As the curtain rises today (April 29) on Winnebago Industries Inc.’s Dealer Days Event at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, RV retailers in attendance will encounter a financially revitalized company with an array of new 2014 product offerings, including at least one entirely new motorhome line.
Representing the northern Iowa builder’s dealer body of 480 towable and motorized retailers, attendees will find a company that has, in many ways, been reborn since the brunt of the recession swept across the American economy a few years ago.
Indeed, there is a buzz around the small Iowa county seat of Forest City and the south side facilities where employment has roller-coastered from a pre-recessionary high of 4,000 down to 1,650 in the pit of the downturn and back up to about 2,500 today in what amounts to the “new age of Winnebago.”
Accordingly, the help-wanted signs are out around Forest City, as Winnebago, recognized as the No. 1 motorhome builder for 2012 by Statistical Surveys Inc., bolsters its production staff.
Out of a nondescript steel-sided building near the company’s main production facility, the old-line RV manufacturer is rolling out its first-ever lineup of mid-size Metro Link shuttle buses in a busy “skunk works” atmosphere that people in Forest City haven’t seen in quite some time.
Long-standing ancillary business units are being realigned, and the nearby visitor center and 1,300-unit rally grounds are being significantly upgraded for July’s traditional WIT Club Grand National Rally and other upcoming events.
Production backlogs have tripled, as the company still basks in the aftermath of a 2Q financial report in early March in which Winnebago reported a 34.6% gain in revenue to $177.2 million plus net income of $6.3 million versus a loss the previous year of $912,000. Year-to-date revenues were up an impressive 40.7% to $370.7 million.
In the process, Winnebago’s entire approach to product management and decision-making has been revised since Randy Potts, chairman, president and CEO, was promoted to his current position in June of 2011.
“Our current success is two-pronged,” Potts told RVBUSINESS.com. “One reason is that the market is coming back, so we are getting that lift. Last year, the market was up about 7%, but our company is also responding to a challenge (from senior management) to outperform the market. So, where the market last year grew 7%, we’re on record as having grown 15% to 16%. Everybody is responding to that challenge to do more.
“We are competitively hitting (product) price points that we historically haven’t,” he added. “At the same time, we are doing very well at the high end, and looking at other holes that we need to fill and going after them.”
Potts, whose company was withholding comment on product releases on tap for this week’s dealer meeting, says the company’s employees have responded to challenges by becoming “overachievers” in a manufacturing firm that – like other corporate survivors of the Great Recession – is learning to do more work with fewer people.
“What we are benefiting from right now is a completely resized cost structure,” says Potts. “It’s completely rethought, out of necessity, and our opportunity going forward is to find ways to continue to do more with less. Now, we are going to have to grow (add employees) as the business grows — no question about it.
“But I know we will be looking at things differently than we did in the past,” he noted. “And I don’t want to take anything away from people who worked here before because they did a good job. But in the past, there’s been more of a tendency that if the market grows, we grow right back with it — just in footprint.
“Now, I’m challenging the organization going forward not to be so quick to do that. Naturally, we’re going to grow in our product offering, and in our ability to produce product. That infrastructure is in place. But let’s be very careful about how we grow our footprint and try to grow it in such a way that it is as flexible as possible so market fluctuations aren’t as painful as they’ve been in the past.
“Let’s look for ways that we can move with the market a little more freely, a little less rigidly. I don’t know exactly what all of those are. But what I do know is that if I don’t challenge the organization to do that, it more than likely won’t happen.”