It’s 6:18 a.m. on a morning whose biting chill welcomes us to Elkhart, Ind., with a sting that makes you glad you’re not staying for winter. The day’s first light creeps over the horizon and sparkles on the asphalt of the parking lot at the Entegra Coach’s factory with just enough illumination for us to realize that we’re far from the first to arrive for work on this particularly frigid morning.
A lone figure stands at the top of the lot by the main building. Backlit by the rising sun, the slender silhouette walks toward us as our motorhome comes to a stop. His face comes into light and he greets us with a smile that instantly warms with comfort as we descend the steps of our coach. “Welcome to Entegra,” he says as his breath floats through the air like steam against an unseen spotlight, “I’m Tadd Jenkins.”
Jenkins is the national sales director for Entegra Coach and, though he might humbly deny it, is somewhat of a legend among RV industry insiders. The story goes that he once drove more than 1,500 miles on a weekend to bring a distressed customer a crucial RV part so they could continue on their way. Asked if the event was true, Jenkins smiles and says, “The customer needed help and was out of options,” then unassumingly adds, “It was the right thing to do.”
Integrity is a value held with utmost regard at Entegra Coach. As we make our way through a winding maze of offices and smiling faces, we pass a piece of evidence suggesting that integrity is indeed a state of being at Entegra: “Treat every situation with the highest integrity in a timely manner.” These words come from the company’s mission statement as painted on the wall just before the entrance to the manufacturing facility.
The ceiling of the Entegra assembly plant stretches to a distant altitude like an industrial cathedral giving the space beneath it an air of massive proportions. The sights and sounds are distinctively that of heavy-duty manufacturing. “These coaches are made by hand,” explains Jenkins as if he could sense my focus was becoming overwhelmed by mechanized process. “They’ll never be made by robots.” Jenkins is quick to point out that at Entegra people make the true difference. “They care,” says Jenkins of Entegra’s labor force as we weave our way through the assembly line. “They recognize that part of our success is largely due to the product they build. When I come back from a show, they want to know how we did. They’re excited. And when we experience a failure, or as I like to say, an opportunity for change, they’re equally sad that a customer had to spend a weekend somewhere waiting for their coach to be fixed.”
When asked what he’s most proud of about his company, Entegra CEO Wilbur Bontrager asserts with calming humility, “We’re quite proud of the craftsmanship and quality that goes into our products.” Wilbur points to the Amish workers within Entegra’s ranks whose woodworking skills and tireless work ethic lend each RV that comes off the Entegra line a unique and loving touch.“Our manufacturing process involves a lot of craftsmen who have been building this kind of product for a number of years,” explains Wilbur. “Many of them are Amish and have a great work ethic as do all of our workers.”
The economic downturn exacted a harsh toll on Entegra, forcing the leaders within to make the kind of wrenching decisions that often lead to sleepless nights. While the company emerged from the recession debt-free and with money in the bank, it was the ability to bring back those who had been laid-off from the Entegra workforce that made their CEO feel complete. “We survived the downturn quite well,” says Bontrager trailing with the look of a proud father in his steady eyes. “We’re very happy to have that quality of craftsmanship and skill-set back in our fold.”
Join the Keystone team for an inside look.