EverGreen Recreational Vehicles LLC, Middlebury, Ind., announced the name of its much-anticipated high-end fifth wheel division: Lifestyle Luxury Resort Vehicles.
This stand-alone division is housed in a separate 100,000-square-foot facility recently purchased in Middlebury. According to National Sales Manager Elliott Bond, Lifestyle LRV will eventually employ a large staff consisting almost entirely of former key Carriage Inc. employees.
“The last several weeks have been full of activity with ongoing developments in the product and staff,” Bond said, “and there is a high amount of enthusiasm already circulating about the new Lifestyle LRV brand.”
In November, Kelly L. Rose, a majority owner of EverGreen, told RVBUSINESS.com the company was stepping up to capitalize on Carriage’s good name by hiring the bulk of the company’s “brain trust” and management expertise with plans to build a towable RV line that’s similar in many ways to the Carriage lineup that the Millersburg, Ind., company had built for years.
Carriage, founded in 1968, closed its doors and furloughed 180 workers on Oct. 17 as an Indianapolis-based bank filed suit. On Feb. 21, an Ohio-based company will be holding an auction for all of Carriage’s assets at its long-time Millersburg headquarters.
Among the former Carriage people playing key roles for EverGreen are Bond, former Carriage CFO Deb Albin in finance, Pete Kauffman in manufacturing and Greg Kitson in product development and design.
Myron Bowling Auctioneers, Hamilton, Ohio, is advertising the “complete liquidation” of the assets for luxury fifth-wheel manufacturer Carriage Inc., scheduled for 9 a.m. on Feb. 9 at the company’s Millersburg, Ind., headquarters.
Carriage was a venerable manufacturer known for its inventive engineering and commitment to quality, building high-end fifth-wheels under the Cabo, Cameo, Carri-Lite and Royals International brands. Auction listings include finished RVs, raw materials, brand names and equipment. (For details, click here.)
News first surfaced in mid-October that Carriage, founded by Clarence Yoder in 1969, was having financial troubles. RVBUSINESS.com reported that PNC Bank out of Indianapolis had filed suit Oct. 18 to take possession of Carriage, which reportedly owed the bank more than $5 million. The suit came a day after around 180 Carriage workers were furloughed.
The bank was demanding immediate payment of overdue loans and maintained in the suit in Elkhart County Superior Court I that Carriage owner Glenn Cushman was in default of his financial obligations to PNC Bank from as far back as September of 2009, requiring the issuance of several loan extensions.
Rick Van Es, who was hired six weeks prior to the filing at the request of PNC Bank to engineer a restructuring of the company, claimed at the time that Carriage was “blindsided” after submitting a viable turnaround plan to PNC.
“We were very much blindsided because the other thing that happened here is that the company was requested to find replacement financing for PNC,” Van Es told RVBUSINESS.com. “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.”
After the proceedings with PNC became public, RVBUSINESS.com reported that Carriage owners and dealers rallied behind the builder.
“We’ve had an outpouring of concern from Carriage owners, 90 dealers, nothing but positive support for us, and it’s sad,” said 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.”
Despite reports in local media that PNC and Carriage were close to an agreement, no deal was ever finalized.
Smith, Kan.-based Peterson Industries Inc. said it has increased production of its line of luxury towables “in response to the news of Carriage Inc. closing and an influx of calls from Carriage dealers.”
According to a press release, Peterson is also offering “attractive Excel dealer packages,” and accepting a limited number of new dealers in select locations.
Bryan Tillett, President of Peterson Industries, reports that Excel RVs continue to attract buyers to dealer lots across the country. “We’ve survived this economy for a reason,” he said. “Our company is built on excellent value, outstanding construction, luxurious amenities, solid warranties, and sound money management. Excel owners are very loyal to our brand; further evidence that we meet and exceed customer expectations.”
Peterson Industries will showcase their line at the 49th National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., running Nov. 29-Dec. 1.
The Excel booth No. 5301 in the West Wing of the Expo Center will include:
• The top-of-the-line 2012 Limited, which is priced comparably to the Carriage Carri-Lite, and provides the ultimate in luxury and amenities.
• The 2012 Winslow fifth-wheel, priced comparably to the Carriage Cameo, sets the traveler up in affordable luxury, and is available in eight floorplans.
• The 2012 Winslow travel trailer provides 100 cubic feet of basement storage without sacrificing living space or luxury.
The apparent demise of one prominent and respected old-line RV manufacturer – Millersburg, Ind.-based Carriage Inc. — is evidently playing a role in the startup of a new high-end fifth-wheel-building unit at Middlebury, Ind.-based EverGreen Recreational Vehicles LLC, according to veteran RV industry executive Kelly L. Rose.
Rose, a majority owner of EverGreen who has logged 35 years in the RV business, emphasizes the fact that he and partner Mike Schoeffler – plus five other EverGreen manager-owners – haven’t purchased any of Carriage’s assets at this point. But they have hired several key Carriage people in the process of setting up a business unit that in many respects will step into the market niche that Carriage once occupied.
Carriage, founded in 1968, closed its doors and furloughed 180 workers on Oct. 17 as an Indianapolis-based bank filed suit. The old-line towable builder behind the scenes has been looking – with no apparent success – for a buyer since then, according to sources close to the company.
“EverGreen is starting a new division, which is the high-end fifth-wheel division,” Rose told RVBUSINESS.com. “I did not buy the Carriage assets or brand names – even though we will look at some of those assets. But the most important asset that we’ve encountered is that we’ve hired the key management people from engineering, sales, production, manufacturing, design and finance.
“So, we’ve hired all the top key people and we’re actually going to develop — and we’re prototyping as we speak — a high-end EverGreen fifth-wheel with all the knowledge that Carriage has from their legacy and heritage over the years basically being transferred from Millersburg to Middlebury.”
The new high-end towable division will more than likely be housed in EverGreen’s existing facilities near the Indiana Toll Road north of Middlebury. But that, says Rose, could change. “I’m looking at a stand-alone facility also,” he said, “so really that will be determined this week.”
Rose says he’s stepping up to capitalize on Carriage’s good name, despite the difficulties the financially troubled company experienced this fall, by hiring the bulk of the company’s “brain trust” and management expertise with plans to build a towable RV line that’s similar in many ways to the Carriage lineup that the Millersburg company had built for years.
“It’s very similar to when I bought Starcraft (Automotive Corp.) out of bankruptcy in 1990,” said Rose. “You know, you really want to coddle the name and the heritage of the name. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do is take the key Carriage people and build a great product and continue to service the long-time Carriage dealers that know how the Carriage product has been built. We just want to transfer that. And, of course, at EverGreen, we’re known as a high-end quality manufacturer, and I want to just take that and build on the Carriage heritage.”
While EverGreen has marketed a relatively expensive, composite-construction, eco-friendly fifth-wheel, Rose added, the new lineup will tend to be larger and of a more conventional design. “We will look at the composite-type material and more eco-friendly (format) down the road,” he said, “But at this point it’s going to be absolutely more conventional than what’s being built now.”
The new division’s name? That’s another unknown – for the moment.
Among the former Carriage people playing key roles for EverGreen CEO Schoeffler are Elliott Bond in sales, former Carriage CFO Deb Albin in finance, Pete Kauffman in manufacturing and Greg Kitson in product development and design. The division will have 15 employees to start, and Rose plans to unveil the unit’s first finished products by March.
EverGreen is one of several ventures in which Rose and Schoeffler, who recently sold Starquest Products LLC and its affiliate Qualitec Manufacturing LLC to Drew Industries Inc.’s Kinro division, are currently involved.
“You know, the economy isn’t the strongest right now, as we all know, and it’s a tough time in business for the RV sector – and just prior to going into Louisville and going into wintertime,” said Rose. “And a few people said ‘why are you doing this?’ Well, EverGreen’s just a small company, and we can’t compete – nor do we even want to try to compete — with the big boys. So, why do this at a tough economic time of the RV industry especially?
“You know, timing is everything, and when the right people come along and you look at the timing of it and you look at the business decision part of it, you evaluate it, do your due diligence and make your decision and hope like heck that you’re right.”
A bank that filed a lawsuit to take possession of Carriage Inc. in Millersburg, Ind., may be open to a deal to turn the company around, according to a Carriage consultant quoted in a front-page article in today’s (Oct. 22) The Goshen (Ind.) News.
“We got to have our meeting with the bank,” Rick Van Es, a business turnaround consultant, said Friday afternoon. “I think we are on a positive track right now.”
PNC Bank of Indianapolis filed a lawsuit in Elkhart Superior Court 1 Tuesday asking for control of Carriage, which the bank says owes it more than $5 million. Glenn Cushman is the owner of Carriage Inc., which has been based in Millersburg for the past 45 years. The company manufactures luxury fifth-wheel recreational vehicles. Cushman has been unreachable for comment on the legal developments.
Van Es said the situation is headed in a positive direction right now. He said there is still a lot of work to do on working out a restructuring of the company that the bank will agree to.
And Van Es admits the Millersburg community is very worried about the possibility of losing a traditional company and the 200 jobs there.
“We have all been fighting for this company and these jobs in Millersburg,” he said.
He said while there are 200 jobs at Carriage, each of those jobs have a positive effect on Millersburg eight to 10 times over.
“It’s not over yet,” he said, “but I believe it is headed in the right direction.”
Van Es said the bank found defaults in the legal covenants in its agreements with Cushman, but not with Cushman’s payments. “The company always made their payments on time,” Van Es said.
He said PNC Bank is the only senior secured lender the company has.
Despite the financial and legal issues, Carriage has popular RV products that are in demand through about 90 dealers nationwide, according to Van Es.
“(The Carriage brand) is very much in demand,” Van Es said. “It is a marquee brand. We have had an outpouring of sentiments from dealers cheering us on. It is a good feeling to have everyone pulling for you.”
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.”