Jayco Marks 43rd Year at Dealer Homecoming
In the midst of the recession, Jayco Inc. held its annual dealer meeting closer to home – at its home plant in Middlebury, Ind., in 2009 and in the Chicago suburbs in 2010. Perhaps reflecting a market that continues to work it’s way back to health, Jayco this week (June 20-22) took a more traditional approach by hosting its Annual Homecoming & 2012 New Product Introduction at The Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.
“This year marks the 43rd year since Lloyd Bontrager founded our company,” Jayco Chairman Wilbur Bontrager told the assembled dealers during the company’s general session on Tuesday (June 21) morning. “I don’t have with me a list of all the RV companies that were in business that year. Suffice to say that there were dozens and that very few of them remain today. I think you can count them on one hand.
“We believe that the reason for our success over those years is that we have set the example for the RV industry when it comes to building products packed with value, standing behind those products and developing a true and trusting relationship with our dealer organization. If you consider the fact that we have built nearly 800,000 RVs over the last 43 years, it is a tribute to the men and women in this room that we have remained so strong for so long.”
Behind that kind of long-term survival are both people and values, said Bontrager, on behalf of the management team of the family-held company. However, he added, living by the Golden Rule is not enough in itself to sustain oneself in the business arena today.
“We think we have a pretty good idea of who we are,” Bontrager noted in his opening remarks, “and we plan to reinforce that identity in your minds this week. At the same time, we understand that the world and the RV market are constantly changing, becoming more dynamic with increasingly aggressive competition. The challenge facing us is to remember who we are, take stock of where we stand today and prepare to move on.
“In order to grow and flourish, we must go to new places and make new plans. We’re stronger now than ever before but we also know that what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow.”
In his turn at the podium, Jayco President Derald Bontrager reflected on the state of the economy and when he had told dealers in Schaumburg, Ill., last year about how the company had weathered the bulk of the economic storms and that all signs pointed to a solid recovery. At that time, he observed, optimism was pretty prevalent in the industry.
“Today,” he noted, “the economy is still expanding but that optimism is tempered by a certain amount of anxiety and uncertainty. While the economy is showing steady improvement, the RV industry is going through a period marked by revolutionary changes in the way our products are built and marketed, forcing everyone in this room to reevaluate our current business models.”
In making his point, Bontrager said he’d had the opportunity early in June during RVIA Committee Week to listen to “some fairly sobering words” from University of Michigan economist Richard Curtin, a forecaster for the national trade association, regarding the fundamental changes in the economy prompted by the Great Recession.
“He said our market and the economy will not return to the pre-recession normal,” Bontrager explained. “There is a new normal and those companies that adapt will survive, and those that don’t, won’t. Disposable income and the labor market will vary across population groups and full recovery is some time in the future. The wealth factor, including housing equity, will slowly recover over years.
“Credit will be more widely available, but under stricter terms, and we will likely be doing business amid conditions of continuing volatility in domestic and global markets.
But Curtin was also emphatic in stating that the appeal of the RV lifestyle will overcome any economic barriers and will continue to transform the industry to meet RVers needs, Bontrager added.
“So as we meet here this week,” he told the dealers, “it is clear that our business is more challenged and more competitive than ever before. The old way of doing things is no longer the most effective plan. We need to be smarter, more innovative and bolder than ever before. But it is equally as clear that for a company like Jayco there are opportunities like never before.”