Is 45-year-old Carriage Inc.’s plight an example of the kind of tough banking policies that the nation’s been facing since the recession and that continue to hurt — more than help — the U.S. economy?
Or is the Millersburg, Ind., company’s dilemma simply a case of a bank that finally lost its patience after a lengthy period of loan extensions and ultimately did what it had to do by filing suit against its client?
PNC Bank out of Indianapolis filed suit Tuesday (Oct. 18) to take possession of Carriage, a well-respected RV builder that owes the bank more than $5 million. The suit came a day after 180 Carriage workers were furloughed at the financially troubled firm.
The bank is demanding immediate payment of overdue loans from the bank, which maintains in the suit in Elkhart County Superior Court I that Carriage owner Glenn Cushman has been in default of his financial obligations to PNC Bank from as far back as September of 2009, requiring the issuance of several loan extensions, The Goshen News reports.
While a PNC official declined comment, spokesmen for Carriage, which manufactures the Cabo, Cameo, Carri-Lite and Royals International towable RV lines at its rural Elkhart County complex, feel they haven’t gotten a fair shake from a mega-bank that isn’t really interested in a workable plan and the general welfare of one small Hoosier town.
“We’ve had an outpouring of concern from Carriage owners, 90 dealers, nothing but positive support for us, and it’s sad,” says Ed Kinney, vice president of sales and marketing for Carriage. “It affects 200 people in the community, the vendors and dealers nationwide and in Canada. Actually, we’ve got units on line right now that are supposed to be going to England, and the bank won’t work with us to make this work.”
“We’ve got a bunch of units sitting off line, short parts,” he added, “and everything we’ve got in the system right now is retail sold to be delivered to customers. I mean, that’s what’s crazy.”
In fact, Kinney, an RV-building veteran, says Carriage’s situation reminds him of why some people are demonstrating in the streets right now because he’s convinced that Carriage is a viable company today, and he’s not alone in that view.
“You know what?” he asked, “I can sit right here now and say as an American citizen that I can understand why these people are protesting banks and Wall Street the way they are, because it’s happening right here in Millersburg, Ind., and it’s sad.”
Just as outspoken is Rick Van Es, who was hired six weeks ago at the request of PNC Bank to engineer a restructuring of the company. Van Es says that he’s questioned from the outset the intentions of Carriage’s lead creditor, PNC Bank, to forge an earnest plan to save the company.
“I found this process with PNC to be inconsistent and curious at best,” said Van Es, a certified restructuring advisor and CPA who feels that PNC has been more interested in him serving as an advisor rather than a take-charge chief restructuring officer who ran the company, made decisions and stood a realistic chance of pulling the firm out of an admitted financial hole.
Fact is, Van Es claims PNC officials never seemed real interested in talking to him at all, and never required him to assemble a turnaround plan, although he went ahead and did it, anyway. “We submitted the turnaround plan to (Carriage) management last week,” said Van Es of the proposal, which called for an immediate tamping down of expenses. “Management accepted the plan wholeheartedly, and their board was ready to implement my plan. And we began implementing it immediately.
“I submitted that plan to the bank, and I heard no comment,” he continued. “This plan restores the company to profitability within 30 days. And the company, even though it was not required by the bank, was willing to give me full executive authority to implement the plan.”
Thus, Van Es says he and Carriage’s management were “blindsided” by Tuesday’s suit filing. “We were very much blindsided because the other thing that has happened here is that the company was requested to find replacement financing for PNC. PNC had suggested that if the company could replace its operating line of credit — and also bring in enough money to pay down the mortgage to an 85% loan-to-value — that the bank would be happy to continue to move forward with the company.
“The company raised all the money that was required to achieve that, and we actually have not only commitment letters from those lenders, we were actually reviewing contracts and got to the point where our new lenders asked PNC for payoff letters, and PNC would not provide them. At the end of the day, what PNC said was ‘we’re not interested; we’re going to file a suit.’
“So we have money on the sidelines, and that would pay PNC down substantially and restore the banking relationship to what I would call a commercially reasonable relationship in terms of the amount borrowed,” Van Es noted. “And that, combined with the turnaround plan that I have authority to execute, would mean that Carriage would be a viable enterprise going forward.”
Van Es emphasizes that Carriage never missed a payment to PNC, even though it did violate some covenants and was admittedly feeling the pain of the recent recession. “But this is a company that met it’s obligations,” he said. “Granted, it was not profitable. The bank had every reason to be anxious and dissatisfied, and I don’t fault the bank one minute for that. But we just don’t understand their reluctance to support us when we have a viable enterprise and we have raised money that they asked us to raise from other sources to pay down on their debt. Fact is, they told us that ‘if you can’t pay us all the way off, we’re not interested.’”
Bottom line, says Van Es, he and Carriage’s management are at their “wit’s end” with the whole sequence of events and, especially, with the effect that Carriage’s failure could have on Millersburg.
“We are one of two employers in Millersburg,” Van Es said, “and this is going to devastate their local economy, and for no good reason because, one, we believe we are viable and, secondly, we have the financing in place to reduce the debt at PNC. And we believe in six months we could pay PNC off entirely. That’s not a good reason to put 200 people into the unemployment line.”
So, what does Carriage really want at this point?
“Frankly, we are hoping that we can get a meeting with PNC’s management,” he said. “To this point, we have been unable to do so because I believe that what’s missing in this equation – and I was hired rather late in the process, and I understand the bank had some fatigue by then, which is normal. However, my frustration is that we as business people have not been able to communicate with the bank because I think they’ve had their mind made up all along.”
PNC Bank has filed a lawsuit to take possession of Millersburg, Ind.-based Carriage Inc., a legendary, 45-year-old, towable RV manufacturer that the bank says owes it more than $5 million, The Goshen News is reporting this morning (Oct. 20).
The news didn’t come as a complete surprise around the northern Indiana community of Millersburg, where the company’s 180 employees were furloughed Monday because Carriage’s management reportedly was concerned that the workers would not be paid.
While Carriage spokesmen were unavailable for comment, the parking lots and factory buildings at the small-town complex were silent Wednesday, a day after a lawsuit was filed against the company by its primary creditor, PNC Bank of Indianapolis. The bank is demanding immediate payment of more than $5 million in overdue loans.
Rumors of Carriage’s financial woes had been circulating throughout the area for the past two weeks, when company officials first made the call to start closing down its buildings and sending home workers, The Goshen News reports.
According to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Elkhart County Superior Court I, Carriage owner Glenn Cushman has been in default of his financial obligations to PNC Bank from as far back as September of 2009, requiring the issuance of several loan extensions.
The most recent extension delayed Cushman’s payment date for all obligations and indebtedness to this past Monday, Oct. 17. When PNC officials didn’t receive payment of the loans on Monday, the lawsuit against Cushman and his company was filed the following day on the premise that the company was “insolvent or in immediate danger of insolvency.”
“The most recent financial statements provided by Carriage to PNC, those dated as of the end of August, 2011, indicate that Carriage has a significant negative net worth,” the lawsuit states. “Carriage has lost in excess of $1 million during calendar year 2011 to date. The financial statements provided to PNC by Carriage indicate that Carriage is losing substantial amounts of money, and continued operations by Carriage without a receiver will only result in further financial deterioration to the detriment of PNC and the other creditors of Carriage.”
Consequently, PNC is requesting that a receiver be appointed on their behalf to essentially take control of the company from Cushman, says The Goshen News. Once that transfer has occurred, the appointed receiver would then have the option to continue to operate the Carriage facility under PNC’s name or simply sell off or lease the property in order to settle Cushman’s debts.
Although no one from the company was available for comment, word on the street around the RV-building center of Elkhart County, Ind., today (Oct. 18) is that old-line RV manufacturer Carriage Inc. sent home its employees Monday as the company’s senior management attempts to sort through financial difficulties.
A total of about 180 employees were reportedly sent home because the Millersburg, Ind., firm, long known as a stable higher-end towable manufacturer, could not come to terms with its lenders and, thus, couldn’t guarantee that the employees would be paid.
Carriage, co-founded by Clarence Yoder in 1969 and currently owned by President and CEO Glenn Cushman, manufactures the Cabo, Cameo, Carri-Lite and Royals International towable brands at its sprawling campus.
Cushman, a former investment banker who resides in Phoenix, Ariz., purchased the company from Yoder in 1999.
Representatives of China’s Feishen Group Co. Ltd., a multi-billion-dollar importer/exporter of science and technology hardware out of Yongkang City, Zhejiang Province, China, were among the crowd of out-of-towners traversing the streets of Elkhart, Ind., this week (Sept. 19-23) as part of Elkhart County’s 4th Annual RV Open House Week. Feishen Group Chairman Asun Chen is shown here with his entourage at the Carriage Inc. display near the intersection of County Road 17 and U.S. 20 on the city’s southeast side, where the Chinese company had agreed to purchase a number of higher-end towable units for use in a large campground/RV park the company is currently developing in China, reports Carriage Vice President of Sales and Marketing Ed Kinney. Personnel from Feishen, which distributes the Razor scooter throughout the U.S., visited Carriage’s Millersburg, Ind., facilities a couple of weeks ago, says Kinney, and returned at his suggestion to get a better look at the industry at large. Those units, adds Kinney, require some customization. “Yes, they’re obviously looking for things that are wired 220 (volts),” he told RVBUSINESS.com, “and then we hooked them up with some people who can do some conversions for them. But basically that’s it (as far as customization). It’s pretty much a standard build for us, except they need some wiring changes made.”
Monaco RV LLC, Carriage Inc., Travel Lite Inc., Fleetwood RV Inc. and Newmar Corp. are joining forces to display new products Sept. 19-22 on a 17-acre parcel of land on the northeast corner of U.S. 20 and C.R. 17 during Elkhart County’s 4th Annual RV Open House Week.
In what amounts to a classic case of how the emerging Open House casts industry competitors in unusually cooperative roles, the five adjacent exhibits will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily – and later when necessary — with a joint catered luncheon available 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. all four days, according to Ed Kinney, vice president of sales and marketing for Carriage, who played a pivotal role in organizing the display area.
The five-company exhibit, on the southeast side of Elkhart and a few minutes from the larger Forest River Inc. and Thor Industries Inc. displays, offers easy access, ample parking and close proximity to other manufacturer displays in the area, according to a Thursday (Sept. 1) Monaco release.
“We’re all splitting the costs, which are really low,” says Kinney, adding that there will be well over 100 units on display at the joint exhibit. “Everybody’s in this together.”
Kinney says this corporate cluster results from the experiences of some companies that felt their locations during last year’s Open House were too remote from the daily dealer traffic. Carriage’s management last year hosted dealers at the company’s home plant in Millersburg, a good 20-minute drive south and east of Elkhart.
Monaco’s main plant is in Wakarusa, Ind., while Newmar is in Nappanee, Ind., Travel Lite is based in New Paris, Ind., and Fleetwood is located about an hour’s drive southeast in Decatur, Ind.
There will be a tent set up amid the displays, said Kinney, adding that access to the paved parking area is off of C.R. 17.
“We look forward to bringing our products closer to dealers who will be in the Elkhart area,” noted Monaco’s Mike Snell, senior vice president of sales and product development. “We want it to be effortless for dealers to see our products, to learn about our advantages and connect with our employees and company. The manufacturer-dealer relationship is all about fostering good relationships based on open communication. At the same time, we want to provide the best, most state-of-the-art RVs on the market.”
“We’ll have lunches every day for dealers and visitors,” Kinney added. “We’re just real excited. It’s going to be a great turnout. It’s a nice layout. It’s a perfect piece of property – easy in, easy out, lots of easy parking. So, we’re just thinking of convenience for the dealers. And, you know, we’re three minutes from the Hall of Fame (where Thor will be set up). It doesn’t get better than that.”
Carriage Inc. will be offering the Winegard SensarPro TV signal meter in its 2012 models, including the Cameo, Carri-Lite and Royals International luxury fifth-wheel lines.
According to a press release, the Winegard SensarPro is an “all-in-one product” that acts as a TV signal meter with an adjustable amplifier and wall-plate power supply.
“With the difficulties customers experience in locating digital signals we knew we needed a solution,” said Aaron Engberg, director of mobile products for Winegard Co. “With a single push of a button, the scan search option quickly finds all available programming in the area.”
“We already offer amplified Sensar antennas on our fifth-wheels,” said Greg Kitson, Carriage product development leader. “So we wanted to offer the latest digital TV signal meter technology in the SensarPro to make TV entertainment on the road simple, fast and frustration free for our customers. We specialize in producing luxury RVs and the SensarPro adds that luxury entertainment touch to our product line.”
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The roster of RV manufacturers participating in Elkhart County’s 4th Annual RV Open House in September increased again today (July 25) with the announcement by Carriage Inc., that the Millersburg, Ind., luxury fifth-wheel OEM would be showing its towable product on part of a 15-acre parcel a few minutes south of the RV/MH Hall of Fame.
Moreover, Ed Kinney, vice president of sales and marketing for the Millersburg, Ind., RV builder, reports that his company will be sharing the site with Coburg, Ore.-based Monaco RV LLC and Travel Lite, a truck-camper manufacturer headquartered in New Paris, Ind.
And Kinney told RVBUSINESS.com that he’s still got room for more open house exhibitors “if any other manufacturers wish to join us.”
The location, at the intersection of County Road 17 and U.S. 20 in southeast Elkhart, provides easy access and plenty of parking in close proximity to other manufacturers’ open house displays for some of the 4,000 dealer personnel expected to visit Elkhart County during open house week – Sept. 19-23.
“Last year, we tried it (participating in the open house) in Millersburg, but it was too far for dealers who are only in town for a couple of days,” said Kinney. “This new location is the perfect spot.”
Carriage will have approximately 15 units on display during the event, with hors d’oeuvres and drinks available beneath a tent. “Once we determine all the manufacturers participating (at the site), we’ll decide what to do about added entertainment,” he added.
Carriage’s display will be manned 9 a.m to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, “but obviously, whatever the dealer’s needs are, we’re going to be there,” said Kinney.
Interested parties may contact Kinney at email@example.com for additional information.
Luxury fifth-wheel manufacturer Carriage Inc announced today (July 19) the addition of Bob Scheer to the position of regional sales manager for the northwest region and the western provinces of Canada.
Scheer, who lives in Salem, Ore., brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the Carriage team. “We are truly blessed to have him on board with us” stated Ed Kinney, vice president of sales and marketing for the Millersburg, Ind.-based company. “Bob’s experience with fifth wheels and the region he manages will strengthen our relationships with our dealer partners.”
“When Ed called I was so excited to have the chance to work with a quality company like Carriage,” said Scheer. “I appreciate the opportunity to be working with the Carriage team and supporting the dealer network. Carriage is the last of the true manufacturers building quality, and integrity into all that they do from the ground up. I could not be happier.”
Founded in 1968, Carriage manufacturers Cabo, Cameo, Carri-lite, and Royals International products at its complex in Millersburg with distribution through dealers in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia.
Carriage Inc. announced Wednesday (June 1) the appointment of Steve Shively as regional sales manager with responsibilities for the eastern Canada and upper Midwest sales region.
“Steve brings 10 years of sales experience with him to Carriage,” said Ed Kinney, vice president of sales and marketing for the Millersburg, Ind.-based fifth-wheel manufacturer. “His experience in selling motorhomes and towables, along with his unique ability to share his expertise in the day-to-day dealer operations, makes him a tremendous asset to Carriage and our dealer/partners.”
Shively lives in Bremen, Ind., with his wife, Holly, and children Kaelyn, Ashton and Mikayla. He will have an office in the Carriage corporate headquarters at Millersburg.
“As a former sales representative for another top manufacturer in our industry, I am extremely happy to be associated with Carriage and their family,” Shively said. “To represent the Carriage Resort Vehicle lineup is an awesome opportunity, and I look forward to working with everyone, and represent this quality lineup of products.”
Fifth-wheel manufacturer Carriage Inc. announced Wednesday (June 1) additional information about the Millersburg, Ind.-based company’s newly redesigned 2012 Cameo product line.
“The 2012 Cameo is the most advanced fifth-wheel in design and consumer friendliness, featuring comfort, function, innovation, and design, enhancing both interior and exterior storage,” said Ed Kinney, vice president of sales and marketing for Carriage.
According to Kinney, the redesigned Cameo features a number of upgraded amenities — including more than two dozen changes ranging from a new aerodynamic front end cap and exterior graphics to larger windows at the dinette area and a large single window in the rear to replace three previously separate windows.
Inside, new standard equipment includes upgraded designer fabrics and carpet and a choice of four designer decors. All interior lighting has been designer-selected and upgraded, and the furniture package has been enhanced with top-of-the-line Williamsburg furniture and new dinette seating. Other changes include new designer wall boards and accent panels, upgraded door and drawer hardware and, in the new floor plan for the 37RSQ, a one-piece fiberglass 48-inch-by-32-inch resort shower.
For more information visit www.carriageinc.com.
Carriage Resort Vehicles Inc. announced that its print advertisement “All of the R. None of the V.” was awarded a Gold Addy by the Advertising Federation of Fort Wayne, Ind.
Produced by Ferguson Advertising, the ad highlighted a growing trend toward luxury fifth-wheels that are ideal for long-term “resort” stays, according to a news release.
“These days, more and more people who enjoy the RV lifestyle are turning away from costly high-end motorhomes and toward the comfort and convenience of a luxury fifth-wheel,” said Ed Kinney, vice president of sales for Millersburg, Ind.-based Carriage. “This ad was very effective at getting to the point that Carriage Resort Vehicles are all about livability, craftsmanship and year-round comfort — with models to fit a wide range of budgets.”
Kinney noted that other RV manufacturers have responded to this trend by hurrying to get new models into production. “The difference is that Carriage has been the leader in luxury fifth-wheels for more than 40 years, and many of our components are designed and built in-house for superior quality control. Simply put, Carriage Resort Vehicles is the original.”
The Florida RV SuperShow set a new attendance mark with 53,117 people passing the gates of the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa when the show concluded Sunday (Jan. 16) — an increase of 4.7% over 2010.
”There was good attendance and good sales,” said Lance Wilson, executive director of the sponsoring Florida RV Trade Association (FRVTA). ”We’ve had good attendance all along (at other SuperShows) but sales at some of the others have lagged a little bit.
”Everybody that I talked to was well into double-digits on sales and some dealers were into triple digits as far as sales are concerned.”
The show missed by fewer than 18 hours severe weather that swept across the Sunshine State spawning rain, high winds and tornado warnings, which hampered workers Monday (Jan. 17) as they were disassembling show displays.
”Thank heavens, it didn’t happen yesterday,” said Andy Baer, general manager of KZRV LP, Shipshewana, Ind., who reported strong sales during the five-day show.
Billed as among the largest RV shows in the U.S. with more than 450 vendors and 1,065 display coaches registered this year, the Florida RV SuperShow often sets the stage for the late-winter retail season.
”I’ve been coming to the SuperShow since 1994, and I’d have to say this was one of the best I’ve been too,” Baer said. ”And I’m not talking just about sales. It’s so nice to talk to people who are so very positive. It’s like someone flipped a switch. Everybody was very upbeat.”
”There was a lot of buying going on,” said Andy Cripe, a division manager for Keystone RV Co., Elkhart, Ind. ”I’m not going to say it was record-breaking, but it was sustainable. We saw real prudent buyers and even with the more stringent financing terms, a lot of people put cash down and bought.”
”Hopefully, this is a sign of what is going to happen in 2011,” said Matt Thompson, Elkhart-based Thor Motor Coach diesel division vice president, who reported that the company’s new A.C.E Class A motorhome sold particularly well. ”If it is (a sign), it should be a very good year for the RV industry. Thor Motor Coach did very well at the show as a company.”
Ed Kinney, Carriage Inc., Millersburg, Ind., vice president of sales and marketing, termed attendance and sales ”incredible.”
”The high-line fifth-wheel market was really hot,” Kinney said. ”The SuperShow always sets the tone for the year. For Carriage, it’s going to be an unbelievably great year.”
Based on Tampa and initial returns from other early winter shows, meanwhile, 2011 is looking pretty good for Elkhart, Ind.-based Forest River Inc.
“Taking into account the first two weeks of shows, Pittsburg was a good show and the Cleveland Show was the best we’ve had in years,” National Sales Manager Jeff Babcock told RVBUSINESS.com. “And the Tampa Show, finishing up this past weekend, ended up better than years past. So, it’s a great start, and we’re looking for a good year.
“We think it’s going to break loose here this year.”
Roger Martin, Winnebago Industries Inc. vice president of sales and marketing, said the Forest City, Iowa-based motorized manufacturer, was ”thrilled with traffic and sales activity” at the show.
”Dealers representing us there reported sales activity nearly three times better than last year, Martin said.
Despite cold temperatures, a record number of people — 12,912 to be exact — walked through the gates Wednesday (Jan. 12) for the opening day of the 26th Annual 2011 Florida RV Supershow at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa Fla.
And early sales matched the crowd, according to several manufacturers who spoke to RVBUSINESS.com this morning.
”We’re doing fantastic,” said Ed Kinney, vice president of sales and marketing for Carriage Inc., Millersburg, Ind., ”We had record sales. If I told you the numbers, you’d call me a liar.”
”It was a slow start today (Thursday) because it was cold,” said Lance Wilson, executive director of the sponsoring Florida RV Trade Association. ”It was in the 30s this morning, but things picked up. People are here now and the sun is out. The only thing that keeps people away is rain, and we don’t have any of that.”
Wilson reported that the final count had 1,065 coaches on display at the show.
In addition to Carriage, other manufacturers also reported brisk sales early on in the show, which runs through Sunday.
”It’s a buying crowd,” said C. David Hoefer, chairman of Earthbound RV LLC, Marion, Ind. ”We had our first sale an hour after the show started on Wednesday.”
”The traffic is not only good in terms of quantity, but it’s quality traffic,” said John Sammut, Newmar Inc. vice president of sales and marketing. ”We had a good day yesterday selling several motorized units — both gas and diesel.”
Opening day, during which senior citizens received a discount, was capped by a FRVTA-sponsored dinner on the fairgrounds attended by about 800 people representing manufactuers and suppliers, who dined on roast beef, shrimp and key lime pie.
Show organizers expect more than 50,000 people to attend the show through Sunday. Last year’s attendance was 50,753.
For more than 100 employees of Carriage Inc., Christmas came a little early this year.
Well, Santa did, anyway.
“We had a tremendous event at Louisville this year and a great influx of new business,” said Ed Kinney, vice president of sales and national sales manager for the Millersburg, Ind., manufacturer of high-end fifth-wheels. “Carriage is a special place, with special employees, so we thought it would be fun to have Santa visit.”
The inaugural Carriage family Christmas party, held Wednesday afternoon (Dec. 15) at Carriage’s Millersburg headquarters, was also open to children of employees — and more than 150 youngsters participated in a variety of crafts while enjoying treats and hot chocolate.
“It was a great turnout and everyone had a good time,” said Kinney, who donned a familiar red costume for the festivities. By his recollection, Kinney has played Santa for hospitals, groups and private occasions for more than 40 years — including a memorable stretch that saw him visit the renowned Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis each December for 25 seasons — and was especially gratified to bring the role to his own company.
“This was the first time we’ve held a Christmas party here for our employees,” Kinney noted, “but judging by its reception, we’ll make it an annual event.”
While attendance was up a moderate 4.5% at this year’s Louisville Show, North American recreational vehicle manufacturers generally reported an upbeat atmosphere and – in some cases – robust sales at the 48th Annual National RV Trade Show, Nov. 30 – Dec. 2 at the Kentucky Exposition Center (KEC) on the south side of Louisville, Ky.
The wares and services of more than 300 manufacturers, suppliers and distributors were displayed across more than 766,000 square feet of show space in the KEC during the industry’s key annual trade-only event, sponsored by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
Now back in his Millersburg, Ind., office, Ed Kinney, vice president of sales for Carriage Inc., says results of the three-day show were decidedly positive and a good omen for 2011. “It was a record show for Carriage,” said Kinney. “Compared to last year, sales have probably tripled.”
Carriage debuted a revamp of its high-end Royals International at Louisville, along with a new “entry level” Cabo line and a new Cameo model — all of which, Kinney predicts, will translate into increased market share in 2011 for Carriage, which currently produces 25 units a week. “We intend to steadily increase production until we are building 37 units a week by the end of August,” he told RVBUSINESS.com.
On the other hand, some felt that show traffic in the KEC corridors was a little thin at times. “From a numbers standpoint, the Louisville Show maybe didn’t have the impact that some have had in the past,” said Sid Johnson, director of marketing for Jayco Inc., Middlebury, Ind.
“Attendance seemed down from last year,” he added. “It seemed to be slower, but it may have been a function of space. Last year’s show was compressed from past years. This year it was more spread out than normal. Yet, I thought it was a very good show.”
Indeed, Johnson said all three of the company’s divisions, Entegra Coach, Jayco and Starcraft, were “pleasantly surprised” by the number of new dealers they were able to sign. And Johnson, for his part, thought that Louisville 2010 was clearly better than last year and was in the “upper half” and perhaps “upper third” of the national RV shows at which he has worked in his esteemed 36-year industry career.
“The overall and almost overwhelming positive aspect of it was the very refreshing enthusiasm and confidence that was evident from almost every dealer for the coming year,” Johnson added. “We were pleased with the whole thing.”
“The show went well for us,” noted Bob Wheeler, president of Jackson Center, Ohio-based Airstream Inc. “Traffic was down a bit, but purchases per attendee were up. We had a separate meeting for dealers and were able to present them with an overview of our products, our business plan and marketing efforts (for 2011). We received very positive feedback.”
According to Wheeler, the launch at the show of Airstream’s new Eddie Bauer co-branded 25-foot travel trailer generated a lot of positive feedback. “There was lots of excitement and strong initial orders,” said Wheeler. “They really seemed to get the collaboration and added functionality of the unit.”
Clearly one of the show’s busier displays was that of EverGreen Recreational Vehicles LLC, which unveiled a distinctive new 24-foot, wood-free Element travel trailer and also hosted an appearance by Terry Bradshaw, a former NFL quarterback, current Fox sports analyst and a new minority owner of Evergreen.
“It’s (the Element) different, unique and drew a lot of traffic,” said Doug Lantz, president and CEO of the Middlebury, Ind., towable manufacturer. “Being as it’s one of the lightest weight full-size trailers (at Louisville), it definitely got people’s attention.”
Motorhome specialist Tiffin Motor Homes Inc. had a solid show, according to Bob Tiffin, president of Red Bay, Ala., -based manufacturer.
“We had a great show, and took a lot of orders,” said Tiffin. “The dealers we had there were all happy with what was going on and they were complaining that we didn’t have hardly enough inventory. You know, they didn’t have enough motorhomes to sell, so they put their money where their mouths were and ordered a lot of units — 240 units altogether.”
That’s pretty decent, most would agree, in an era in which motorhome sales certainly aren’t at their peak. “Well, I can’t speak for the rest of the industry,” said Tiffin. “But we’ve (Tiffin) had a good year so far, and it looks like next year may be even better. So, our plans are to keep running 11 or 12 units a day and keep moving forward.”
Although Tiffin sees a moderate shift to smaller coaches, the company’s best seller at Louisville was a 40-foot Phaeton retailing in the $190,000-$230,000 range.
Bob Olson, chairman, president and CEO of Winnebago Industries Inc., came away with a positive take on the show. “I think it was an improvement over last year,” said Olson, second vice chairman of RVIA and co-chair of the Go RVing Coalition. “Last year, everyone really had a lot of uncertainty as to what the future held in store. I sensed a real feeling of optimism (this year) from dealers, other manufacturers and suppliers. I thought it was a very positive show.
“Having said that, we really don’t gauge success or failure of the show by what we get for orders,” said Olson, whose Forest City, Iowa, company drew a lot of attention with a modernistic redesign of its top-of-the line Winnebago Tour/Itasca Ellipse.
“We don’t go there with the attitude of ‘this is going to be what we have to have in orders to get to the spring market.’ It was a good show. You have to consider the economic times that we’re in. Going forward, we think that we’ll continue to get orders from the dealers that were at the show because it gave them an opportunity to see a lot of our product lineup. And from what we were able to see, they were very excited about it, especially Tuesday (opening day). It was nonstop traffic from the time we opened until we closed.”
Thor’s Goshen, Ind.-based Keystone RV Co. Inc., reports seeing strong traffic all three days of the show and “high dealer enthusiasm.”
“Dealers seemed to be very optimistic about their Keystone business and the industry in general, and very enthusiastic,” said Keystone President Bob Martin. “We could see it in their eyes. Keystone’s focus at this year’s show was to make each of our brands even stronger. So, we did not launch a new product line but chose instead to concentrate on our existing lines.
Traffic, likewise, was “steady” at the expansive Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. display at which dealers were introduced to an array of new models. “Our new products were very well received,” noted Steve Paul, vice president of sales and marketing for the Goshen, Ind.-based Thor division, which debuted an ‘upper-end’ Voltage toy hauler, a redesigned Aerolite Superslide series, an entry-level Aspen Trail towable line and affordable Rubicon toy hauler.
Speaking for both the motorized and towable sides of his company, Pete Liegl, president and CEO of Forest River Inc., based in Elkhart, Ind., had good things to say about the 2010 Louisville Show and the year ahead.
On a scale of “1” to “10,” in fact, he gave it an 8.5, noting that dealer interest was consistent with that of this fall’s Hershey Show and Elkhart County Open House.
“We did very well,” said Liegl. “Obviously, no matter what we do we could do better, but we had a good show. Dealers were enthusiastic about the product we have, and that includes the new Shasta plus Prime Time and our existing Coachmen and Forest River products. Beyond that, I think the whole show was good for everybody, and I think it’s an indication that everybody thinks it’s going to be a good year next year, too.”
“Next year will be better than this year as a generalization,” said Liegl, who expects his company to post about $2.4 billion in 2010 revenues. “If I had to guess, as far as the total number of units sold next year versus this year, I’m anticipating a minimum increase of 5% for the total industry. But I can guarantee you one thing: I’m not going to settle for 5%. All in all, though, I’ve got to say that this year’s been a very acceptable year for everybody in the RV business. And next year I think is going to be more of the same thing – a little better than this year.”