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Jayco’s Homecoming: Dealers in An Upbeat Mood

June 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

200px-jayco_logoWith the RV industry starting to pick up a little momentum, some 140 dealers gathered in Middlebury, Ind., this week (June 22-24) for Jayco Inc.’s ”Homecoming” to be followed Thursday and Friday by dealers handling Starcraft towables and Entegra Class A motorhomes. 

”Dealer attitudes have been extremely positive,” Jayco President Derald Bontrager told RVBusiness during a break in the action at Jayco’s main complex on Ind. 15. ”The biggest negative we are facing this week is the availability of product. Our lead times have grown with the orders we’ve taken in the last 30 to 45 days, which is a good problem to have.”

Jayco, operating its Jayco, Starcraft and Entegra divisions with a 1,200-person workforce that is about 45% smaller than a year ago, is offering new 2010 Jayco products that include the Precept Class C motorhome, the newly redesigned Baja folding camping trailer and Recon ZX sport utility RV.

New Starcraft products include a redesigned Lexicon fifth-wheel and the redesigned Starcraft 36RT folding camping trailer.

The dealer gathering included factory tours and a ”meet-and-greet” Amish-style awards dinner Monday night at Das Dutchmen Essehnaus restaurant in Middlebury. ”The dealers really enjoy being here in Middlebury,” Jayco Chairman Wilbur Bontrager said. 

Jayco’s management, at the same time, is convinced that the RV industry is beginning to slowly emerge from the nation’s deep recession, but still faces wholesale and retail lending challenges.

”Retail lending from national lending sources has eased considerably from where it was,” reported Jim Jacobs, vice president of sales and marketing. ”But I think most dealers have simply found another alternative if that’s what they needed to do. We hear a lot of credit union talk out there, and in fact, some of the credit unions are being very aggressive with their retail lending.”

An uptick in retail traffic is equally evident, Derald Bontrager said. ”Six months ago, they (dealers) couldn’t get anybody to walk though the door hardly,” he said ”Today, some dealers are seeing record days on their lots in terms of the number of customers coming through the door. Pent-up demand is real.”

On the wholesale side of the equation, Jayco continues to take a wait-and-see attitude. ”Our immediate sense is that it’s certainly gotten better, but it’s not back to the atmosphere that it was 18 months ago,” Jacobs said. ”Lenders have eased a little bit and they’ve given us more availability with dealers.

”But I think the flooring companies are going to play a critical role in the fall and winter markets,” he added ”How willing they are to allow dealers to inventory product is going to be a key component of what goes on this fall.”

Despite media reports that have tended to make the RV industry appear ”irrelevant” during the global recession, Wilbur Bontrager contended the RV lifestyle is not going to go away.

”I maintain that as long as people take vacations, our industry will not be irrelevant,” he said. ”The long term outlook is very good. (The industry) may come back at a slower pace than it has in the past. It will gradually recover. I don’t want to put percentages on increases, but we should see increasing strength and recovery over the next two or three years.”

Nonetheless, there may be more industry fallout due to the economy. ”There could be more of a contraction, not only manufacturers, but suppliers also,” Wilbur Bontrager said.

Given the bankruptcy of Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. and the purchase of bankrupt Monaco Coach Corp.’s assets by Warrenville, Ill.-based Navistar International Corp., Jayco’s luxury Entegra motorhome division is well positioned for a recovery, according to Jacobs. 

”Frankly, with the two largest Class A manufacturers out there in complete disarray, we actually feel good about our position with that product,” Jacobs said. ”The next six to nine months probably will be a very slow ramp up for us with (Entegra). But long term, we know we can position ourselves as a very viable, very strong player in that market.”

”On the retail side, (dealers) are very concerned about aligning themselves with manufacturers that they believe are going to be here long term,” Derald Bontrager said. ”We talked about it in our opening remarks. We will be here.”

With regard to the Starcraft brand, Jacobs said Jayco wants to make it ”an all-inclusive” brand.

”We want to create a brand that dealers can look at and say, ‘I do not have any holes in this offering and it is something that I can build my entire dealership around.’ We have made huge strides in that arena in the last several months.”

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New Horizons RV Corp. Weathers Industry Downturn

June 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

With a wife and three children depending on him, Ryan Fore did not realize the extent of struggle he would face after being laid off from New Horizons RV Corp., an RV manufacturer based in Junction City, Kan., in December. His family no longer had health insurance.

The cost of gas mileage – necessary for job-hunting sometimes 10 or 20 miles away from his Chapman, Kan., home – took a toll, according to the Associated Press.

Unemployment compensation helped, but did not provide enough.

“At first, I didn’t think it would take very long to find work, but it did,” Fore said. “I took what I could get – and it took about three months.”

He moved out to western Kansas for almost two weeks to help his mother install fence on pastureland.

After that, he found temping jobs in Abilene and Chapman. Meanwhile, his wife Crystal, a full-time Kansas State University student, had to work more than 30 hours each weekend.

“When I lost my job, she worked more,” Fore said. “We have three kids, and they missed mom a lot.”

Then, in late April, he got the call. Jobs were returning to New Horizons, his supervisor said.

“I told him I’d be happy to come back again,” Fore said during an interview last week. “That was very good news.”

Between layoffs in November and December, New Horizons’ staffing dwindled to as few as 19 people.

Since then, the payroll has increased to 38 full-time employees. Only four positions have been eliminated, Hew Horizons president Phil Brokenicky said.

Interviews with Brokenicky and three of his employees suggested that while a variety of factors appear to have contributed to this turnaround, a commitment to product quality has been prominent.

The company’s 2010 fifth-wheel model has been top-rated by RV Consumer Group and sells for $134,000.

The custom RV features slide-out sections that extend an extra half-foot over the 2009 edition.

At 102 inches wide, the new unit’s width has increased by six inches. The RV has been built with double insulation, a ducted air conditioner and cherry-wood interior. With a goal of producing one new unit each week, New Horizons has a policy of building RVs only after orders have been placed.

Sluggish sales since August 2007 appear to be rebounding, but the year-to-date number of units delivered remains down 60%.

Late last year, Brokenicky said, the downturn meant employee layoffs, hiring his wife to work without pay and dipping into personal resources to keep the company afloat.

In essence, he said, it was not a time to “sit back and lick our wounds, but to look at our product, and make it even better than it already was.”

On the assembly line, this philosophy has been like the glue applied to fiberglass after Gerald Lechner has finished laminating.

For 39 years, Lechner has performed this and other production tasks.

He has seen the industry pummeled by Desert Storm, by the 1973 oil embargo, and by the recession that caused Mobile Traveler to sell its assets in 1989 to Harold Johnson, who started New Horizons.

A high-end product sold to relatively wealthy people has little chance of being permanently devastated by this recession, said Lechner, who had been laid off in January for three weeks, called back for three weeks and then laid off an additional two weeks.

“If it happens again, I might be in a little more trouble.

She carried us through,” Lechner said, referring to his wife.

Layoffs were determined by which parts of the production line were not in need. Roger Wilcoxson, a Clay Center man who has worked at New Horizons for two years, remained on staff, working on the 2010 prototype that will be featured on the cover of Trailer Life magazine later this summer.

“It was pretty stressful for everybody, really. Stressful for all of us,” Wilcoxson said. “We all know that it could still happen again.” 

“It was scary when we were building the prototype, looking across the street and seeing the empty parking lot” at the call center, Wilcoxson said.

Consumer confidence has improved the odds at New Horizon, as has an employer’s commitment. “I’ve drawn very little salary for 16 or 17 months,” Brokenicky said, “because your family can’t survive if the company can’t survive.”

Near a conference room where the employees shared their experiences, scenic photos reminding customers of the views that await them hung in the lobby.

“If somebody finds themselves out of employment, and things are looking gloomy, even if you have kids, I would say to not stress about it all the time,” Fore said. “Find a way to enjoy the weather, enjoy the sun,” he added, beads of sweat touching his brow as he paused from production.

“Things will work out – and usually when you least expect. Things do happen, the bad times do come to an end. You have to believe that.”

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Thor Earns Profit, Gains Market Share in Q3

June 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Thor Industries Inc. has announced results for the third quarter and nine months ended April 30.

Sales for the quarter were $415.5 million, down from $707.9 million last year. Net income for the quarter was $2.1 million, versus $27.85 million last year. 

Sales for the nine months were $1.08 billion versus $2.07 billion a year ago. Net loss for the nine months was $7.63 million versus net income of $87.67 million last year. 

RV sales in the quarter were $312.04 million,  down from $600.96 million last year. RV sales in the nine months were $777.02 million, down from $1.77 billion last year. Bus sales in the quarter were $103.4 million,  compared to $106.97 million last year. Bus sales in the nine months were a record $303.96 million, up from $300.4 million last year.

RV income before tax was $6.86 million in the quarter versus $45.4 million last year. RV loss before tax in the nine months was $7.21 million versus $137.12 million income last year. Bus income before tax in the quarter was $1.24 million, down from $5.11 million last year and $10.26 million in the nine months versus $12.8 million last year. Corporate net costs were $3.53 million in the quarter versus $6.17 million last year and $13.18 million in the nine months versus $9.9 million last year.

“We incurred a $9.7 million RV non-cash goodwill impairment charge and a one-time $4.7 million increase in bus self-insurance and other reserves in the quarter,” said Wade F. B. Thompson, Thor chairman. “We continue to substantially increase our market share in both towable and motorized RVs. For the three months ended March, our travel trailer and fifth-wheel share increased to 32.6% from 30.2% last year and our motorhome share increased to 16.7% from 13.3% last year. We also increased our market share in the first quarter in the small and mid-size bus industry to 41% from 37%. Our operating cash flow is positive, we continue to have zero debt, and we believe our cash and working capital is the strongest in our industries.”

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KZRV LP to Host Product Preview, Dealer Meeting

June 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Towables manufacturer KZRV LP will be hosting its 23rd annual dealer open house June 17-18 at its corporate office in Shipshewana, Ind. The combined product review and brief dealer meeting also will include a reception and awards dinner at Das Dutchman Essenhaus, an inn and conference center in nearby Middlebury.

“Having experienced several years of growth, we are now revisiting our history to guide what is the core of KZ and our brands,” said Andy Baer, vice president of sales and marketing, in a company press release. “With strong brands like Durango, Spree, Sportsmen, Coyote and Inferno, we have a solid foundation for the key market segments that are the strongest today.”

According to Baer, new products and floorplans scheduled for unveiling include the Durango 1500, a mid-profile fifth-wheel targeted to owners of half-ton trucks, and the Inferno SST, which Baer called a “value-focused edition of the successful Inferno.”

“Both products are within existing brand to avoid the confusion of adding any additional product lines,” he added.

KZ recently announced to its dealer body that the company is exiting the park model business and is placing a “hold” on the high-end Escalade and near-high-end Montego Bay fifth-wheel lines.

“While we have had tremendous success with both of these products, and have developed a sincere and supportive owner group, we feel that it is time to evaluate both market segments to ensure both ours and our dealers’ mutual success.” Baer added that KZ has a new product in development “that will address these segments and more accurately reflect the consumer’s needs and address the affordability question.”

KZ RV manufacturers fifth-wheel products under the Sportsmen, Spree and Durango brands, and travel trailers bearing the marquees Coyote, Coyote Lite, Sportsmen, Spree and Durango. Toy Hauler brands include Inferno, Inferno SST, Sportsmen Sportster, Coyote Rock Climber and MXT.

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Carriage to Hold June 9-11 Dealer Meeting in Boston

June 4, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

About 100 people representing 36 RV dealerships are expected to attend Carriage Inc.’s dealer meeting next week (June 9-11) at the World Trade Center and Seaport Hotel and Conference Center in Boston.

 Primary among new products will be a 3logo-117-foot ”motorhome-concept” Carri-Lite fifth-wheel featuring a  full-wall slideout with a large bathroom and shower in the cabover in front of the bedroom.

 ”We won’t be offering any new brands,” said Don Emahiser, vice president of sales and marketing. ”We  are trying to shore up what we have. We have some new features that we have added that we think are  sensational.”

Emahiser said it is important for Carriage to hold its dealer meeting away from the company’s Millersburg, Ind., manufacturing complex. ”We know that it’s not business as usual in the RV industry, but we want the whole world to know that we are still around and kicking,” he said.

From a high mark of about 120 dealers, reports Emahiser, the economic recession has cut that number to about 90.

”We’ve weathered the attrition storm better than some of the other manufacturers,” he said. 

Carriage manufacturers Royals International, Carri-Lite and Cameo fifth-wheels along with Domani fifth-wheels and travel trailers.

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RVIA: Wholesale Deliveries Down 57.6% in April

May 26, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Wholesale deliveries of RVs to retailers in April remained well off the 2008 pace but showed some improvement over March, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reported today (May 26).

April shipments totaled 13,300 units, compared with 31,400 units in April 2008, or a 57.6% decline, RVIA noted.

Towable shipments totaled 12,300, compared with 27,400 in April 2008, while motorized shipments totaled 1,000 units compared with 4,000 in April 2008.

Meanwhile, wholesale deliveries of towable RVs to retailers did continue their steady climb toward normalcy in April. The April shipment total of 13,300 for towables was slightly better than the 12,800 shipped in March.

Motorized shipments remained flat between March and April.

By segment, April shipments for each vehicle type were off by at least 50% in a year-over-year comparison. The vehicle type, April shipment total and corresponding figure for 2008 was as follows:

  • All travel trailers, 7,900, down from 16,600 in 2008.
  • Fifth-whele trailers, 2,900, down from 7,100 in 2008.
  • Folding camping trailers, 1,300, down from 3,100 un 2008.
  • Truck campers, 200, down from 600 in 2008.
  • Class A motorhomes, 300, down from 1,800 in 2008.
  • Class B motorhomes, 100, down fromn 300 in 2008.
  • Class C motorhomes, 600, down from 1,900 in 2008.

For the first four months of 2008, the industry has shipped 43,700 units, down 61.7% from the 114,000 shipped in the corresponding period in 2008.

Towable shipments in the first four months totaled 40,300 units, down 59.3% from the 99,000 shipped a year ago, while motorized shipments totaled 3,400 units, down 77.3% from the 15,000 shipped a year ago.

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Forest River Inc. Completes Coachmen Restructuring

May 21, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

In the nearly six months since it acquired the company, Forest River Inc. has restructured the former Coachmen RV Co. into six internal divisions under the leadership of former Coachmen President Michael R. Terlep.

Forest River in December purchased the Coachmen RV brand along with its manufacturing facilities in Middlebury, Ind., and Centerville, Mich. — creating its own Coachmen RV division — from Coachmen Industries Inc.

“The integration has gone remarkably well,” Terlep said. “It was a great move for Forest River and it was a great move for our brand and our customers.”

Each of five Coachmen RV divisions has a general manager and its own plant in Coachmen’s Middlebury manufacturing campus: Class A, Dave Miller; Class C, Mike Bear; laminated travel trailer, Bob Dumm; conventional travel trailer, John Babcock; and fifth-wheel, Don Medd. Folding camping trailers are being built in Centerville under General Manager Gar Warlick.

“We just ripped the complexity and cost out of our structure,” Terlep said. “Our overhead is running an absolute fraction of the matrix organization we ran before. Basically, we are getting all of the advantages and benefits of being Forest River and all the reductions in complexity and cost with timeliness of our product to the market.

“We are going to be a high-volume producer in the industry.”

 Terlep said the Coachmen RV divicoachmen-freedom-express1sion is in the process of reintroducing the Mirada Class  A motorhome as an entry level coach that will be available at the end of June.

 He said the company also has just introduced the Freedom Express lightweight laminated  travel trailer, shown at left, in lengths of 20 to 29 feet, and in January introduced the wood-and-aluminum Catalina travel trailer brand with an average price  of $17,000.

 Also, the Chaparral fifth-wheel has been “totally revamped,” according to Terlep, and a  new fifth-wheel line is under development. “They are perfectly positioned for the market,” he said.

“We are signing up a lot of new dealers, and in some cases we are doubling plant rates, depending on orders.

“The big thing is that this is an all-new Coachmen RV and with that comes a tremendous amount of confidence and newness. This team is fired up, despite challenging market conditions.”

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Keystone Debuts Laredo Outdoor ‘Camp Kitchen’

May 14, 2009 by · 4 Comments 


laredocookkitchen-0091

 Keystone RV Co., Goshen, Ind., has introduced a rear outdoor  ”Camp Kitchen” in the Keystone Laredo fifth-wheel and Laredo  Super Lite travel trailer (shown here) lines. The outdoor kitchen  is  equipped with a two-burner gas range, 4-cu. ft. refrigerator,  sink  with hot and cold running water, a storage drawer and four  overhead cabinets. With a single slideout, the 33-foot Laredo  291TG  travel trailer features a front queen bedroom, rear bunk  beds and a  convertible air-mattress sofa to sleep nine people, and  is equipped  with a 26-inch LCD TV, U-shaped dinette and electric  awning. “Since so much RV camping time is spent out of doors,  we focused on creating a fully equipped outdoor kitchen as the centerpiece of  this new floorplan,” says Ryan Juday, Laredo product manager.  “Dealers loved the product when we first showed it at Lousiville and it’s been a big hit at retail shows.   Sales of our two outdoor camp kitchen models, a Laredo travel trailer and fifth-wheel, are greatly exceeding expectations.”  MSRP: $26,900.

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Colorado State Parks Continue Fee Policy

May 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s Note: Travel writer Keith Bennett posted this recent story in the Denver RV Travel Examiner about RV travel in Colorado. 

If you drive a motorhome with a towed vehicle and wish to enter Colorado state parks, you will have to pay the $8/day entrance fee on both “motorized” vehicles for a total of $16/day to get in. If you drive a vehicle with a trailer or fifth-wheel in tow, you will only be charged $8/day. We were told this is the policy across all Colorado state parks. 

This policy has upset many RVers who visit Colorado and has been an issue on Internet forums going back to 2007. Comments range from not staying in Colorado state parks to, as long as the money goes to the state parks, then it is OK. Most commenters were upset at the perceived unfairness between motorhomes with toads and the rest of the camping visitors. 

We decided to check and see if anything has happened in the last two years to change this policy. We called the Denver administrative office at (303) 866-3437 and posed our question to determine the future of this policy. We were told that the State Parks Division has looked into this and “intends” to make some changes sometime in the future. The changes would be an ID pass for the motorhome and entrance pass for the toad. 

When pressed as to the timing of a new policy, we were told that it has to go before the state legislature and that it would not happen until next session, at the earliest. That would be fall of 2009 or nothing for this year’s season. The person went on to say that each park has its own manager and that if it was a real issue to plead ones case to the park manager for an exception. When asked if park managers have the authority to grant exception, the parks representative was very quick to back pedal and say, “I don’t want to speak for park managers, but they are managing their park…it’s worth asking, but if they are adhering strictly to the rules, any motorized vehicle does require a pass to be on the windshield. I’m just giving you the official word.” 

With the state’s budget issues, as a result of the economy, I am not optimistic for a change in this revenue generator. On the other hand, these are challenging times for all of us and I would hope that groups like CTO (Colorado Tourism Office) would jump in and press the need to have “happy customers” when the competition for the tourism dollar has just gone way up.

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Dutchmen Introduces SuperLite Denali Towables

April 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

2076175_denali

Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. has introduced the Denali SuperLite travel trailer and mid-profile fifth-wheel series, a lightweight version of its popular Denali towable line designed for towing behind mid-sized pickup trucks. Six of eight Denali SuperLite floorplans feature dry weights of 7,500 pounds or less, according to the company. The Goshen, Ind., Thor subsidiary was able to shave 800 pounds off of comparable units by employing a six-way welded aluminum cage superstructure with lightweight laminated floors and walls. An aerodynamic front profile also is intended to promote enhanced fuel economy. “The weight saving makes Denali SuperLite towable by most half-ton and one-ton trucks,” said Brent Stevens, vice president of marketing and sales. Four 26- to 31-foot travel trailer floorplans are equipped with up to two slideouts, while 26- and 27-foot fifth-wheels feature single living room slides. Solid wood cabinets, enclosed and heated underbellies and flat screen HD TVs are standard. MSRPs start at $21,500.

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