Editor’s Note: Michigan-based General RV donated a 32-foot Damon Motor Coach Class A motorhome to help the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) promote its Passport to Recreation program to rescue the state’s parks. The RV traveled throughout the state this summer to promote the program. Excerpts from a report on the program appear below. To read the full report click here.
In April 2010, the Recreation Passport legislation was passed, establishing a new funding model for state parks and recreation areas, as well as state forest campgrounds and pathways, historic and cultural resources, while also establishing a grant program for community recreation agencies.
For the first year of the campaign, the DNRE goal is for 50% of Michigan motorists to check “YES!” for the Recreation Passport on their license plate renewal form. Therefore it was imperative to reach out to more than just current park supporters. The “Road to Recreation” RV tour was developed to help reach Michigan motorists, to educate them about the Recreation Passport and to encourage them to purchase theirs.
For three months, drivers Eliot and Naomi Haycock (with support from many DNRE staffers) toured Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, sharing information about the Recreation Passport and encouraging people to check “YES!” for every vehicle, every year.
The RV tour covered 3,200-plus miles and introduced hundreds of thousands of people to the Recreation Passport at different events and locations.
About the RV
General RV generously donated the RV used throughout the tour. The 32-foot Class-A Damon was fully equipped with an extendable living area, full bathroom, private bedroom, full kitchen, and a large flat-screen television.
About the RV Graphic Wrap
The RV was wrapped in vinyl from front to back with dramatic images of outdoor experiences covering every side of the vehicle. The wrap, applied by TruckSkin of Traverse City, portrayed four seasons of outdoor recreation, with many of the photos being the same images used in the Recreation Passport promotional materials. This wrap was kindly paid for by Merrell, which was just part of their generous donation.
About the Freebies
Merrell provided apparel for the drivers, freebies to give away at events, bean bag toss games, and $100 gift certificates for every 25 entries. In addition to the carabiners, keychains, and cozies from General RV and Merrell, many thanks go to Oreo and Outback Steakhouse for providing free cookies and promotional scratch-off cards. These added to the excitement of the tour and helped make the visitor experience more rewarding.
About the Haycocks
Eliot and Naomi Haycock are residents of Chassell, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. They have been married for 43 years, serving the residents of Michigan as state employees, and most recently as volunteers supporting the successful implementation of the Recreation Passport.
The Haycocks have been enjoying Michigan’s recreational opportunities for the last 30 years, and supporting DNRE efforts to encourage everyone to do the same for nearly a decade. The Haycocks served as campground hosts at Ft. Wilkins State Park for the last five years. As the RV drivers, they dedicated three months, and nearly 24 hours a day to the tour. Even when Eliot found himself in the emergency room after an incident at one of the events, he took the opportunity to tell his doctor about the Recreation Passport.
Bill Fenech, president of Damon Motor Coach and Four Winds International, today (Sept. 8) announced a strategic plan to consolidate the operations of Damon and Four Winds to form Thor Motor Coach.
Today, Damon and Four Winds combined are the No. 1 retail selling motorhome in the industry, Fenech said, referring to Statistical Surveys Inc., year-to-date through June sales figures. This consolidation is a natural progression of bringing these two companies together to form one company to maintain this market leading position, he stated in a news release.
Fenech reaffirmed the reasons for the consolidation: “The most motivating reason for this consolidation was to help our dealers and retail customers by building incredible brands supported by a strong name. This new structure will help us to leverage the Thor name, which is known for its strength and stability, while allowing us to better focus on our value oriented individual brands. Developing hot, innovative products through intense dealer and retail customer feedback is critical to our success and will continue to drive how we do business and will only improve with this increased focus. Damon and Four Winds were always lean operations but this consolidation will help to make Thor Motor Coach even leaner, driving our costs down which we will pass on to our dealers and retail customers.”
Product development and sales will be structured for maximum product and dealer focus by dividing up the Thor Motor Coach brands into three separate sales and product development groups – gasoline Class A’s, Class C’s and diesels.
- Dana Simon, a 20-year veteran of Four Winds, will be the vice president and general manager of the gas Class A and Class C brands which include Hurricane, Windsport, Daybreak, Challenger, Four Winds and Chateau.
- Matt Thompson, a seven-year veteran of Damon, will be the vice president and general manager of the diesel brands which include the Serrano, Avanti, Astoria and Tuscany.
“This is absolutely the best move to better serve our dealers and retail customers. We are truly a great company to work with. We always put our dealers and customers before ourselves. I personally believe our customer service and parts are among the best in the industry,” said Thompson.
“With the accumulated efforts of our excellent employees from both divisions I’m sure we will provide the best products and services to our loyal dealers and retail customers. We have made fantastic strides in our quality, and I feel our quality ranks up there with higher priced products. This an exciting time for all of us; especially our dealers,” said Simon.
Damon Motor Coach and Four Winds International and now Thor Motor Coach are part of Thor Industries Inc. Jackson Center, Ohio.
Thousands of recreational vehicle retail personnel will be converging in late September on the RV-building center of Elkhart County, Ind., as more manufacturers turn to local 2011 product displays in the wake of the Great Recession and a prevailing cost-cutting atmosphere throughout the business world.
What’s even more interesting is that they’re doing it in unison – at the end of September in synch with Forest River Inc.’s big Sept. 29-30 dealer gathering, now in its third year. In fact, it appears that Forest River has reinvented the wheel to an extent by bringing in hundreds of RV, cargo and commercial trailer retailers to its home plant in late September for a closed gathering at which dealers are wined and dined and treated to expansive new model product displays.
The Berkshire Hathaway Inc. subsidiary’s second annual 2009 “Pick Your Partner” open house last year drew 600 to 700 dealers — a total of 2,000 people – to the grounds outside the Elkhart-based company’s headquarters where retailers were treated to a display of about 350 units plus live music and staff-delivered beer.
Although Forest River’s management hasn’t said much publicly about its plans yet this year, it’s a safe bet that they’re expecting more of the same at this year’s dealer meeting. “I assume it’s going to be as good as last year,” Forest River President and CEO Pete Liegl told RVBusiness. “We’re getting a good response so far. We just started sending out the invites last week.”
The trend toward Elkhart County dealer open houses took a big step forward earlier this month when four Thor Industries Inc. subsidiaries, Keystone RV Co., Damon Motor Coach, Four Winds International Corp. and Breckenridge, announced plans for a combined dealer open house Sept. 28-30 at the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum in Elkhart, Ind., for which they’re expecting 500 dealers. As many as 100 2011 models will be on display on the grounds surrounding the Hall of Fame.
Now, the latest to join the fray is Thor’s Goshen-based Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., which has notified its dealers of its first-ever Sept. 27-30 open house at the former Azure boat manufacturing facility at the corner of C.R. 6 and Marina Drive not far from the Indiana Toll Road and the RV/MH Hall of Fame.
Dutchmen President Don Clark says his company’s open house will take place both inside and outside the facility, and will be highlighted by a Sept. 27 dealer party featuring live entertainment and some eye-catching 2011 product displays.
“We’re going to have some surprises that have yet to be viewed by any dealer,” Clark told RVBusiness. “We’re going to have not just one new brand, but several new brands that we will be selling at our open house. And it will be a good precursor for what the dealers will be seeing at Louisville (RVIA’s annual National RV Trade Show, Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 in Louisville, Ky.). We’re going to have our new sales management staff on hand, and it gives dealers an unharied time to get to know them better.”
Other companies are expected to announce their own “open houses” and “showcases” in the near future. Although details were still being worked out, Carriage Inc. Vice President of Sales Ed Kinney says his Millersburg, Ind., firm will hold a Sept. 28-30 open house in Millersburg. “We’ll have a nice display, show some new things we will show at Louisville, give some plant tours and have a good casual time,” he said.
Gulf Stream Coach Inc. also is joining in the September rush with an event scheduled for Sept. 27-30 at which the Nappanee firm will show 45 towable and motorized units.
Meanwhile, Jayco Inc.’s own annual Master Sales Training Sessions for dealers’ sales staffs is partly slotted in the same time frame.
Jayco, headquartered in nearby Middlebury, plans to bring in approximately 500 people for intensive sales training at its complex in Middlebury, Ind. The sessions run Sept. 20-23 and Sept. 27-30 and will involve sales training and extensive factory tours, reports Marketing Director Sid Johnson.
Jayco did not sponsor these sessions last year due to the economy, but traditionally holds the event at the end of September every year, Johnson reports. “Dealers pay for transportation. We pay for everything once they get here,” said Johnson, noting that the cost to Jayco is in the neighborhood of $200,000.
The whole emerging sequence of events, in turn, is beginning to prompt questions about just how many hotel rooms there are in the region to house an influx of business people of this magnitude. Elkhart County, in itself, has 2,591. And while it’s got to translate into a positive in terms of facilities use at the Hall of Fame, located along the Indiana Toll Road east of Elkhart, it’s also posing questions among some industry observers about how this emerging trend might ultimately affect the viability of the Louisville Show.
That said, some of the players in this emerging scenario like Clark and Keystone President Bob Martin seem to be keeping their focus on Louisville as well. Martin called Keystone’s September product display “a little preview of Louisville” that would include some – but not all – of the products his company would unveil at the national show in late November.
‘It’s a good opportunity to get in front of your dealers in the fall,” said Martin, whose agenda will include seminars and training, vendor booths and meetings with customer service representatives and retail and wholesale financing sources. ”It a good draw for Keystone with a couple of motorhome lines and Breckenridge (which builds park trailers). All the divisions are working on plans together. There will be a lot to see.”
“This is an absolutely exciting event,” said Tim Howard, president of Breckenridge,“ whose Nappanee-based firm participated several years ago in a Thor-only dealer show in Elkhart County, “because the way we did it before, it was far-flung. The companies who did it in unison did so at their own locations. This will be at one location.”
Howard said the Thor event was not specifically designed to coincide with Forest River’s “Pick Your Partner” event, but it makes sense. “I don’t think it was discussed as that,” he said, “but it is logical, It makes perfect sense for a dealer to have the efficiency of killing two birds with one stone.”
Dan Shea, Gulf Stream towables president, said the September event makes a lot of sense, giving dealers, especially Canadians, a chance to place their orders early.
“It’s a good opportunity for dealers who need product quicker,” said Shea. “There is a lot of reason for dealers to step up and buy product this October, November and December.”
Although late September dealer shows take some of the luster off Louisville for Gulf Stream and others, Shea added, “Louisville will still be a big show for us.”
Bill and Kristin Fenech increased their personal donation to the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) Education Foundation’s RV Learning Center by $10,000, making their total contribution $50,000, according to a news release from the RVDA.
The Fenechs have been supporters of the RV Learning Center since 2004. Bill Fenech is president of the Thor Industries Inc. subsidiaries Damon Motor Coach and Four Winds International.
“A gift to the RV Learning Center is one of the best ways to improve the availability of continuing education for RV dealership employees,” said Bill Fenech. “Kristin and I are pleased to be able to support these important industry programs that help improve the sales and service process for RV buyers.”
“Industry support is vital if the RV Learning Center is to develop and maintain its educational offerings,” said RVDA Education Foundation Chairman Rick Horsey of Parkview RV Center in Smyrna, Del. “We thank Bill and Kristin for their ongoing support for RV dealers and the RV Learning Center.”
The RV Learning Center is dedicated to providing dealers and their employees with innovative ways to operate RV dealerships through an array of education resources including publications, distance learning, live workshops, online products, training, and certification programs for RV dealership personnel. Participation in RV industry certification programs was a key recommendation of the Go RVing Coalition’s Committee on Excellence Task Force reports, which studied consumer satisfaction.
The RV Learning Center is in the midst of a 2010 Fundraising Challenge campaign to support industry education programs. For more information on the Foundation’s RV Learning Center and to contribute, visit www.rvlearningcenter.com, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send a fax to (703) 359-0152. The RVDA Education Foundation is a tax exempt organization as described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions may be tax deductible as charitable donations.
Owners of Four Winds International and Damon Motor Coach diesel products are being welcomed into the newly formed Thor Diesel Club, formerly known as the Mandalay Travel Club.
The club is extending an invitation to all owners of the following Class A diesel coaches: Damon Avanti, Astoria, Essence, Escaper, LX400, Tuscany and Ultrasport; Four Winds Serrano and Monteceito; and Mandalay Presidio, Mandalay and Valencia.
Thor Diesel Club will host its first rally Oct. 3-8 in Goshen, Ind. Jim Larocca, president of Thor Diesel Club, extended an open invitation to all the qualifying owners to stop out and become a charter member of the newly formed Thor Diesel Club.
“Damon and Four Winds will sponsor this event and have staff available at the rally. The Thor Diesel Club will continue their traditions of the past and you will find seminars, vendor support, giveaways, food, golf and tech service during the week for all attendees. Jim Larocca promises that this will be a great way to get more enjoyment with your coach and meet new friends while learning about your coach,” according to a news release.
For more information go to www.MyMotorhomeClub.com or contact the Rally Master Fran Watkins by e-mail: email@example.com
Damon Motor Coach and Four Winds International are subsidiaries of Thor Industries Inc. Jackson Center, Ohio, the world s largest manufacturer of recreational vehicles.
Continuing an RV industry trend toward fall dealer meetings, four Thor Industries Inc. subsidiaries — Keystone RV Co., Damon Motor Coach, Four Winds International Corp. and Breckenridge — will hold a combined dealer open house Sept. 28-30 at the RV/MH Hall of Fame Museum in Elkhart, Ind.
‘It’s a good opportunity to get in front of your dealers in the fall,” said Keystone President Bob Martin. ”It a good draw for Keystone with a couple of motorhome lines and Breckenridge (a manufacturer of recreational park trailers).”
Martin said the open house would be ”a little preview of Louisville,” referencing the National RV Trade Show Nov. 30-Dec. 2 at the Kentucky Exposition Center (KEC) in Louisville, Ky.
”We will show some things at the open house that are going to Louisville, but not everything,” Martin said.
Individual planning is in process for at each division, Martin said. ”All the divisions are working on plans together,” he added. ”There will be a lot to see.”
Bill Fenech, president of both Damon and Four Winds, said that a major announcement will be made right before or during the open house.
”The bottom line is that we are looking to have an informal event with our dealers and give them a lot of product information and show them how they can make money with us,” Fenech said.
Fenech said both Damon and Four Winds will have new product on display at the open house.
The agenda includes seminars and training, vendor booths and meetings with customer service representatives and retail and wholesale financing sources.
Invitations sent to dealers the first of the week and via e-mail today (Aug. 4) offered to pay food and lodging costs at local hotels and provide shuttle transportation to and from the Hall of Fame on Elkhart’s north side.
Product displays will be open at the Hall from 1 pm. to 6 p.m. Sept. 28; 9 a.m to 6 p.m. Sept. 29; and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 30. A private party off-site is scheduled for opening night with transportation provided, while another is scheduled for the Hall Sept. 29.
The open house will be the first for Keystone in nearly 10 years, Martin said.
Earlier in the decade several Thor companies, including Damon, Four Winds and Breckenridge, participated in ”Thor Fusion” — a dealer open house at their different locations in northern Indiana.
Matt Thompson, vice president and general manager of Damon Motor Coach, announced today (July 12) that Kevin Atkinson has joined the Damon sales team as the new district sales manager for the Western Region representing all Damon gasoline and diesel product brands.
“I am very excited to have Kevin join the Damon family,” Thompson said in a news release.
Atkinson is a 23-year veteran in the RV industry and has increased sales and grown market share in territories throughout the nation and Western Canada for several top level luxury manufacturers.
“With the last 20 of his past 23 years focused in the motorized segment of this business, Kevin is exactly what we need to take Damon to the next level on the West Coast,” Thompson said. “Kevin’s product knowledge, excitement and enthusiasm exemplify the type of people we want representing Damon Motor Coach.”
Atkinson said, “I’m extremely passionate about the RV lifestyle. I’ve seen tremendous growth and have personally contributed by helping to sell literally thousands of extremely happy campers their first, second, and third motorhomes.”
His philosophy is simply that, “Sales sells the first one. Combined service and support sell the second.”
He added, “Damon’s excellent reputation and support of dealers and retail customers are key areas that I plan on taking advantage of. With Damon’s improved line of gas and diesel products, I believe I can make a significant impact in the West Coast market.”
Atkinson resides in Eugene, Ore., with his wife Ali, their sons Austin, Hunter, and Chase, and their yellow Labrador “Sadie.” He enjoys camping, fishing and tailgating at the University of Oregon with his family in his 34-foot gas motorhome.
Damon Motor Coach designs and manufactures a full line of affordably priced, quality built Class A motorhomes. Models including the Astoria and Tuscany diesel pushers, Avanti high-mileage diesel and the gas-powered Daybreak, Challenger and Outlaw models. Damon is a subsidiary of Thor Industries Inc., Jackson Center, Ohio.
Ford Motor Co. recently announced that Thor Industries Inc. is the top volume manufacturer of motorhomes built on Ford chassis.
The award came from Ford after calculating F-53 Super Duty chassis Class A motorhome and E-Series Class C cut-away chassis sales from January 2009 through December 2009, according to a news release.
“We are thrilled to win this award. Ford is a great supplier to us and to the overall motorhome market. Throughout the years, the relationship with Ford has continued to grow, and we have been very successful with Ford chassis’ and engines,” commented Bill Fenech, president of Damon Motor Coach and Four Winds International Corp.
Thor’s subsidiaries Four Winds International and Damon Motor Coach offer their gas class A RVs on the reliable Ford F-53 Super Duty chassis. Four Winds offers the Ford’s F-53 chassis on their popular Hurricane and Windsport Motorhomes. The Daybreak, Challenger, and Outlaw models from Damon Motor Coach also offer the Super Duty Class A motorhome chassis. Four Winds Class C products are built on the Econoline Class C cutaway chassis. This include their Four Winds, Chateau, Siesta and Citation brands.
Carlo and Dante Mondavi of Continuum Estate have taken to the open road to release their 2007 Continuum wine in the all new 2010 Avanti 2806 motorhome, which is built on the new Freightliner MC-L front engine diesel chassis.
They have turned the Avanti into their “wine tasting salon on wheels” and have christened it the Continuum Grand Cru-zer, according to a news release. Carlo said, “The upscale interior design of this new Avanti provides the perfect ambience to relax, unwind and enjoy a glass of Continuum. Great wine is about all the elements coming together like this. It’s bringing a small piece of Napa Valley on the road.”
Matt Thompson, Damon Motor Coach vice president and general manager, said, “Teaming up with Continuum Wines to launch our new Avanti powered by Cummins is a perfect match. The beautiful styling and sleek design wraps around the all new Freightliner MC-L chassis powered by Cummins. The new power plant provides a much smoother and unbelievably quiet ride. At 28 feet, this new 2806 model provides as much counter space and interior storage as most 40-foot diesel pushers. Others have tried to copy but none will ever match Avanti’s unique design and luxurious amenities. It is pure luxury on wheels.”
The MC-L chassis, designed with low-profile frame rails, sits lower to the ground which enhances aerodynamics and ride quality. Powered by the Cummins ISB 6.7-liter engine with up to 200 hp and 520 ft-lb. of torque, it provides an excellent balance of power and up to 70% more fuel efficiency than comparable gas engines. Increased dampening in the design of the engine, combined with the double insulated engine cover, restricts road and engine noise creating a more comfortable travel environment.
Some say that seeing is believing but with the 2806 Avanti, driving is believing. Carlo and Dante can attest to its quietness and improved ride. “I have never driven such a comfortable vehicle,” Carlo said. The aerodynamic design of the front cap includes a gigantic one piece windshield that, according to Carlo, its “like sitting in the living room and watching the world pass by on the big screen but static free; it’s so beautiful and wonderfully quiet.”
“Flying these days is not easy for work, let alone with wine and corkscrews. The Avanti RV allows us to travel with our wine safely while enjoying a lifestyle and level of luxury that is unbeatable,” they stated in the release. “There have been numerous events around the country since they started their journey in March, which has helped garner much interest and enthusiasm for the 2007 vintage; now completely sold out. There are many more events on the horizon where Carlo and Dante will tell the Continuum story building excitement for the release of the 2008 vintage next spring.”
Since the start of their Continuum Grand Cru-zing this year the boys have been in Houston at the famed Tony’s, Dallas at the Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, San Antonio at Il Sogno, Tulsa at Lucky’s Restaurant and Los Angeles where the Cru-zer held court at the Mutineer Magazine party in Hollywood. Next month will find them in Rancho Palas Verdes, Calif., for the Trump Golf Wine and Food Festival, while in August Portland, Seattle and the Northwest will welcome them before they hit the Las Vegas strip in mid-September.
Since the release of the 2005 vintage, Continuum has quickly come to be recognized among the finest in Napa Valley.
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AAA says holiday weekend travel will increase this year. You can expect to see more RVs on the road, which industry leaders say is because more banks are lending money and gas prices are lower, according to WSBT-TV, South Bend, Ind.
Ron and Judy Ruff travel about six months each year. Their RV is their home away from home. The Ruff’s have been all over the United States and Canada.
“We were traveling when the gas prices were $4 a gallon and it didn’t stop us,” Ron said.
What they have seen recently on the roadways is the biggest surprise of all.
“It’s amazing how many people still RV,” Ron said.
This isn’t something they’re just seeing locally. Frank and Marty Leland’s RV stopped at the KOA campground in Granger, Ind. They’ve traveled the country since April. In that time, they found they were in good company.
“Fifth wheels, motor homes are very, very common,” Leland said.
AAA projects an increase in Memorial Day weekend travel — despite gas prices being 80 cents higher this year compared to last year. It appears the local RV industry is on the road to recovery, following its share of bumps in the road.
“Employment is up, numbers are up and we’re increasing more as we go,” said Bill Fenech, president and CEO of Damon Motor Coach.
Fenech said production of vehicles on the assembly line has increased 85% to 135%.
“Last year was awful,” Fenech said. “We’re up significantly.”
While sales are up, Fenech is careful to sketch a pretty picture.
“Retail is doing good, not great. We need to make sure retail supports the number of units we’re shipping. We need retail to kick in and continue to be strong,” Fenech said.
The economic downturn was long thought to be the industry’s “nail” in the coffin. Now, it appears those fears may be easing as more and more camp and ride on the road in style, in their RV.