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Mike Happe Addresses Grand Design’s Dealers

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December 12, 2016 by   Leave a Comment

Winnebago President and CEO Michael Happe at the Louisville Show (Photo by Shawn Spence)

Winnebago President and CEO Michael Happe at the Louisville Show (Photo by Shawn Spence)

Saying the combined companies are “a good fit culturally, strategically and we hope financially,” Michael Happe, president and CEO of Winnebago Industries Inc., sought to put everyone at ease during an impromptu Q&A session during the Louisville Show with 200-some dealer members for Grand Design RV Co. Winnebago officially acquired Grand Design on Nov. 9 for approximately $500 million in cash and Winnebago shares.

Dealers were gathered at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Louisville on Nov. 30 for their annual meeting with Grand Design officials, an event held ever since 2012 when the Middlebury, Ind., towables manufacturer was founded by Don Clark and brothers Ron and Bill Fenech.

When asked whether dealers would continue to enjoy market exclusivity with regard to Grand Design products, Happe issued a succinct response: “We are committed at Winnebago Industries to empower Don, Ron, Bill and the entire rest of the team to take those tenets of their business model and continue to grow this business. So, to answer your question about one dealer per market, or no (product) clones, or MSRP advertising, Don and his team are empowered to continue to bring those to the market.

“We look forward to the relationship,” he continued. “We recognize the talent of this entire Grand Design team. We recognize the quality of the relationships that they have with all of you in the room. We look forward to supporting their growth in the future. We want everything facing the customer to feel as if this transaction hadn’t happened. I want you to know that we are proud to be associated with Grand Design. 

“And I’ll be very candid. As Don Ron and Bill are getting to know me, I’m a very competitive person — there is absolutely room for a very strong third player in this industry. Together, Grand Design and Winnebago are going to build that company.”

Prior to Happe’s appearance, Clark, the Fenechs and members of their management team updated dealers on a number of other topics, including:

• The new 110,000-square-foot production facility dedicated to the Imagine travel trailer line is up and running, with 20 units rolling off the line on Nov. 28, the plant’s first day of full operation. The move frees up much-needed space as Imagine previously shared a 172,000-square-foot production facility with the Reflection travel trailer and fifth-wheel line.

Also, construction has begun on another 110,000-square-foot facility, slated to be a customer service center building with 28 bays, additional PDI facilities and an expanded parts warehouse. Construction should be completed sometime in the first part of 2017, Clark noted.

• Dealers urged Grand Design management to consider developing products for two segments: stick-and-tin and affordable toy hauler travel trailers. At the same time, dealers cautioned that any such product should not compromise on quality, nor should it strive to be the lowest priced brand in each segment.

• Jerry McCarthy, vice president of service operations for Grand Design, informed dealers that twice-yearly factory training for service technicians would be implemented in 2017 following a successful pilot program this year. The first hands-on session would be sometime late February-early March, with the second session in November.

• After pointing out that Grand Design’s retail performance is up 49.8%, Clark introduced the four managers to update dealers on each of the company’s four lines.

General Manager Nate Goldenberg said the Momentum toy hauler fifth-wheel, which has seven floorplans for 2017, is up 36% in market share and jumped from No. 5 to No. 2 among $55,000-plus fifth-wheel toy haulers.

Product Manager Rob Groover reported that the Solitude, Grand Design’s very first brand when the company launched four years ago, was completely revamped for 2017. Five of its eight floorplans are new, and his team added between $1,250 and $2,000 in upgrades without raising prices. He added that 2017 model year units have an average of 55.3 days in inventory before being retail sold as opposed to 2016 units, which had an average inventory age of 152 days.

General Manager Micah Staley said the Reflection — thanks to 24% growth in the mid-profile segment — is now No. 4 in the market for fifth-wheels with just nine total floorplans, two of which are new. As for Reflection travel trailers, he added, three of its four floorplans are new.

Product Manager Peter Kinden said the Imagine has eight floorplans for 2017, two of which are new, and spends an average of 57 days on dealer lots before being sold.

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