Carriage’s Troubles Create New EverGreen Unit
The apparent demise of one prominent and respected old-line RV manufacturer – Millersburg, Ind.-based Carriage Inc. — is evidently playing a role in the startup of a new high-end fifth-wheel-building unit at Middlebury, Ind.-based EverGreen Recreational Vehicles LLC, according to veteran RV industry executive Kelly L. Rose.
Rose, a majority owner of EverGreen who has logged 35 years in the RV business, emphasizes the fact that he and partner Mike Schoeffler – plus five other EverGreen manager-owners – haven’t purchased any of Carriage’s assets at this point. But they have hired several key Carriage people in the process of setting up a business unit that in many respects will step into the market niche that Carriage once occupied.
Carriage, founded in 1968, closed its doors and furloughed 180 workers on Oct. 17 as an Indianapolis-based bank filed suit. The old-line towable builder behind the scenes has been looking – with no apparent success – for a buyer since then, according to sources close to the company.
“EverGreen is starting a new division, which is the high-end fifth-wheel division,” Rose told RVBUSINESS.com. “I did not buy the Carriage assets or brand names – even though we will look at some of those assets. But the most important asset that we’ve encountered is that we’ve hired the key management people from engineering, sales, production, manufacturing, design and finance.
“So, we’ve hired all the top key people and we’re actually going to develop — and we’re prototyping as we speak — a high-end EverGreen fifth-wheel with all the knowledge that Carriage has from their legacy and heritage over the years basically being transferred from Millersburg to Middlebury.”
The new high-end towable division will more than likely be housed in EverGreen’s existing facilities near the Indiana Toll Road north of Middlebury. But that, says Rose, could change. “I’m looking at a stand-alone facility also,” he said, “so really that will be determined this week.”
Rose says he’s stepping up to capitalize on Carriage’s good name, despite the difficulties the financially troubled company experienced this fall, by hiring the bulk of the company’s “brain trust” and management expertise with plans to build a towable RV line that’s similar in many ways to the Carriage lineup that the Millersburg company had built for years.
“It’s very similar to when I bought Starcraft (Automotive Corp.) out of bankruptcy in 1990,” said Rose. “You know, you really want to coddle the name and the heritage of the name. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do is take the key Carriage people and build a great product and continue to service the long-time Carriage dealers that know how the Carriage product has been built. We just want to transfer that. And, of course, at EverGreen, we’re known as a high-end quality manufacturer, and I want to just take that and build on the Carriage heritage.”
While EverGreen has marketed a relatively expensive, composite-construction, eco-friendly fifth-wheel, Rose added, the new lineup will tend to be larger and of a more conventional design. “We will look at the composite-type material and more eco-friendly (format) down the road,” he said, “But at this point it’s going to be absolutely more conventional than what’s being built now.”
The new division’s name? That’s another unknown – for the moment.
Among the former Carriage people playing key roles for EverGreen CEO Schoeffler are Elliott Bond in sales, former Carriage CFO Deb Albin in finance, Pete Kauffman in manufacturing and Greg Kitson in product development and design. The division will have 15 employees to start, and Rose plans to unveil the unit’s first finished products by March.
EverGreen is one of several ventures in which Rose and Schoeffler, who recently sold Starquest Products LLC and its affiliate Qualitec Manufacturing LLC to Drew Industries Inc.’s Kinro division, are currently involved.
“You know, the economy isn’t the strongest right now, as we all know, and it’s a tough time in business for the RV sector – and just prior to going into Louisville and going into wintertime,” said Rose. “And a few people said ‘why are you doing this?’ Well, EverGreen’s just a small company, and we can’t compete – nor do we even want to try to compete — with the big boys. So, why do this at a tough economic time of the RV industry especially?
“You know, timing is everything, and when the right people come along and you look at the timing of it and you look at the business decision part of it, you evaluate it, do your due diligence and make your decision and hope like heck that you’re right.”