RV Industry Grapples with Epic ‘Tough’ Winter
Winter weather continues to be a major story in the RV industry this year, with a fresh storm bringing even more snow to the Elkhart County, Ind., area. RV manufacturers and suppliers are working through the latest storm — at least those who can make it to work — as they try to keep Old Man Winter from causing them to fall behind even more.
Parts of Elkhart County received more than six inches of additional snow through this morning, and totals were even higher to the south, according to the National Weather Service in Northern Indiana.
The overnight winter storm Tuesday (Feb. 4) and today didn’t shut down production at Jayco Inc. and Entegra Coach in Middlebury, Ind. — though it wasn’t easy to get to work. “Today we are up and running,” Ashley Lehman, company spokeswoman, told RVBUSINESS.com.
The ability to keep going despite the snow has become a priority for the largest private RV builder. “We didn’t shut down today because of weather, but in January we actually lost a week of production,” Lehman said. “In February and March our goal is to make that up as we can. We also saw a drop in our shipping volumes. Shipping is harder to make up if it gets backed up.”
It’s been a remarkable winter in north-central Indiana, the heart of the RV industry. I can’t remember a winter this bad,” Lehman said.
The National Weather Service in Northern Indiana said Goshen has logged 13 days below zero degrees so far this winter, and it’s the eighth-coldest winter on record for South Bend and ninth-coldest on record for Fort Wayne.
At the Fort Wayne International Airport, only 18 miles from Allied Recreation Group’s production facilities in Decatur, there’s already been more than twice as much snow as a normal winter total, and it’s on pace to set a winter record for the amount of snowfall, according to the National Weather Service. January alone was the snowiest month ever on record in Fort Wayne, with 30.3 inches of snow.
That weather, spread across the RV industry’s core, impacted Thor Industries Inc.’s preliminary sales figures, announced Tuesday.
“Thor’s sales for the second quarter were adversely affected by the severe winter weather that has plagued the Midwest this year. In January, our operations in Indiana lost several days of production due to severe cold temperatures and heavy snow,” said Bob Martin, Thor president and CEO, in an announcement. “The severe weather affected our ability to receive materials, run production and ship units amid the frigid temperatures and hazardous road conditions.”
Scott Tuttle, head of Thor subsidiary Livin’ Lite Recreational Vehicles in Wakarusa, told RVBUSINESS.com, “some people didn’t make it in but we are open.” At sister company Bison Coach LLC in Milford, just south of Elkhart County, “only about 60% of people made it in,” Tuttle said. “It’s probably going to be a short day there.”
Livin’ Lite has been closed three days in the last two weeks and lost a total of seven days in January, Tuttle said. “Every snow day costs you two or three days because the vendors aren’t getting their parts in, so they can’t get them to us.”
Getting caught up isn’t going to happen soon, Tuttle said. “When the weather gets nice, we might talk about working Saturdays, but we can’t do that now with storms coming through every other day. It’s been terrible.”
All of Middlebury-based EverGreen Recreational Vehicles LLC’s plants are “up and running” today, reported President and COO Mark Boessler, although they’ve dropped four days of production at two facilities and five at another during recent snow and cold emergencies.
“I can’t speak for any other manufacturers,” says Boessler when asked if EverGreen’s revenues have been impacted by the weather. “But what we put in place is Saturday work. We’re starting this weekend. We’re going to buy back the production loss by working six days a week. We plan on doing that over the course of the next four to five weeks and get our production back to where we felt we needed to be. So, all of EverGreen and LifeStyle RV will be working Saturdays, six days a week production to catch back up so we hit the correct numbers that we budget for.”
Aluminum-extrusion supplier Postle Aluminum LLC in Elkhart and nearby Cassopolis, Mich., has experienced the same problems as manufacturers. “We are working today, but we’re really struggling,” said Kevin Robinson, president of the 400-employee company. “We’re having trucks get stuck at multiple locations. We’re having a hard time getting unloaded at the OEM’s. They’re struggling because of the weather. You know, they’re having a hard time with their inventory. They’re running out of room to push the snow for their snow removal. It’s been a real tough January for the OEM’s and the vendors, the suppliers.”
Robinson says he hasn’t seen anything like this since back in the ‘70s. “This is a pretty tough winter,” he said. “You know, we’ve lost four or five actual shipping days in the month of January. So, it’s been a strain on the industry.”
Matt Hazelbaker, vice president of operations for Elkhart-based Genesis Products Inc., said his nearly 400-employee company is working today with second shifts planned at all of their Indiana plants unless weather emergencies are declared. Genesis operates four Elkhart County plants and one in Virginia.
Hazelbaker said that Genesis, a manufacturer of interior passage doors and laminated wall and ceiling panels for the RV and manufactured housing industries, generally “falls right in line” with any weather problems OEM’s like Thor are encountering.
“When they’re off days, you know, we typically follow suit and are off days,” he said. “This winter’s weather has certainly affected our performance objectives in terms of sales because taking days off is tough, and what we plan to do is, if and when some of the manufacturers work Saturdays, we’ll certainly follow suit to be able to get back on track and not disrupt our supply chain.”