Skyline Touts Renewed RV Focus to Dealers
Pledging to eliminate what its executives termed “commodity-driven RV sales,” Skyline RV Group staged its first dealer meeting since before to the Great Recession for a group of about 80 retailers June 3-5 at the sprawling Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Ill., in the west Chicago suburbs.
Skyline’s informal get-together — more akin to a product launch and private sale than a structured conference — attracted dealers representing nearly 120 markets across the U.S., according to Don Emahiser, president of the Elkhart, Ind.-based RV-building subsidiary of Skyline Corp., a publicly held builder of RVs and manufactured housing. However, while the atmosphere was intentionally low-key, the message conveyed by Emahiser and Brad Whitehead, Skyline RV’s director of sales and marketing, outlined an aggressive focus on steps taken by the firm’s realigned management team to refresh the venerable company’s RV segment.
“What you’ll see shortly are 10 new coaches from the ground up. We didn’t just take what Skyline had, put a new TV in it and call it a day,” Emahiser told the dealers following an early breakfast in the resort’s atrium. “We’ve re-engineered how we believe a stick-and-tin travel trailer or laminated travel trailer should be. The industry doesn’t need just another version of a tan lightweight with blue stickers.”
“If we look across the spectrum of product available today, I believe that there’s very little separation — I call it the ‘sea of sameness,’’ added Whitehead. “It just varies by very small degrees. We believe it’s time to do something different, and it’s something we’re acting upon. It’s something we’re putting into practice. We are going to differentiate ourselves from the other companies out there. We’re going to get off of the ‘commodity train’ and roll out product that’s very different from what’s available in the rest of the business.”
That product, as the assembled dealers discovered, included a virtual rebuilding of the company’s entire towable lineup. But while Skyline’s stick-and-tin travel trailers, marketed under the Nomad, Layton and Weekender brand names, have been substantially upgraded, it’s all been completely redesigned. “Essentially,” Whitehead noted, “we just retained those names. The biggest changes were made to Skyline’s laminated offerings, where the existing Koala, Walkabout and Eco-Camp lines were eliminated.”
In their place, dealers learned, Skyline debuted its all-new 7 ½-foot-wide ultra-lite Dart, 8-foot-wide lightweight Javelin and Trident, a premium, full-featured laminated travel trailer.
Included in the rollout were several “SKYsmart” features that are being utilized throughout all of its travel trailer brands. These run the gamut from 63-inch by 80-inch queen beds — said to be the largest standard bed available in travel trailers today — to SKYsteps in bunk models plus flush-mount range covers to maximize countertop space and convenient USB plugs in the bedroom.
Skyline’s overhaul is a result of a renewed commitment by the company to revive its RV division. “RVs are a part of Skyline’s DNA,” Emahiser noted. “The company has been a ‘player’ in the RV market for much of its 60-plus years, but it fell off in recent years. So they (Skyline’s corporate managers) are very, very committed to making sure we not only are viable but also are a thriving entity in the RV world.”
Along with the product rollout, Whitehead also announced a number of new business practices intended to enhance the company’s relationship with its dealer body, including a major investment by Skyline to eliminate paperwork for replacement parts and warranty work. “We invested the dollars and are going to online parts ordering, online submissions for payments. This isn’t ‘down the road’ — we’re already locked in the contracts and the wheels are in motion.”
Among other company initiatives:
• A profit-centered business plan. “Margins are back in play,” Whitehead offered, “because we have built into the product the things that will create separation. Our business philosophy is going to be profit-centered from the standpoint of our partners.”
• Secure “farmland” for dealers. “We will protect dealership territories — and have chosen to not do business with dealerships whose primary part of their business is Internet-based selling. We want dealers who are interested in brick-and-mortar businesses, growing markets, growing their influence and market share and customer base.”
• Establishing dealership-managed marketing funds. “Usually with a co-op account, there is all sorts of bantering and bickering and having to get permission. Not with us. We’re setting aside 1% of the net invoice on every purchase for platinum- and gold-level buyers that goes into a fund — and it’s your fund to use. You don’t need our permission; just send us a receipt or show-space contract — you decide what you’re using it for.”
• Fall/Winter inventory assistance. “We have an ‘I-squared” (i2) inventory incentive that takes the place of conventional interest reimbursement.”
• Build to order. “We’ve committed ourselves to being a ‘build-to-order’ company, not a ‘build to sell’ company,” Whitehead pointed out. “We won’t set unsustainable run rates, we’re not going to build excessive yards and we’re not going to build acres of ‘opens.’ That also means that we’ve opted out of the ‘auction’ that takes place at the end of every month.”