CW: So, it’s now official. We hear that BMPRO has entered the USA RV market? Congratulations!
LB: Thanks — we knew at BMPRO what we had done in Australia was well accepted by the RV market in the battery power management space and a leading concept globally with a tablet-based Android control system.
With 70 per cent of the Australian RV market loving our product, we were looking to expand to ensure we could continue to offer world class solutions both here in Australia and globally.
Entering the US market has been a pipe dream for BMPRO for many years and it was finally the right time for both BMPRO and the market to take the plunge and enter.
The BMPRO brand was established in our local Australian market with a proven system and range of products. The installation base was strong and the solutions we provided were built off a base architecture which was able to be expanded for the USA and European markets.
We also observed on marketing research trips that there was a substantial lack of direction in tablet-based control systems.
The journey has been intense! Once we made the decision to enter the US market it has been very fast and very busy. Lots of trips to Elkhart, Indiana, by myself and with engineering teams.
We have now increased R&D staff by 50 per cent off the back of the feedback and new opportunities. Next steps were to appoint key sales and engineering staff in the US that could understand the customer. In fact, it has really only been 14 months since we committed to the market to our first supply of production product to TMC (Thor Motor Coach).
CW: What has been the biggest challenge for you in breaking into the world’s largest market?
LB: The US RV market is very large. Since the global financial crisis it has steadily grown, with 2017 being its largest year ever with just over half a million units sold. In 2018, there has been a bit of a correction and they're expecting a slightly smaller downturn in 2019. However, with between 400,000 to 500,000 units sold, that is 20 times larger than Australian market and we knew there must be space for us!
The biggest challenges I face personally, is all the travel and splitting time between running the business in Melbourne and securing the opportunities in USA, as well as being away from my family. Professionally it has been understanding the market differences — just because it works in Australia doesn’t mean that it is instantly replicable in the US market.
CW: Whilst BMPRO is obviously well known for its power solutions, your focus has been more on the actual display inside the van in the USA?
LB: Yes, we originally thought we could offer value in the US market in the power solution/battery management area partnering with existing suppliers, however more interest was expressed in our JHub system — the actual switching and tablet-based user interface!
The JHub system is what we exclusively range in Jayco Australia. However, in the US, there is very little free camping. Many RVs are not fitted with a battery when they leave the manufacturer — it is only an optional extra at dealer level! Solar is only factory fitted to about 4 per cent of RVs in the USA.
Whilst there is more of a movement to free camping, currently the US model cares little about being power conservative as mostly RVers are connected to main AC power. There are many appliances within the RV that need monitoring and controlling.
For example, instead of one slide-out they can have up to five, and awnings up to four, then we talk about air-conditioners (HVAC) which is typically two to three, and the list goes on! So, there is a greater interest in a central location/display to control as well as monitor this vast array of devices.
As part of this process BMPRO has remained agnostic to the suppliers of the devices installed in the vans. In fact, we are now partnering with many of the suppliers of major appliances such as air-conditioners, and awnings.
CW: To compete against some of the giants in the RV industry you must have a secret recipe?
LB: Can’t give away all the secrets, however BMPRO is well known for how closely we work with our customers — it is inherent in our business. We focus across all levels of a business not to focus on the 'sell' but to become a true partner.
So, it is really no secret recipe for us, but in the US, we have used this same process, and got to deeply understand the customers' needs and tailor the product accordingly.
Once you gain their trust, they are willing to explain their pain points and we work together on a better solution. We see many other companies just deliver a product that they think will suit everyone. If we all bought that, it would be a rather boring RV experience all lined up with the same flavoured vans.
CW: True, but wouldn’t most of your competitors say something similar?
LB: Maybe, however one key element which we are offering is a flexible platform. Not only is there the option for manufacturers to specify their exact requirements, however, we have partnered this with the ability of the dealer and the customer to increase the capability of the system via add-on modules.
It is not a simple customisable options list, it is really about working with the sales and marketing teams in alignment with R&D teams to create a unique experience for
the RV user.
CW: Can you give us a taste of what will be different or new to the market?
LB: I guess it is what I just mentioned before — these add-on modules. We have been partnering with a startup from Europe which has developed a range of devices such as tyre pressure monitors, open/close switches, propane gas monitoring, temperature sensors which all work through Bluetooth. Whilst they have developed one unit which all these devices can talk to, we have worked collaboratively to integrate their Bluetooth capabilities with our RVMaster Bluetooth, and we can now add on extra features without additional wiring.
The advantage here is that manufacturers can either build a base model and let dealers or customers option up as they wish but also they can offer these features as standard on the van.
CW: It must be tough to compete in what is a very cost competitive market. And we understand that RVs are so much cheaper than here in Australia?
LB: This is true but if you dig deep enough there are opportunities.
For example, currently with the trade war that the Trump administration is imposing on goods imported from China, the US manufacturers don’t really know where their cost base is heading. So, an Australian-made product with a set fixed price and no tariffs is suddenly very appealing.
Also, we have had to be smart on where to save the manufacturer time and cost in extra parts and in labour, for wiring. We have cleanly incorporated some of these requirements, such as override/redundancy switches, into our RVMaster.
CW: Many Australian companies have tried to take on international expansion and have failed spectacularly and obviously some have done it well. It’s a tough gig to succeed from so far away — how do you plan to make it a success?
LB: I think the key is not to spread ourselves too thin. Focus on what we know we are good at and don’t try to be everything to everybody. We are a hardware technology company which means that you need to stay ahead of the market with innovations in areas where you have expertise.
I have followed high tech Australian companies like Cochlear and ResMed who have grown and expanding internationally very successfully. In fact, part of our business has done a lot of work with ResMed over the past 10 years.
Through this we have learnt a lot and applied this into our next stage of growth. Listening to our market and learn what they really need. Many companies which have tried to take on global expansion have failed when they thought the same model that works here must work over there — it is not always the case!
CW: So will this product become online and will RV owners be able to see their batteries and gas bottles etc, from their home whilst the RV is in storage?
LB: Yes, of course. I think that this is natural progression. You just need to look at how new apps are giving us control (probably too much sometimes) of everything that is going on in our lives.
The noise we are hearing is that customers want to be able to see this type of information anywhere and anytime — it helps them to stay better informed and educated to manage their RV and their experience in the outdoors.
CW: Next steps — it sounds like the RVs are now almost smarter than a 'Smart Home'? Where can you take the RVMaster from here?
LB: Stay tuned… There are some exciting developments coming up where we are partnering with external providers of digital content, offerings and features that will integrate into the app.