As an orchestra, an enterprise comprises multiple complementary elements that need to be deployed at appropriate doses and at the exact moment they are required.
In business the environment in which the orchestra operates significantly amplifies the challenge. Let’s imagine an orchestra operating at a ship’s bow, playing continuously, in climatic conditions that are changing to the extreme!
Campwagon was a success because many of these complementary elements were present at the appropriate dose at the right moment, and because the partners formed a united team of orchestra chefs, attentive and quick acting. In hindsight they realize that they had the chance to form and to experience life within an orchestral group that was exhilarating.
They attribute their success to the following combination of winning factors:
1- Partner Complicity
Lucien and Johan were business associates that completed one another admirably. Johan directed all matters relating to marketing, sales and relations with the automobile giants. Lucien designed all products and managed the entire purchasing activities, regulatory affairs and production.
Both worked from the same office during their entire time as business associates. This approach allowed them to take multiple decisions quickly as they were aware of all that was happening in real time. There were never a need to work by scheduling “meetings” at Campwagon. As well, both shared the same vision and the same values regarding their business finance management.
Their synergy was noticed: twice, in 76 and 77, the GM Canada management in Oshawa awarded them the “Best Managed and Profitable Bodybuilder in Canada”.
2- Team of Dedicated Employees
Lucien et Johan were surrounded by a team of dedicated individuals. During the years when the plant had to operate at full capacity they could be counted on and gave intense performance month after month, without pause. The partners have had the chance to work with people whom had for most, been raised in a rural environment where they had had to work using considerable initiative and endurance before joining Campwagon. These individuals where of formed an outstanding league.
Lucien mentions they enjoyed a warm ambience, that was sincere and friendly especially when the team was still on the smaller side. He says that from the moment they had over forty employees it was harder to keep the same warmth toward each but still, relations were generally very good.
Lucien keeps very fond memories of those multiple Saturday mornings, when a dozen men from the production team, would meet freely and for pleasure at the plant kitchen, to enjoy donuts and coffee – a somewhat informal social club. Some headed to the plant to work when needed, but others simply met for the pleasure of being among chums. (Note: As I interview Lucien, this is the very first time he reveals that all those Saturdays where he “had to go to work”, he was in fact escaping children and home duties! ) by Nathalie Barbeau 2018
Within the production team, many employees were part of the group during most of Campwagon’s existence. Unfortunately, some have died: Yvon Demers, Gerard Lavoie, Richard Cassistat and Gilbert Trudel. As I interview him, Lucien gives me as example other names of workers that were part of the production team for most of the company’s years: Yvon Laliberté, Roland Pouliot, Claude Demers, Charles & Noel Chatigny, Marcel Landry, Alain Sevigny, Yves Coulombe, Yvan Vaillancourt, Marcel Boucher & Danielle Champagne. We also add Jean-Guy Cazes, Steven Mathieu & Alain Bourget whom we had the pleasure of having warm contacts with, over twenty years later, during Lucien’s second business adventure at Helitowcart. Lucien dearly wishes he could remember all the names!
3- Quickly Activated Changes
The partners took action promptly when an opportunity or an issue showed up.
The products were developed very quickly and submitted to validation instantly. It was the application of the Scrum development method fifteen years before that management technique was initially defined.
Building add-ons were performed in record times which allowed the business to quickly benefit from the additional revenues from these investments. This strategy allowed them to be able to meet demand exactly when the commercial opportunity came up. A great example: the 30 days construction of the additional building to assemble minibuses in order to capture a 375 units contract.
4- Trusted Relationships throughout their Environment
The partner’s management philosophy was one of respect and trust with people from all business environment axis: customers, suppliers, representatives from the large auto manufacturers and municipal agents.
Lucien mentions that all commitments were agreed to with a hand shake, and that respect and trust were maintained in a harmonious state, without ever needing to resort to legal litigation mechanisms. This positive attitude ensured that the energy deployed was used to move forward.
Johan and Lucien had the chance to start their business as the economy was coming out of the 73 recession and then benefit from 8 years of continuous economical growth before the 81 economical crisis. Their management discipline and excellent timing allowed them to have solid bases: they had paid their real estate, and could count on a liquidity pool when this economical crisis hit suddenly, and very hard. In order to survive they had to let go of forty employees, being able to keep only one.
During this interminable period lasting approximately 20 months, they were saved by the liquidity they had hoarded before the crisis. Invested in deposits, these sums brought them an 18% return, and this is what allowed them to pay for fixed costs during this entire period. Their situation was considerably better than the ones of businesses who had debts with 22% interest rates. This gap between the two situations made quite a difference.
This economical environment caused the brutal disappearance of a great number of car dealerships, and the majority of Campwagon’s Canadian competition within the bodybuilder market. Lucien remembers that at a certain point, even GMC head office required that its own dealers pay COD. This had never been seen before.
When the crisis finally ended, they were able to quickly get back to full steam thanks to the fact that they did not carry exponential debts from the crisis. As well, there were now fewer players in their industry and thus potential clientele headed more toward their enterprise.
They also benefited from good timing in regards to market trends. A good example is in regards to the Van de Ville (Urban vans): Campwagon had had just enough time from 73 to 76 to establish itself in the market taking experience with campers, and thus was quickly able to intercept the new trend of having one’s van converted into a lounge, and also the flair to define its own solid niche within this luxury vehicle market. This timing allowed the business to be present and ready to jump into action as soon as this trend hit the market and to later benefit from the entire popularity cycle of this trend.