From a Humble Barn to the Top of the RV Industry
By Mike Gast
My Mom was adamant. There was no way she was partaking in another of Dad’s two-week-long tenting vacations on the cold, hard ground.
It was 1968, and Dad stumbled upon a newspaper story about a new “startup” fold-down trailer company in Indiana that had everything he — and Mom — wanted. No fridge, no stove, no sink, no toilet . . . just big beds, a fold down table and a newfangled lifter system.
A month later, the big metallic green trailer was in our driveway, one of just 132 produced that first year by Jayco founder Lloyd Bontrager and his two sons in a barn and two chicken houses on their Middlebury, Indiana farm. The company name is a play on Lloyd’s middle name, Jay.
That fledgling little company now has 1,700 employees and sells more than 25,000 units each year, making it the second largest manufacturer of RVs in the world, and the largest privately owned manufacturer of RVs in North America.
The Bontrager family still holds the reins at Jayco, although Lloyd died tragically in a plane crash in 1985. Lloyd’s wife and biggest cheerleader, Bertha, can still be found at the Middlebury factory, where she loves to interact with Jayco’s extensive North American dealer network, some of whom have been with Jayco since the beginning. His sons, Derald and Wilbur, still hold leadership positions at Jayco.
Turn into the parking lot at the Jayco plant, and you’ll know this is a different sort of company. Hitching posts line the lot’s perimeter, and Amish horse and buggies await the end of a shift. Fully 70 percent of Jayco’s workforce is Amish or Mennonite. Strong Christian values — and the work ethic that goes along with them — are often credited with Jayco’s success. Lloyd himself was an Amish kid who left the church at age 16.
After a stint building RVs for Starcraft, Lloyd and Bertha decided to strike out on their own. He knew his patented RV lift system was something special, and it was. In fact, it’s still in use today. By the time my Dad bought his Jayco at the end of 1968, Lloyd had 15 employees and was growing out of its humble farm factory.
When I visited the Jayco plant last spring, they were preparing to expand into a huge new facility that would manufacture motorized RVs. Jayco has managed to not only survive the last recession, but thrive and grow while never losing sight of Lloyd’s original vision — simply build exemplary RVs and provide customers with extraordinary service after the sale. He wanted to make it easier for families to explore and relax together. Kampgrounds of America is proud to share much of Jayco’s history. We’re also a company founded in the 1960s, and proudly privately owned. We also share the concepts Lloyd and his family lived by: good work ethics, inspiration, respect, trust, integrity, honesty, fairness and a family atmosphere.
Just before he died, Lloyd Bontrager wrote down his simple business philosophy, which Jayco still abides by today:
“Here at Jayco we try to provide a pleasant Christian atmosphere where we can all work together in harmony,” he wrote. “We believe we are all God’s children, and as such we deserve mutual respect, honor and fair treatment. This is as true for our dealers and customers as it is for those of us who work in the offices or the manufacturing plants.”
And don’t forget that you’ve got a chance to WIN YOUR OWN new Jayco RV by entering KOA’s “Wings For Spring Giveaway.” You could win your choice of a new Jayco Jay Series Pop Up Camper, a Jayco White Hawk Ultra Lite Trailer or a Jayco Eagle HT 5th Wheel Camper. Just click here for a complete set of Giveaway rules, and to enter.