Mervin Lehman Speaks On RV Past & Future



Perceiving RV Past & Future: Mervin Lehman

The GM Of Riverside RV Discusses His Retro Line Along With Textures Of Perception & Perspective

Mervin Lehman, GM Of Riverside RV & One Of His Retro Designs. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

Design is a method of will. However it needs to adhere to a certain process standpoint. Mervin Lehman, GM of Riverside RV, understands this but his experience also dictates knowing what works. The introduction of his new Retro trailer line is unprecedented in many way because in creating his floor plans the essence of open space is undeniable almost playing to a luxury 50s diner on wheels with all the modern amenities. Lehman sat down on the show floor at the National RV Show in Louisville, Kentucky to about intention, inspiration and perception.

The Buzz: We were discussing the transformation evolution of RVs and how you look at them. But with this line, you went old style but it allows for a very light-feeling sort of design. Can you talk about that decision?

Marvin Lehman: Well…like I said…we take a lot of conventional floor plans that are popular in the industry and put our twist to them. We can maybe mix and match, like a good bathroom, and then make it retro. Put the retro feel to it, with the interior walls and then the floor, is what we do and also with the exterior. It's the old style…50s…60s. That's what we're trying to achieve and that's our niche in the market.

The Buzz: Is it a different kind of fabrication process or building process in terms to get these certain lines…

ML: Not necessarily. We do a lot of conventional building practices and still utilize those to manufacture these. We just achieve different results.

The Buzz: Now just to get some of your background because I know you've been doing this for years but certain workable techniques become instinctual in what works, and what doesn't. Could you sort of talk about that in relation to sort of the retro movement?

ML: I've been in the RV industry for over 30 years.

The Buzz: So you know it backwards and forwards. But it's evolving now where it's going retro yet everybody wants a lot of the modern conveniences.

ML: That is correct.

The Buzz: What I'm asking is sort of the blending of those two because in the past you didn't have all this other electronic equipment that has to be integrated. It can work or not.

ML: Right. And sometimes you hit a home run, and sometimes you simply strike out.

Secondary Trailer Design Of Retro Riverside RV At National RV Show. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]
Secondary Trailer Design Of Retro Riverside RV At National RV Show. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The Buzz: Could you talk about an example, like a challenge…just something that required a little extra thought process and problem-solving.

ML: It's that way throughout all the design processes. And a lot of it is trying to achieve everything. As you notice [with] all these units, you go “Okay…this fits. There's no extra space from that point to this point. So all that has to be thought through [exactly]…and then [within] the design process [you think] as to how is this going to work? So we look at that floor plan, and then as we create more floor plans. We can take some of this one, and we know that worked. So we're not really starting from a zero.

The Buzz: You're doing more like puzzle pieces?

ML: Yes. We'll be taking this puzzle piece, and that puzzle can piece can fit into this part. But we got to re-design a little bit of this puzzle so it all goes back together again. So what we do is basically take some of a lot of our floor plans that are very popular. Tweak them a little bit. Throw some things around. Shuffle the deck. And then we have a new product. It just allows a little bit of differences but within a lot of popular things. This motor home we’re in? This is a brand new prototype. Everybody wants a walk around Queen bed. So we took that feature. Everybody wants a good, nice bathroom. We take that feature. And then they want bunks in a special-sized unit because if you've got a bunk, you can take the kids with you. Well, if you've got to have that, you've got have the dinette where they can all sit down. So you take those three features and you build your unit around that. Try to keep it as small and as lightweight as possible, which is the gold standard in the industry.

The Buzz: Now, what's the most difficult thing of building something like that? Was there any specific, different kind of physics of looking at it because you have the fridge right there and you have to run different lines for power and practical use?

ML: Well…yes and no. You got to remember-- like I said, if you're 30 years in the industry, you know what works. You know what doesn't work. I come from the manufacturing side, not the sales side. But I know what works in the bill process. And sometimes, which is very common in the industry, sales and manufacturing butt heads because sales wants something that manufacturing will tell them is not production friendly. So both of those have to come together. They have to create a product that is production friendly so that the company can make money. Sales has to have something that will sell. We have to gel. So with my background in manufacturing, now going into the sales of the company - I work with my sales staff – and there is a little bit of an advantage to that.

The Buzz: Can you talk about how this switches when you bring the plan into a fifth wheeler scenario? Is there a big difference?

ML: The design process is pretty much the same. Fifth wheel traditional trailers, because of the fact that once we've initiated a floor plan or a design like a front and back, we know what works… that process becomes easier as we move forward. Now, we can stretch this thing out three feet and design it a little bit differently, add some things to it but we want to shuffle the deck a little bit on a lot of things [if we can].

Couch Design Inside Prototype Retro Riverside RV At National RV Show. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]
Floor Designs Inside Prototype Retro Riverside RV At National RV Show. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The Buzz: The one thing that struck me about your RVs, especially in the fifth wheelers and in some of the other things, is the open space inside. There's such volume. Can you tell me why that is and why that thought came to you? Because it is different…

ML: Well, that's my personal stamp, I guess, because I, myself as a personal opinion or view… like open spaces. So I try to keep the designing open.

The Buzz: Is just to be able to have a lot of people in there?

ML: Well, that's true, I guess. I don't think anybody likes to be penned into a tight spot. So if you can create the atmosphere of it being open in a tiny trailer, then you're actually creating a different environment or an appearance of an environment than it actually is. That way we can take a smaller unit, and make it look like or appear to be a big unit because it appears spacey. That's what we're trying to achieve here. We don't want to make something that's very claustrophobic for anybody.

The Buzz: But it's all about perception.

ML: It is. That's true. You're exactly right. You hit the nail right there because the perception of this is as a retro. It is a modern unit but the perception of it is a retro, old-style unit.

The Buzz: And that leads to my last question, which sort of keys into that. You wouldn't obviously be doing this for 30 years if you didn't know it well but also if you didn't have a passion for it .

ML: I love being in a certain industry even if it changes. Some people got out of the automotive industry because it changed so much or it went overseas and yet, the RV industry has seen its ebbs and flows. And now it's on a big flow going up…and it has a lot to do with the artisan sort of trailer movement, which is what you're part of. I'm just talking about what keeps you going…what keeps you challenged. We’re not a big business company. We are not necessarily limited but we're a small company. So we still have to go a different route sometimes to be attractive to our dealer base. But we're still pretty old school. We do a lot of hands on. I don't have necessarily a design program. We don't hire an outside person to do the designing. It's just a lot of hands- on people that are building…that process of taking something and creating a unit that will work.

Tim Wassberg

A graduate of New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct craft beers among other things.

Riverside RV

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