EDITOR’S NOTE: Several times a month RVBusiness will post an “RVWA Spotlight,” which will highlight a member of the RV Women’s Alliance (RVWA) in each instance. Provided by RVWA, the member spotlight series interviews many of the women who make up the RV industry, highlighting how they got into the industry, what they currently do, and advice for other women. The series also dives deeper to better understand these women and what drives them.
Ashley Chitwood – When planning a career, it doesn’t hurt to think big.
A little ambition and self-confidence never hurt anybody.
Ashley Chitwood of Pan Pacific RV in Morgan Hill, Calif., has a pretty good idea of what she hopes to accomplish in her career and has done about everything she can early on to put her on that right path.
No. 1 on her bucket list?
“I would like to some day take over the company and own the company,” she said. “My goal is to be GM one day at least.”
That might sound like a pretty precocious goal, but Chitwood has a solid background and a good start working her way up the ladder.
She currently serves as service and parts team lead at Pan Pacific, one of three locations owned by Sherry Shields.
RVing got into Chitwood’s blood early. Her mother started working at the dealership and her step-father is currently general manager of the location and has been training her in all facets of the business.
“It was my first job in reception,” Chitwood said. “I was answering phones so (her mother) could write work orders. Then I kind of branched out and did some other stuff and came back.”
That comeback happened to coincide with the COVID outbreak.
Knowing that customers were desperate for any sort of outing and that RVing was providing a much-needed outlet gave Chitwood a new perspective.
Shortly after COVID, severe wildfires hit much of California, and people became desperate for alternate housing while insurance companies assessed the situations and prospects for rebuilding their homes.
“I have a lot of cool experiences with customers telling me, ‘This is what we do now because we can’t do anything else,’” Chitwood said. “(The fires are) the sadder side of it, but also the cool side of it. That to me is important. We did some of that during COVID, too, where they bought RVs and put them out for the whole month to stay in while people were really quarantined. That’s a cool aspect of having a home you can move.”
Being able to put those smiles on the faces of people who are hurting is satisfying, she said.
Chitwood expects to continue seeing those smiles as the industry improves much of the technology surrounding RVs.
As the lifestyle becomes more mainstream, she expects to see more advances from companies like LG which provides residential components and some for RVs.
“You talk about somebody who can make something for households that can kind of make it in a smaller package so you can get a little bit more for an RV that people are living in and doing stuff like that,” she said of enhancing the lifestyle.
As for entering the industry that she has come to love, she encourages anyone who has an interest to get involved. Experience is nice to have, but not absolutely necessary.
“Almost any place you step into, people are so willing to share with the information,” Chitwood said. “It’s not really like you step in and people say, ‘Oh, we’re not going to tell you.’ People who RV love to share everything about the RV. I didn’t have much experience before I started either. But almost everybody you meet who either had one or worked on one or has been around them is ready with all the information. Don’t feel like you have to do all the research before you jump into it. Just jump into it and the people around you will teach you everything you need to know.”
And who knows? Someone jumping in might some day find a familiar name as their boss.
Chitwood said the industry feels very “man driven”, but she is finding through organizations like the RV Women’s Alliance and RV Dealers Association that there are actually many women involved.
“Even though it feels like the big names are all men, when you really look closely and behind a lot of things you’ll see there are quite a lot of women who work in our industry,” she said. “Don’t feel like you’re by yourself. There’s very few places I’ve been to where there aren’t women at least somewhere in the building.”