Editor’s Note: The following story was written by Frank Smith and appears in the January issue of Better RVing. It was distributed by lazydays.com.
Factory tours are a daily ritual at the Fleetwood’s RV/American Coach plant in Decatur, Ind. They begin in a modest waiting room when the baritone rasp of an unseen voice shakes the walls with a mighty, “Good morning, campers!” The voice’s owner pokes his head through a doorway that can hardly fit his enthusiasm. This is Tom Liechty, tour guide, sales representative and treasured attraction at Fleetwood RV and American Coach.
Liechty introduces himself and sets the tone for the day with a story of how he came to find his calling at Fleetwood more than two decades ago. To retell his tale here would be to rob those who will someday make the trip to Decatur of a splendid oratory experience, so instead I’ll hold onto the memory and let one of the great storytellers of the RV industry tell it to you when you visit. It’s worth it.
Act II of the tour — Liechty’s introductory court being Act I — finds us on the production line. The size and scope of the facility takes over. But like an RVer who knows the path through unchartered territory, Liechty leads the way with a smile that makes you feel like you’ve known him for years. He doesn’t know all of the 700 workers in Decatur, but he knows most of them to the point of being able to carry on running jokes that shift with and conform to each new station we visit.
“Lot of these folks have been here a long time,” says Liechty, to which I ask, “How long is a long time?” He’s quick to answer with “some have been here five years,” while catching friendly glances and nods from his family of workers as we move down the production line. “A lot have been here 15, 20 years, even 30.” A look overcomes Liechty as he trails off: part grateful, part nostalgic, all pride. I would later learn that more than 600 of Fleetwood’s workers have been with the company for more than 20 years.
Industrialization and heavy-duty manufacturing take on a new persona when you can see the eyes of the men and women who commit themselves to creating the vessels their customers will choose to achieve their RVing dream. There’s a sense of purpose on display as though each worker is marching to the same rhythm. There isn’t the slightest hint of apprehension as the workers move with the kind of efficient grace Henry Ford dreamed about. Even to my novice eye, it all makes sense. Yet it wasn’t until I learned that the former parent company, Fleetwood Enterprises, was forced to lay off more than 40 percent of the Decatur facility’s labor force at the height of the recession that I understood the meaning of the look in Liechty’s eye.
During the economic downturn, which saw public demand for RVs sink to all-time lows, Fleetwood Enterprises filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March 2009. In July of that same year, American Industrial Partners (AIP), a private equity firm in New York, purchased the motorhome assets, including the Decatur manufacturing and service facilities, and formed Fleetwood RV Inc. Led by CEO, John Draheim, Fleetwood RV adopted a lean culture, which resulted in a process of continuous improvement aimed to eliminate waste and increase efficient productivity while resulting in a product of superior quality and desirability. The workers on the production line embraced the new practice, implementing almost 1,000 minor changes since May. But they also understood it would take more than efficiency to survive the largest economic recession since the Great Depression.
We realized that we’re not invincible,” says salesperson for American Coach Janeen Gerke. “We realized that everybody has to work harder so that we are that number one manufacturer that customers want to come back to.” Loyalty to their customers is a tenet upon which Fleetwood has stood since its brand was founded in 1950. Almost 60 years later, the fundamental desire to exceed customers’ expectations served as a rallying cry among workers during the company’s most desperate hour. Yet as times worsened and the light at the end of the recession’s tunnel dimmed, Fleetwood looked deeper within itself and found the inspiration that would carry it through the worst of times.
“We stayed together through everything that’s gone on over the last two years just by leaning on each other,” explains National Sales Manager Lenny Razo. “We treat this company as a family. Sometimes you may not get along. Sometimes you have to work hand in hand.” The family at Fleetwood worked hand in hand. They survived tough times and not only saved the company, but revived a small American town.
“Fleetwood and Decatur, Ind., have been connected for quite some time,” explains Razo, “and I think what really makes this town special is the workforce. These people wake up early every morning and have dedicated their lives to this company. Decatur has been energized by what Fleetwood does. Our people are passionate and that’s what has drawn the company to lay its roots and foundation here in Decatur.”
Back on the production line, I notice the look in Liechty’s eye as he waves to a small crew putting the finishing touches on a 2011 American Revolution. This time I understand what he’s feeling. The worst was over and better roads lay ahead for Fleetwood RV. His company, his family and his home have come a long way.
Robert and Barbara Nicolson, retired supermarket employees from Sedona, Ariz., recently traded in their 2006 motorhome for a new Tiffin Allegro Bus that lists for $355,000. Amenities include a dishwasher, washer and dryer, full-size refrigerator and 1 1/2 bathrooms.
“How nice is it? Well, I’m having a hard time convincing my wife that it’s time to go home,” Robert Nicolson told the Los Angeles Times from a Petaluma, Calif., campground.
The couple — he’s 72, she’s 68 — “were very happy with the deal” of unspecified proportions that they negotiated, in which they unloaded their old 40-footer, Robert said. Added Barbara: “We figured, ‘What are we waiting for? We’re both healthy. Let’s enjoy it.’ ”
RV manufacturers and dealers would love to see more people like the Nicolsons.
During the last few years, the recreational vehicle industry suffered along with consumers because of record-high diesel and gasoline prices, the recession and the credit crunch. Now, U.S. retail sales of RVs have risen, although by only 3%, to 92,974, in the first six months of the year compared with year-earlier sales.
Experts and RV dealers attribute the increase to relatively stable fuel prices, the improved economy and the cautious easing of credit, especially for motor homes that sell for $100,000 and less. On top of that, many dealers are offering hefty discounts to get the big buggies moving again.
Joe Altman, president of Altman’s Winnebago, said consumers were still holding back. The number of people calling and visiting the Carson dealership and hits on the dealership’s website have increased 10% to 12% over last year, but sales are only inching up. That’s despite some large markdowns at Altmans, such as a 2010 Winnebago Vista reduced to $82,939 from $103,716 and a 2008 Winnebago Chalet discounted to $74,939 from $107,755.
To get customers to buy, “they have to have a feeling of wealth in the equity of their homes and investments. They have to feel that their income stream is secure. And if they already own an RV for a trade-in, it’s good if it’s worth more than they owe,” he said.
Altman has been pushing for sales at the lower end of the market.
“RVs above $100,000, we’re avoiding those. It’s still tough to get a loan for them,” Altman said, adding that customer service is more important than ever even when people leave the dealership without buying.
“When they do decide to buy, I want them coming back here,” he said.
The RV industry is coming off the worst sales period since 1979-1981. Then, it was a matter of high unemployment, fuel shortages and long lines at filling stations, double-digit interest rates and the implementation of the 55 mph speed limit.
Through the first six months of 2008, sales of recreational vehicles of all kinds totaled 135,451. That was a month before diesel prices topped $5 a gallon in some parts of the U.S. and gasoline rose to more than $4 a gallon. In the first half of 2009, sales dropped to 89,839 vehicles, a decline of nearly 34%.
Those numbers tell only part of the story. The two most expensive classes of RVs fell further than all the rest. Sales of the roomiest and most luxurious Class A motorhomes, vehicles that can cost as much as $400,000, declined by more than 45% in 2009. At the next level, motorhomes that cost as much as $140,000, unintuitively labeled Class C, saw a sales drop of 42%.
The RV industry’s ups and downs played out at Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. of Riverside.
One of the oldest names in the business, Fleetwood was declared the industry sales leader in 2007. In 2008, it was shuttering factories and slashing its payroll by 70%. In 2009, Fleetwood filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and its assets were sold. Fleetwood’s motorhome division was acquired by a private equity firm, American Industrial Partners.
Many longstanding RV owner groups have disappeared. The California chapter of the Fleetwood Travelcade Club, founded more than 50 years ago, was attracting so few RVers to gatherings that leaders decided to disband last March.
“We used to get 500 RVs at our events. The last one we held, in Yuba City, [Calif.,] in March, had 78 RVs. That was the swansong of our club,” said Kathy Sexton, whose husband, Mike, served as the group’s last president.
Sexton said that some of the old members will try to stay together in a new group they have dubbed California Dreamers. A planned get-together in Hemet is expecting to attract just 10 couples.
“We’re not expecting to have more than 20 rigs at our events,” Mike Sexton said. That’s in spite of the fact that the new club will welcome owners of all makes and models of RV, not just Fleetwoods, as the old group had.
Even now, as sales recover, most of the increase has come in cheaper segments of the RV market. Motorhome sales are strongest among Class B offerings, while the generously appointed Class A varieties are still on the decline compared with 2009, with sales down 8% through June to 5,242 vehicles. That was half the number recorded during the first six months of 2008.
Those who have been buying during this period have been frugal types willing to be patient and fight for a bargain.
Chuck and Alice Jarocki of Clovis, Calif., bought a “popup” folding trailer camper about a year ago on eBay for just $5,500 after a dealership grew weary of trying to sell it for nearly $9,000.
The Jarockis are avid campers who decided it was time for a step up from tents and sleeping bags on the ground. Their trailer has a heater with a regular thermostat, a refrigerator, a three-burner stove, an outdoor shower and a port-a-potty. Best of all, the Jarockis say, it has a queen-size bed.
“That sleeping bag just wasn’t cutting it,” said Alice, 73. Chuck is 80. “You can stay in this trailer for a week and still be comfortable.”
American Industrial Partners Capital Fund IV LP (AIP) announced Tuesday (Aug. 24) the formation of Allied Specialty Vehicles Inc. (ASV), which will include its Fleetwood RV Inc. holding.
According to a news release, ASV, with revenue of approximately $1 billion, is a market leader in three industry segments: fire and emergency, recreational vehicles and bus and industrial. The new company was formed through the combination of four existing portfolio companies of AIP: E-ONE Inc., Collins Industries Inc., and Halcore Group Inc.; with Fleetwood RV to be combined in the fourth quarter of this year.
Fleetwood President John Draheim addressed the AIP realignment in his opening comments Tuesday night at Fleetwood’s 2010 National Dealer Meeting at the Grand Wayne Center in Fort Wayne, Ind.
- Within the fire and emergency segment, ASV offers an extensive line of fire apparatus under the E-ONE brand name including pumpers, aerials, tankers, rescues and airport firefighting equipment. Additionally, the company offers a full line of ambulances under the Horton, Wheeled Coach, American Emergency Vehicles and Leader Emergency Vehicles brand names.
- Within the bus and industrial segment, the company produces Type A bus products for both the school and childcare markets under the Collins, Mid Bus and Corbeil brand names as well as terminal trucks and street sweeper products under the Capacity and Lay-Mor brand names.
The company will be led by President and CEO Randall Swift, who is experienced in partnering with AIP through its Collins Industries holding and was in attendedance at Tuesday’s Fleetwood dealer meeting. Each division will continue to be led by its existing president and CEO which includes John Draheim at Fleetwood RV.
“Allied Specialty Vehicles represents many of the top brand names in their respective markets together with one of the most experienced and successful leadership teams in the specialty vehicle industry. We are all excited by the potential of this combination of businesses to leverage our respective strengths and market positions and grow ASV,” Swift said.
For additional information on Allied Specialty Vehicles Inc. visit www.alliedsv.com.
Moreno Valley, Calif.-based MVP RV has agreed to buy two factories once used by Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. for $18.6 million, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported.
Fleetwood Enterprises filed for bankruptcy in March 2009. Since then, the company sold off its RV and manufactured housing divisions as well as factories it owned across the country. The company expects a final bankruptcy plan outlining what its creditors are owed to be approved before the end of July.
The two plants, located north of downtown Riverside off Market Street at 2350 Fleetwood Drive and 5300 Via Ricardo, sit on 36 acres and have 460,000 square feet of space.
According to a legal filing, the offer of $18.6 million, or about $40.43 a square foot, was Fleetwood’s best offer.
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court approved the sale to go forward earlier this month.
The property had been used as collateral to secure a $27.3 million loan from ISIS, a lender which will receive the proceeds from the sale.
The deal is expected to close before Aug. 1, according to a legal filing.
MVP RV had shut down its Moreno Valley plant in the middle of 2009 where it built travel trailers and reopened it in March after receiving funding from an overseas investor.
An agreement MVP RV had to build electric vehicles for South Korean firm CT&T stalled earlier this year.
Officials at MVP RV said negotiations are ongoing.
Brad Williams, CEO of MVP RV, wouldn’t say why his company is interested in buying the plants or if the purchase would affect MVP’s operations in Moreno Valley.
“We can’t comment on it right now,” Williams said by phone.
American Industrial Partners, a New York equity firm which bought Fleetwood’s RV division for $33.2 million in mid-2009, had rented the Riverside manufacturing facilities through November of that year, said Amy Coleman, a spokeswoman for Fleetwood RV, now based in Decatur, Ind.
The new company, known as Fleetwood RV, moved all of its operations to Indiana except for an office it leases in Corona for the company’s chief financial officer, accounting staff and marketing employees, she said.
Indiana Secretary of Commerce Mitch Roob said he will comply with a request from Indiana House Speaker Patrick Bauer to provide detailed information on companies, including several RV companies, that have received tax breaks and other assistance from the state, WIBC, Indianapolis, reported.
Roob said the Indiana Economic Development Corp. will provide the information by June 25.
Bauer, a Democrat from South Bend, made the request after conflicting numbers emerged concerning jobs promised by companies throughout the state and how many have materialized.
Roob told the radio station that companies are not given incentives until they have met their job commitments. Roob also said incentives are not provided until taxes have been collected.
His remarks to our partners at Network Indiana/WIBC follow a letter from Bauer seeking more details.
Several RV companies have received state assistance to expand or remain in Indiana.
In a related development, a national magazine has recognized Indiana for several economic development initiatives. Area Development Magazine has given the state a 2010 Silver Shovel Award for attracting what publishers describe as “high-value investment projects that will create a significant number of new jobs in their communities,” Inside INdiana Business reported.
The top job-creation effort cited by the magazine was the 2009 purchase of the motorized operations of now defunct Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. by American Industrial Partners/FW Holdings Inc. The $7.4 million investment in Decatur saved 935 jobs.
A $2.4 million expansion by Drew Industries Inc. in Goshen, Ind., creating 225 jobs, was cited as one of 10 top examples of job creation in the state.
New companies are stepping in to buy up the area plants owned by bankrupt auto parts and RV makers. And it seems in every case, the new owners are privately held and often new to the sector into which they’re buying.
Private-equity firms have a bad name in some circles. The private investors often disclose little about themselves and seldom plan to operate a company for more than five years. They’re suspected by critics of facilitating the flow of U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas, according to the Fort Wayne, Ind., Journal-Gazette.
But they can also identify the most valued parts of a troubled company and preserve jobs, said Kenneth Carow, a professor of finance at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
“They’ve been called ‘vulture capital,’ ” Carow said. “They pick over the carcasses of bankrupt companies.”
And just as vultures play an important role in nature, business experts say private-equity firms play an important – and growing – role in the U.S. economy.
“Clearly, you have a shift in the ownership structure of the U.S. industrial base,” said Gary Moore, chairman of the University of Toledo’s finance department.
The shift has been away from companies with shares traded on stock exchanges, Moore said.
Many of the private firms doing the buying these days are 10-year funds at the end of which wealthy investors expect a healthy return on their money.
An example is American Industrial Partners Capital Fund IV LP. The fund raised $400 million late in 2008. It plans to make industrial investments, spend about six years improving their value and then spend the next four selling them at a profit, said Paul Bamatter, a partner in the fund.
In July, AIP bought the Decatur motorhome assets of bankrupt Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. The operation now employs about half the 1,300 who worked for Fleetwood in Decatur in 2007. But, Carow points out, Adams County kept 650 jobs because AIP stepped in.
“They didn’t go to zero,” he said.
But a Fleetwood plant in Edgerton, Ohio, has gone to zero, and one in Garrett, Ind., almost did when AIP didn’t include them in its purchase. The Edgerton travel trailer plant shut down in March, when Fleetwood declared bankruptcy. Unless a buyer is found, its 175 employees will remain on the street.
Eighty workers at the Fleetwood manufactured-housing plant in Garrett might have faced a similar fate if a group of local investors hadn’t stepped up and bought it this month.
Wally Comer, one of the local investors, said his group has a strategy different from private-equity funds.
He and two partners bought the Garrett plant for $1.75 million, plan to make it profitable and operate it long term. AIP, however, bought the motorhome operation for $53 million and plans to sell it within the decade.
“To them, they don’t want to tie up $2 million to make $1 million in profit,” Comer said. “They’d rather tie up $50 million to make $50 million in profit.”
The difference in philosophies also is illustrated in how employees in Decatur and Garrett were treated, Comer said.
The motorhome workers lost their vacation time and took a 10% pay cut. The manufactured housing workers, now working for Adventure Homes LLC, kept their pay and vacation and got increased bonuses.
That’s because Comer said he and his partners put a premium on maintaining the loyalty of their workforce.
Private-equity owners act only after considering what’s in the company’s best interest, said Lawrence J. Lawson III, managing director of co-founder of Lincoln International LLC, a Chicago-based investment-banking firm.
“What’s in the best interest of the company and what’s in the best interest of the employees aren’t always the same thing,” said Lawson, whose firm advises companies on acquisitions and provides other services.
It’s hard to find numbers showing private-equity’s increasing control of American manufacturing, but there’s broad agreement that’s the case.
“Private equity raised a tremendous amount of capital between 2005 and 2007,” Lawson said.
Not going back
He estimates that private-equity firms worldwide now have $1.5 trillion at their disposal. That means they’re going to buy more businesses — including Midwestern manufacturers, Lawson said.
“There’s more in private hands, and it’s not going to go back down to where it was 20 years ago,” Lawson said.
The slew of industrial bankruptcies in the past year also have created an opportunity for private-equity firms to buy manufacturers.
Investors in private-equity firms are more tolerant of risk than investors in publicly traded companies, said Carow, the IUPUI finance professor. Expecting greater returns, private-equity investors are much more likely to go along with the purchase of parts of a bankrupt company than those who are buying stocks, Carow said.
In fact, some private-equity firms such as AIP specialize in buying and turning around troubled companies. Some buyers specialize in other areas, such as adding market share or making a domestic company an international one, Lawson said.
And because most funds last only 10 years, firms look to buy, make changes and sell companies within five years, Lawson said. That frees private-equity firms from the obsession with quarterly profits faced by publicly traded firms but maintains pressure to produce results.
“There’s a sense of urgency to private equity,” Lawson said.
So you buy Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.’s name and its Decatur, Ind., motorhome operations and rehire the work force. All you have to do now is start making RVs, right?
It’s a lot more complicated than that, Paul Bamatter told the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette.
Bamatter is a partner in American Industrial Partners (AIP), a private equity group whose Capital Fund IV bought the motorhome assets in bankruptcy court in July.
Bamatter was in Decatur on Wednesday (Aug. 19) to celebrate the creation of the new company, Fleetwood RV Inc.
But he said he has already made several journeys from AIP’s New York offices and will make many more.
“I’ll be here a week out of every month, or somebody else will be,” Bamatter said.
When the private equity firm bought the assets, it did so only after it became convinced it could work with the management of the motorhome operation, Bamatter said.
Chuck Wilkinson and John Draheim, former executives at Fleetwood Enterprises, are CEO and president, respectively, of the new company.
Fleetwood RV has 630 employees and plans to hire 300 more in the next three months, but AIP still has to build a business around them, Bamatter said.
“We’re starting from scratch,” he said.
The new operation’s headquarters will be in Decatur without benefit of any resources of Fleetwood Enterprises’ home office in Riverside, Calif.
“We didn’t buy any of that,” Bamatter said.
That means AIP has to assemble an information technology department, a human resources department, a legal department and all the other functions that go into supporting a big industrial company.
“Everybody’s working really hard,” Bamatter said, explaining he frequently meets with Fleetwood RV managers well into the evening.
It’s too soon to say when all of that work will be complete, but it’s going faster than expected, Bamatter said.
Decatur is a long way from AIP’s Fifth Avenue offices, but that has led to some pleasant surprises, too.
Bamatter described how he was having dinner and a beer alone one night in a Decatur restaurant when Mayor John Schultz and his family happened in and joined him.
That sort of thing doesn’t happen in New York, Bamatter said.
Fleetwood RV Inc. on Wednesday announced a $7.4 million investment in its Decatur motorhome-production facilities. It will also be adding 300 jobs.
An unexpectedly strong market and a smoother-than-expected transition out of bankruptcy have Fleetwood RV Inc. saying it likely will add 300 workers to its Decatur operations within the next three months, according to the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette.
The company also plans to invest $7.4 million in its facilities, company and state officials announced.
”We think that 2010 is going to be a better year,” Fleetwood President and COO John Draheim told RVBUSINESS.COM. ”We are not looking for major growth, but we think there will be stability. The credit market will start to come back to us.”
Draheim based his prediction on the fact that inventory reductions are starting to turn around.
”We saw at the beginning of the year an inordinate amount of inventory, both new and used,” he said. ”We had dealer failures occurring across the country and a high amount of repossessed inventory occurring so the market was flooded.
”What we are seeing in the last 60 days, the number of units running through auction has decreased (and) new inventory is significantly lower than it was six months ago. We are probably not quite done with (inventory reductions) yet, but we are real close. We can see it from here.”
Fleetwood RV was formed in July when American Industrial Partners Capital Fund IV (AIP) bought the motorhome assets and the Fleetwood brand from bankrupt Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.
The new owners expect staffing to reach about 600 workers by the end of the year, said Paul Bamatter, an AIP executive, in the the first public comments by an AIP executive since the courtship with Fleetwood Enterprises began in the spring.
”Fleetwood is the best brand in the market,” Bamatter told RVBUSINESS.COM. ”We invest in companies where we have the best management (and) work force. The RV industry is going to recover and Fleetwood is going to lead the recovery.”
Fleetwood RV will make weekly additions to a work force that on Monday numbered 630, CEO Chuck Wilkinson said.Wilkinson stipulated that while Fleetwood is increasing production, hiccups in the supply chain could slow plans to add jobs. As it hires workers, Fleetwood plans to restart a production line making luxury motorhomes in mid-September.
”There are signs of (industry recovery),” Wilkinson told RVBUSINESS.COM. ”A challenge for all industries right now is accessing credit.”
He pointed out that the RV industry downturn has been more severe than even the automobile industry, which has been the focus of federal government recovery efforts.
”Theirs wasn’t as bad,” he said, noting that several years ago Class A manufacturers sold 60,000 units while this year, that number will be closer to 10,000. ”(The RV industry) took a much deeper dive.”
Bamatter, Draheim, Wilkinson, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and other officials attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday at Fleetwood RV’s Class A motorhome plant on U.S. 224 east of Decatur, according to the Journal-Gazette.
“It really feels good to be working again, doesn’t it?” Wilkinson asked a crowd of a few hundred workers who had assembled for the ceremony in the plant’s paint room.
Daniels said AIP’s decision to buy the Fleetwood Enterprises’ motorhome assets – and to move Fleetwood RV’s headquarters to Decatur from Riverside, Calif. – had much to do with the city and its residents.
Another reason AIP chose the Decatur facilities was an incentive package worth up to $9.1 million from the Indiana Economic Development Corp., Bamatter said.
Wilkinson said that for competitive reasons he wouldn’t go into detail about the improvements being made to the Fleetwood RV facilities.
But, as an example, he cited paint ovens that were part of equipment worth $8 million AIP bought from a Fleetwood Enterprises plant in California. The company is considering installing the ovens in the Fleetwood RV Class C motorhome plant on Winchester Road so units made there don’t have to be taken across town to be painted, Wilkinson said.
Fleetwood employed more than 1,300 in Decatur before the economy started to spiral downward in December 2007. The 600 who remained on the payroll in 2009 worked sporadically until AIP bought the motorhome assets, the Journal-Gazette reported.
Then in July, they all had to reapply for their jobs. They all took a 10% pay cut and lost accrued vacation, according to Draheim.
Workers were disappointed to lose the pay and vacation but are starting to feel more secure about their jobs, said a Fleetwood worker who declined to give his name because the company didn’t give him permission to speak to the media.
Adams County unemployment was 14.8% in June, but the good news at Fleetwood RV might lead the way for the rest of the area, Decatur Mayor John Schultz said.
“This is a giant leap for us on the way back to recovery,” Schultz said.
Shown below at the Fleetwood ceremony are (from left) Jorge Amador, AIP executive; Chuck Wilkinson, Fleetwood RV CEO; Paul Bamatter, AIP executive; John Becker, AIP executive; Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels; Dino Cusumano, AIP executive; John Schultz, Decatur mayor; and John Draheim, president and COO of Fleetwood RV.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels today (Aug. 19) joined executives from recreational vehicle manufacturer Fleetwood RV Inc. to celebrate the company’s plant reopening in Decatur.
Following the sale of Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.’s motorhome division and Goldshield Fiberglass assets to private-equity firm American Industrial Partners Capital Fund IV LP in July, the newly established Fleetwood RV has recalled over 600 associates and plans to create an additional 300 jobs at its Decatur headquarters by 2012, according to Inside Indiana Business.
Under the company’s new ownership, Fleetwood RV is consolidating its California and Pennsylvania manufacturing operations to Decatur. Plans call for $7.4 million in new investment toward building improvements, machinery and equipment and retooling. In addition, the company will relocate $8 million in equipment from its out-of-state operations.
This is the latest of several recent business consolidations into Indiana, including Dometic, a manufacturer of recreational vehicle accessories, which is consolidating operations from Sweden and Mexico to Indiana and expanding its facilities in Elkhart and LaGrange counties.
“Indiana is determined to make opportunity from hard times. We’re reaching out to companies like Fleetwood and saying, if you are consolidating, do it in Indiana. Jobs have been coming to Indiana from everywhere,” said Daniels.
Fleetwood RV is currently hiring manufacturing personnel and will continue to make significant staffing additions over the next three years.
“The decision to establish our company headquarters in Decatur was two-fold,” said John Draheim, president of Fleetwood RV. “First and most importantly, was the high-caliber workforce in the area, and the second was the cooperation from the state and city to develop a plan that would be best for the company, the local community and the RV industry as a whole.”
The Indiana Economic Development Corp. offered Fleetwood RV up to $9 million in performance-based tax credits and up to $100,000 in training grants based on the company’s job creation plans. The Decatur City Council approved additional property tax abatement at the request of the Adams County Economic Development Corp.
“Have no doubt – as mayor, you don’t sleep at night when worrying about people needing jobs but this is a giant leap for us on the way to recovery. We are grateful to Fleetwood RV,” said Decatur Mayor John Schultz.
Fleetwood RV Inc. is being run in a unique way by a two men with with more than 50 years experience in the RV industry.
Chuck Wilkinson, CEO, and John Draheim, president, are running Fleetwood RV together. “They have specific functions that dovetail, but one does not report to the other”, according to information provided by Fleetwood to RVBUSINESS.com.
They are based in Decatur, Ind., home to the company’s two manufacturing facilities, two service facilities and the Goldshield Fiberglass subsidiary.
Wilkinson is an industry veteran with over 40 years of experience in both the manufactured housing and recreational vehicle industries. He began his career with Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. in 1969 and during his tenure with the company held many executive level positions, including serving as chief operations officer, executive vice president of the Housing, RV and Supply groups and senior vice president of the Housing Group.
In 2009, Wilkinson played in a key role in American Industrial Partners’ (AIP) successful acquisition of Fleetwood’s RV Group, now named Fleetwood RV Inc. As the company’s CEO, Wilkinson is primarily responsible for the internal aspects of the business including finance, human resources and oversight of the manufacturing facilities in Decatur, Ind.
In early 2008, Draheim returned to Fleetwood Enterprises as general manager of its motorhome manufacturing facility in Riverside, Calif. He was quickly promoted to vice president of the motorhome division, and played a key role in the successful AIP acquisition. As president and co-leader of Fleetwood RV, Draheim works in tandem with Wilkinson and is primarily responsible for the external aspects of the business including service, sales and marketing.
The remaining members of the senior management team are: Debra Pak, CFO; David Coffin, vice president of engineering, development and design; and Chuck James, director of service and parts.
The new Fleetwood RV Inc. expects to build 2,500 Class A and C motorhomes within the next year, resulting in about $275 million in sales while “returning the company to its roots” with an emphasis on value-priced motorhomes, according to John Draheim, president of the new company owned by American Industrial Partners Capital Fund IV (AIP), a New York City-based investment firm which bought some of the assets of bankrupt Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.
”A lot depends on the market,” Draheim said during a break Tuesday at Fleetwood’s exhibit during the Family Motor Coach Association’s 82nd International Convention in Bowling Green, Ohio. ”If we are able to build more diesel (units) than gas, it would be higher on the dollar side.”
Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., Riverside, Calif., filed for bankruptcy in March just days after announcing that it would no longer compete in the towable marketplace.
The new motorized RV builder’s headquarters will be in Decatur, Ind., where it purchased two of Fleetwood Enterprises’ manufacturing factories, two RV service plants and Fleetwood’s Gold Shield fiberglass facility along with some equipment in Riverside.
Three production lines are expected to be up and running by Labor Day, according to Draheim.
Fleetwood RV intends to hire about 650 employees to work in Decatur and will engage a temporary work force in Riverside to continue to build motorhomes while the Decatur plant starts up. ”We will be able to utilize the California operation on a temporary basis to produce product for a four- or five-month period,” Draheim said.
While continuing to build higher-priced diesel products, the company’s first new motorhome — unveiled at Bowling Green — is a gas-powered Bounder Classic targeted at value-priced buyers. The new Bounder, a brand that was once Fleetwood’s popular flagship — is intended to begin a return to the days when Fleetwood founder John Crean Sr. placed a premium on practicality, functionality and price sensitivity.
“It will have a lot more drawers, cabinets, cubby holes and shelves behind the sofa where you can put your bedding during the day,” Draheim said.
The Bounder Classic — initially available in three 30- to 34-foot floorplans on Ford chassis — will retail for between $100,000 and $105,000 Draheim reported. “Bounder had migrated to too high in price,” he said. “We felt we needed to get our Bounder to be the most powerful gas brand name and back in the heart of the market.”
Additionally, it’s likely that some Fleetwood brands will be dropped by the new company. “We are right-sizing the company to be break-even at our current revenues,” Draheim said. “Looking at the current industry volume, we have too many brands for that size of market.”
At one time, Fleetwood Enterprises employed more than 1,000 people in Decatur, but eliminated 550 jobs last December. On Friday (July 17), Fleetwood Enterprises’ 700 remaining employees nationwide were terminated and Fleetwood RV began taking employment applications from former Fleetwood Enterprises employees and others. Those rehired in Decatur will have to take a 10% across-the-board pay cut and their benefits will be adjusted, Draheim said.
He said the company was “overwhelmed” when 1,500 people applied for the jobs late last week when word spread around Adams County, just south of Fort Wayne, that Fleetwood was hiring.
In addition to paying $32.2 million for Fleetwood Enterprises’ assets, Fleetwood RV also assumed an estimated $20 million in warranty responsibilities for Fleetwood Enterprises’ motorized products.
”In the acquisition the new company will honor warranties for those customers who had a unit in their possession that still has adequate warranty period left as well as the unsold units on dealers’ lots,” Draheim said.
Fleetwood RV’s dealer base will consist of former Fleetwood Enterprises’ dealers as well as others.
”We are going to be looking for well-capitalized dealers who are the best option in each market,” Draheim said. ”We feel like the old organization had a very strong distribution channel. That was one of its best assets, albeit the channel has been under pressure for the last 18 months based on volume.”
Draheim said Fleetwood RV already has signed a floorplan agreement with one of the nation’s largest wholesale financing lenders and is in negotiations with another.
“We are very optimistic that we will have repurchase agreements with both of them very shortly and I think we will have adequate availability of wholesale funds,” Draheim said. “I don’t see that as an issue.”
The new owner of Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.’s RV manufacturing business in Decatur, Ind., will preserve about 650 jobs, but former employees who are rehired will take a pay cut, according to the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette.
Fleetwood eliminated about 700 jobs when the company completed a $33.2 million sale to American Industrial Partners Capital Fund IV LP on Friday (July 17), Fleetwood said in a statement. New York-based AIP will operate the business as Fleetwood RV Inc.
Decatur-based Fleetwood RV is expected to employ 650 by next month, President John Draheim said. Between 250 and 350 former Fleetwood employees started working for Fleetwood RV on Monday (July 20).
Anyone can apply to work at Fleetwood RV, but Draheim said former Fleetwood workers’ experience will give them an advantage in the hiring process. More than 1,000 applied for jobs Thursday and Friday, Draheim said. The company is accepting applications at its plant in Decatur.
But Fleetwood RV will pay employees less than its predecessor. Draheim said he was not sure what the average wage would be, but former Fleetwood workers who accept positions at the new company will earn 10% less.
Fleetwood RV is making minor adjustments in health insurance and 401(k) plans, but former workers will have to start over earning benefits such as vacation time.
Employees will work more consistent schedules at Fleetwood RV, Draheim said. He estimated that so far this year, production employees had worked the equivalent of only five to six full weeks because of weak RV orders. Employees will be able to earn more by working full weeks for reduced pay.
Although some Decatur residents are concerned about the ownership transition, Mayor John Schultz said most are relieved many local jobs will be preserved.
“It’s very important to us they bring the production back,” he said.
Fleetwood’s Decatur operations employed more than 1,000 in early 2008. The company cut 550 jobs in Decatur last year.
Fleetwood RV’s decision to establish a local headquarters is a positive sign, Schultz said. The previous owner was based in Riverside, Calif.
AIP purchased two RV manufacturing plants, two RV service plants and Fleetwood’s Gold Shield fiberglass subsidiary in Decatur. The company also acquired some Fleetwood equipment in Riverside.
Local investors plan to buy Fleetwood’s manufactured-housing plant in Garrett, Ind., for $1.75 million in a separate deal.
RV shipments during the first four months of this year plunged almost 62% from the same period in 2008, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) most recent data. RV manufacturers shipped 43,700 vehicles through April 30.
Almost 450 Fleetwood workers in Decatur worked fewer than half their normal hours during that four-month period, the company said in April.
Industry projections are brighter for next year. Manufacturers are expected to ship 169,500 units in 2010, according to the association. That would be a 24%increase from this year’s projected sales.
The RV industry is close to hitting its low point, Draheim said. If the industry grows, Fleetwood RV will expand with it.
“We’re looking at improvement going forward,” he said.
The city council in Decatur, Ind., bent over backwards earlier this month to seal the deal to keep Fleetwood RV’s motorized operations in business in Decatur under new ownership.
The purchase was announced late Friday (July 17).
As reported by the Decatur Daily Democrat, the American Investment Partners (AIP) purchase of the Fleetwood Enterprises properties in Decatur took a giant step closer to completion on July 7 when the Decatur City Council quickly and without hesitation granted the company the first step of what will lead to a 10-year tax abatement on equpment it will be bringing to the buildings in Decatur.
The preliminary granting of the abatement was termed the “deal sealer” by officials working with AIP. Final approval of the abatement is expected by the end of this month.
The state of Indiana has also put together an incentive package to support the AIP purchase.
The Decatur City Council had only supportive words for the New York-based firm’s purchase and subsequent move into Decatur. It will be bringing approximately $15 million in equipment (legally called personal property) here, and is virtually certain to receive a 10-year tax abatement.
The council bent its own rules in doing do. Normally, the city grants only five-year abatements on personal property and 10 years on buildings. “But as has been said here tonight (July 7), these are extraordinary times,” Mayor John Schultz said. “This will be a change from what we’ve done in the past, but I don’t think we have much choice.”
Under Indiana law, the equipment must come from outside Indiana to be eligible for a tax abatement.
On a unanimous 5-0 vote, the council approved a declaratory resolution and even went so far as to unanimously agree to support a tax abatement for the Gold Shield building should one be sought later.
Adams County Economic Development Director Larry Macklin was the first speaker at the July 7 meeting, asking for support of the tax abatement and adding, “This is huge … we are in competition with other communities.”
Riverside, Calif., home to Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., was cited as one of the competing communities.
He said he has been working with state officials to put together the incentive package now being offered. “We need to open our arms and embrace AIP,” he added.
Macklin introduced Mark Soltys, with RSM McGladrey, an accounting, tax and business consulting firm based in Elkhart, Ind. Soltys, who represents AIP, praised “the tremendous job” Macklin has done in working with him, and pointed to the current “extraordinary times” for manufacturers.
He said granting the abatement and subsequent closing of the deal “will retain jobs locally and new jobs as well – good paying jobs.”
Of the tax abatement, he said, it “will surely make a difference” in getting AIP to close the deal.
Following Soltys was Steve Heim, an official with Fleetwood for many years, including the last 13 in Decatur. “You really have an asset here … the people of this community,” Heim told the council and the mayor. He spoke of the local workforce’s “devotion, commitment, work ethic and industriousness.”
Mayor Schultz asked if the tax abatement related to only “the RV industry,” and was informed that that was correct.
But there is “the potential for Gold Shield in the future” to seek an abatement,” Soltys noted.
“This is our chance to show our support for the Fleetwood employees” and some suppliers, such as Alberding Woodworking and Habegger Abbey Floors, Councilman Ken Meyer said.
Councilwoman Barb Engle then moved to grant the declaratory resolution and Councilman Bill Crone seconded, followed by a 5-0 vote. Another 5-0 vote expressed support for Gold Shield, should a tax abatement be sought for it at a later date.
American Industrial Partners Capital Fund IV LP (AIP) has completed the acquisition of the motorized recreational vehicle business of Riverside, Calif.-based Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.
The purchase price of $33.2 million is inclusive of certain assumed liabilities and is subject to customary post-closing adjustments, according to an AIP press release.
Concurrently, Fleetwood terminated approximately 700 employees associated with this portion of its business.
The final purchase price was well off the $53 million figure initially mentioned when the offer became public on May 15.
Fleetwood started trying to sell its RV and manufactured housing businesses Feb. 6, before it filed for bankruptcy March 10. Fleetwood contacted or heard from more than 75 companies. Of those, 10 met with management or visited Fleetwood’s operations.
In May, Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. had $20.7 million in assets compared to at least $265.2 million worth of debts, according to financial filings the company made in bankruptcy court. Of that, at least $183 million was money owed to unsecured creditors.
What You Get for $33.2 Million
The transaction with AIP was an asset purchase and included two motorhome manufacturing facilities, two motorhome service facilities and Fleetwood’s Gold Shield supply subsidiary, all presently located in Decatur, Ind. It also includes the intellectual property for Fleetwood’s existing motorhome brands and certain machinery and equipment in Riverside.
Fleetwood RV is one of North America’s leading manufacturers of Class A and Class C motorized RVs and has established one of the industry’s broadest and most respected distribution channels and product lines. Fleetwood RV will be jointly run by Chuck Wilkinson, CEO, and John Draheim, president.
Following company meetings with all associates in Decatur, Wilkinson stated, “Our veteran work force is enthusiastic and excited to return to their jobs building the best coaches in the industry.”
Draheim added, “We are confident that the new company can capitalize on the strength of the Fleetwood RV brand and strong relationships with the distribution channel that have been developed over the past 60 years.”
“AIP builds and invests in great American headquartered businesses and we believe Fleetwood RV represents an attractive investment opportunity,” said Dino Cusumano, an AIP partner. “We are pleased to be partners with Chuck, John and all the talented associates at Fleetwood RV. We respect the long and successful history of the company and greatly value the relationships that Fleetwood RV has with its dealers, customers, suppliers and associates and look forward to continuing and improving those relationships over time.”
Cusumano added, “The company’s headquarters and manufacturing operations will be in Decatur, Ind. We would like to thank the city of Decatur and the state of Indiana for their significant support during this process.”
Fleetwood was the country’s largest manufacturer of Class A motorhomes in 2008, accounting for an 18.6% share of the market, according to Statistical Surveys Inc. (SSI). The company held a 20.4% market share the year prior.
According to the latest SSI numbers through May, Fleetwood remained No. 1 in Class A retail sales with a 19.1% market share and No. 3 in Class C sales with a an 11.4% market share.
Paul Bamatter, another AIP partner, said, “Fleetwood RV will be organized as a separate standalone company within our portfolio of companies. Fleetwood RV will have one of the best balance sheets in the industry with no-third party debt and a significant cash balance at close.”
Wilkinson said, “We look forward to partnering with the American Industrial Partners team and have charted a going forward operating agenda focused on developing new and leading products, further improving our quality and service levels and our cost position.”
Draheim noted that, “Our customers and dealers have been extremely loyal to us over the years and we expect to repay that loyalty by ensuring that they are afforded innovative products built with exceptional quality, all at affordable prices. Our near-term outlook has turned positive as our dealer inventories have bottomed and retail sales have accelerated in the past few months.”
American Industrial Partners was founded in 1989 and is a private equity firm that makes control equity investments in mid-sized industrial companies that can benefit from the firm’s systematic approach to implementing strategic and operational improvements. It is investing its fourth fund which recently closed with $405.5 million of committed capital.
For more information, visit www.aipartners.com or American Industrial Partners can be reached at (212) 627-2360.
Employees at the Fleetwood RV manufacturing plant in Decatur, Ind., say the company has asked them to re-apply for their jobs.
Company officials say they “will not confirm, or deny” the move, according the Indiana News Center, a central Indiana news aggregator.
A U.S. bankruptcy court gave Fleetwood the green light to sell $53 million in motorhome assets to New York City-based American Industrial Partners.
That purchase includes two manufacturing facilities, two service centers and Fleetwood’s “Gold Shield” supply unit, all located in Decatur.
Fleetwood spokesmen were unavailable for comment to RVBusiness.