The 4th annual Open House Week in northern Indiana is a go. At least Forest River Inc.’s plans are set, and that usually sets the pace for the rest of the industry around Elkhart County with regard to this emerging fall dealer event.
Forest River first opened its doors to thousands of recession-rattled dealers in 2008 to better communicate with them and to help move product earlier in the season.
The whole thing caught on like wildfire, as more than 20 other Elkhart and LaGrange County, Ind., RV builders started sponsoring simultaneous dealer events at their respective plants as well as at off-site locations for dealers who came in from all over North America.
Forest River President and CEO Pete Liegl says the September open house concept is growing because it’s ”time appropriate.”
”If we are going to sign up a new dealer, he has time to bring the units in (to his dealership),” Liegl said. ”And also, he has the time to understand the procedures and policies that we have here and become familiar with business between his company and ours instead of waiting until Louisville.”
Forest River’s open house date is similar to last year’s — Sept. 20-22 — but its location is all new: across town at its newly acquired Dynamax Corp. facilities on the northeast side of Elkhart. That’s only blocks away from the RV/MH Hall of Fame, which, if things go according to plan, will reportedly play open house host to all of Thor Industries Inc.’s divisions.
“The Dynamax facility has a huge area for parking and a couple of buildings in back that would be very adequate for the dinner, etc.,” said Liegl, whose Berkshire Hathaway Inc. subsidiary purchased Dynamax in January.
Previously, Forest River’s event had been held on the grounds around its headquarters on the west side of Elkhart.
What’s behind the move? Although the weather has been good since the event was established in 2008, says Liegl, that can’t possibly last forever. ”Statistically speaking, one of these years we are going to have some inclement weather,” he added. ”Having it in a field over here (near the company’s headquarters) with a big tent, we’ve been lucky.”
An estimated 3,000 dealer personnel attended Forest River’s busy event last year, where the company wined and dined retail personnel in a huge tent surrounded by an expansive array of the company’s varied products.
That said, Liegl says Forest River will participate as usual in the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s 49th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.
Monday’s (Jan. 31) surprise news that Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s Forest River Inc. had acquired Super C motorhome builder Dynamax Corp. seems to have been well received by both buyers and sellers. In fact, spokesmen for both Elkhart, Ind.-based companies tell RVBUSINESS.com that the two firms’ cultures and products should complement each other.
“We’re excited about what the relationship with Forest River can do for Dynamax, the doors that it can open,” said Dewayne Creighton, president of 14-year-old Dynamax, the principal owner and chairman of which was Elkhart businessman Richard Strefling.
“They (Forest River) seem impressed with the product, with a lot of innovations we’ve done here, and I think we can add to their product line,” he added. “There wouldn’t be any overlap in my mind between what we do and what they’ve already done.”
Alluding to the “relatively brief” negotiations that preceded the sale, Forest River Chairman Pete Liegl says he anticipates few changes at 50-employee Dynamax. Liegl said Creighton would remain at the helm of the company, which markets the Grand Sport GT, DynaQuest and Isata motorhome lines as well as an upscale DynaAire fifth-wheel.
”We need everybody there, basically,” said Liegl, who reported that Dynamax will operate as a stand-alone Forest River division. ”We might do a little consolidation on the accounting and payables and receivables, but I’m sure those same people will be able to be utilized someplace else.”
The sale price was not announced.
”We paid more than we wanted, but not as much as Dick (Strefling) wanted,” Liegl said. ”He’s always treated me fairly, so I’m sure he’s treated me fair here.
”Dynamax makes a beautiful product. It will fit well,” he added. “In fact, no one else is out there to compete with Dynamax.”
Dynamax operates out of a 200,000-square-foot plant on 27 acres on the north side of Elkhart, builds its coaches on big Freightliner Class 8 and smaller M-2 truck chassis, as well as Ford F-550 and E-450 Super Duty platforms. Retail prices range from $150,000 to $500,000.
Strefling is best known for building the Glaval van and bus brands which Forest River previously purchased along with a group of office buildings and manufacturing facilities. Strefling still operates two substantial industry suppliers in northern Indiana — Lexington Corp., which makes seating, and Charleston Corp., a manufacturer of plastic automotive parts.
Liegl said he originally became interested in Dynamax products while on a camping trip in one of Dynamax’ coaches. ”I was fascinated with how beautiful it was and how it functioned, and I guess that’s what’s been going through my head,” he said.
Creighton, meanwhile, acknowledged that the Great Recession has been tough on all motorhome makers, Dynamax included. And that, most agree, was an obvious factor in the sale.
”Yes it was, mainly because of the banking (tight national credit availability),” he said. ”The banks got extremely tough. Financing was something that was affecting us (but) that will not be the case with Forest River involved, and that’s the exciting thing. They bring so much to the table.”
Forest River Inc. spokesmen confirmed this morning (Jan. 31) that the Elkhart, Ind.-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc. subsidiary has acquired Dynamax Corp., a 14-year-old motorhome manufacturer specializing in high-end Super C-style motorhomes and upscale fifth-wheel travel trailers located on the north side of Elkhart.
“Forest River has purchased Dynamax,” a spokesman for Forest River, who preferred anonymity, told RVBUSINESS.com. “Details to follow.”
Dynamax President Dewayne Creighton was unavailable for comment.
“We’re pumped up about it,” said the Forest River source. “We think there’s a lot of sectors inside that Super C category, everything from the RVer to getting a lot bigger and heavier into the command centers – the units that law enforcement, SWAT teams and the governmental units and insurance companies utilize during big storms and disasters.
“They’ve (Dynamax) already built some of those, and we’ve got some staff people who know this market, so we think we can do a lot of business in the command center specialty vehicles. We’re excited about that.”
There was a time in the 1970s until the mid-‘80s when the RV industry would gather annually each August in the sweltering heat of northern Indiana for what was then known as the South Bend Show. Dealers would come from near and far to be wined and dined by manufacturers and to see some new model year lineups.
New models would also be shown at subsequent private dealer meetings and then at the annual all-industry Louisville Show.
Now, the North American RV industry is headed back to the future to an extent this week as a host of companies — spurred by a budget-minded atmosphere in the wake of The Great Recession and by the success of Forest River Inc.‘s own big Elkhart dealer meetings over the past two years – beckon dealers to the flatlands of
Elkhart County for a series of “dealer open houses.”
Although it’s a bit later than the South Bend Show, which was held outside the Notre Dame Stadium, these new open houses should benefit the region’s hotels, restaurants, lounges and shuttle bus drivers in much the same way.
Forest River, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary that again sets up shop this week next to its corporate headquarters on the west side of Elkhart, is expecting 2,800 people and reportedly had registered more than 700 dealerships by the beginning of this week. Along with a series of dealer displays that will include everything from conventional RV’s to commercial trailers, boats and mobile latrines, dealers can expect lavish buffets and a bustling Wednesday night cocktail party that should rival the best of those good ‘ole days at South Bend.
“I assume it’s going to be as good as last year,” Forest River President and CEO Pete Liegl told RVBUSINESS.com.
Much the same can be expected across town on the east side of Elkhart at the RV/MH Hall of Fame as three Thor Industries Inc. divisions set up shop for the first time this year on the grounds around the RV/MH Heritage Foundation Inc.’s museum, library and hall near the Indiana Toll Road. This is the first year that Thor, another market leader, has hosted dealers for a September open house and, in the process, did not manage to station all of its divisions in one place like Forest River did.
So, Thor Motor Coach, Keystone RV Co. Inc. and Breckenridge will be manning displays – Keystone itself is setting up about 200 units on the hall’s periphery – on Wednesday and Thursday. Also on tap at the hall: Seminars sponsored by Freightliner Custom Chassis Inc., GE Capital, Ally Financial and Statistical Surveys Inc. plus a Wednesday night cocktail party – scheduled, perhaps coincidentally, at the exact same time as chief competitor Forest River’s. Tunes are being provided by the popular John Kirkwood band.
Keystone President Bob Martin, who tells RVBUSINESS.com that he’s expecting somewhere between 700 and a thousand dealer personnel to stop by, says Keystone has always brought dealers in during the fall for a look at new product. And while they’re stepping it up this year, his Goshen, Ind.-based firm is still planning an aggressive display with additional new product at RVIA’s 48th Annual National RV Trade Show, Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in Louisville.
‘It’s a good opportunity to get in front of your dealers in the fall,” says Martin, whose company will also host vendor booths and meetings with customer service representatives and retail and wholesale financing sources.
Just down the street a few minutes to the west at a temporary rented facility at the corner of Marina Drive and County Road 6, Thor’s Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. division will launch an open house of its own tonight (Sept. 27) with cocktails provided by the Thor division and entertainment supplied by a group called Blammo. Displays, complete with continental breakfast, are open all day Tuesday and Thursday, closing out Thursday at noon.
Also kicking off the festivities tonight down in Nappanee – with a tailgate party, casino night and poker tournament — is Gulf Stream Coach Inc., which will be featuring a favorite of the company’s founder, the late Jim Shea Sr.: Daily lunch consisting of Stanley’s famous steak, shrimp and eggroll. Gulf Stream’s event runs through Thursday
“We believe recent developments in the RV industry will create great opportunities for the independent manufacturers,” says Gulf Stream Co-President Dan Shea. “We developed many new dealer relationships this year and we look forward to showing our new innovative, value-packed models.“
Also opening their doors to dealers this week:
Carriage Inc.: Tuesday through Thursday at the towable manufacturer’s Millersburg, Ind., plant.
Dynamax Corp.: Monday through Thursday at the company’s north side Elkhart plant at the corner of Northland Dr. and County Road 6.
Earthbound RV: Monday through Friday at the Spring Meadow Farm Golf Club east of Elkhart in Middlebury, as well as at the firm’s new main plant 70 miles to the south in Marion, Ind.
Evergreen Recreational Vehicles: Monday through Thursday at the company’s plant in Middlebury.
Livin’ Lite Recreational Vehicles: Monday through Thursday at the firm’s Wakarusa facility a few miles south of Elkhart off of Indiana 19.
Monaco RV LLC: Tuesday through Thursday at the Navistar division’s Wakarusa plant.
Open Range RV: Tuesday through Thursday at the company’s facilities east of Elkhart in Shipshewana.
Sunnybrook RV: Tuesday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the company’s plant in Middlebury.
Meanwhile, adding to the week’s industry activities, Jayco Inc. will have about 250 retail personnel on hand for intensive sales training at its complex in Middlebury, Ind. Jayco’s second Master RV Product Training Session runs Monday through Thursday, with a graduation ceremony Wednesday at the Marriott in South Bend.
RV dealers are invited to stop by and tour the Dynamax Corp. plant at 2745 Northland Drive, in Elkhart, Ind., between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Sept. 27-30 to view the company’s new products for 2011 inside its 25,000-square-foot showroom.
Dynamax has responded to consumer demand – delivering the new DynaQuest XV, a spacious, extreme value performer for family travel that sleeps up to eight people with plenty of room for all their gear, according to a news release. DynaQuest XV is built on the Freightliner M2 Chassis for the ultimate driving experience, and is loaded with premium brand name appliances.
The display will include the Isata, the ever-popular DynaQuest, the Grand Sport, DynaAire and Foundation Max models.
For more information contact Dynamax Corp. at (888) 295-7859.
DynaQuest XV, Dynamax Corp.’s latest addition, made its debut at the nation’s largest retail RV show in Hershey, Pa., last week. With many families choosing the RV lifestyle as a vacation option, Dynamax has responded with a family-friendly luxury machine that sleeps up to eight people, with plenty of room to relax, refresh and store gear, according to a news release. Built on a Freightliner chassis, XV features spacious seven-foot ceilings and an extra wide body, solid hardwood cabinetry and premium name-brand appliances. A generous front cab-over sleeping compartment, with an ergonomic flip-up cabover bunk bed provides easy access to the cab area. XV’s clean body lines are built on a durable aluminum super structure, accentuated with three-color full body paint process. MSRP: $239,000. For more information contact Dynamax Corp. at (888) 295-7859 or visit the company’s new website at www.dynamaxcorp.com.
The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) Nominating Committee announced it is now seeking candidates from the association’s membership to run in this year’s board of directors elections.
There are eight seats up for election this year: four manufacturer, three supplier and one at-large representatives.
The RVIA board has the highest level of authority in the association’s organizational structure. It is responsible for association affairs on a broad policy basis. The board meets three times per year: in March, during Committee Week in mid-June and in mid-September.
“The RVIA board of directors plays a critical role in guiding the work of the association and shaping the future of the RV industry,” said Dan Shea, president of the Towable Division at Gulf Stream Coach Inc. and chairman of RVIA’s Nominating Committee. “Any association member with an interest in addressing the issues that impact the RV industry should consider running for a seat on the board.”
Each RVIA manufacturer and supplier member company is afforded a single vote in the association elections, scheduled to take place electronically from Aug. 3-23. Newly elected board members will begin serving their terms on Oct. 1. The deadline for nominations is June 15.
In addition to Shea, this year’s Nominating Committee includes DeWayne Creighton of Dynamax Corp., Garry Enyart of Cummins Power Generation and Carl Pfalzgraf of Atwood Mobile Products.
Those interested in running in the board elections should contact a member of the Nominating Committee or RVIA’s Mac Bryan at (703) 620-6003 ext 334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.