The merger in early September of Thor Industries Inc.’s motorized subsidiaries — Damon Motor Coach and Four Winds International Corp. — into Thor Motor Coach was spurred by the realization that the two companies were competing for the same dealers in a smaller marketplace.
More than 90% of today’s RV sales are towables.
”The motorhome market obviously is a fraction of what it was years ago,” said Bill Fenech, formerly president of the two companies and new president of the newly created company.
”And if you look at the number of motorhome dealers in the marketplace, before we’d have two, three, four and sometimes five strong dealers in the major markets, said Fenech, whose company is based in Elkhart, Ind. ”That’s not the case at all anymore and to have two separate companies didn’t make a lot of sense.”
The goal in forming Thor Motor Coach was to create ”a strong company name” while retaining most of the brands that Damon and Four Winds manufactured, Fenech said.
”Damon has ceased to exist and Four Winds International won’t exist any more, but pretty much all the brands are staying,” Fenech told RVBUSINESS.com. ”The bottom line is this whole consolidation was almost a year in the making. I saw what was happening in the marketplace. Damon was a good company; Four Winds was a good company. Now we are gong to leverage the Thor Motor Coach name and we’re going to go after it.”
Matt Thompson, formerly with Damon, has been named vice president and general manager of Thor Motor Coach’s diesel brands that include the Serrano, Avanti, Astoria and Tuscany.
Dana Simon, a 20-year Four Winds veteran, is vice president and general manager of gas Class A and Class C brands, including Hurricane, Windsport, Daybreak, Challenger, Four Winds and Chateau.
Thor Motor Coach, which employs more than 700 people, will be ”the golden thread that goes through everything that we do now” in terms of branding, said Fenech, one of the founders of Goshen, Ind.-based Keystone RV Co., a Thor Industries subsidiary.
”We are going to leverage the Thor Motor Coach name,” he continued.
The merger of the two companies has been in the offing since September 2008 when Damon, in the eye of the recessionary storm, moved its manufacturing operations into a 165,000-square-foot plant in Elkhart that formerly was occupied by Four Winds.
”At the old Damon facility, we had a bunch of little plants,” Fenech said. ”When the market softened, Four Winds had extra capacity that we combined into one major (Damon) plant.”
In June 2009, Fenech was named president of both companies which began to share more ”back-end” operations that included customer service, parts, IT and legal staff.
”What was very frustrating was that I couldn’t get both teams to share as much as I wanted to because they were competitors,” Fenech said. ”We would have them fighting each other for a dealer, and that didn’t make a lot of sense because of how few dealers are out there. Now Dana and Matt are trying to help each other instead of fighting with each other as vice presidents and general managers of different brands.
”Initially (the merger) already has cleared up a lot of stuff for us,” Fenech said. ”We can look at things more globally with everybody going in the same direction. We were always lean, but putting us together makes us even more lean, and we’ll save money.”
Fenech said that Thor Motor Coach will focus on value pricing. ”Damon used to have the buzz phrase ‘value by design,”’ Fenech said. ”That ties into what we are doing.
”We are not going to be the most expensive product. We’ll never have the high, high-end. We know who we are. I like to be the price leader in the meat of the market. That’s where I want to play.”
Given the soft recovery of the U.S. economy in general and the RV industry specifically, Fenech said it is hard to predict how the next few months will play out.
”The last couple of years have proven to be very difficult,” he said. ”I don’t think we will come back to the pre-’04 levels, but we are going to see some steady increases in the market.”
He also predicted that the move toward shorter and somewhat smaller motorhomes is likely to wane somewhat over the long haul, noting that the sales of larger, less fuel-efficient SUVs has picked up as the economy recovers. ”The American buyer has a short memory,” Fenech said. ”The focus is likely to be driveablity, not necessarily price or fuel-economy driven”
”Price is going to continue to be involved in the market over and shorter RVs are a very important part of the product mix, but I think we are still going to sell big ones.”