When Jayco Inc. announced a doubling of its manufacturing space last year for its Entegra Coach Class A motorhome operations, Jayco had anticipated at least a two, if not a three-year stay in the current facility, said Tadd Jenkins, president of the newly renamed Jayco Motorhome Group. “We didn’t make that,” he said.
“The market is demanding more supply,” said Jenkins, whose Middlebury, Ind., firm yesterday (Aug. 20) announced the construction of a new facility for Entegra production, which is set to open in the first half of 2015 and should result in an additional 50 employees by the end of the year.
While the new plant will increase Entegra’s existing manufacturing space from 150,000 square feet to 175,000 square feet, it will free up Entegra’s production capacity for Jayco Class C motorhome production, giving it a second dedicated manufacturing plant. “The motorized team continues to exceed expectations, leading to enormous growth and success of the division,” Jayco President and CEO Derald Bontrager stated in Wednesday’s release.
“Our retail registrations are up and doing well,” Jenkins told RVBUSINESS.com. “Our renewed focus on motorized as a company is laser-focused today. The divisions operate independently and our success is dependent on our drive to make it happen, to get market share, to make a product our customer wants to buy, not that we want to sell.”
That laser focus involves blending Jayco’s long history as a manufacturer with customer loyalty and “growing that on steroids,” said Jenkins, whose division markets the upscale Aspire, Anthem and Cornerstone Class A lines.
Although Jenkins said he monitors the motorized market in general, that’s not his primary mission in developing the motorized business as much as it is the overall customer experience and establishing relationships with the end-consumer at rallies and elsewhere. It’s a process that, for Jayco’s management, typically includes such things as passing out business cards to consumers that include managers’ cell phone numbers for future personal contact.
“I know if we focus and give them a great product and a great experience, they’re going to enjoy it and they’re going to tell their friends about it,” he noted.
All of these efforts, along with the company’s restructuring, should benefit Jayco, its dealers and its customers as the tradition-clad RV builder continues to pursue a grow path for its motorized lines, Jenkins said.
“I do not believe that Thor is my competitor,” said Jenkins, referring to the Thor Motor Coach division of Thor Industries Inc. “Yes, Thor is a competitor, but, 100%, I believe that Disneyworld is my competitor. If I don’t build a good quality product that gives an amazing experience to my customer, they’re going to sell that product and go to Disney on an airplane.
“Our greatest challenge is not the next cool thing to build, not in the line rate, not in recruiting good workers,” he noted. “Our greatest challenge is offering the same level of customer service when we have 4,000 units on the road as we do now when have 1,500 units on the road, and we’re going to do that. We won’t forget who brought us to the dance.”
Jayco Inc.’s Jayco Motorhome Group announced plans to expand its manufacturing facilities at its headquarters in Middlebury, Ind., adding up to 50 jobs by the end of 2015.
“The expansion comes as a result of the high demand of our motorized products.” said Derald Bontrager, president and CEO of Jayco, in a written announcement.
“The motorized team continues to exceed expectations, leading to enormous growth and success of the division. We’re looking forward to the expansion and the opportunities it will bring,” Bontrager said.
The new building will serve as the Entegra Coach manufacturing facility and will allow the current motorized building to house Jayco motorhomes. Jayco plans to have construction completed by the second quarter of 2015.
Middlebury, Ind.-based Entegra Coach, manufacturer of luxury diesel-powered motorhomes, announced today the official launch of a new 40-foot Aspire model.
According to a press release, the new Aspire 39E recently previewed at Florida RV SuperShow, featuring a full-wall slide that enables “spacious and luxurious living.”
Offering a popular bath-and-a-half configuration, the Aspire 39E is equipped with a standard king size bed, stacked washer dryer and a full range of media equipment including Bose sound bar systems in both the living room and bedroom area. The fully-equipped residential style kitchen, complete with Samsung stainless steel appliances, provides generous storage and a spacious dining area.
“Entegra Coach had received numerous requests from both dealers and customers to add a shorter length motor coach to our lineup,” said Andy Baer, vice president of sales for Entegra Coach, a division of Jayco Inc. “Our product management team met the requests with an exciting floorplan that feels as spacious as our other models and offers the level of finish Entegra Coach clientele have come to expect. When you see the ultra-leather furniture, high finish ceramic tile floors, the premium ceiling detail, and experience the overall integrated design of this coach, you will feel right at home.”
The 39E Aspire is built on a Spartan Mountain Master chassis featuring a 24,000-pound drive axle, front disc brakes, and the Cummins ISL 450 HP 8.9-liter turbocharged diesel engine along with the Allison 3000 series transmission.
“After introducing the floorplan at the Florida RV SuperShow in Tampa and receiving nothing but positive feedback, we’re confident we made the right decision to add the 39E to our lineup.” said Baer.
The new floorplan will be available in March as part of the launch of the 2015 model year. For more information, visit www.entegracoach.com.
Entegra Coach, a division of Jayco Inc., will be featured on an upcoming episode of Extreme RVs. According to a press release, the segment will run on Oct. 8 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the Travel Channel.
The footage was captured over the course of a few days at the Entegra Coach facilities in Middlebury, Ind. It will cover the production of a Cornerstone motorhome from the planning stages to delivery.
Several Entegra Coach employees including Chairman Wilbur Bontrager, Tadd Jenkins, former vice president of sales, and Megan Hiland, manager of product engineering and development will all be featured on the show.
For more information, visit travelchannel.com or check your local listings.
Last week, 52 Entegra Coach motorhomes gathered in Petoskey, Mich., at Hearthside Grove for the first Entegra Coach owners’ rally. According to a press release, attendance totaled 104 people, which far surpassed initial expectations by management.
“The Entegra Coach Summerfest will become an annual event.” said Summerfest organizers Tom and Regina Searle, who traveled 7,300 miles in their Entegra Anthem for the event. “The goal is to head west next year. Then, the following year another eastern location will be selected.”
The weeklong Summerfest included a mix of activities such as tours around Northern Michigan, cooking lessons, a golf outing and free time for enjoying Hearthside Grove. There was also plenty of time for fellowship as well with several organized dinners and breakfasts. In addition, Hearthside Grove offered its own array of activities for the guests including an outdoor pool, Jacuzzi, fitness center and movie theater.
During dinner on Thursday evening, Entegra Coach owner Chuck Cauthorn presented a plaque to Joyce Skinner, director of customer service, for her dedication to serving Entegra Coach owners.
“The best thing that Entegra Coach did was make Joyce Skinner the head of the customer service department.” said Cauthorn. The plaque was engraved with a quote from Mark Twain that read “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Of Skinner, Regina Searle said “She treats all of us like family. She just exudes warmth and you can’t fake those kinds of qualities.”
The Searles announced that they will be putting together the details of next year’s Summerfest and will have information out to Entegra Coach owners in the next few months.
The management and staff of Entegra Coach, a division of Jayco Inc., recently commemorated the production of their 1,000 motorcoach with a divisionwide celebration at its Middlebury, Ind., manufacturing plant.
According to a press release, employees from the office and assembly line took time off to hear from executives including Chairman Wilbur Bontrager, CEO Derald Bontrager and John Ganyard, general manager and vice president of the motorized division. The employees enjoyed a catered lunch after the speeches were finished.
“The celebration was a success. We were able to congratulate all of the members of our Entegra Coach team for reaching this milestone and encourage them to keep up the great work.” said Ganyard. “Jayco established Entegra Coach in 2009 as its flagship motorhome division and today we have more than 150 employees. We think it’s important that we make it clear to all of them they each play an important role in our success.”
Data from Statistical Surveys Inc. showed a 28% rise in year-over-year sales during May for Entegra Coach. As a result of this growing demand of its motorcoaches, Entegra Coach completed a 77,752-square-foot expansion of its manufacturing facility in July. The assembly line has fully moved into the new facilities and is producing more motorhomes per week than at any time in the company’s history.
Middlebury, Ind.-based Entegra Coach, the luxury motorhome division of Jayco Inc., has rolled out a “redesigned, responsive website,” according to a press release. The site features new interactive elements and is designed to automatically optimize across all user devices, including desktops, smartphones and tablets.
The redesigned site, found at www.EntegraCoach.com, has a refreshed visual design and provides a unique user experience. Using “responsive design,” Entegra Coach’s website automatically detects a user’s viewing device, screen size and device orientation. The site then seamlessly adjusts for optimal viewing, minimizing the amount of resizing, panning and scrolling needed to view information.
Knowing that almost 50% of smartphone owners use their device to research products, Entegra Coach focused on improving its mobile shopping experience. The site is packed with a host of interactive tools that add to this, including:
• HMTL5 headers and animations.
• A dynamic model overview page with shopping toolbar and rollover captioning.
• Interactive photo galleries.
• Pinch-to-zoom capability on floorplans and photos.
• Easy-to-view standards and options.
• Collapsible specifications.
Additionally, the site features a new “Cab-Forward Design” page, an interactive look at how Entegra Coach delivers a quiet-riding, smooth handling motor coach through engineering, construction and design. In addition, a digital brochure allows customers to interact with the most current version of Entegra Coach product literature.
“We wanted to update our website to fully reflect the luxury expected of the Entegra Coach brand, both in look and in features provided,” said Sid Johnson, director of marketing for Entegra Coach. “Additionally, we know our customers rely on our website for product information, and we know more of them are using mobile devices to access our site. We wanted to make sure our customers have the best possible experience regardless of the device they use.”
Jayco Inc. announced plans today (Nov. 5) to expand its headquarters in Middlebury, Ind., creating up to 65 new jobs by 2015.
According to a news release, Jayco will invest $2.9 million to add a 77,000-square-foot extension to an existing 62,000-square-foot facility in Middlebury. The new addition, slated to be complete in May, will house production for Entegra Coach, the company’s high-end motorhome line.
Jayco, which currently employs more than 1,700 workers on its 373 acre-campus in Middlebury, plans to begin filling additional manufacturing positions this spring.
“Northern Indiana has been our primary base of operation since the company was founded in 1968,” said Wilbur Bontrager, chairman and CEO of Jayco. “The strengthening economy, Jayco’s market share growth, available labor force and Indiana’s business-friendly environment all combine to give us the confidence to make this expansion move now. We look forward to continuing to work with both state and local government to create jobs and to boost our company’s momentum.”
Founded in 1968 by Lloyd J. Bontrager in two chicken coops and a barn, Jayco has grown to become the third largest recreational vehicle manufacturer in the United States and Canada, selling to more than 500 dealers around the world. With the goal of being landfill free by 2015, Jayco recycled 5,438 tons of wood, 1,332 tons of scrap metal and 793 tons of cardboard last year.
The Indiana Economic Development Corp. offered Jayco up to $775,000 in conditional tax credits based on the company’s job creation plans. These tax credits are performance-based, meaning until Hoosiers are hired, the company is not eligible to claim incentives. The town of Middlebury supports this project at the request of the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County.
“The town of Middlebury is pleased to see that Jayco is doing well,” said Mark Salee, town manager of Middlebury. “The town is committed to supporting all the businesses in Middlebury, especially a company such as Jayco. This expansion of the Jayco facilities is a good sign of economic growth in our community.”
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels noted, “Jobs announcements from RV manufacturing leaders like Jayco further prove that Elkhart County is coming back stronger than ever. Elkhart remains the RV capital of the world and is a major center of economic strength for Indiana thanks to our state’s enterprise-friendly policies and remarkably skilled workforce.”
Elkhart County’s workmanship was on display this week at the 48th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.
In two sports arenas, hallways, meeting rooms and expansive convention space, 318 exhibitors who make anything and everything for RVs had their goods on display. Of those exhibitors, at least 83 were from Elkhart County, the Goshen (Ind.) News reported.
In a hallway at the Kentucky Exposition Center, Mike Blankinship held up a flexible light strip with a bright yellow glow. It got people’s attention.
Blankinship is national sales manager for Vista Manufacturing in Elkhart. The company makes and distributes light strips of all types. Mirrored glass panels lit with imbedded LED lights, as well as a curvey mirror with white lights sparkling like the stars in the Big Dipper, drew plenty of attention from passersby. One woman stopped, moved her finger around the mirror and told her husband, “Oh, I really like that.”
At the RV show, which ended Thursday, suppliers attempted to get their products noticed by manufacturers and manufacturers attempted to get their products noticed by dealers. Dealers walked and talked a lot. They went from manufacturer to manufacturer looking for good deals and good products.
In this endless cycle of supply and demand, demand and supply, a dizzying array of products made in Elkhart County were on display. There were massive Class A motorhomes more than 40 feet long that cost close to $1 million. There were also the tiny LED lights that Blankinship was hawking.
The company’s offerings were a mix of products made in Elkhart and those that come from overseas, where Blankinship said the cheap labor makes local production of some lights unprofitable. But Vista workers take those imported LED products and put their own stamp on them.
“We bring it in and take it and adapt it to what the customer requires,” Blankinship said.
That may mean filling an order for 50 custom strip lights, or creating a clear plastic molding to hold the lights inside an RV.
That kind of service keeps the company of about 30 employees going. And the RV show was obviously important to Vista workers.
“The more we sell,” Blankinship said, “the more work we have.”
Demand ‘gone crazy’
Nearby in Hall 1, a model Class A RV was attracting many sets of eyes. The Miller brothers, Ryan and Darren, were showing off their family business, Paul’s Welding Inc. of Nappanee. The model RV was a prop for the steel fabricated industrial lift systems and work stations the company designs for and installs in RV plants.
“Dad just started doing small stuff,” Ryan Miller explained, “and the demand for the RV industry in the past 15 years has gone crazy.”
Now, Paul Miller designs all sorts of lift equipment to make the manufacture of RVs easier and safer. There is even a machine that lifts and turns an RV chassis on its side to make production easier.
The company’s skilled workers include welders, fabricators and material handlers.
“When we leave (an RV plant), it will be completely set up for production,” Miller said. “Way over half our sales are RV sales.”
And of course, there were RVs at the RV show.
Dealers strolled in and out of the Jayco Entegra Coach display. The Entegra is a Class A motorhome that exudes luxury. While the dealers were looking at color schemes and floorplans, Tadd Jenkins, national sales manager for Entegra, talked about quality products from Elkhart County.
“The customer is demanding that (quality),” he said. “If you are going to survive in the marketplace, you have to give them a product that gives them the enjoyment they are looking for on a consistent basis.”
Much of the Entegra work force comes from Middlebury’s Amish community, which Jenkins praised as being productive and able to put a motorhome together.
“The wiring on these things,” he said, “is exponentially more difficult than a towable.”
The show ended Thursday.
Introducing a new line of mid-priced diesel-powered motorhomes in the midst of a recession might seem like risky business to some. But Jayco Inc. rolled the dice and may have hit pay dirt in this — the Middlebury, Ind., firm’s second attempt to enter the Class A motorhome business in the past 10 years. After purchasing the assets of well-known high-end towable and motorized RV manufacturer Travel Supreme Inc. in 2008, Jayco moved coach production from Wakarusa, Ind., to its main campus in Middlebury and debuted its new Entegra Coach division in early 2009. Integrating many of Travel Supreme’s innovative floorplans with the advantages Jayco enjoys as one of the nation’s larger RV builders — including purchasing power and a wealth of engineering and business acumen — the new line has reportedly been well received by dealers and consumers alike. “I only have seven or eight ‘open’ units across the country, where I’d like to have that many available per dealership,” noted Tad Jenkins, Entegra’s national sales manager, during the West Coast introduction of the division’s new “entry-level” Insignia Aug. 11-14 at the FMCA convention in Redmond, Ore. During the convention at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds & Expo Center, RVBusiness Editor Bruce Hampson spent some time with Jim Jacobs, Jayco’s former vice president of sales who currently serves as general manager of the company’s Entegra Coach division as well as Jayco’s Starcraft RV towable division in Topeka, Ind. Jacobs discussed the development of the Entegra concept as well as future plans for the division.
RVB: Give us an update, if you would, with regard to Jayco’s still-new Entegra initiative.
Jacobs: We started in January of 2009 with a 35,000-square-foot factory, which was way small. In June of this year we completed a 35,000-square-foot expansion of that facility, so now we’re operating at roughly 75,000 square feet. The line is completely full, and we’re ramping up production as we speak.
Right now, we’re building about five coaches a week, one a day. Our goal is to get to three a day by the end of the year. We’ve got a fairly aggressive ramp-up schedule. And of course, the key to that is that you always do it without sacrificing quality.
RVB: We’re told that there are very few open units, unsold coaches, within your current dealer network. That’s a nice position to be in.
Jacobs: The inventory has been turning fairly rapidly for us. I think the key to that is that we’ve been extremely selective in the dealer network. We’ve got some of the biggest and best diesel pusher dealers on our dealer roster already. And those guys know how to turn product. It’s really turning off their lots, fast. Obviously, that’s created another issue for us.
RVB: We understand that Entegra has adopted a number of measures — thanks to Jayco, its parent company — that allow you to compete at more competitive price points.
Jacobs: That’s right. One of the strengths that we really loved about the old Travel Supreme company was their quality and their fit and finish and their innovative floorplans and design. What they lacked just happened to be Jayco’s strengths: the purchasing leverage that we have, the manufacturing processes that we can bring, the corporate engineering, the structural engineering that we know and understand better than anybody. So we’ve been able to bring a lot of strong corporate assets and apply them to what we’re running as kind of a smaller, almost boutique division. It’s been a fantastic marriage for us, and it’s put us — Entegra Coach — into a position where we’re able to be really aggressive with our pricing because of the strength of the corporation.
RVB: It appears of late that RV owners are going to smaller, gas coaches due to pricing, credit availability and the waning effects of the recession. Yet, Entegra is bringing out a mid-level diesel pusher.
Jacobs: Actually, we’re playing to a segment that is fairly well heeled and is maybe not as affected by the swings in the economy and the swings in the stock market. Plus, you couple that with the fact that there’s been so much fallout and so much dissatisfaction with some manufacturers and how they’ve responded that, for us, it was perfect timing.
The thing that dealers like about us is the commitment of the Bontrager family; their word is their bond. Also, they (dealers) like the financial stability of (a company with) 42 years in business. They like the fact that we offer a two-year warranty where everyone else has a one-year warranty. It just seems like, in spite of everything going on out there in the economy, our timing could not have been better because of everything else that was at play.
RVB: What trends do you see in the marketplace right now?
Jacobs: When I wear my Starcraft hat, I see us getting lighter, less expensive products. I see us being very, very innovative with features that people don’t normally get in the price point segments that we play in. In the Entegra Coach division, I think that we’re just now touching the very tip of the iceberg for this division. I know that this division has a lot of big plans. We have a lot of strategic initatives that we’re going to kick off very quickly. You’re not going to see us sit back and wait.
RVB: So, we assume that you have more new models – in addition to the entry-level, high-end Insignia you just rolled out – in the works right now?
Jacobs: Yes, we do. We have a lot of stuff working. Hopefully, we’ll have a bunkhouse model in the Insignia series that will appeal to families. The Insignia is our ‘entry level’ coach; it’s on an ISB 360hp Freightliner chassis. For us, that’s an entry-level product. So you’ll see us do a bunkhouse model in that. We’ve got several new innovative floorplans in the works for the other brands as well. Beyond that, you’ll see some big things.
RVB: How much of this will debut at Louisville?
Jacobs: You’ll see some new stuff at Louisville (but) we’re not going to use Louisville as a benchmark for us to drive our product development. Our product development strategy is a continuous, year-round event. Louisville is just one of those calendar marks that you click off.
The inside of the 2011 Itasca Ellipse motorhome on display this week in Redmond, Ore., looks like a living room.
On one wall, the coach has a sectional sofa and coffee table. A ceramic tile floor with granite inserts extends down the middle, and against the opposite wall sits a fireplace, lounge chair and computer desk.
“Looks like a small condo,” Mark McLaughlin, product trainer for Winnebago Industries Inc., which makes the Itasca line, told The Bulletin, Bend, Ore.
The layout on display at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center used the added space provided by the slideouts, the RV sections that pop out when it’s parked. As outfitted, it costs close to $345,000, said McLaughlin.
The 2011 Ellipse, new models from Monaco RV LLC, Entegra Coach and other manufacturers and motorhomes belonging to members of the Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) were among the expected 2,000 RVs filling the fairgrounds for the association’s annual convention.
It’s the fourth time the convention, which officially began Wednesday (Aug. 11) , has been held at the fairgrounds since 2001, and it’s expected to draw more than 6,000 people.
In the three years between this year’s show and the last convention in Redmond in 2007, the motorhome industry has traveled through tremendous turmoil, along with nearly every other industry.
From 2006 to 2009, shipments of all recreational vehicles fell about 58%, according to figures from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
In 2009, four manufacturers — Rexhall Industries Inc., Country Coach LLC, Monaco Coach Corp. and Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. — filed for bankruptcy.
Coburg-based Monaco, which owns the Beaver coach line once made in Bend, was acquired by Navistar International Corp. the same year, and is now Monaco RV LLC.
Through June of this year, however, production has been increasing, according to the RV association, and officials from motorcoach manufacturers and dealers expressed guarded optimism Wednesday at the convention.
New models, accessories and components were scheduled to be in the spotlight Wednesday night and today. FMCA members, however, also have many seminars, sightseeing tours and opportunities for socializing throughout the four-day event.
Some manufacturers featured new slimmed down, higher-mileage models, while others mentioned the certified green factories where their vehicles are made, and nearly all will be touting emissions-reducing technology that will help diesel-powered motor coaches meet new federal emissions regulations.
Monaco has its newest model, the Vesta, on display. Monaco and Navistar jointly developed the vehicle, which they unveiled July 29. The motorcoach is supposed to get 15 to 18 mpg, according to comments company officials made to RVBusiness magazine.
The Vesta, which will be made in 32- and 35-foot models, comes with cherry wood cabinetry, marblelike countertops and other high-end details usually only found in the larger coaches, said Pat Fraser, of Paul Evert’s RV Country, in Fresno, Calif.
“To get this kind of luxury, you usually have to go to a larger vehicle,” Fraser said.
Entegra’s Anthem 42-foot motorcoach has those details and more. It has 1 1/2 bathrooms, a full-size Whirlpool refrigerator, separate, stackable washer and dryer, a cedar-lined closet and four flat-screen televisions, one of which is on the exterior of the RV.
It’s located under a flip-up panel, part of an entertainment center that includes a stereo, speakers and, of course, the remote.
One of the newest features for many of the motorhomes is mostly hidden.
New U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emissions guidelines call for reduced diesel-engine emissions, and different manufacturers meet them in different ways.
The system Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. has on display at the fairgrounds uses a catalytic-converter-like system that reduces vehicle emissions to only nitrogen and water, according to the company’s literature.
“It’s actually cleaner going out,” said Ken Nisley, of coach-maker Newmar, referring to the emissions, “than the air going in.”
The rally concludes Saturday.
Well-known RV dealer Tadd Jenkins has been named national sales manager for Entegra Coach Inc., the luxury motorhome division of Jayco Inc.
In making the announcement, Jim Jacobs, general manager of the Starcraft RV Inc. and Entegra Coach divisions, said Jenkins will be responsible for developing and implementing strategic sales plans to achieve the company’s objectives in the motorhome market, according to a news release.
“For the past two years, we have combined the sales staff for Starcraft and Entegra Coach. We have now reached the stage in the development of our motorhome operations where we believe it is appropriate for us to place added management emphasis in the sales department at Entegra Coach.
“Since 2008, Brent Froman has served as sales manager of both Starcraft RV and Entegra Coach; this change will allow him to concentrate his efforts on sales development of the Starcraft brand. Tadd Jenkins brings a unique perspective to our company’s operations. He has extensive experience as an RV dealership owner and we’re pleased to have the benefit of his leadership and knowledge of the business.”
Jenkins started Bish’s RV Center in Twin Falls, Idaho, in 1992. Since that time, the dealership has grown to three locations and is today the largest volume RV dealer in the state of Idaho. He has served on the board of delegates of the national Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) and currently is a member of the RVDA board. He serves on the Governor’s Council on Travel and Tourism in the state of Idaho and over the years has been a member of various local and state boards and advisory councils.
He and his wife, Tamra, and their family will reside in the Middlebury area.
- Price counts more than ever in this business, just as it does in an array of other vital and discretionary product sectors.
- The relational aspects of the recreational vehicle business, the dynamics of long-term business relationships, are as important – if not more so — than ever.
- Credit availability is still problematic, especially for higher priced products like motorhomes over $100,000.
That’s the message from an array of companies exhibiting their latest offerings at Albuquerque, one of two national rallies that Cincinatti-based FMCA is hosting this year for its members. The next one is Aug. 11-14 in Redmond, Ore.
Last week’s FMCA convention drew 1,781 family coaches, according to sources close to the Albuquerque rally. That’s a number that might have prompted disparaging remarks prior to the recession, but is more than likely viewed as a decent showing in the aftermath of a downturn that saw motorhome shipments dive a daunting 53.4% in 2009. FMCA spokesmen were unavailable for comment.
On the other hand, most agree, the market is seeing an impressive reversal that started in the last third of last year, and it is in that context that the March 22-25 convention was held.
Decatur, Ind.-based Fleetwood RV Inc. is experiencing a strong upswing in demand for its Class C’s and entry-level Class A’s, Mark Inkrote, national sales manager for those two product categories, told RVBUSINESS.com in Albuquerque.
In fact, Fleetwood, which introduced an entry-level Encounter Class A at last winter’s Louisville Show, has hiked its production rates to keep pace with the demand for its motorhomes, which, according to Inkrote, ranked first in national Class C retail sales for January. “We haven’t been in that position in a long time, and we expect the same success to continue through February and March,” said Inkrote, whose new Indiana-based company is a successor to California-based Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., which filed Chapter 11 last year.
What qualifies as a low-priced motorhome in this post-recessionary era for Fleetwood, which builds Tioga, Jamboree, Sport and Ranger-brand C-bodies, are Class C’s retailing for around $75,000 to $80,000 and Class A’s that sell for not much more than that. “We are seeing an MSRP on our Encounter of under $100,000 – a transaction price average of $80,000 to $85,000, which is where that customer is coming in and looking for a used product right now,” said Inkrote. “We’re saying ‘Look at the used, but you can also buy a new one for the same price.’”
By the same token, Justin Humphreys, national sales manager for Fleetwood’s American Coach line, sees some growth beyond the low end. “We are seeing an improvement on what we would consider the lower side of the high end market,” he said. “Our Revolution actually doubled sales versus February last year and that’s a good-apples-to-apples comparison because we weren’t in the reorganization period yet. We are seeing a lot of people who had some 45-foot, big heavy diesels trade down into the Revolution, and it offers a great value as well.”
Having been out on the road extensively visiting dealers, Newmar Corp.’s senior management is focused on maintaining long-term relationships on the assumption that those are the key ingredients for future stability and growth.
“This is a continuation of something that we started last September,” said John Sammut, vice president of sales and marketing for the Nappanee, Ind., company. “We decided we were going to get out in front of our dealers during the tail end of what has been a very terrible time in our industry, as well as look for prospective dealers in markets where we’re currently unrepresented.
“We’re just re-emphasizing the fact that Newmar did what it had to do during this last 18-month period,” he added. “We made some tough decisions, but they were solid decisions. The company is still strong and well capitalized and we’re running five days a week production. We’ve been fortunate enough to be doing that since September. A large part of that is due to the face time we’ve spent with our dealers and acquiring new dealers for our products in markets that were vacated by some attrition that has happened in the dealer network over the last year to 18 months.”
Looking back at those conversations with dealers, Sammut adds, one of the most consistent messages is that the credit crisis continues, despite the market’s tentative resurgence. “The biggest problem dealers have got is with the banks,” Sammut told RVBUSINESS.com. “Hopefully, sometime in the future, the banks will loosen up. We still hear all kinds of horror stories about customers that come in, have great credit scores, but they don’t get financed.
“That’s probably the biggest concern the dealers have,” he noted. “But that hasn’t kept us from signing up new dealers. And we’re setting them up with more of our entry-level product, but even our high-end is starting to come along, too.”
Newmar Chairman and CEO Dick Parks agreed that the credit situation has not eased to the extent that anyone would like. “That’s absolutely true,” said Parks. “We would be selling a lot more higher end product if credit was a little bit more relaxed. The banks were too loose at one point, and then came the big downturn, and now they are too tight. We’d like to see them get into the middle someplace.
“I don’t think the banks understand our business,” he noted. “They want zero liability. Basically, that’s how they are running their businesses now. They want zero risk – retail and wholesale – and they are trying to tell dealers how to run their business, strictly based on the fact that they don’t want any risk.”
On the other hand, Newmar President Matt Miller points out that the recession is perceptibly lifting. “No question,” said Miller, son of Newmar founder Mahlon Miller. “We’ve definitely come through the worst of it. The market is not as strong as we’d like to see it. But like Dick was saying, the main problem is the banking situation. If the pendulum were somewhat closer to the middle, our business would be much stronger.”
“The biggest thing that has changed from a year ago that we’ve seen in 2010,” adds Sammut, “is that consumer confidence has improved and their willingness to get serious and talk about the purchase of a recreational vehicle product has greatly improved from a year ago. Again, the single limiting factor about how quickly or how gradually our industry recovers is in the hands of the financial institutions.”
Jim Jacobs, recently named general manager of the Jayco Inc.’s Entegra Coach and Starcraft operations after serving as vice president of sales and marketing for the Middlebury, Ind.-based firm, says he’s been seeing “fantastic” retail show attendance, even if those attendance figures don’t always equate with sales totals. Having said that, Jacobs noted, the Middlebury, Ind.-based manufacturers is doing well.
On the towable side of the business, less expensive products are performing best – including lightweights – while higher-end fifth-wheels are still a bit soft. “It’s not where we want it to be,” said Jacobs. “But, overall, we’re pretty pleased about where we are in the markets.
“On the motorized side,” he continued, “we’re doing pretty well. In fact, we’re pleasantly surprised. We just announced we’re putting a significant addition onto our Class A plant and it’s going to boost our production capabilities well beyond where we are today. And we need that. Quite frankly, we’ve got a backlog on the Entegra Coach side that is much bigger than we are comfortable with.”
Although Jayco is fairly new at the Class A game, Jacobs pointed out, things are going well with it in the early stages – a time during which Jayco has signed some high volume and reputable dealers. “We think that (Entegra) is going to be a significant growth opportunity for Jayco,” said Jacobs, adding that the key to navigating today’s “tough” motorized market is “trust” as the recession lifts.
Toward that end, Jacobs maintained, it seems as if the history, strength and reputation of Jayco are boosting the company’s new Entegra Coach division.
“And we’re seeing the same carryover onto the retail side of it,” maintained Jacobs, whose company had a brief foray into the Class A business seven years ago. “People are extremely familiar with Jayco, and when they walk in our Entegra Coach product, they are very accepting of the fact that this is a good long-term company that bought out the assets of Travel Supreme, and Travel Supreme had a pretty good reputation in the industry as well. It’s been a good marriage for us.”
Convincing wholesale and retail customers that Jayco is in the Class A market for the long haul is the key, said Jacobs. “What we’ve done with our Entegra Coach, the commitment we made to brick and mortar by adding on to our manufacturing facilities, I think people are really starting to come around to the idea that we are serious about the Class A market and won’t relive 2003 all over again and we will be a long-term player in the Class A market.”
Motor Home Specialist in Alvarado, Texas, has joined the Entegra Coach network of dealerships, according to a news release from parent company Jayco Inc.
In making the announcement, Jim Jacobs, general manager of Entegra Coach, said that Motor Home Specialist has been authorized to sell all three Entegra Coach diesel-powered Class A motorhome lines: Aspire, Anthem and Cornerstone.
“We are proud to welcome Motor Home Specialist to the Entegra Coach team,” Jacobs said. “They have been the No. 1 selling motorhome dealer in the state of Texas for three consecutive years and they will be a great asset not only to Entegra Coach, but also to our growing network throughout the U.S. and Canada.”
Motor Home Specialist was founded in 1998 and is one of the most successful family-owned and family-operated RV dealers in the country. In 2009, Motor Home Specialist was the No. 2 volume selling diesel Class A motorhome dealer in the United States.
“The Entegra Coach commitment to customers and dealers, as well as their dedication to building quality products helped lead us to our decision,” said Donny O’Banion, Motor Home Specialis CEOt. “They are a division of Jayco Inc., one of the most respected names in the RV business and we know they have the strength and integrity to stand behind their products. Their knowledge and ability to satisfy customer needs is exactly the kind of business partnership that we look for.”
As one of a number of recreational vehicle manufacturers recovering from the recession of 2008-2009, Jayco Inc. will start building high-end Entegra Class A motorhomes in June in a 30,000-square-foot addition to its factory in Middlebury, Ind.
”The expansion has started,” Jayco President and COO Derald Bontrager told RVBusiness. ”We have moved dirt. We anticipate that the building will increase our production from 150 a year to right around a thousand.”
The city of Middlebury in February approved a 10-year tax abatement on the property and a three-year abatement on manufacturing and IT equipment that will be going into the new facility.
In a related move, Jayco in May will restart limited production of its Starcraft towable RV brand in the same Topeka, Ind., factory that it mothballed last year as the company moved Starcraft production to Middlebury during the recession. Full production of Starcraft units is expected to shift back to Topeka over the next two to three years as some models continue for now to be built in Middlebury.
Initially, Jayco will move 65 people to Topeka to build Starcraft’s Autumn Ridge and Travel Star towables.
”At the time (of Starcraft’s 2009 move to Middlebury) we said that when market conditions allowed us we would reopen in Topeka,” Bontrager said. ”We feel the time is now to take advantage of the market that is starting to return. We don’t have a timetable yet, but we will be moving all our Starcraft product lines over to Topeka.”
Jim Jacobs recently was named general manager of both the Starcraft RV and Entegra Coach divisions.
Bontrager said that both moves are in response to improvement of the RV market as the U.S. emerges from the longest economic recession in more than 50 years.
”During the winter months, part of what’s been going on, along with the increased retail activity, is that dealers have been restocking for the upcoming spring selling season,” Bontrager said. ”Retail shows all over the country have been very well attended and sales have been relatively good — better than last year. People are doing more than looking. They are out buying.”
In 2008, Jayco acquired the assets of former Wakarusa, Ind.-based Travel Supreme Corp. and created the Entegra line of Class A diesel pushers in lengths up to 45 feet with MSRPs from $250,000 to $600,000.
The recession that followed stifled Jayco’s plans for the Entegra. ”We are still pretty much a startup in the luxury diesel market,” Bontrager said.
Bontrager said the expansion of the Entegra production line is necessary. ”With our current production capacity of 150 a year, our backlogs have grown to an unacceptable level,” he said. ”We anticipate that there will be a two-year ramp up to get to the production level we want to hit as we build our dealer base and add to our (Entegra) product offering.”
Bontrager reported the company has rehired 250 people that had been laid off and that Jayco’s total employment is now at about 1,500 workers. ”Our production today is double what it was a year ago,” he said.
But while economic prospects appear to be improving, Bontrager said that the RV industry still has a way to go before full recovery.
”There are still a lot of segments of our industry and of the economy that have to come back before we are on really solid footing. It’s going to be a different type of recovery; it’s going to be a slow recovery.”