The 2013 Elkhart Open House was a “great show” for Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., not only because of the opportunity the northern Indiana trade show afforded the Thor Industries Inc. subsidiary to show off new Kodiak, Infinity and Voltage models, but also because of the chance to communicate with dealers regarding all of the change that has occurred in 2013 for the Goshen, Ind., builder.
“It was absolutely a great show,” Aram Koltookian, executive vice president of Dutchmen, told RVBUSINESS.com. “We were a little bit ahead of last year as far as total sales, and the dealers were real receptive to the change. They understand all the new processes and the construction going on, and a lot of dealers really decided to stick with the Dutchmen brand and our company. And we signed a lot of new dealers.”
In addition to some West Coast consolidation and an aggressive construction project now under way at the Goshen campus, the biggest change for Dutchmen over the past year involves a major organizational shift announced in March through which Matt Zimmerman, president of Thor’s Keystone RV Co., assumed the additional responsibilities of overseeing Dutchmen while Koltookian, formerly general manager at Goshen-based Keystone, moved into his current slot.
All that led to some natural speculation within the industry regarding the independent status of Dutchmen – despite Thor’s assurances in March that the company would remain independent and continue to develop its own unique products with its own sales force, engineering staff, product development team and production facilities.
Now, Koltookian maintains, that speculation is gradually being laid to rest, especially among the dealers who attended the Open House and visited the company’s display outside the RV/MH Hall of Fame.
“Yeah, this was really huge for Dutchmen,” said Koltookian. “You know, some of the Dutchmen dealers don’t know Keystone or me, Aram Koltookian, and they wanted to get to know us. They wanted to know what the game plan was for the company and make sure that we weren’t going to really be part of Keystone. You know, they wanted to make sure that this wasn’t just a move to build on Keystone’s business and they wanted to know whether Dutchmen would remain Dutchmen.
“And I think we proved it to them,” he added. “You know, we showed them a lot of (construction) pictures and a lot of what’s going on on the new campus, the new factories that are going up and they were reassured that Dutchmen remains Dutchmen, Keystone’s still Keystone, and that the two of us are going to continue to slug it out and let the best company win.”
The $10 million-plus construction project involves the consolidation of some smaller facilities into one large new plant, according to Koltookian, as well as revamping roads and retention ponds to improve traffic flow. Also part of the project are new computer systems, fiber optic cables and upgraded operating software, which, Koltookian maintains, says a lot about Thor’s long-term commitment to Dutchmen.
“We’ve already broken ground and are well under way on a new 60,000-square-foot multiuse building, which will bring all of our small part CNC machines, weld shops and aluminum fabrication onto the Dutchmen campus,” said Koltookian. “We’re also upgrading our County Road 38 facility, where we do lightweight lamination and build several lines, and we’ve built new scaffolding there. We’ve repaved around that plant and moved some retention ponds to allow for better traffic flow.
“We’re also moving our sales team this week back into the corporate office where we completely renovated the first floor and added 20 new offices,” he explained. “So, all of our reps have their own space, their own offices where they can do a better job and be more efficient in taking care of their dealers.
“We have multiple projects going on, and the first one, the corporate office, is complete.”