Dutchmen Debuts 1st Indiana-Built Komfort

January 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

From Left To Right Rob Groover, General Manager  - Komfort and Infinity Brands of Dutchmen RV Loren Baidas – President General RV Center Ken Walters – General RV Center Tim Nicholson – GM General RV Center Akron OH Kevin Finn – Product Manager - Komfort and Infinity Brands of Dutchmen RV

From left are Rob Groover, general manager of Komfort and Infinity brands of Dutchmen RV; Loren Baidas, president of General RV Center; Ken Walters of General RV Center; Tim Nicholson, general manager of General RV Center, Akron, Ohio; and Kevin Finn, product manager of Komfort and Infinity brands.

Rob Groover, general manager of Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc.’s Komfort and Infinity divisions, announced today (Jan. 19) that General RV Center of Akron, Ohio, received delivery of the first Komfort fifth-wheel produced in Indiana.

The unit arrived earlier this month and was debuted at the recent Cleveland RV show.

According to Groover, “We are extremely excited to welcome General RV to the Komfort dealer group. General RV Center is one of the nation’s premier RV dealerships. We are honored to be able to present the Komfort line to their generations of loyal customers.”

Loren Baidas, president of General RV Center, said, “After reviewing the all new Komfort travel trailer and fifth-wheel product at the Louisville RV show, we were so confident that Dutchmen nailed it with Komfort, we added the line at all 10 of our dealerships. We were impressed with the contemporary design of the product, the beautiful decors and innovative floor plans. There is nothing like it in the marketplace. The product is priced right and will be a terrific addition to the product lines we represent.”

Baidas added, “We took our first 38-foot bunk house unit to the Cleveland show and were very pleased with response from customers. We sold 10 coaches with only one floorplan in the show. We knew the Komfort brand was going to do well, but these results exceeded our expectations.”

According to Groover, “The Komfort name is known for quality, innovation, and customer service. We are proud to play a role in growing this highly respected brand name. We look forward to serving the current Komfort dealers and new dealers across North America.

Dutchmen RV is a division of Thor industries. Dutchmen RV produces several brands of towable recreational vehicles that are sold throughout the United States and Canada. Dutchmen RV brands include the Denali, Komfort, Grand Junction, Aspen Trail, Kodiak, Voltage, Rubicon, Aerolite, Coleman and Dutchmen brands. For more information on Dutchmen RV and its brands visit or 574-537-0600.

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RV Dealers/Manufacturers Bullish on 2011

January 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s going to be a good year for recreational vehicle sales, say RV dealers and manufacturers and the RV trade organization.

“We had an excellent year in RV sales in 2010. We feel that 2011 is going to be the best year we have ever seen in the RV industry,” Gary Miller, owner of Wana RV in Shipshewana, Ind., told The Goshen (Ind.) News.

Miller’s expectations are for his growing RV sales business. As a whole, the industry is expecting an increase of 3.9%. That number is based on a consumer survey by Richard Curtain of the University of Michigan. Curtain has been an analyst from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) for many years.

After three years of declines, the RV industry rebounded in 2010 with a 47.7% gain in shipments. As of November, the year’s total shipments reached 224,000 units.

This month, retail shows are beginning across the country and manufacturers and dealers are trying to gauge if Curtain’s prediction for another year of gains will come true.

“… If I can go by my two days of sales, we are up compared to last year,” said Joe Weider, operations manager for General RV Center in North Canton, Ohio. Weider’s sales staff was at the RV show in Cleveland, the biggest indoor sales event in the country. “My crystal ball says we should have a pretty good year.”

Weider said his sales center is the largest motorhome dealership in Ohio and also sells fifth-wheels and travel trailers. They have added some new manufacturers and products this year. But Weider said the sales year is too young to gauge if there will be any trends this year.

Phil Sarvari, executive vice president of Gulf Stream Coach Inc. in Nappanee, Ind., said the year’s sales will depend on consumers’s attitudes.

“As long as people feel good and they know they are going to have jobs, they will be willing to spend,” Sarvari said.

Americans have embraced RVs, he said, and want to continue camping and using that outdoor experience to bond with their family and friends. “It is a way of life. It is relaxing. They support each other, they tell stories and play games. You know, that is important,” Sarvari said.

At Jayco Inc. in Middlebury, the storage lots have many newly made units ready to be shipped.

“We’ve garnered a lot of momentum with the introduction of new products,” said Jim Jacobs, a vice president at Jayco.

Jacobs said the company has added new products and new price points to generate business. “That is what is going to carry our momentum. You have to be innovative to survive in this industry,” he said.

Motorhome sales dipped drastically when the recession began, and since it has ended the RV segment has continued to struggle. In 2010, Class A luxury motorcoaches averaged around 1,000 units shipped each month. The Class C motorhomes averaged even less.

But if manufacturers offer a quality product, Jacobs said there are buyers wanting them.

“In the Class A line, we have been extremely happy with the performance of the Entegra line,” Jacobs said. “Not only from the response from the dealer network, but the response from the consumer network. There are a lot of consumers out there still buying high-end diesel products. That customer is still there.”

To the east of Jayco’s Middlebury complex, Miller is getting ready for the upcoming RV show at the Century Center in South Bend. He plans to take 24 units and his son Justin will help with sales.

Miller has added units from Forest River Inc.’s Rockwood line made in Millersburg. He also has Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. and CrossRoads RV products.

He expects a good show in South Bend as financing is more available for buyers this year.

“As far as retail financing RVs, it definitely has gotten better than it was a year ago,” Miller said. But financing has changed. He said two years ago buyers could make a purchase without a down payment. Now a 10% down payment is standard practice.

“It really is a good thing because people will pay that 10% so when they are ready to sell it or trade it in they are not upside down on the unit. They don’t feel like they are taking such a loss,” Miller said.

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Dutchmen Releases Lakewood Destination TT

December 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Lakewood destination travel trailer by Dutchmen

Lakewood destination travel trailer by Dutchmen

Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. has announced the introduction of the Lakewood destination travel trailer. The Lakewood brand was introduced to dealers at the recent National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.

Lakewood will offer innovative models featuring a 102-inch wide body with 8-foot interior ceiling heights. According to a news release from Steve Paul, vice president and general manager of Dutchmen RV, “Lakewood is sure to be a hit with destination trailer customers. We’ve combined an upgraded residential furniture package with stunning cherry decors and a long list of standard catering to the needs of the destination trailer customer.”

Paul added, “Lakewood features bay windows with a residential soffit, removable hitch, and comes standard with 15,000 BTU ducted A/C, a 16-gallon gas/electric DSI water heater and six stabilizer jacks. The interior features a hide-a-bed residential sofa, washer/dryer prep, a 17-cubic-foot 110V refrigerator with ice maker and a four-burner, free-standing oven with range. Lakewood is configured for permanent site use with a residential toilet and PVC waste water lines. For customers who need it, we offer a traditional RV fresh and waste water system option.”

“The initial response from dealers at Louisville was terrific. Lakewood had a great show and we received a significant amount of orders for the new product line.” said Paul.

For more information on Lakewood and dealership opportunities, contact Dutchmen sales at (574) 537-0600 or visit

Dutchmen RV is a division of Thor industries Inc. Dutchmen RV produces several brands of towable recreational vehicles that are sold throughout the United States and Canada. Dutchmen RV brands include the Denali, Komfort, Grand Junction, Aspen Trail, Kodiak, Voltage, Rubicon, Aerolite, Coleman and Dutchmen brands.

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RVB Best of Show: TMC’s A.C.E. Motorhome

December 10, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Thor Motor Coach A.C.E. on display in Louisville.

Thor Motor Coach A.C.E. on display in Louisville.

There were plenty of innovative new RVs on display at RVIA’s 48th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., and that’s no surprise because tough economic times tend to bring out the best in many companies as they turn up the R&D focus to better compete for market share in a tight market.

Among the most eye-catching were Evergreen Recreational Vehicles LLC’s starkly different Element travel trailer, Fleetwood RV Inc.’s innovative rear-slide Tioga and Jamboree Class C, Monaco RV LLC’s futuristic Holiday Rambler Trip Class A, Earthbound RV’s chic new travel trailer, Airstream Inc.’s classy Eddie Bauer Edition Airstream, Open Range RV Inc.’s patio-equipped fifth-wheel, Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc.’s new high-end Voltage toyhauler and Winnebago Industries Inc.’s redesigned Winnebago Tour/Itasca Ellipse Class A.

But the RVBusiness staff’s unanimous choice for “Best of Show” was Thor Motor Coach’s A.C.E. Class A motorhome.

“In our view, the A.C.E. – an acronym for “Class A & C Evolution” – is a prime example of a post-recessionary motorhome that addresses the changing tastes – and wallets – of American consumers yet retains in the process a degree of style, dignity and even a touch of class,” stated RVBusiness Publisher Sherman Goldenberg.

Bottom line, the A.C.E., designed on a 16,000-pound GVWR, gas-fueled Ford chassis to combine the best attributes of Class A and C motorhomes, is a sharp-looking, kid-friendly, entry-level coach with full body paint, electric jacks, rear-view camera, kitchen slides, optimal storage, pet-friendly accoutrements and an electric drop-down cockpit bed that retails for under $80,000.

“You’ll see show specials for $69,995,” said Thor Motor Coach President and CEO Bill Fenech, “which will be a great deal for the customer, and the dealer should be very happy with his margin on that. We want our dealers to make money, but we want our customers to be able to get into the coach. They are going to get into it for not much more than a Class C price point.”

Imagine that?

A.C.E. interior

A.C.E. interior

“The ACE is a real neat project,” added Fenech. “It started out as an entry-level motorhome. We wanted to get into that price segment even more than we were. We wanted to be aggressive. So, instead of just coming out with a price piece that is just another me-too motorhome, we looked at the market a little differently. We looked at the Class A and Class C markets, and there are some advantages to both products for the buyer. We looked at the two, hence the name A.C.E. – A & C Evolution.”

Floorplan, eye appeal and price are the key ingredients that appeal to the retail buyers, said Fenech, and the A.C.E. was designed with those three priorities in mind.

Consistent with a market that in some cases has consumers looking for smaller vehicles, the A.C.E. is a relatively short 29 feet, 7 inches, in length – shorter than some Class C motorhomes – yet it offers 84-inch headroom.

The cockpit tends to appeal to more of a Class C buyer, with a moderate exterior eyebrow in a front cap that houses an overhead front bunk and smaller windshield with an integrated visor that, according to Fenech, limits distracting direct sunlight and heat. “Women are saying that this doesn’t feel as overwhelming as a big bus,” says Fenech.

In addition, drivers can check out the coach’s passenger side with a uniquely placed floor line window while a large conversation mirror above the driver’s seat affords a good view of the living space.

Storage capacities, on the other hand, lean more toward the traditional Class A, with exterior “mega-storage” including a relatively huge rear curb-side compartment.

Major passenger-side basement storage compartments are located under the patio awning, while noisy heat-generating appliances are located on the driver’s side of the coach away from the activities. Campsite hookups are situated on the driver’s side rear of the coach.

Incorporated in the entry step is a storage drawer and toolbox for keeping tools, gloves and other RV gear without having to track through the coach, and there’s a broom and coat closet at the entry door in addition to a “Motorhome Mud Room” at the main entrance door for dirty shoes and gear.

In the final analysis, however, the fact that the A.C.E. is inordinately pet-friendly – with an “integrated tiedown” for dogs outside plus an inside “Kibble Station” for feeding pets – was the icing on the cake in opting to name Thor’s A.C.E. “Best of Show.”

“We tried to do a price leader coach before,” added Fenech, “but we could never get it right. Everything we put in this coach, we did for a reason. Every single dollar we spent or dollar we took out, we did it for a reason.”

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AP: Smaller Trailers Lead Industry Rebound

December 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

American families are ready to hitch up their trailers and tow the RV industry out of its worst stretch in nearly two decades, the Associated Press reported.

The industry was driven into the ditch last year by the recession. Sales plunged, plants closed and thousands of jobs were cut as orders for recreational vehicles dropped to their worse level since 1991.

Now, RV makers such as Winnebago Industries Inc. are starting to turn profits and have begun to hire. And dealers are ordering more RVs for their showrooms.

This year, shipments of RVs ranging from entry-level pop-ups to spacious motorhomes are expected to hit their highest level since 2007, when the economic downturn began.

The upswing is a sign that somewhat looser credit, stable fuel prices and improved consumer confidence are inspiring Americans to buy more RVs.

“Things are starting to look up,” says Tim O’Brien, president of an RV dealership in Lapeer, Mich., where sales are up 55% from a year ago. “People are ready to get out from underneath the frugality of the last couple of years and go out and have some fun and recreation,” he says.

Typical RV buyers are people between 35 and 54 with disposable income. They’re starting to buy again, say industry leaders and dealers who convened at a trade show in Louisville this week. But a growing share of RV sales come from families choosing less expensive towable RVs, including folding camping trailers, or pop-ups. Those towables are smaller and cost a fraction of the price of amenity-filled motor homes favored by older travelers.

Before the recession hit, towables accounted for eight out of every 10 new RV shipments. Now they make up about nine out of 10 RVs shipped to dealers.

Towables, attached to pickups or hitched to the back of another vehicle, cost between $4,000 and $100,000, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). Stand-alone motorhomes can start at about $41,000 for van-like RVs, according to the industry group, while spacious, bus-like vehicles can run as much as $400,000 for top-of-the-line models. And that’s before the cost of gas. Big RVs can get as little as 8 mpg.

Bob Olson, CEO of RV manufacturer Winnebago Industries Inc., says a trend of families buying cheaper towables is encouraging. “They have to start somewhere. And one thing about this lifestyle, you get hooked on it and you want to upgrade.”

Winnebago recently signaled its intention to move back into the towables by signing a letter of intent to buy SunnyBrook RV, which makes those type of RVs. Winnebago last built travel trailers in 1983.

The industry is looking for a recovery across all RV models.

It expects shipments from manufacturers to dealers to hit 236,700 in 2010, up 43% from last year’s nearly 20-year low of 165,700. Through October, shipments have risen nearly 53% from the same period in 2009, according to RVIA. In 2011, shipments are forecast to reach 246,000.

Higher shipments mean dealers expect retail sales to rise. While the two don’t always correlate, there are signs that sales will, in fact, grow in the mid-single digits in 2011 “with a bias toward cheaper units,” says Bret Jordan, who follows RV companies for Avondale Partners.

“It correlates pretty well with consumer confidence and economic improvement,” he says.

Profits are returning to the industry. Winnebago, which closed two plants during the recession, posted net income of $4.9 million in the fourth quarter ending Aug. 28, compared with a loss of $50.2 million a year earlier. That marked its second straight profitable quarter. Revenue more than doubled to $449.5 million for its full fiscal year.

The results follow the company’s biggest loss of $78.8 million in fiscal 2009. Its profit peaked at $70.6 million in fiscal 2004.

Jobs are also starting to come back. Jayco, which makes towables and motor homes, has hired about 500 more workers this year. Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., a division of Thor Industries Inc. and a maker of towables, has nearly doubled its work force from about 400 during the worst of the recession to about 770 now. Winnebago shed about half its work force, roughly 1,670 workers, but has since added back about 400 employees.

The recovery is becoming evident at Kevin Stone’s RV dealership in Berlin, N.J. Stone had to offer discounts to entice people to his lot in 2008 and 2009. But his dealership just had its best sales year ending in October, he says.

“It’s just pent up demand,” Stone says. Customers don’t feel things are going to get any worse than they’ve been, he says.

Still, this year’s pace of shipments remains far below the 2006 level of 390,560 — the high-water mark for a quarter century.

And speed bumps remain. Many consumers remain wary of big-ticket purchases and many RV owners have delayed trading in older models for bigger ones. Credit isn’t as nearly free flowing as in pre-recessionary times.

Still, a recovery seems to be taking hold.

Winnebago’s Olson, who became CEO just before the RV industry tanked in 2008, says “It’s kind of nice to sit here and see that things are improving.”

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Dutchmen Debuts Aspen Trail at RVIA Show

November 19, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Aspen Trail by Dutchmen

Aspen Trail by Dutchmen

Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. has announced it will introduce the Aspen Trail line of travel trailers at the 48th Annual National RV Trade Show Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 in Louisville, Ky.

Aspen Trail is an entirely new line of conventional construction travel trailers and will eventually include 15 floorplans ranging from 19 feet to 38 feet feet and will retail between $13,990 and $29,990, according to a news release. The product line is available from Dutchmen RV’s Indiana and West Coast production facilities.

According to Ryan Thwaits, product manager for Dutchmen RV, “Aspen Trail has a few twists to it that are new to the ‘stick and tin’ market. It includes innovative features at a terrific value. Aspen Trail has an aerodynamic fiberglass front, heated and enclosed underbelly, mega pass through storage, convertible dinettes, 60-inch-by-80-inch beds and full extension roller-bearing drawer guides just to name a few. Plus our contemporary interior décor is absolutely stunning. The dealers love the cherry glazed cabinets, wood plank ‘beau-flor’ flooring and the radius cabinetry.”

Thwaits added, “Dealers have been begging for an entry-level piece that has the look and features of products with a significantly higher price tag. We have achieved this with Aspen Trail and hit a price point that will lead the market.”

The Aspen Trail product line as can be seen at the Dutchmen display, South Wing Booth 1101 at the show. For more information contact the Aspen Trail sales team at (574) 537-0600.

Dutchmen RV is a division of Thor industries Inc. Dutchmen RV produces several brands of towable recreational vehicles that are sold throughout the United States and Canada. Dutchmen RV brands include the Denali, Infinity, Grand Junction, Aerolite, Kodiak, Voltage, Rubicon, Aspen Trail, Aerolite and Dutchmen brands. For more information on Dutchmen RV and its brands visit

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Dutchmen Adds Infinity Line to Brand Lineup

November 10, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Dutchmen Infinity fifth-wheel

Dutchmen Infinity fifth-wheel

Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., Goshen, Ind., has added the Infinity — a full-profile fifth-wheel and travel trailer series — to its brand lineup. ”The interior has a more contemporary, residential feel, but not too far over the edge,” said Rob Groover, general manager of Dutchmen’s Grand Junction and Infinity divisions. The Infinity will be available in 10 travel trailer and four fifth-wheel floorplans. Dutchmen will introduce additional layouts by early spring. Featuring platinum exteriors and front caps, travel trailer floorplans have crowned roofs, while the upper decks on the fifth-wheels also are crowned. Amenities include wood blinds with wrought iron window treatments, solid-surface countertops, dark maple cabinets and sculptured carpet throughout. Travel trailer MSRPs start in the upper $20,000s; fifth-wheels in the low $40,000s.

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Nate Goldenberg Promoted at Dutchmen Mfg.

November 5, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Nate Goldenberg

Nate Goldenberg

Don Clark, president of Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., today (Nov. 5) announced that Nate Goldenberg has been promoted to general manager for the company’s Denali, Voltage and Rubicon division. Goldenberg previous held the position of product manager for the division.

“Over the past year, Nate has shown a tremendous amount of leadership within our company,” Clark stated in a news release. “He has made huge strides with our Denali laminated mid-profile fifth-wheel and travel trailer product lines and as a result, we have seen a significant increase in market share for the brand.”

In addition to his responsibilities with the Denali line, Goldenberg has been working to develop Dutchmen’s all new toy hauler product lines — the Voltage luxury fifth-wheel and the Rubicon travel trailers. According to Clark, they have been the most successful product launches the company has ever had. “Both products have been enthusiastically received by dealers and retail customers and are already becoming major factors in the toy hauler segment,” he added.

Denali, Voltage and Rubicon will be featured in Dutchmen’s display at the 48th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 30 through Dec. 2. The display is located in the South Wing Booth 1101.

Dutchmen RV is a division of Thor industries. Dutchmen RV produces several brands of towable recreational vehicles that are sold throughout the United States and Canada. Dutchmen RV brands include the Denali, Four Winds, Grand Junction, Aerolite, Kodiak, Voltage, Rubicon and Dutchmen brands. Goldenberg can be reached at Dutchmen by phone at (574) 537-0600 and email at More information on the Denali, Voltage and Rubicon product lines can be found on

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Dutchmen Unveils Rubicon at Pomona Show

October 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Dutchmen Rubicon toy hauler

Dutchmen Rubicon toy hauler

Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. introduced the Rubicon line of toy haulers at the California RV show underway this week in Pomona, Calif.

The Rubicon is a 102-inch conventional construction toy hauler that is available from Dutchmen RV’s Indiana and West Coast production facilities, according to a news release.

Rubicon is an entirely new line of travel trailer toy haulers and will include five floorplans ranging from 19 feet to 31 feet in length and will retail between $16,000 and $32,000.

According to Nate Goldenberg, product manager for Dutchmen RV, “We introduced the Rubicon two weeks ago to dealers at the RVDA convention in Las Vegas. The response was phenomenal. We signed over 20 new dealers for the product at the show.”

Goldenberg added, “Rubicon includes innovative features at a terrific value. In addition to the 102-inch wide body design, Rubicon has a 86-gallon fresh water tank for dry camping, enclosed tanks and gate valves, an onboard 30-gallon fuel station, dove-tail cargo floor and a bottom hinged ramp door. Plus our interior décor is absolutely beautiful. The dealers love the maple shaker-style cabinets, custom furniture, halogen interior lighting and the huge windows.”

Jeff Zemp of Discount RV, Banning, Calif., is one of the first dealers to sign on with Rubicon. Discount RV is the Rubicon dealer at the California show this week. According to Zemp, “We are very impressed with the design of the Rubicon. The features and look are right-on. We are very excited that it will be built in the West, which will save our customers the added freight expense of shipping product out of Indiana. We believe Rubicon is going to be very successful at our dealerships and are expecting to do very well with the product at the show.”

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Dutchmen RV Expands Social Media Presence

October 19, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. is now on Twitter, Face Book and You Tube.

The social media sites offer readers breaking company news, product updates press releases and more, according to a news release.

According to Joe Hosinski, director of marketing for Dutchmen, “In addition to our new websites, social media sites like Twitter, Face Book and You Tube give us another avenue to deliver our message to our dealers, retail customers and prospective customers. We are pleased with the results we are getting from these sites. They have generated a significant amount of sales leads for our dealers. Our dealers are placing links of our product video from the You Tube site to help generate additional web traffic for their dealerships.”

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Dutchmen Names New Regional Sales Manager

October 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Dwayne Kazmierczak

Dwayne Kazmierczak

Rob Groover, general manager of the Grand Junction division of Dutchmen Manufactruing Inc., announced today (Oct. 6) the addition of Dwayne Kazmierczak to its sales team. Kazmierczak will be in charge of the Northeastern Region for the brands, according to a news release.

Kazmierczak is a twenty 25-year veteran of the RV industry, holding positions in sales and product development.

According to Groover, “Dwayne’s experience in the industry will prove to be invaluable to our company. His product knowledge, professionalism and relationships with his dealers will help continue to make Grand Junction a major force in the marketplace.”

According to Kazmierczak, “I very am excited to be part of the Grand Junction team. The product line is exceptional. I am looking forward to helping our dealers succeed with the product. Plus, I am eager to show prospective customers the benefits of being a Grand Junction dealer.”

Kazmierczak, his wife, Christine, and two daughters reside in Granger, Ind. Kazmierczak’s office is in Goshen at Dutchmen RV corporate offices.

Kazmierczak can be reached by phone at (574) 975-0653 or by e-mailing at More information on the Grand Junction and Colorado brands can be found at

Dutchmen RV is a division of Thor industries Inc. Dutchmen RV produces several brands of towable recreational vehicles that are sold throughout the United States and Canada. Dutchmen RV brands include the Denali, Four Winds, Grand Junction, Aerolite, Kodiak, Voltage, Rubicon and Dutchmen brands.

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Dealer Open Houses: A Good Week in Elkhart

October 1, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

Party scene this week at Forest River Inc. RV dealer open house

Party scene this week at Forest River Inc. RV open house

As the dust settles from the first annual Open House Week in and around Elkhart County, Ind., the region’s recreational vehicle manufacturers are beginning to assess the impact of what they experienced this week as at least 15 RV builders followed the lead of Elkhart-based Forest River Inc. in opening their doors to thousands of North American RV dealer personnel.

What makes it so unique and novel is that few of these companies worked together in orchestrating these open houses. No chamber of commerce or economic development agency called industry players to the table and proposed that they all, in concert, host dealers the week of Sept. 27-Oct.1.

This, instead, was more of a spontaneous action by RV builders intent on capturing the attention of North American RV retailers in the fall, even in some cases if it means pre-empting to an extent the industry’s traditional “Louisville Show,” the 48th Annual National RV Trade Show slated for Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in Louisville.

Again, Forest River started it all in 2008 when the economic atmosphere wasn’t all that good and the Berkshire Hathaway unit’s senior management decided to do something to build dealers’ spirits. Their answer was a big product show on the grounds of the company’s corporate headquarters on the west side of Elkhart.

“The recession led us to this because of our financial strength, and, being a strong company, we wanted to show the dealers that we thought that they needed a boost because a lot of the morale was weak that year,” recalls Forest River National Sales Manager Jeff Babcock. “We wanted to build the dealers’ confidence that, of course, Forest River’s going to be here and have them come down here, as we said, and stroll through the acres of product and have a good time on us.

“And I think we’ve got a pretty good reputation for taking care of dealers down here,” Babcock added. “We thought that, hey, it would be a good thank you to the dealers to throw something here. And, you know, we had a good turnout that year, and every year it continues to grow and grow and grow.”

The difference this year is that other manufacturers decided to piggyback on Forest River’s event with their own open houses on the same week, and the dealers came in droves, flooding area hotels, restaurants and bars starting on Monday. The action built up on Tuesday and peaked for the most part on Wednesday evening when hundreds of dealers converged on two sites in particular.

The social hour hot spots were rather predictable, as three Thor Industries Inc. divisions, Keystone RV Co. Inc., Thor Motor Coach and Breckenridge, worked together to host several hundred dealers at a happy hour gathering in a tent outside the RV/MH Hall of Fame on Elkhart’s east side. Some estimated the crowd at 650.

On the opposite side of town, Forest River presided over a blowout party so big – they say it drew in excess of 3,000 dealer personnel – that the company’s caterers were hard pressed to keep up. The party tent, which also featured live music like Thor’s, was positioned amid 500 display units.

From all we can tell, most all of the parties involved this week seemed to come away with a good taste in their mouths for the entire sequence of events. The general consensus was that, whatever occurred here in Elkhart this week, it was all “plus business.” And that goes for some of the smaller companies like Open Range RV, Evergreen Recreational Vehicles, Dynamax Corp. and Carriage Inc. for whom a story was posted earlier this week.

Manufacturers say that Open House Week did a good job of servicing an industry that is still finding its equilibrium on the heels of a global recession.

Doug Gaeddert

Doug Gaeddert

“It was fantastic,” said Doug Gaeddert, general manager of several Forest River divisions and first vice chairman of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), sponsor of the annual Louisville Show. “Each year (the open house) gets better, and anybody who’s anybody in the RV business was pretty much in town this week. And, absolutely, it will be a record-breaking deal that will take us right on through into the first part of the year. It’s been fantastic.”

Pete Liegl

Pete Liegl

Gaeddert says everyone benefitted from the added participation of other companies. “I think it has benefitted the local community,” he said. “It’s obviously benefitted Forest River greatly and all the companies who have tagged on. I don’t know if there’s anybody left who didn’t do one this year. But if there are, I hope they do one next year.”

Forest River President and CEO Pete Liegl says the towable and motorized manufacturer drew in excess of 800 U.S. and Canadian dealerships and ultimately hosted 400 more people had pre-registered for the event, many of whom were bonafide buyers.

He says it’s all a general reflection of the industry’s surprising strength at this point in time. “Unquestionably,” said Liegl, “things have been good this year, and I think that things are going to be damn good next year. I really do.”

So, plan on Forest River following suit next year. “We’re running out of land,” said Liegl. “In fact, we added 20 acres next door that we didn’t have last year for extra parking. Heck, we can close down the streets next year, but I don’t know if we can outdo the enthusiasm of the dealers this year. I really don’t. Dealers are positive, happy, not only with us, but with everything. They’ve all had a pretty good year. They’ve survived 2009, and they’re operating much more like true businessmen, which is good, and I believe next year’s going to be even better. I really do.”

The general tenor of comments was much the same among the Thor companies that joined forces over at the Hall of Fame.

Bill Fenech

Bill Fenech

“It’s a good thing, a great thing for our dealers from all over the continent and overseas, and it’s a great thing for us as manufacturers,” Bill Fenech, president of Thor Motor Coach, told “Dealers got to see a bunch of new products in a casual, relaxed environment. I can’t tell you how many dealers are saying ‘this is a great thing you’re doing for the industry.’”

Bob Martin

Bob Martin

“The venue here brings a whole different atmosphere,” noted Matt Thompson, vice president and general manager of Thor Motor Coach’s diesel brands. “And I think the dealers really appreciate it, and we’ve been able to really relax, sit down, spend a lot more quality time together with individual dealers and really rekindle some old relationships and build some new ones. It’s really unlike anything I’ve seen in the last ten years that I’ve been in this business.”

“For us, it was phenomenal,” Keystone President Bob Martin told “It’s our first time doing it, and we’re very excited. We had great attendance.”

In anticipation of Open House Week, Martin said, Keystone moved some 2011 product changes forward on the calendar and had plenty for dealers to see. Fact is, Martin noted, September may be a better time frame for new model introductions rather than November or December when the Louisville Show is held – at least for some dealers and some products.

Thus, open house week could be playing a role in changing – to an extent – the industry’s habits. “It is,” said Martin. “Dealers are excited. They think it’s a good time of the year to come in and see product – a good time of the year to make buying decisions because they can buy new current product for the fall so they’re ready for spring show season. Everybody’s asked, ‘how does this affect Louisville?’ We don’t know yet. I mean, we’ll still have new products at Louisville and a reason to come to Louisville as well.

“Overall, though, it was very positive. Many dealers came through. They loved the product and the venue. You know, having it at the Hall of Fame is a draw. Many of the dealers actually haven’t been to the Hall of Fame, So, with that, it’s made the complete package with Keystone, Thor Motorized and Breckenridge. It’s been a very good venue for us.”

Indeed, the open house – a low-budget approach to manufacturer-dealer relations that has been used for years by individual companies — was a topic of choice over drinks at more than one local lounge as people began to analyze where all of this might lead.

Many in the industry have long treasured the fact that the recreational vehicle business still has a strong, single-site national show at which an entire spectrum of companies can participate, including component and service suppliers, aftermarket distributors, software vendors, finance companies, etc.

These open houses certainly aren’t cogent supplier venues, although a few suppliers did set up displays at a couple open houses. And their absence, most agree, would be a real problem if open house week ever gained an edge over Louisville.

Other concerns? How about the weather? The elements cooperated this past week; the weather was beautiful. But what if it wasn’t? With so many companies operating with outside venues, with tents in a few cases being the only shelter other than nearby factories and the insides of display units, the entire sequence of events was completely vulnerable to the elements. And everyone knows it.

As for expenses? While this whole phenomenon is sort of a low-budget sales tactic, it’s not all that cheap of an approach for the key manufacturers who covered dealers’ lodging, shuttle service and entertainment while in town.

And what about RVIA, the national trade association that depends so heavily on revenues from the Louisville Show to balance its annual budget? Louisville, loyalists point out, helps fund standards programs, political lobbying, public relations initiatives and so forth. What would become of the association and all of its critical services it if the wheels would ever come off the Louisville Show?

RVIA, for its part, is standing by and observing the whole scenario, cognizant, as RVIA President Richard Coon pointed out in a Monday (Sept. 27) statement, that “there continues to be strong, widespread industry support” for the Louisville Show.

“This year,” wrote Coon, “we will have 71 manufacturers and 230 suppliers displaying the latest RVs and products across more than 760,000 square feet of exhibit space. That is a substantial increase over the 604,000 feet of space used last year. Additionally, my colleagues at the manufacturing companies holding these events in Elkhart have assured me that the National RV Trade Show remains an integral part of their plans this year and moving forward.”

That said, few would argue that this past week’s activities around Elkhart County could be a harbinger of some eventual changes for the industry and, ultimately, for RVIA and the Louisville Show.

How much change remains to be seen.

“Well I think it’s changing the industry’s habits pretty greatly,” said Gaeddert. “As to the fate of the Louisville Show, which I know is a little bit of a question on everybody’s mind, I don’t think it threatens the Louisville Show. (But it’s) probably a little incentive for the Louisville Show to become a little more creative, raise the value of that product even further.

“Obviously,” he added, “I’m involved in RVIA, and I think it’ll push RVIA to increase the value of the Louisville Show and look at some issues – maybe timing – with respect to the value of that product. This is a competitive world, and I don’t care if you’re an association, a manufacturer, a publisher, if you don’t improve the value of your product continuously, somebody else will.”

“Louisville is a great show and it has its place,” noted Fenech. But he said that timing is a key issue because dealers who wait to buy at Louisville usually can’t get product in time for their key early retail shows – often not until February or March. In a perfect world where both the open houses and Louisville prevail, he suggests, dealers can do both – buy in September and December.

“Consider this a sneak peak at the Louisville Show,” adds Thompson, noting that his Thor division will be bringing significant new product to Louisville, including the company’s biggest unveiling of the year — a Class A that will be “one of a kind in the industry.”

“I think that dealers are taking more time in choosing the brands and the companies they do business with,” said Don Clark, president of Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., a Thor division that set up separately on the north side of Elkhart in a vacant boat manufacturing plant. “And having an Elkhart open house will give them an opportunity to meet with the manufacturer and find out not only if the product is a good fit, but if the company and the people are a good fit for their businesses.”

Dealers with whom chatted in Elkhart generally viewed the open houses as a plus. “You can see product in a relaxed atmosphere,” said Doug O’Banion, president of Motor Home Specialist, Alvarado, Texas, a key Monaco dealer and one of Texas’s largest RV retailers. “It’s a great idea for the manufacturers and the dealers to come and see what they have to offer. If we see something we don’t have, we’ll order it.”

O’Banion, on the other hand, doesn’t see the open houses as a viable replacement for the Louisville Show. “As a dealer,” he said, “you will see at Louisville what the other manufacturers have. You have to go to Louisville.”

Jeannie Haught, co-owner of Northtown Motor Home in Rockford, Mich., also sees a lot of value in Louisville and suspects that the open house impact will be minimal. “This is a product show,” she said of this past week’s events. “Louisville is where you go to see what your competitors are carrying. This should not hurt the Louisville Show.”

But Roger Smith, owner of Smith Trailer Sales in Monroe, Ind., thinks this latest open house twist could make the Louisville Show obsolete. “I think we can do away with Louisville,” he said. “I saw more here than in Louisville. That’s the disappointment (vs. the National RV Trade Show).”

Based on what they saw and experienced this past week in Elkhart, meanwhile, Robb Cusack, Rod Roy and David Epp of Fraserway RV’s seven-store Canadian operations feel they may have seen a glimpse of the future. The trio, who visited Gulf Stream Coach Inc., R-Vision, Starcraft RV, Evergreen and Thor events, among others, think this whole open house concept is going to get legs in the future.

“I feel this is the new Louisville,” said Cusack, who runs the company’s Halifax store. “This is where dealers are going to come and see what’s new for the following year for product. I mean, it’s very exciting to be here. The weather’s awesome. And I’ll tell you what: The manufacturers have gone way over the top. There’s entertainment, food – I mean we didn’t buy one meal in four days. It’s amazing.”

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Niche Players Appreciate Dealer Open Houses

September 29, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

RV dealers listen to a band performing during an open house sponsored by Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc.

RV dealers listen to a band performing during an open house sponsored by Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc.

Warm, sunny weather this week is greeting thousands of RV dealer personnel from the U.S. and Canada, all of whom are here to visit with manufacturers, party some and bargain hunt for 2010 and 2011 product as part of a new wave of dealer “open houses.”

The open houses reach a crescendo today and tonight as industry leaders Thor Industries Inc. and Forest River Inc. entertain retailers at their respective open houses. Three of Thor’s four divisions, Thor Motor Coach, Keystone RV Co. Inc. and Breckenridge, are situated in a joint display at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in northeast of Elkhart, while all of Forest River’s divisions, including the company’s resurgent Coachmen RV unit, are showing product at the company’s headquarters on Elkhart’s west side.

Most of the area’s manufacturers seem pleased with the whole open house concept thus far – especially the smaller companies and various niche players — although it will be hard to tell how this year’s combined explosion of open houses plays out next year.

“Yesterday, we had a great turnout,” Ed Kinney, vice president of sales for Carriage Inc., told “We were pleasantly surprised, being over here in Millersburg. We had several of our current dealers and dealer prospects here, and our new Cabo (trailer) and all of our existing products went over real well. So, it was a great day for Carriage.”

Speaking for Carriage, Kinney likes this evolving “open house” concept. “It’s a great concept, and we thank (Forest River Inc. President & CEO) Pete Liegl for starting it because I think it’s good for the industry,” said Kinney, whose company’s open house doors remain open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today (Sept. 29) and Thursday.

In general agreement with Kinney is Gulf Stream Coach Inc. Co-President Dan Shea, whose company had always hosted its own private open house each June at the towable and motorized RV manufacturer’s Nappanee facilities.

“Obviously, a number of manufacturers were looking at this time frame to start bringing in dealers,” said Shea, whose family-held company is considered more of a mainstream manufacturer vs. a niche player. “And in talking to our dealers, “it made sense, particularly last year with the transportation issues (the difficulty in delivering RVs) and the pickup in business so quickly last spring that dealers are planning ahead for next year and are very interested in coming in and looking at new product and making their buying decisions earlier this year.”

”So, we’ve been very happy with the turnout of dealers coming in, and I think it makes sense when a lot of dealers are doing something at the same time. The dealers can come in and see several manufacturers and see the new ideas at one time and a little earlier than the typical December time frame.”

Reflecting a market in which wholesale motorhome shipments have plunged from about 71,000 to 13,000 units in the aftermath of the recession, Gulf Stream’s open house displays are predominantly towable product.

“There’s less players and less dealers and, you know, the banks are sort of frowning on big item purchases,” noted Phil Sarvari, Gulf Stream’s executive vice president. “So, our focus is going to be to ‘major in the majors,’ and there’s certainly more buyers and more shipments of towable products than there are motorhomes. But motorhomes are still a part of our company, and we’re still going to take care of the dealers that we have out there.”

Does this whole open house format threaten the viability of the industry’s National RV Trade Show in any way? Shea doesn’t think so, and Gulf Stream remains a strong supporter of a viable national show in which manufacturers, suppliers and distributors all congregate.

“No,” says Shea, “I still think that there is that camaraderie of all the dealers getting together, the new products of the suppliers, the events of the week in Louisville, you know,” he observed. “I think it will continue to be important to dealers as well. I think it’s important to have the entire industry in one place. I think we get a lot of play out of the press coming to it, and the coverage from the suppliers and all these stakeholders in the industry having one place to go.”

Livin' Lite's Jeep trailer

Livin' Lite's Jeep trailer

Northward in Wakarusa, Livin’ Lite Recreational Vehicles’ President Scott Tuttle is working to expand his company’s dealer body through open house contacts.

Tuttle, who specializes in light-weight, all-aluminum trailers, points out that this whole open house concept isn’t altogether new in that it’s been going on for years on more of an ad hoc basis. As has always been the case, he added, even companies who aren’t hosting big events with buffets and bands are expecting dealers to come by.

That said, Tuttle told that the first two dealers showed up at Livin’ Lite’s driveway at 8 a.m. Monday, one having driven in from Quebec, the other from Kansas. Both were including Livin’ Lite in their tour of area manufacturers.

While his sales staff has been making an effort to contact retailers who were planning to be in town this week – many of whom are in town to do business with manufacturers who “are blowing out yards full of inventory” – Livin’ Lite had several units set up in a display outside his plant.

“You know, this is a shoppers’ bonanza for a lot of RV dealers,” said Tuttle, “where guys (manufacturers) have built up open stock and they’ve filled their yards with it. We don’t do that. We just build what’s sold. So, there’s a lot of dealers in town, seeing what kind of deals they can get.

“But when they go to Louisville, they’re definitely looking at what they’re going to carry next year,” he added. “So, Louisville’s still the benchmark for us. While there will be some dealers picking up product this week, I think Louisville’s still the show for dealers to pick up new product lines.”

Also set up in a low key fashion with a small cluster of display units outside the company’s headquarters north and east of Elkhart in LaGrange County near the Michigan State Line, EverGreen Recreational Vehicles LLC President Doug Lantz says his firm is a “small player in this whole open house scenario.

“I just appreciate the fact that we’re able to bring dealers into the Elkhart County area,” he said. “I think it’s good for the economy here and for relationships. It’s nice to be able to have dealers stop by and see the facility, meet personnel. So, I welcome it. I think that it’s something that we should continue to focus on. I know that we’ll continue to do it. And we tie it into sales training as well and getting together and strategic planning, so it’s something that we’re going to embrace and continue to work for.”

Lantz, for his part, thinks there could be some impact on Louisville.

“I think it may make some difference in some of the dealers’ purchases. It might, especially from a floorplanning standpoint. I mean most of the dealers placing orders this time of year are going to be receiving product around Louisville… So, there’s probably some floorplan lines that will be impacted at the credit level at Louisville. So, yeah, I think it will have some impact.”

The timing of these new open houses is perfect for other niche players like Open Range RV, located farther to the east in Shipshewana, an Amish-populated tourist village. “I think so,” notes Open Range President Randy Graber. “I think it makes sense to have this (open house) at this time of year, rather than waiting until the middle of the selling season to make all the (new model product) changes.”

As for Louisville, he says it will be interesting to see how it plays out over the next couple of years, especially considering how much early buying does or doesn’t occur during this expanding open house format.

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Dutchmen RV Open House Underway in Elkhart

September 27, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc.’s annual Dealer Open House starts today (Sept. 27) and runs through Thursday.

Hours for the open house are Monday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m, Tuesday and Wednesday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday 9 a.m. to noon. Dutchmen is hosting a Dealer Party from 6 to 10 tonight. The popular band Blammo will be entertaining the dealers, according to a news release.

Dutchmen is holding the open house in Elkhart this year in a rented building on the corner of C.R. 6 and Marina Drive. The building is between S.R. 19 and C.R. 17, just a few minutes away from the RV Hall of Fame and the hotels on S.R. 19.

According to Don Clark, president of Dutchmen, “We are looking forward to introducing our 2011 products and two entirely new brands to our dealers at the open house. All dealers are welcome to attend.”

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PRVCA Reports Record Hershey Show Traffic

September 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Mirroring reports from show exhibitors of strong traffic and sales, the 42nd Pennsylvania RV and Camping Show at Hersheypark in Hershey, Pa., that ended Sunday (Sept. 19) posted record attendance of 35,020 — 9.% higher than 2009, the sponsoring Pennsylvania Recreation Vehicle and Camping Association (PRVCA) reported.

”People have been putting off their purchases for a while and now is the time they want to buy,” Heather Leach, PRVCA director of marketing and education,” told

Reports from the FreedomRoads/Camping World dealership chain, Thor Motor Coach, Tiffin Motors Home Inc. and Carriage Inc. and other exhibitors consistently confirmed the strong sales trend.

Thor Motor Coach, formed by the recent merger of Damon Motor Coach and Four Winds International Corp., reported the show was possibly ”the best ever.”

”We nearly doubled our diesel numbers from last year, and last year was a good year,” said Matt Thompson, Thor Motor Coach vice president for diesels.

”We did excellent,” observed Phil Sarvari, executive vice president of Gulf Stream Coach Inc. ”We sold 38 pieces. People were buying, and our products were very well received.”

”Traffic was incredible,” added Don Clark, president of Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. ”We did more than 2 1/2 times the volume of retail than we did last year. The customers were very upbeat. It was reassuring to see that kind of traffic.”

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