The story of the demise of fifth-wheel RV maker Carriage Inc. has all the makings of a typical news story on a factory being shut down.
As reported by the South Bend Tribune, nearly 200 knowledgeable, hardworking employees were battling to keep their 42-year-old Millersburg, Ind., company afloat during the recession and its aftermath, only to come into work Oct. 17, 2011, and learn Carriage was closing.
It might have ended there.
But the management team of Carriage opted to make a pitch to EverGreen Recreational Vehicles LLC of Middlebury, Ind., maker of light, eco-friendly travel trailers.
“Basically they made a presentation that really fits the mold of what we’re trying to do with EverGreen, with the quality, with the green (segment) and the integrity, and had some good product design activities,” said EverGreen CEO Michael Schoeffler. “And they were in the high-end fifth wheel, and it matched our strategic plan.”
But not perfectly.
Launching a fifth-wheel brand in 2012 was about 12 to 18 months ahead of EverGreen’s schedule. However, the opportunity was too good to pass up.
“As we sat and met with these people,” Schoeffler said, “and looked at what was available in this county, we said, ‘you know, we can’t pass on an opportunity all the time, because it might not be there 12 to 15 months from now.’”
And so in November, EverGreen agreed to launch its own fifth-wheel brand, Lifestyle Luxury RV, with the aid of the former Carriage personnel.
It was the right thing to do, Schoeffler noted, “because these people have a good, long history of building high-end fifth wheels that we wanted to be in.”
In mid-November, EverGreen hired 15 people from the former Carriage Inc.
Another 60 to 85 workers from Carriage are expected to be added later this year as production of the new Lifestyle Luxury RV fifth-wheels begins in March.
More could be hired in the future, too, Schoeffler said.
“This is a product and market that is much different than what we’re in today,” Schoeffler said. “And the consumer is much different. These people have just years and years of experience of high-end luxury fifth wheels, and those customers. That’s what was so attractive.”
For Greg Kitson and his former co-workers from Carriage, getting back in their old business in a nearby location was quite a break.
“We are thrilled it was able to come together so quickly,” said Kitson, director of engineering and product development for Lifestyle Luxury RV. “We are thrilled to be able to come to look towards tomorrow to be able to put great people back to work.
“That’s where the thrill and the passion come from. The other part of the passion is building a great product.”
Officially, Lifestyle Luxury RV is a stand-alone company that is a division of EverGreen, Kitson said.
“What EverGreen did is that they’ve taken their expertise out there and put themselves out there and really tried to separate themselves from the marketplace,” he said. “Lifestyle will do the same thing.
“We’re at different price points and different products with different techniques, but all in all it still comes down to the people involved and how you take care of dealers, customers, suppliers and employees. It’s a great opportunity for all who are involved in this.”