury motorhomes to better adapt them to the yachting industry in terms of innovation and material quality than the traditional motorhome industry. All of our products are handcrafted and we also produce bespoke models as well as a robust customization program.
What was your inspiration for this product?
My first association with the Bowlus brand came about a decade ago when my family restored an old Bowlus Road Chief and took him on a 3,000 mile North American road trip. We stopped at Modernism Week in Palm Springs, California, and South by Southwest, Texas, and I was impressed with the special response from everyone who saw the old bowlus. Since I was studying business at the time, I was entrepreneurial and when I saw people's reactions I thought, "Could this be a new company?" I got the idea that luxury country travel could be a new segment of the RV industry. From there, we prototyped the modern bowlus and updated it to something that has a vintage look but is packed with modern technology. This had never been done before in the RV industry.
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What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking for funding?
Do whatever business you want. I wanted to keep the company pure and didn't want outside influences to take away something that I knew was special. For example, if we had accepted borrowing, we might have to follow the traditional RV industry product cycle, which we didn't want. We wanted to add innovation as new technology emerged, not on a preconceived calendar schedule. We also wanted to have personal relationships with our customers and if we had accepted the funding we would have had to follow the path of other RV brands that are not in the luxury sector and therefore have no personal connection with their customers. We may also not have been able to have bespoke models like we do. So don't be afraid to build a prototype in your own garage or create your own business plan with no outside influence.
What was your biggest challenge during the pandemic and how did you turn to overcome it?
Bowlus is a company that has traditionally held face-to-face meetings to create designs for custom projects. Our biggest challenge this year was that we couldn't accept personal appointments. Fortunately, we had spent nine years creating a virtual experience for people who couldn't travel to our California headquarters but wanted to place orders and discuss customization options. So we had already set up this remote ordering option. We also had to protect our employees so that even people who wanted to come in couldn't – it was the first time we had to close our doors to customers to make personal appointments. We were very fortunate to have had the foresight to develop multiple channels for working with customers.
I believe the traditional RV sales model had an even more challenging year as that model is based on instant gratification – where people come to a showroom today to buy, to take a trip next week. My advice is to be flexible with customers so you don't get stuck in one mode. That way, you can easily search for alternatives.
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Where do you see this company in a year? In five years?
Bowlus' goal is to always be innovative. The company wants to maintain its position in the luxury country travel segment, and to do this we need to be always up to date with what the industry has to offer, but also what customers are asking of luxury products. As we have been working ahead so far, I am pleased to know that we are launching new products ahead of time that will include other industry firsts. I hope five years from now I can continue to lead the RV industry with innovations that indicate how luxury country travelers enjoy adventure.
What does the word "entrepreneur" mean to you?
For me, the word “entrepreneur” means creating a part of an industry or defining a new industry with new ideas. It's about driving new ideas. We believed there was a market for luxury RVs, but that category didn't exist yet. And we believed that a nostalgic product could be fitted with new technology that would satisfy luxury customers by giving them the technology they want in all aspects of their lives.
Describe your corporate culture and how you helped shape it.
The culture at Bowlus is strongly influenced by people who are interested in nature and who are motivated and proud to deliver a superior product to their customers. Bowlus creates handcrafted luxury products, so the job vacancies on the staff are extremely diverse, ranging from salespeople to artisans and artisans. However, the common denominator we have found between everyone seems to be that our employees are people interested in adventure and the outdoors lifestyle.
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Is there a specific quote or saying that you use as personal motivation? Explain how it inspires you.
"There is nothing more American than our national parks." This is a great quote from President Franklin D. Roosevelt who is closely associated with our national parks and who has expanded the National Park Service. It's an apt quote too, as it dates back to 1934, exactly when the first Bowlus trailers crossed the country creating outdoor experiences and memories for a new generation of Americans – which we hopefully did with the Re Introducing the Bowlus brand for the 21st century