NEWS IN FOCUS
Bontrager: Jayco Refining its Competitive Edge
Jayco Inc. President and CEO Derald Bontrager says things have been going exceedingly well around the Middlebury, Ind., company since the founding Bontrager family sold the 48-year-old towable and motorized RV manufacturing firm last June to Thor Industries Inc., the world’s largest RV builder.
That includes the ongoing realignment of Jayco’s executive management team led by the mid-November appointment of former Jayco Towables President Matt Thompson to the position of chief operating officer over the Jayco Towables, Starcraft RV, Highland Ridge RV, Jayco Motorhome Group and Entegra Coach operations – a move spawned, says Bontrager, by the senior staff of Jayco.
“It truly is a decision we made internally here without any influence from Thor to reorganize the company to position us for growth in the future,” he said. “And it’s going very well. Our family was very selective with who we chose to partner with. We chose Thor because we really like Thor’s model of buying great companies with strong management in place and leaving them alone, letting them run. I’m still here every day.
“Matt Thompson helped take over more of the responsibilities recently,” he added, “but I’m still here. It’s been fun. I have no intention of stepping away any time soon.”
Again, Bontrager maintained, the end game is to better position the 3,500-employee company for the future in a rapidly changing marketplace.
“I see the recent changes we’ve made in our structure and management as a natural progression,” said Bontrager, immediate past chairman of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). “As a company grows, you need to realign your management teams to take a company to the next level. The realignment was simply for the purposes of creating synergies among the divisions to take advantage of the best practices and standardization of materials and get the whole team focused in the same direction.
“Through that we’ve brought in some new management, and I’m personally excited with the team we’ve been able to put together. I think we’re going to see some really great things for our company. We’ve aligned our management into a motorized team and a towables team. Ken Walters is our vice president for sales and product development for our motorized group and Marc Hauser has joined our team as vice president of sales and product development for all of our towable group, which is Jayco, Highland Ridge and Starcraft. Below them we have some general manager positions we filled for each one of those brands.”
Both well known within the industry, Walters last worked for Prime Time Mfg., while Hauser’s last stop was at Northwest multi-store dealership Blue Dog RV.
When all is said and done, Bontrager expects Jayco to remain as competitive as it has been in recent years in its lineup of Class A and Class C motorized product as well as towables, a category in which Jayco markets the industry’s No. 1-selling Jay Flight travel trailer.
“It is still the Jayco that most have come to know,” said Bontrager, noting that the wholly owned Thor subsidiary has launched five significant building projects over the past year that will bring Jayco’s total under roof manufacturing space to 2.5 million square feet when the last phases are completed this spring and summer. “I would say that with this most recent reorganization, we’re putting even more focus on each one of the individual brands than ever before and more resources behind them. We now have a much greater focus on product development and sales than we’ve had in the history of our company.
“We’ve always been viewed in the industry and the marketplace as a manufacturing and engineering-driven company,” added Bontrager. “We’re turning the corner to really be a product development, sales-focused company because that’s what drives top-line growth. We needed to flatten our structure to be more nimble and more responsive to the marketplace, quite candidly, and become a much more efficient and lean company.”
All this, he noted, comes at a particularly fortuitous time given the current strength of the general RV arena. “The industry’s in a better spot today than it’s been in the 40 years I’ve been in it as far as terms of consistent growth over an extended period of time,” said Bontrager. “We have seen a shift to younger buyers at shows every week around the U.S. and Canada. Younger families are coming to the shows in record numbers. It’s a very positive thing.”