EDITOR’S NOTE: By the spring of 2001, it had become apparent that Buddy Gregg was planning to close his Lakeland facility, which would leave Liberty without a presence in Florida. In this post, Frank Konigsder Jr. offers his account of the family’s decision to open Liberty Coach of Florida.
Dad happened to be out riding his motorcycle on Monterey Road in Stuart when he came across a vacant dealership for lease. The facility was originally built as an RV sales and service operation in the late 1980s and had been acquired by Coachman Industries a few years later before closing around 1999, When we heard it was available, Kurt and I, along with our attorney, flew down to take a look and wound up signing a 20-year lease. We were up and running by fall. It happened that fast.
Why Stuart? There were a few reasons. For one, we thought being close to the marine industry would be an advantage since so many of our customers were avid sport fishermen and boaters. Also, since a large percentage of our customers were spending at least some of the year in Florida, we wanted to be able to offer them a really desirable “destination” location while they were taking delivery or waiting on service. Another advantage: Mom and Dad had a house in Hobe Sound, just 15 minutes from the site.
Getting the facility “Liberty-ready” took some time. We put about $150,000 in outside concrete work to make it easier to accommodate our larger coaches, as well as painting the interior, outside landscaping, phones and computer operations. (Interestingly, we were one of the first companies in the area to use Voice Over IP to communicate via Internet between North Chicago and Stuart. That saved us a great deal of money in telephone costs per minute, something you don’t even think about today.) In early 2002, we purchased an additional 2 acres that abutted the dealership to build the 20-space customer campground that is still the home of the annual Liberty Coach Rally & Open House.
Not surprisingly, most of our original staff members came over from Buddy Gregg Motorhomes. Art Spitzbarth (CFO) Dave Wall (GM), Dave Wishnoff and Gary Patterson in sales, and Troy Moody had all spent time at Buddy Gregg. We added a number of technicians from other RV dealerships in the area, and my Mom worked closely with me to get our business software system up and running.
Looking back now, 20 years later, I don’t think I’d change a thing. Without question, the move to Stuart was the best decision and leap of faith our family ever made. It was great for the Prevost industry, too: once we made our move, the other convertors followed suit and opened their own sales and service facilities. It was a win-win for everybody, but especially our customers.