The timing seems right. As Roadtrek Motorhomes Inc. marks its 40th year of operation, Jeff Hanemaayer – the architect behind the company’s status as the undisputed market share leader in the Class B motorhome segment – has announced his resignation from day-to-day operations, effective July 31.
During a 31-year run heading the Kitchener, Ontario-based firm founded by his father, Jac, Hanemaayer and his team set the bar for innovation in a niche market that survives on specialization and a cult-like customer base rather than sheer volume.
“The features that have attracted people to Class B’s really haven’t changed much over the years,” Hanemaayer said, noting that Roadtrek has held the No. 1 sales position in the segment since 1990. “The main reason is that it’s easy to drive. My dad used to say that the design appeals to RVers who don’t want to be weekend bus drivers. We also package units with a lot of the same high-end amenities that are typically reserved for Class A’s.”
Hanemaayer, 49, set the table for his resignation from Roadtrek in February of 2011 when Chicago-based private equity firm Industrial Opportunity Partners acquired a majority interest with a multimillion dollar investment in the company.
“I gradually became less involved in the day-to-day operations over the last two years,” he said, adding that he had retained the real estate. “Another factor in my resignation is that we have a long-term president, Jim Hammill, in place who understands the company and the marketplace. Although I will continue as a director, minority shareholder and the landlord, I will be stepping back from everyday involvement.”
He is also stepping down from his board positions with the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and its counterpart Canadian Recreational Vehicle Association (CRVA).
“I enjoyed my involvement over the years with both associations,” Hanemaayer said. “I joined CRVA in 1990 and served in various capacities, including being the youngest president. It was nice to have the opportunity to work with a lot of the smart minds in our industry.”
Hanemaayer reported that Roadtrek had grown to include around 200 full-time employees operating in a 120,000-square-foot facility. “We hit our peak in 2007, but like everyone else were forced to pare back our work force when the market declined,” he said. “Interestingly, Class B’s bounced back quicker than the the Class A and Class C motorhome segments. After dropping off from 2,000 to 2,400 units a year, B’s are back to running at around 1,600 units.”
Hanemaayer acknowledged that the marketplace may never achieve the high volume of Class A’s and C’s as around a dozen OEM’s currently build the product.
“The market continues to be fragmented,” he said. “Larger manufacturers have never found much success because they are not set up to build 100 or so of one model per year. There is also a lot of specialization and product variation. Right now, Roadtrek builds nine different models.
“Another factor that limits volume is cost. Class B’s do not have that lower-end price point. Unfortunately, some consumers equate price with size, so they may gravitate toward a Class C because it’s bigger and, in some cases, less money.”
One area, however, could change the landscape in the Class B market, according to Hanemaayer, as a number of new commercial van platforms have threatened to cut into the domination enjoyed by the Sprinter chassis produced by Mercedes-Benz.
“I think the new number of platforms will influence volume,” he said. “It looks like there will be some direct competition to Sprinter, which should create a lower price point.”
For now, Hanemaayer said he is undecided on his career path. First, he is planning to travel, including longer treks with his partner in their Roadtrek motorhome.
“I will take a half year off,” he said. “But I’m not interested in retirement. I will probably do something part-time that still gives me the option to travel.”