NFL legend Terry Bradshaw and musical prodigy Patrick Henry Hughes thrilled the audience with inspiring appearances at Outlook 2011: “A New Era Begins,” held Tuesday (Nov. 30) at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky.
The event kicked off the 48th Annual National RV Trade Show, sponsored by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
Appearing courtesy of the major sponsorship of EverGreen Recreational Vehicles, Bradshaw tapped his trademark enthusiasm to share remarks on his personal game plan for success and his thoughts on the RV industry, according to a news release.
Bradshaw, whose affiliation with Evergreen’s line of eco-friendly trailers was announced earlier this year, said he has been impressed with the RV industry. “The industry has a great reputation and the outlook for the future is good.”
Bradshaw told the audience that he is an avid RV owner of a fifth-wheel travel trailer. “I take my RV all across the country, showing horses with my daughter,” he said. “Traveling by RV is a great way to go for families.”
He also advised attendees to simply have fun to be successful. “It you love what you do and are committed to what you do, you will have that passion that is needed to flourish.”
A native of Louisville, Hughes was joined by his father, Patrick John Hughes, in a powerful performance that touched on his heartwarming story of overcoming tremendous obstacles and included two songs — “What a Wonderful World” and “America the Beautiful.”
Patrick Henry Hughes was born unable to walk and without eyesight, but he has overcome these physical issues to excel as a musician and student. He has been featured on Oprah, Ellen, NBC’s Today, and ABC’s Extreme Make Over Home Edition
A musical genius, he began playing the piano at 9 months old and is now a virtuoso pianist, vocalist and trumpet player. He even participates in the University of Louisville Cardinal Marching Band with help from his father, who tirelessly maneuvers his wheel chair through the formations.
“I mean, God made me blind and didn’t give me the ability to walk…big deal,” said Patrick. “He gave me the talent to play piano and trumpet and all that good stuff. There are days when I’d rather stay at home, but life is about overcoming obstacles no matter how big they may seem.”
“I always thought I’d have a son who would be a hero on the football field,” dad Patrick John added. “Little did I know that he would be in a wheel chair as a member of the band, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m so proud of Patrick Henry and all that he’s accomplished.
Musical prodigy Patrick Henry Hughes will inspire and entertain attendees at the “Outlook 2011: A New Era Begins” breakfast Nov. 30 in Louisville, Ky., with his talent and heartwarming story of overcoming tremendous obstacles to achieve his dreams, according to a news release.
The event is sponsored by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and kicks off the 48th Annual National RV trade Show.
A native of Louisville, Patrick has been featured on Oprah, Ellen, NBC’s Today, and ABC’s Extreme Make Over Home Edition. Born unable to walk and without eyes, he has overcome these physical issues to excel as a musician and student. A musical genius, he began playing the piano at 9 months old and is now a virtuoso pianist, vocalist and trumpet player. He even participates in the University of Louisville Cardinal Marching Band with help from his father, Patrick John Hughes, who tirelessly maneuvers his wheel chair through the formations.
“Appearing with his father at ‘Outlook 2011,’ Patrick will perform and share his story of overcoming obstacles, seeing what’s on the inside and being more than you think you can be,” said Gary LaBella, RVIA vice president and chief marketing officer. “It should be a very powerful appearance.”
Patrick Henry Hughes joins an impressive lineup of “Outlook 2011” guests that also includes NFL great Terry Bradshaw (appearing courtesy of the generous sponsorship of EverGreen Recreational Vehicles LLC) and performance artists Quick Change.
“Outlook 2011: A New Era Begins” will kick off the trade show on Tuesday morning, Nov. 30, at 7 a.m. in the Kentucky Exposition Center’s (KEC) South Wing Mezzanine Ballroom. The free event will begin with a complimentary sit-down breakfast. As one of the industry’s most anticipated annual events, another enthusiastic crowd of more than 1,000 is expected to be on hand and attendees are urged to arrive early as lines form before the doors officially open.
RVIA Chairman Gregg Fore will host the high-energy, multimedia program which will feature “Forging Our Future” with Richard Coon sharing his thoughts on the important trends impacting the RV market and how RVIA is working to forge a bright future for the industry.
In “Go RVing: Inspiration for a New Era,” Go RVing co-chairs Bob Olson and Tom Stinnett join LaBella to introduce the new Go RVing Leads Plus program, report on the impact of the Ambassadors of Affordability campaign, and unveil new plans for 2011.
“RVIA Public Relations: A New Era of Possibilities” with RVIA Public Relations Committee Chairman B.J. Thompson and LaBella will feature the duo discussing tools and strategies to maximize the exposure of RVing in a changing media landscape and sharing some of the resulting high-impact publicity that’s helping stoke demand for RVs.
The program and breakfast are free for attendees on a first-come, first-serve basis. All Louisville show attendees are welcome, and no reservations are necessary. Show badge registration will be available in the South Wing Lobby C Entrance.
NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, former Pittsburgh Steelers great and popular broadcaster Terry Bradshaw will be a featured speaker at the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) Outlook 2011: A New Era Begins Nov. 30 in Louisville, Ky.
Appearing courtesy of the major sponsorship of EverGreen Recreational Vehicles, he will tap into his contagious enthusiasm to share remarks on his personal game plan for success. Bradshaw, whose affiliation with EverGreen’s line of eco-friendly trailers was announced earlier this year, will also provide his thoughts on the RV industry.
Outlook 2011: A New Era Begins will kick off the 48th National RV Trade Show at 7 a.m. in the Kentucky Exposition Center’s (KEC) South Wing Mezzanine Ballroom. The free event will begin with a complimentary sit-down breakfast. As one of the industry’s most anticipated annual events, another enthusiastic crowd of more than 1,000 is expected to be on hand and attendees are urged to arrive early as lines form before the doors officially open.
RVIA Chairman Gregg Fore will host the high-energy, multimedia program which will feature “Forging Our Future” with Richard Coon sharing his thoughts on the important trends impacting the RV market and how RVIA is working to forge a bright future for the industry.
In Go RVing: Inspiration for a New Era, Go RVing co-chairs Bob Olson and Tom Stinnett join RVIA Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Gary LaBella to introduce the new Go RVing Leads Plus program, report on the impact of the Ambassadors of Affordability campaign, and unveil new plans for 2011.
RVIA Public Relations: A New Era of Possibilities with RVIA Public Relations Committee Chair B.J. Thompson and LaBella will feature the duo discussing tools and strategies to maximize the exposure of RVing in a changing media landscape and sharing some of the resulting high-impact publicity that’s helping stoke demand for RVs.
The program and breakfast are free for attendees on a first-come, first-serve basis. All Louisville show attendees are welcome, and no reservations necessary. Show badge registration will be available in the South Wing Lobby C Entrance.
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.
“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.”
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.
“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 RVBUSINESS.com. “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.’”
“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 RVBUSINESS.com. “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 RVBUSINESS.com 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.”
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 Buddies’ review and “Spotlight Video” of the EverGreen Ever-Lite 31RLS travel trailer is now on RVBuddiesOnline.com.
Among the biggest attractions at the FRVTA SuperShow in Tampa, Fla., were the all-new travel trailers and fifth-wheels from EverGreen Recreational Vehicles. RV Buddies grabbed the opportunity to look at their 31RLS to see what the buzz was all about, according to a news release.
It didn’t takes us long to find out. EverGreen Recreational Vehicles is the first RV company to achieve the TRA Certified Green Emerald Rating for its eco-friendly RVs.
“That’s pretty incredible,” says Mark Summers, host and producer of RV Buddies, “They’ve only been in business for a few years and already they are setting industry standards for eco-friendly, green products.”
EverGreen uses lightweight composite materials, which replace non-sustainable wood products. This makes their RVs more durable, longer lasting and up to 20% lighter than comparable products for easier towing and improved fuel economy.
The 31RLS features a beautiful exterior and a practical, livable floor plan that offers a pair of comfy chairs and jack knife sofa for television viewing, a dinette and full kitchen, a complete bath with shower and a private bedroom with a residential queen bed – all in just 31 feet.
To read the complete review with all the photos, details and specifications on this model, along with a two-minute “Spotlight Video.” go to RVBuddiesOnline.com.
Elkhart, Ind., is the groundhog of the recovery, according to U.S. News & World Report.
As home to much of what’s left of the recreational vehicle industry, Elkhart has been the poster child of the Great Recession. It is regularly cited as an example of what’s not working with the economy. So, when we say that signs of a recovery are appearing in the RV industry, let’s hope Elkhart doesn’t get frightened by its shadow and disappear for another six months. Like other early indicators of the recovery, this one is not as robust as we may like.
RVs got hammered by soaring oil prices, the credit crunch and the recession. People were turned off by the industry’s gas-guzzling image. If they did have the resources to buy, they found credit had dried up and attractive purchase terms were hard to find. As 2008 dragged into 2009, of course, fewer and fewer people had the resources to even think about buying an RV. Industry shipments of all RVs — from small towable campers to motorhome luxury liners — cratered at fewer than 6,000 units a month as 2008 ended.
For all of 2008, shipments totaled only 237,000 units, off by nearly a third from 2007, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). And 2007 itself fell 10% short of 2006 glory days, when close to 400,000 new RVs were shipped. But sales started to pick up slowly later in 2009. And though annual shipments for the year were only 165,000 units — off another 30% from 2008 — year-over-year monthly comparisons turned consistently positive. Forecasts for 2010 shipments exceed 200,000, according to the RVIA.
“We’ve just gone through a pretty trying time the last couple of years, both as a company and as an industry,” Robert J. Olson, head of Winnebago Industries Inc., says in an interview. While Winnebago continues to be the largest motorhome producer, it was precisely those high-end units that took the biggest hit. Winnebago laid off roughly 2,500 of its 4,200 employees, says Olson, who began working at Winnebago more than 40 years ago as an hourly production employee.
In many respects, he notes, RV sales had their own bubble economy, just as stationary housing did. “We were no different than some of the housing loans out there. You didn’t need a down payment. You didn’t have to make what you said you made” on income disclosure statements. People were offered 20-year loans.
With many manufacturers and dealers forced out of business, a gradual recovery began last fall. Dealers had been forced to deplete their inventories, both to survive and because financing dried up for the purchase of showroom models. Today, Olson says, “we are back to working 40-plus hours a week for our employees. We have hired 340 workers back and dealers are starting to replenish inventories.”
Still, it is a difficult market environment, and the recovery has been slowed by continuing tightness in credit markets. Sid Johnson is director of marketing for Jayco Inc., a large maker of towable RVs. By numbers, he notes, towables dominate the RV industry, and they were less affected than expensive motorhomes during the downturn. Still, Jayco sales were hurt, and it, too, laid off many employees, cutting payrolls from 2,200 to 1,200. “Starting last fall, the business started to pick up again, and that has continued ever since.”
However, many loans that would have been approved before the recession are being rejected today. “We’re currently in the retail show season throughout the country,” Johnson says. At a show in Detroit on a recent weekend, the Jayco dealer reported brisk sales. “One of our dealers sold almost 70 units,” he recalls. “But only 40 of those 70 cleared credit.” Several years ago, nearly all those sales would have received financing.
As consumers slowly rediscover RV dealer showrooms, they will notice models with substantial fuel economy gains, a slew of environmentally friendly features such as lighting with light-emitting diodes (LEDs), and lots and lots of big, flat-screen TVs and other electronics. Jayco is making a fuel-cell prototype, and hybrids have started appearing as well. As often happens during a steep downturn, a number of new companies started up last year, with lower-cost business models and new approaches. One of them, EverGreen Recreational Vehicles in Middlebury, Ind., was the first company to receive a special “green” certification late last year for using lightweight composites that can be recycled and following environmentally friendly manufacturing practices.
“There are many times that this industry has been written off as dead,” Winnebago’s Olson says. “But the RV lifestyle reflects a type of culture you’re not going to take away from the American people. This is a way of life. And what we’re finding is that a lot of people, when they were kids, their folks took them on camping trips.” Now, they want to give those kinds of memories to their children and grandchildren.
“We’re memory makers.”
EverGreen Recreational Vehicles LLC continues to revolutionize the RV industry as the first all-composite, eco-friendly, manufacturer to achieve the TRA Green Certified Emerald Rating for its Ever-Lite travel trailers and fifth-wheels.
The company achieved the rating on Nov. 19 and will be only RV company to introduce its 2011 line of eco-friendly trailers at the 47th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., Dec. 1-3, according to a news release.
“We formulated the parameters based on the National Green Building Standard and tailored that standard to the recreational vehicle industry,” said, Mandy Leazenby, green program manager for Elkhart, Ind.-based TRA Certification Inc. “We must extend solid congratulations to the EverGreen team, as we were positive an RV company would never achieve our Emerald Certified Green Rating. They proved us wrong. No other Emerald Certified Green companies will be at the upcoming RVIA Show. EverGreen is the only RV company to achieve this status.”
The certification was based on the eco-friendly, all composite, wood free outside wall construction with which EverGreen trailers are built, and the fact that all these materials are completely recyclable. The Certified Green Emerald Status was also based on EverGreen’s lean and green manufacturing processes that recycle all waste and even reuse window and wall cutouts as baggage doors on its products.
“Our team was extremely proud to receive this distinction upon the review of our last audit by TRA,” said EverGreen President, Doug Lantz. “It’s the honored verification of a journey we have all traveled together since we all founded EverGreen. Our vision was always towards the future, to become the RV industry’s first truly green company. We are all very proud to achieve this honor.”
To learn more about EverGreen Recreational Vehicles, visit www.goevergreenrv.com. Write: EverGreen Recreational Vehicles LLC at 10758 County Road 2, Middlebury, IN 46540 Phone (574) 825-4298 Fax: (574) 825-4299
The Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) will honor 18 RV brands built by eight manufacturers with its Quality Circle Award just prior to the opening of the National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 30.
These brands/manufacturers received at least 15 dealer responses and scored 80% or above in overall dealer satisfaction in the association’s 16th Annual Dealer Satisfaction Index (DSI) survey, according to a news release.
“Dealers believe the DSI is a tool to help improve communication and the overall relationship with their manufacturers,” said Debbie Brunoforte, RVDA chairman of the board. “The survey measures dealer attitudes in key policy, product, and procedure areas that dealers say are the most important elements in their business partnerships with manufacturers.”
The towable RV brands/manufacturers receiving awards are (in alphabetical order):
- Forest River Inc.– Rockwood/Roo & Rockwood folding camping trailers.
- Jayco Inc. –Designer, Eagle, Jay Feather, Jay Flight, folding camping trailers and SUTs.
- Keystone RV Co. –Fuzion/Passport/Springdale; Montana/Cougar; and Sprinter/Bullet/Outback.
- KZRV LP –Coyote/Spree, Inferno/MXT and Sportsmen.
- Open Range.
- Palomino travel trailers and fifth-wheels.
The three motorized RV brands/manufacturers receiving awards are (in alphabetical order):
- Tiffin Motor Homes Inc.
- Winnebago Industries Inc.
Additionally, two manufacturers of two towable brands, and one motorized brand received DSI Honorable Mention awards for receiving scores of 80% or above in overall dealer satisfaction from 10 to 14 responding dealers. They are (in alphabetical order): Airstream Inc. and EverGreen Recreational Vehicles in the towable category and Itasca in the motorized category.
When rating their brands/manufacturers, RVDA asks dealers to express, confidentially, their level of satisfaction on eight core issues:
- Sales support
- Sales territory
- Vehicle design
- Vehicle reliability/quality
- Competitive price/value
- Parts support
- Dealership warranty support
- Overall dealer communications
The 16th Annual DSI survey was conducted between August and October. Three hundred and twenty-two (322) dealers responded to the DSI this year, and provided 1,644 brand ratings, an average of almost five per dealer.
Delmarva RV Center Inc.has added the eco-friendly, all-composite Ever-Lite travel trailers to its extensive line of recreational vehicles at its Milford, Del., location and will showcase it and other major brands at the upcoming recreational vehicle show at the Blue Hen Corporate Center in Dover today through Sunday, (Oct. 8-11), according to the Cape Gazette, Lewes, Del.
“Delmarva RV Center is excited to introduce the EverGreen Ever-Lite travel trailer to Delaware and the surrounding marketplace,” said Chris Lambert, sales manager. “Ever-Lite travel trailers are awesome-looking trailers. They are one of the easiest trailers to sell. People can see, feel and touch the quality of it.”
A bright spot in the RV manufacturing world, EverGreen Recreational Vehicles entered the market as a start-up just nine months ago and has introduced its eco-friendly Ever-Lite travel trailers. These lightweight, recyclable trailers are the first to use all sustainable ComposiTek construction in the floors, walls and roof to drastically reduce volatile organic compounds out-gassing including formaldehyde.
ComposiTek construction makes Ever-Lite trailers 20% or 1,000 to 1,200 pounds lighter than conventionally built RVs without reducing essential equipment and luxury like other brands. Standard features include a power awning, large queen pillow-top mattress made from recycled material, high-output power fan in the bedroom, convection/microwave oven and a black tank flush not available on other ultralight products.
EverGreen eliminated 50 sheets of lauan, a hardwood veneer made from old growth tropical rain forests, from each trailer it builds. With virtually no wood in the box construction, the composites are impervious to water and cannot rot, mold, mildew or dry rot.
To further help the environment, for every unit sold to the public, EverGreen plants a tree in the customer’s name.
“We are proud to partner with Delmarva RV Center. They have been successful in the RV business for over 16 years and really understand how our innovation will change the industry,” said Kevin C. Slater, vice president of sales for EverGreen.