Nowhere was the pulse of the industry more evident on Tuesday (Sept. 18), the first full day of Elkhart County’s Annual RV Open House Week, than Forest River Inc.’s teeming Dynamax facility on the north side of Elkhart, Ind., where lunch was being served to thousands of dealer personnel as members of the company’s senior management greeted the U.S. and Canadian retailers.
“So far, it’s noon of the first day and it’s packed in here,” quipped Forest River President & CEO Pete Liegl, drinking coffee amid the clatter inside the expansive Dynamax plant in which motorhomes are displayed on elevated lifts. “We’ve got a lot of people coming in and, so far, the enthusiasm’s good and the ordering’s good.”
And why shouldn’t there be plenty of enthusiasm around Forest River’s Open House display and northern Indiana’s RV-building hub of Elkhart in general, considering that business is “extremely good right now” and has been all year for RVs and the other markets in which Forest River has a hand, including marine, commercial bus, cargo trailer and manufactured housing?
Pointing out that last week’s Hershey Show in Pennsylvania was a “barn burner” of an event at which Elkhart-based Forest River did “phenomenally well” in selling “virtually hundreds of units,” Liegl anticipates that Forest River, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, will exceed $3 billion in annual gross revenues for the first time in calendar 2012.
Even the first rain to fall in five years on the Open House didn’t seem to dampen spirits around Forest River’s County Road 6 complex where more than 500 towable and motorized recreational vehicles are on display.
“This industry’s doing extremely well – extremely well, and marine’s come back strong, especially in the pontoon area which we’re in,” he added. “Cargo trailers are doing good. Buses are doing extremely well, very profitable with big back orders. RVs are doing good, motorized and towable. You know, there is no problem here. Last year was one of our best years ever, and this year is turning out to be even better. “
Liegl’s comments are particularly interesting, considering this is an election year in which the uncertainties of a presidential campaign are often said to cast doubt and indecision among consumers.
“I know we’re doing OK,” said Liegl, noting that Forest River only saw a serious recessionary impact in part of 2009. “A lot of other people in the area are doing well. I don’t think it’s as bad as people make it out to be, but it’s not as good as it could be, either.”
Meanwhile, Don Gunden, a divisional general manager and another outspoken member of Forest River’s management team, also sees good things in the products he handles such as the Rockwood, Flagstaff, Palomino, Sabre and Columbus towable brands.
“Business has been good,” said Gunden. “I mean, I look at my numbers and consistently, month over month, we’re better than we were a year ago and better than two years ago. So, its been consistently better in the towable brands I handle, which top out in price at about $55,000 retail for a Columbus (fifth-wheel).”
And Gunden is also anticipating another solid growth year in 2013, although he’s clearly keeping an eye on the nation’s political landscape.
“Yes, my outlook is tempered because we have elections that could have consequences,” he told RVBUSINESS.com. “You know, the only (negative political) thing that I see, honestly as the industry progresses and grows today is that we’re leaving a segment behind. The population that everybody professes to be trying to bolster is the segment that keeps getting hurt — the first-time buyer. Lower income people are being hammered worse than anybody else. And if we don’t change things politically, they’ll just get worse. We’re not doing anything to enhance their life because we’re taking opportunity away from them.”