Introducing a new line of mid-priced diesel-powered motorhomes in the midst of a recession might seem like risky business to some. But Jayco Inc. rolled the dice and may have hit pay dirt in this — the Middlebury, Ind., firm’s second attempt to enter the Class A motorhome business in the past 10 years. After purchasing the assets of well-known high-end towable and motorized RV manufacturer Travel Supreme Inc. in 2008, Jayco moved coach production from Wakarusa, Ind., to its main campus in Middlebury and debuted its new Entegra Coach division in early 2009. Integrating many of Travel Supreme’s innovative floorplans with the advantages Jayco enjoys as one of the nation’s larger RV builders — including purchasing power and a wealth of engineering and business acumen — the new line has reportedly been well received by dealers and consumers alike. “I only have seven or eight ‘open’ units across the country, where I’d like to have that many available per dealership,” noted Tad Jenkins, Entegra’s national sales manager, during the West Coast introduction of the division’s new “entry-level” Insignia Aug. 11-14 at the FMCA convention in Redmond, Ore. During the convention at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds & Expo Center, RVBusiness Editor Bruce Hampson spent some time with Jim Jacobs, Jayco’s former vice president of sales who currently serves as general manager of the company’s Entegra Coach division as well as Jayco’s Starcraft RV towable division in Topeka, Ind. Jacobs discussed the development of the Entegra concept as well as future plans for the division.
RVB: Give us an update, if you would, with regard to Jayco’s still-new Entegra initiative.
Jacobs: We started in January of 2009 with a 35,000-square-foot factory, which was way small. In June of this year we completed a 35,000-square-foot expansion of that facility, so now we’re operating at roughly 75,000 square feet. The line is completely full, and we’re ramping up production as we speak.
Right now, we’re building about five coaches a week, one a day. Our goal is to get to three a day by the end of the year. We’ve got a fairly aggressive ramp-up schedule. And of course, the key to that is that you always do it without sacrificing quality.
RVB: We’re told that there are very few open units, unsold coaches, within your current dealer network. That’s a nice position to be in.
Jacobs: The inventory has been turning fairly rapidly for us. I think the key to that is that we’ve been extremely selective in the dealer network. We’ve got some of the biggest and best diesel pusher dealers on our dealer roster already. And those guys know how to turn product. It’s really turning off their lots, fast. Obviously, that’s created another issue for us.
RVB: We understand that Entegra has adopted a number of measures — thanks to Jayco, its parent company — that allow you to compete at more competitive price points.
Jacobs: That’s right. One of the strengths that we really loved about the old Travel Supreme company was their quality and their fit and finish and their innovative floorplans and design. What they lacked just happened to be Jayco’s strengths: the purchasing leverage that we have, the manufacturing processes that we can bring, the corporate engineering, the structural engineering that we know and understand better than anybody. So we’ve been able to bring a lot of strong corporate assets and apply them to what we’re running as kind of a smaller, almost boutique division. It’s been a fantastic marriage for us, and it’s put us — Entegra Coach — into a position where we’re able to be really aggressive with our pricing because of the strength of the corporation.
RVB: It appears of late that RV owners are going to smaller, gas coaches due to pricing, credit availability and the waning effects of the recession. Yet, Entegra is bringing out a mid-level diesel pusher.
Jacobs: Actually, we’re playing to a segment that is fairly well heeled and is maybe not as affected by the swings in the economy and the swings in the stock market. Plus, you couple that with the fact that there’s been so much fallout and so much dissatisfaction with some manufacturers and how they’ve responded that, for us, it was perfect timing.
The thing that dealers like about us is the commitment of the Bontrager family; their word is their bond. Also, they (dealers) like the financial stability of (a company with) 42 years in business. They like the fact that we offer a two-year warranty where everyone else has a one-year warranty. It just seems like, in spite of everything going on out there in the economy, our timing could not have been better because of everything else that was at play.
RVB: What trends do you see in the marketplace right now?
Jacobs: When I wear my Starcraft hat, I see us getting lighter, less expensive products. I see us being very, very innovative with features that people don’t normally get in the price point segments that we play in. In the Entegra Coach division, I think that we’re just now touching the very tip of the iceberg for this division. I know that this division has a lot of big plans. We have a lot of strategic initatives that we’re going to kick off very quickly. You’re not going to see us sit back and wait.
RVB: So, we assume that you have more new models – in addition to the entry-level, high-end Insignia you just rolled out – in the works right now?
Jacobs: Yes, we do. We have a lot of stuff working. Hopefully, we’ll have a bunkhouse model in the Insignia series that will appeal to families. The Insignia is our ‘entry level’ coach; it’s on an ISB 360hp Freightliner chassis. For us, that’s an entry-level product. So you’ll see us do a bunkhouse model in that. We’ve got several new innovative floorplans in the works for the other brands as well. Beyond that, you’ll see some big things.
RVB: How much of this will debut at Louisville?
Jacobs: You’ll see some new stuff at Louisville (but) we’re not going to use Louisville as a benchmark for us to drive our product development. Our product development strategy is a continuous, year-round event. Louisville is just one of those calendar marks that you click off.