More than 350 people turned out Wednesday morning (Nov. 28) to hear details about Grand Design RV Co., a new RV manufacturer formed by a trio of former Thor Industries Inc. executives that will enter the market with an extended-stay Solitude fifth-wheel brand.
Led by Grand Design President Don Clark and brothers Ron and Bill Fenech — all co-owners in the company — Grand Design will start building RVs in December with two other yet-to-be-named brands scheduled be in production by the end of 2013.
”We are going to be a full-line manufacturer,” said Clark, the former president of Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. ”The very small niches, we are not going to focus on. We want to hit the six major categories that are the bulk of the market.”
Ron Fenech is the former senior president of Thor’s RV Group and Bill Fenech is the former head of Thor Motor Coach (formerly Damon Motor Coach).
All three took turns presenting their vision for the company and the strategy they will employ to a standing-room-only crowd at the Crown Plaza Hotel during the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) 50th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.
”We wanted to make a statement to all of you that we are in this for real, that we are in this for the long term,” said Ron Fenech. ”This is not something to keep us busy a couple days a week in retirement. We are really into this.”
Although the Fenech brothers carry no official title other than ”co-owner,” both said they will be involved in the day-to-day operation of the company but that Clark will be the decision-maker. Grand Design general manager will be Marc Hauser, while Jerry McCarthy serves as vice president of service operations. Both are former Dutchmen executives.
Grand Design has set up shop in a 67-acre complex with 400,000 square feet of production and support facilities near the Indiana Toll Road north of Middlebury, Ind.
”We’ve got our first proto on line,” said Ron Fenech.
Solitude, which will retail in the low- to high-$60,000 range depending on equipment, will feature a 101-inch-wide body, 6-foot 6-inch ceilings, king-size beds, walk-in closets, 40-inch-deep slideouts, solid surface countertops and slam-latch baggage doors.
The retail introduction of Solitude at the Florida RV SuperShow in January will be followed by a mid-priced laminated travel trailer and fifth-wheel series in spring and probably a luxury toy hauler fifth-wheel brand by fall. A luxury fifth-wheel, along with a lightweight travel trailer and an entry-level travel trailers are in the planning stages.
”We are taking it slow,” Bill Fenech said. ”We are going to take our time. We are going to do what the market says. We want to brand the company as much as our individual brands. We want to sign up Grand Design RV Co. dealers. There will be one Grand Design RV dealer in a (specific) marketplace. You won’t have to worry about it being shopped down the street with another (Grand Design) brand.”
After a one-year hiatus and a great deal of speculation over the past year, high-profile RV industry senior managers Don Clark, Ron Fenech and Bill Fenech tell RVBUSINESS.com that the three former Thor Industries Inc. executives are ready to re-enter the RV market.
The three close friends report that they’ll be equal partners in a new travel trailer and fifth-wheel venture in northeastern Elkhart County, Ind., the name of which, along with a lot of other details, are still being kept under wraps. More details on this new venture are anticipated over the next couple of months, as information becomes available.
“We feel that the future looks bright,” they declared in a joint statement, adding that they’re pleased to finally lay to rest the rumors that have been circulating around the industry over the past year.
What is known is that the startup is currently setting up shop in a large 67-acre, 400,000-square-foot manufacturing complex they’ve recently purchased in rural Middlebury, Ind., near the Indiana Toll Road. “We bought this complex with the future in mind,” says Clark. “We have a long-term vision of where we want to take our company and this complex allows us to achieve that vision.”
“We loved what we have accomplished in the past, especially our time together at Keystone RV Co.,” the three note in the joint statement. “However, the market has changed. How we helped build Keystone, and how most of the industry operates today, will be different from how we build our company in terms of branding, clones and ‘sister’ products.”
Plans call for introducing the new company’s first brand in early 2013 for the spring market – not by the Louisville Show, as some in the industry had anticipated. “The show is an important industry event that would have been great to have our product displayed in, but not if it means rushing the product,” said Clark. “We are going to take our time and do this the right way.”
Peter Kinden, former general manager of Stiers RV, Bakersfield, Calif., has been named vice president of sales for Komfort Corp., a towable RV manufacturer based in Clackamas, Ore. In his new position, Kinden will manage all sales, marketing and product development for the Thor Industries Inc. division, according to a letter sent early this week (April 19) to Komfort’s 90 dealers by Thor Group President Ron Fenech.
As part of the transition, former Komfort President John Attilla remains with the company, but he’s stepping down from the top job. Komfort operations are now the direct responsibility of Don Clark, president of Thor’s Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. subsidiary in Goshen, Ind.
“I would like to be open about what we see at Komfort,” Fenech wrote in the dealer letter. “Over the past few years, Komfort has lost its way. We have not been providing our dealers with the competitive products nor the responsive service that will allow us to be the dominant RV brand in the West. And that is going to change.
“The Komfort team has the basics in place to move quickly in getting us going in the right direction,” added Fenech, “and these changes are just the beginning. We at Thor are very committed to the Komfort brand and will be investing to return Komfort to the No. 1 name in the Western states, as it has been in the past.”
Although Clark will not have a Komfort title, Fenech told RVBUSINESS.com that “when appropriate” a new Komfort leader will be appointed who “will continue to report to Don Clark.”
The move comes as a number of companies appear to be positioning for West Coast market share in anticipation of the post-recession era, even though the current state of the marketplace out West continues to be “tough,” said Fenech. “The Northwest is strong, but the Southwest still has its challenges,” he said. “All in all, everything is getting better out West.”
Dutchmen has a manufacturing facility in Burley, Idaho, where the company builds entry-level, wood-and-aluminum travel trailers, while Komfort is located near Portland, Ore. Together, says Fenech, the two plants are well positioned to service the West. “Don understands the western market and will bring a lot of good direction to Komfort,” he added. “And there are efficiencies to be gained between Komfort and Dutchmen, and that will be good for both Dutchmen and Komfort dealers.”
As its restructured management team had promised, Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. unveiled its consolidated and revised product lines – with plenty of fanfare — to a crowd of U.S. and Canadian dealers on Wednesday and Thursday (Oct. 21 and 22) at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds in Goshen, Ind.
Led by Don Clark, the energetic former Keystone senior vice president who moved over to Thor’s Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. division in April, the new Dutchmen team served up pep talks, grilled chicken, rock ‘n roll music and some aggressive, behind-the-scenes sales presentations over the two-day session to some 240 dealer personnel representing more than a hundred dealerships.
It was all part of what Clark called “The Launch of the New Dutchmen.”
The meeting allowed Goshen-based Dutchmen – like a growing number of U.S. RV manufacturers — to exclusively get with its dealers prior to December’s National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., so that they could better focus Louisville Show time on new dealer prospects.
After all was said and done, meanwhile, Dutchmen brought in many of the Goshen company’s 600 employees and their families last night (Oct. 22) for a dinner, kids games and a chance to see some of the “New Dutchmen’s” finished 2010 products.
In front of a dinner crowd Wednesday night, Clark thanked the Dutchmen family – including local employees and dealers from as far as Vancouver, Bristh Columia — for all they’ve accomplished in short order since he succeeded former president Rich Florea in April.
“This open house is officially the unveiling of the new Dutchmen where we’ve invited our dealers from across the nation and Canada to come here and preview our newly — not just reengineered – but reinvented products,” Clark told RVBUSINESS.com. “This is the new Dutchmen. We’ve taken our product lines down from 18 to seven brands. And the reasons we did that? Dealers can no longer take chances on fringe markets that only give them two to three or four percent of what is selling in the marketplace. Dealers, especially in this challenging environment, need to focus on that business that brings in 95% of their revenues. That’s what we’ve done as a company.”
Out of the lineup as a result of the product consolidation were fashionable and rather eye-catching small niche products like the T@B, T@DA, TOPO and EcoLogic. “These were really cool niche products that were probably worth taking a chance on in great times,” said Clark. “And you know what? In some markets, the product was good. In some markets, the product created a lot of attention. That’s not enough in this type of an environment. You’ve got to have something that has sustaining power and hits that meat of the market that’s going to turn for your dealers and make them money. Play time’s over. Dealers are serious about their business.”
By the same token, the seven “mainstream” brands that Dutchmen’s now targeting, all of which have been upgraded for 2010, include Denali, Four Winds, Colorado, Grand Junction, Aerolite, Kodiak and Dutchmen. This array of more conventional products keeps the company within an affordable range, Clark noted, with nothing above the $50,000 price tag of its newly revised flagship Grand Junction.
All in all, Clark added, dealer response has exceeded expectations and things are going well at Dutchmen. “We’re actually increasing our volume,” he said. “Sixty days ago, we hired 50 additional people. We fired up a plant full time, and we’re ramping it up as quickly as we can. And we intend to grow more this spring.”
Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. is hosting dealers from across the U.S. and Canada at its headquarters this week in Goshen, Ind., to unveil its entirely new line of products. The event marks the beginning of what is being called the “New Dutchmen.”
Since taking over as president of Dutchmen in April, Don Clark and his new team have completely overhauled the company’s internal structure as well as product line-up.
“Our product teams have done an incredible job creating the strongest line up of products in the history of our company,” said Clark. “The term “New Dutchmen” represents a reshaped, refocused company that has dialed in our product offering. Our brands are designed to allow dealers to not only compete in a challenging market but dominate each major market segment in the industry.
”They are focused on hitting the meat of the market with the best selling floorplans, innovative features and unbelievable eye appeal. Even though we have added features and enhanced the value of each brand, we have actually lowered the dealer price of most of our brands. We have placed our dealers as well as ourselves in a position to gain serious market share.”
Clark said the new product debut and open house is the first chance for many dealers to see the new products. The company gave a sneak preview of some of the product changes when it introduced the new Grand Junction at Septempber’s Pennsylvania RV and Camping How in Hershey, Pa.
”The response to Grand Junction exceeded our high expectations,” Clark said.
This week, Dutchmen will introduce an all new line-up of Dutchmen, Four Winds, Denali, Aerolite, Kodiak, Colorado and Grand Junction products to its dealers.
According to Clark, RV dealers have been waiting for a company that offers something new and exciting. The support Dutchmen has been getting from its dealers and prospective dealers has been almost overwhelming.
The Dutchmen “New Product Preview and Open House” runs through the end of the week.
New models will also be on display at the Dutchmen offices until mid-November, then at the 47th National RV Trade Show, Dec. 1-3, in Louisville, Ky. Dealers interested in seeing the new models between now and the Louisville Show may contact Dutchmen for an appointment 574-537-0600.
Dutchmen RV is a division of Thor Industries Inc, producing several brands of towable recreational vehicles that are sold throughout the United States and Canada. Dutchmen RV brands include the Denali, Four Winds, Colorado, Grand Junction, Aerolite, Kodiak and Dutchmen brands.
Thor Industries Inc. announced today (April 1) that Don Clark, formerly vice president of sales for Keystone RV Inc., has been appointed president of Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., reporting to Ron Fenech, president and CEO of Keystone. Rich Florea, previously president of Dutchmen, resigned to pursue other opportunities and will be a consultant to Thor.
“Dutchmen will remain an independent company and will continue to develop unique Dutchmen-branded products to serve its dealer network, with products manufactured in Dutchmen facilities. This new organizational structure promises to accelerate Dutchmen’s opportunity in the marketplace,” said Dicky Riegel, Thor COO.
Keystone and Dutchmen are based in Goshen, Ind.
Thor is the world’s largest manufacturer of recreation vehicles and a major builder of commercial buses