Like an NFL football team with the true grit to bounce back from a regrettable loss, Winnebago Industries Inc. has in many ways shown the world and the rest of the RV industry what it takes to shake off the bleak days of the Great Recession and – stretching that sports analogy — reset its gameplan, introduce a new playbook and redirect its energies toward the next game or, perhaps, the playoffs.
That drive to survive and redefine the company’s entire approach to the business world, in a nutshell, is why RVBusiness has named 55-year-old, Forest City, Iowa-based Winnebago as “RVB’s Newsmaker of the Year for 2013.”
RVB’s staff chose Winnebago over an array of other contenders that generated plenty of headlines in 2013 — Camping World Inc., the nation’s largest RV retailer; Thor Industries Inc., America’s highest volume RV builder; and Fleetwood RV, now part of Allied Specialty Vehicles Inc.’s Allied Recreation Group.
So, why, one might argue, pick Winnebago over other RV builders when it has clearly benefited from the same rising tides that have lifted other manufacturers?
Because the publicly held RV builder, located in the flatlands of northern Iowa about an hour south of Minneapolis — far from the industry’s Indiana RV-building hub — has to a great extent overachieved by “reinventing” itself as it strives to become more of sales-driven company versus a manufacturing-centric firm. From all we can tell, it’s largely a response to challenges posed by a revamped senior management team led for the past three years by Chairman, CEO and President Randy Potts, a 30-year Winnebago veteran, and more recently by Scott Degnan, a former Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. exec who now serves as vice president of sales and product management.
And because the rebirth of Winnebago – the nation’s fourth largest RV builder and a company billing itself as “The Most Recognized Name in Motor Homes” – is in many ways emblematic of the entire industry’s ongoing recovery.
Here’s a few highlights extracted from the pages of the January/February issue of RVBusiness:
The Employment Picture: Winnebago’s employment roster has gone from a pre-recessionary high of 4,000 down to 1,500 at its low point and now back up to an austere headcount of about 2,790.
Expanding Retail Sales: Winnebago posted an industry-best 63.8% rate of growth for retail sales of all RV’s combined from 2011 through the first 10 months of 2013, reports Tom Walworth, president of Statistical Surveys Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich.
Financial Performance: The Iowa firm finished its 2013 fiscal year Aug. 31 with revenues of $803.2 million, a 38.1% gain over $581.7 in fiscal 2012, and operating income of $44.4 million, a 366.1% increase from $9.5 million in fiscal 2012. And it again posted impressive numbers in Q1 of 2014, ended Nov. 30.
National Press Coverage: The Iowa RV manufacturer became somewhat of a media darling over the past year with coverage in everything from CNBC’s “Comeback Companies” to ABC News with Diane Sawyer’s “Made in America” plus a live interview with Randy Potts from New York on “CBS This Morning.”
Three Key Media Accolades: The company drew praise for its performance on a national scale with its selection this fall to Barron’s 400 Index and its listing in Fortune magazine’s “100 Fastest Growing Companies” and Chief Executive magazine’s “Mid-Market Elite.”
Also tipping the scales in Winnebago’s favor is a new brand-licensing program, an award-winning first entry into the commercial vehicle arena and the development of an array of new motorhomes, including the Travato Class B and Trend/Viva! Class C assembled on Chrysler’s Ram ProMaster van chassis, an Americanized version of Europe’s popular Fiat Ducato platform.
But Potts and Degnan make it clear in the current issue of RVBusiness that Winnebago is also keeping an eye on a variety of mainstream product categories, including gas-fueled Class A motorhomes. In fact, the industry can expect the next significant new Winnebago product debut by spring.
“All I can tell you is that we’ll be launching the next big splash to our dealers during our next Dealer Days event, which is the middle of April just before Easter,” said Degnan, “and it’s just really going to be cool.”