Despite a dip in attendance and a few hours of light rain at the outset of the Family Motor Coach Association’s (FMCA) 91st Family Reunion and Motorhome Showcase in Redmond, Ore., Cincinnati-based FMCA spokesmen reported a successful event with packed seminars, crowded social activities and solid sales for both indoor and outdoor exhibitors at the event, which ran Aug. 13-16.
“I can’t say whether the numbers were down a bit because of the distance of travel or whether it’s because of timing as school seems to keep starting earlier and earlier, so those may have been contributing factors,” said FMCA Executive Director Jerry Yeatts. “On the positive side, we had over 25% of the members who were first-timers. The comments I have are overwhelmingly positive.”
The official coach count was 1,876, with 402 of those commercial coaches. This was the fifth time the event had been held at Redmond, the last in 2010 when the coach count was 2,282.
Even though there may have been fewer attendees, however, Yeatts said that several of the reports he heard from dealers and suppliers indicated that sales were brisk.
“While we don’t actively measure sales, the word that we’ve heard from dealers is that it was a very good show for sales,” Yeatts said. “One dealer in particular had at least 18 coaches sold in the first two days and we heard similar stories from other dealers. On the supplier side, we had a couple of suppliers say that they’ve had the best show here that they’ve had in years.”
Along with the manufacturers covered in our previous postings, RVBUSINESS.com also touched bases with several other exhibitors – most of whom spoke well of the Redmond confab, which took place at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center near the Deschutes National Forest in Central Oregon.
Among them was the Allied Recreation Group (ARG), which had a couple of new Class A motorhome floorplans to show rally attendees.
“There were more people in the display (on Friday) than in the first two days, and the weekend was good as well,” said Suzy Fletcher, marketing coordinator for the ARG, parent firm of Fleetwood RV, based in Decatur, Ind. “New floorplans are always a big attraction at the show and the new 34T Bounder has been popular as well as the Discovery 37R.”
The new Bounder layout, sporting a base MSRP of $140,840, features a triple slide and separate bath and water closet at its midpoint, while the Discovery, carrying $281,710 base MSRP, offers four slideouts, a 40-inch LED TV, freestanding dinette and a recliner facing a 78-inch sofa bed in the living area.
Elsewhere, Charlotte, Mich.-based Spartan Chassis partnered with the Jayco Motorhome Group, manufacturer of the Entegra Coach Class A line, in a ride-and-drive program.
“Overall, our ride-and-drives went really well, with very satisfied customers,” said Eric West, business development director for Spartan. West added that one of the goals for the program is not only education, but encouraging consumers who really want a Spartan chassis to make their preferences known to manufacturers.
“There are [manufacturers] today that we are in discussions with, and they’re going to be releasing new platforms with Spartan chassis,” West said. “Foretravel Motorcoach until recently had built all their own chassis, and they’re now using a Spartan chassis. If you look at Newmar, Tiffin, Entegra and Foretravel, they’re all luxury brands, and they all have their flagships on Spartans.”
Also manning a Redmond display, of course, was Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. of Gaffney, S.C., which will be pushing the envelope this year in the resurgent Class A motorhome arena in terms of engine power.
“For the 2015 model year, there will be five coaches on our chassis at 600 horsepower,” said Bob Harbin, CEO and president of FCCC. “That’s up from zero last year. We’ll also have two chassis at 500 horsepower, so, overall, we’re growing a lot. Market share is growing, we’re over 75% in Class A diesels now and we expect that to continue to inch forward.”
Freightliner personnel also unveiled a new 24/7 Direct App to help consumers find service locations, and they had representatives on hand to gather customer input for future generation changes or additions.
The next national-scale FMCA reunion is planned for March 26-29, 2015, at the Fairplex in Pomona, Calif. — the seventh FMCA get-together taking place at that venue.
RVBusiness freelance contributor Ty Adams wrote this story.
NBC’s Weekend TODAY Show will interview RVIA spokesman and noted RV historian David Woodworth Saturday morning.
The segment will feature a 2010 Fleetwood Discovery and a 1916 Telescoping Apartment RV. The segment is scheduled to air live outside TODAY’s New York studios between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. EST, according to an alert from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
During the segment, viewers will see and hear about the evolution of RVing over the past century. Woodworth will also convey key messages such as the value and benefits of RV ownership.
As this is a live news program, the segment could be pre-empted by breaking news. Check your local listings to confirm the time the Weekend TODAY Show airs in your area.
RVIA and its public relations agency, Barton Gilanelli & Associates, continue to generate positive national and local RV stories about the RV industry and its centennial celebration.
The first two episodes of “Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood,” starring Fleetwood RV’s popular Bounder, Class A gas motorhome, will be televised tonight (April 7) on the Oxygen Network. The premiere episode airs at 10 p.m. EST and PST (9 p.m CST).
In the new season, Tori Spelling and husband Dean McDermott will offer an even closer look into their family life and at their own relationship, which will include a first-ever Spelling-McDermott cross-country family road trip. When the season kicks off, fans will be treated to a fun-filled, bumpy ride while Tori and Dean take turns at the wheel.
Visit the show’s website for sneak peeks and photos of Tori and Dean’s road trip in Fleetwood’s most popular gas motorhome: http://tori-and-dean.oxygen.com/.
The Atlantic City RV & Camping Show was busy right from its noon opening last Friday and there were plenty of buyers for its travel trailers, fifth-wheels and motorhomes in Atlantic City Convention Center — buyers from the past, present and future, according to the Press of Atlantic City.
Bill and Elly Sulzmann of Little Egg Harbor Township, N.J., came to the show to see what’s new. They already own two recreational vehicles, one a 25-foot trailer they use for travel. The other is a trailer with two slideouts they keep on a site at their favorite campground, Timber Lake Camping Resort in nearby New Gretna.
That one has double bunk beds in the back, Bill Sulzmann said, to accommodate the frequent visits from the couple’s 12 grandchildren.
Sometime in the future, he said, they’d like to trade both RVs in, get a motorhome and take it out West.
“But right now, there’s no need to get into a big loan,” he said, prompting his wife to add, “Not in this economy.”
Fred and April Watson of Atco are preparing to buy their first camper, a travel trailer that has three things a guy 6-feet-6-inches tall needs: a 7-foot ceiling, and 80-inch long bed and a big bathroom.
With their twin 3-year-olds nearly ready for recreation, the Watsons weighed April’s camping background against Fred’s time on large houseboats. The camping won in part, Fred Watson said, because anything on the water uses lots of extra expensive gasoline.
They liked the Sundance by Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC they saw Friday, but still have more work to do before buying.
Karen O’Conner, of Mantua, was already a buyer, having gotten a good deal on a 33-foot travel trailer last year.
She was at the show mainly to scout new campgrounds to visit this year with her family.
Last year, she, her husband and 2-year-old son went to Big Timber Lake Campground in Cape May Court House and Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp Resort in Mays Landing. They especially liked Shellbay Family Camping Resort in Cape May Court House.
“I’m looking for places that have waterparks. Our son loves the water,” O’Conner said.
Visitors should have loved the prices at the show, deeply discounted since the RV industry is at the bottom of its recession sales decline.
George Teutsch of Atlantic-Cape RV of Galloway Township showed a “loaded” 40-foot fifth-wheel trailer marked down to $59,900 from $84,000.
Among the smallest of the 120 or so vehicles on display is the R-Pod by Forest River Inc., about 18 feet but with a kitchen, refrigerator, furnace and bath. That’s priced at $11,999.
At the other end is the Fleetwood Discovery, a 40-foot-long motorhome the size of a bus that has every luxury, including an outdoor flatscreen TV to supplement the three inside. That’s priced at $194,950.
They drew lots of looks, even though nearly everyone at the show was interested in something in-between for themselves.
The show was sponsored by Affinity Events, a division of Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), which also publishes WWW.RVBUSINESS.com.
Mike Thompson’s RV Super Stores Tuesday (Nov. 3) opened a fourth location in Cathedral City, Calif., about 130 miles east of its flagship dealership in Santa Fe Springs southeast of Los Angeles.
“It’s kind of exciting that for the first time in a year and a half, we are hiring people instead of laying them off,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Mike Thompson’s sales director.
Mike Thompson’s, which also operates stores in Colton and Fountain Valley, Calif., has hired about 25 people to staff the new dealership featuring an outdoor display area on two acres.
“We’ve moved into the Palm Desert area to capture some of the Snow Bird market — the people from the East Coast, Midwest and Northwest who come to the sunny areas during winter months,” Rosenbaum said. “There was inventory sitting on the ground as of Tuesday. Five customers showed up while we were setting up.”
Rosenbaum said Mike Thompson’s will market heavily to RV owners occupying Palm Desert-area RV campgrounds and resorts with which the dealership already has made contact.
The dealership, Rosenbaum said, will establish temporary displays at several local campgrounds. “The local campgrounds have been absolutely the best you could possibly ask for,” Rosenbaum said. “They’re looking forward to a dealer being involved in the market out here.
”We will be visiting the campgrounds with units and we will have get-togethers for the campers. Word-of-mounth is the most important marketing we can do.”
Having recently added Tiffin motorhomes to its inventory, Mike Thompson’s also retails Itasca, Fleetwood Bounder and Bounder Classic, Forest River Georgetown, Damon, CT Coachworks and Four Winds motorhomes and Keystone towable RVs.
The new store’s split will be about 50/50 between motorhomes and towables, although Rosenbaum said that ”trailers will probably grow more.”
Rosenbaum credited Mike Thompson’s 97% customer satisfaction rating — measured by an independent research company — as generating the business to expand during economically challenging times.
”Our customer service index is pretty strong so we have some very strong customer loyalty,” he said.
Fleetwood RV Inc., Decatur, Ind., a leading producer of Class A and Class C recreational vehicles, has launched the limited edition 2010 Quest, a value-priced Class C diesel motorhome built on the imported, fuel-efficient Dodge Sprinter chassis, according to a news release.
The limited production run of 150 units will be available at select Fleetwood RV dealers nationwide.
The 2010 Quest is available in two 24-foot single slideout models: a rear bath floor plan with opposing sofa beds (24E); and a rear gaucho dinette with sofa sleeper and optional queen air mattress sofa bed (24L). Low profile caps and overhead 26″LCD TVs are standard on both models.
Customers also can select the optional cabover bed with 19″ LCD TV and DVD player.
“The 2010 Quest combines the fuel-efficiency of our Icon and Pulse motorhomes with the value pricing of our traditional Class C motor homes,” said John Draheim, Fleetwood RV president. “The market’s response to Quest has been better than expected. Our entire production run sold out in two weeks, and dealers are retailing them as fast as we can deliver them.”
“Our customers love the 2010 Quest,” said Loren Baidas, owner of General RV, with locations in Michigan, Ohio, Florida and Utah. “Both models are equipped with a multitude of standard features and increased sleeping capacities, even without the optional cabover bed, plus its price point makes it difficult to ignore.”
Retail prices start at $84,000.
For more information about the 2010 Quest, or any Fleetwood motorhome call 1-800-322-8216 or visit www.fleetwoodrv.com.
Production began today (May 19) in a former Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. towable facility in La Grande, Ore., purchased earlier this month by Ron Nash, president of Northwood Manufacturing Inc., which already was based in the northeast Oregon community.
“We will have some lines similar to what Fleetwood was doing with the Prowler, Wilderness, Terry and Backpack” Nash told RVBusiness.
The former Fleetwood factory, which Nash bought for $2.05 million, will produce yet-to-be-named towables under a new corporate umbrella.
“It will be owned by the (Northwood) corporation, but it will be a separate company with a new name,” Nash said. Units will be sold mostly in the northwest U.S. and southwestern Canada.
Nash anticipates shipping the first medium-priced units from the former Fleetwood factory by the middle of June. “We are not going to build the real low-end stuff,” said Nash, who was a Fleetwood general manager a number of years ago. “We need to build stuff with a little more integrity than that.”
One hundred production employees and a dozen managers, most of whom worked for Fleetwood before it closed its towable division in March prior to filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, have been called back. “Most of them are long-term Fleetwood people who were laid off,” Nash said. “And we’ve taken some people who have worked here (at Northwood).”
Nash said he also expects that as many as 50 Fleetwood dealers will stock the new product. “We have just started setting up the dealer network,” Nash said.
The 79,000-square-foot former Fleetwood factory complex includes a 72,000-square-foot main plant, a 7,000-square-foot chassis shop and an open-air warehouse. “It is a major move on our part, not only from an expense standpoint but from an opportunity standpoint,” Nash said.
The new company will set up extended warranties for Fleetwood products and for the foreseeable future will keep parts on hand for Fleetwood towables.
Northwood, with about 170 employees and a 200,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in La Grande, builds Nash and Arctic Fox travel trailers and fifth-wheels, Arctic Fox truck campers and Desert Fox sport utility RVs.
In May 2008, Northwood closed a manufacturing facility In Westchester, Va., that previously belonged to Fleetwood, citing the company’s inability to build its own frames as it does in Oregon.
“Our business has been difficult,” Nash said. “But we’ve maintained some of our best dealers and they are coming back to sales levels that are similar to what they were before the recession. Durability seems to have become a main issue, and that always has been our deal.”
The Wall Street investment firm Robert W. Baird & Co. sees a silver lining in this week’s quarterly report from Thor Industries Inc.
Thor reported a 41% drop in sales for the third quarter, but topped expectations on share gains and rental orders. “Backlog fell, but improved sequentially hinting at a stronger summer than we had modeled,” the investment firm reported to its clients. “Bankrupt competitors may resurface, but Thor has cut costs and accumulated cash to emerge stronger in the next cycle. We raised our price target to $21 and are looking for an opportunity to get involved.”
Thor reported preliminary sales for the quarter of $415 million, down 41% but it topped Baird’s estimate of $274 million. RV sales fell 48% to $311 million, but “exceeded our pessimistic estimate.” Bus sales fell 3% to $104 million. RV fundamentals remain weak, but improved as the quarter unfolded. It was not as bad as feared, Baird concluded.
The backlog fell to $441 million, down 16% from $526 million last year, including a 9% drop in the RV backlog and 23% drop in the bus backlog. “Importantly, the backlog improved sequentially and implies better Q4 revenue than we had modeled – suggesting Thor will remain profitable in FY2009.,” Baird stated.
Thor improved its towable share to 31.3% year-to-date, up from 30% in 2008, the investment firm noted. “Meanwhile, Fleetwood and Monaco filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection – leaving the door open to survivors like Thor. Together, Fleetwood and Monaco represented 7% of the towable market and 28% of the motorhome market in 2008. Recently, Navistar acquired assets from Monaco but has not indicated whether it plans to build RVs – so the share opportunity remains unclear.”
“We have begun to see faint signs of a bottom in the RV market,” Baird stated in its industry outlook. “Dealers remain reluctant to accumulate inventory, but consumer confidence has improved – hinting at a retail bottom. Meanwhile, Thor has cut costs and accumulated cash to position itself as a lean survivor with share-gain opportunities as the market recovers.”
Baird raised its earnings estimates for Thor based on this week’s report. It projects the company will earn 20 cents per share for the current fiscal year, up from its earlier estimate of a loss of 25 cents per share, and projects the company will earn 85 cents per share in FY 2010, up from 25 cents per share.
Thor reported $296 million in cash and equivalents at the end of the third quarter, a 19% increase over a year ago. This amount, Baird noted, will be sufficient to support acquisitions, internal growth initiatives, share buybacks and higher dividends.
Since filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this month, Riverside, Calif.-based RV maker Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. has received the court’s go-ahead to pay what it owed utilities, workers compensation benefits and employees, among other items, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
The company also has been granted permission to honor its warranties and dealer incentives — good news for the company and the company’s largest dealership, Lazydays RV Supercenter in Tampa, Fla., which has $15 million worth of Fleetwood inventory on its lots and $1.2 million worth of warranty claims on its books, according to statements at a recent bankruptcy hearing.
What remained uncertain as of late last week was the company’s efforts to obtain debtor-in-possession financing — a key that would allow Fleetwood to continue operating while officials try to find someone to buy the company.
A budget submitted in court filings forecasts the company’s sales and expenses from March 15 through June 14. According to the budget, Fleetwood expects to sell $81 million worth of products in that time.
But the company’s purchases, payroll, operating costs and more would cost it $103.3 million.
Fleetwood also needs $8.7 million to secure a bond to build military housing at Fort Bliss in Texas — part of a multi-million Defense Department contract.
The difference could be paid with debtor-in-possession financing — essentially a line of credit to keep it operating while a buyer is sought.
That’s where Bank of America, which has been a lender to Fleetwood, stepped in to offer an $80 million line of credit. However, it proposed charging Fleetwood $2.4 million in closing fees.
Hamid Rafatjoo, an attorney representing creditors, called the fee “outrageous” during last week’s bankruptcy hearing.
Wording in the more than 200-page financing proposal also indicated that the bank or Fleetwood could raise the $80 million credit limit at will without informing anyone else, Rafatjoo said.
“The committee isn’t going to support giving away the entire business to the bank,” he said.
A final proposal is due to the court by April 21.
Workers at Somerset, Pa.-based FTCA Inc., which builds folding camping trailers under the Coleman brand, approved a new four-year contract that provides annual wage increases, restores incentive pay and creates a new pension plan, the United Steelworkers said Wednesday (March 18).
The Tribune-Review reported that USW Local 2632, which represents about 200 workers at the plant, said the contract restores 10 paid holidays, vacation pay, shift differential and incentive pay and gives workers coverage under a previous health insurance program.
The union has been bargaining for a new contract since last fall.
FTCA was formed when Blackstreet Capital Partners LLC, a private equity firm based in Bethesda, Md., bought the former Fleetwood Folding Camper Trailer division from Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. on May 12 for an undisclosed sum. The purchase included the 430,000-square-foot plant in Somerset.
As part of a buyout, FTCA announced in early August that it had reached an agreement with The Coleman Co., Wichita, Kan., for use of the brand name.
Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. is negotiating with Bank of America for bankruptcy financing and hopes to present a plan to a bankruptcy court as early as next week, according to court documents.
Reuters reported that company spokeswoman Rivian Bell was not able to specify the amount of debtor-in-possession financing being discussed. Such financing is a loan made to a company to help it fund operations while it restructures under bankruptcy protection.
Fleetwood, which also makes manufactured housing, has asked the court to approve emergency funding to pay workers’ compensation benefits to third-party administrators, according to the company’s filing with the Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California in Riverside, Calif., on Monday. A hearing was scheduled for today (March 17).
Fleetwood filed for bankruptcy on March 10, hurt by high fuel prices and the U.S. economic recession that had limited sales of its recreational vehicles. The U.S. housing market decline has also slashed demand for its manufactured homes.
It is shuttering its travel trailer division and seeking a buyer for its motorhome and manufactured housing units.
“There has been outreach to strategic and financial buyers and there has been interest,” said Bell, adding that she was unable to clarify further.
A second class action lawsuit has been filed by employees of Coburg, Ore.-based Monaco Coach Corp. alleging that they did not receive proper notice following the layoff of 2,600 workers in Oregon and Indiana.
The lawsuit claims that Monaco violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act that provides employers must give 60 days notice to workers prior to a plant closing or mass layoff. The lawsuit seeks 60 days wages and benefits in lieu of the notice.
Monaco had stated earlier that additional “unforeseen business circumstances precluded” its ability to give 60 days notice to workers. Among the reasons cited were the economy, record gasoline prices last year, the credit crunch, the declining stock market and rising unemployment.
The legal action is a followup to Friday’s (March 13) filing by former employees of Fleetwood Enterprise Inc. making the same claims.
Fleetwood stated: “We don’t usually comment on pending litigation, but in this case there is a great deal of misinformation which is being disseminated, so we want to be very clear that we provided WARN notices to the affected associates in full compliance with the law, and further that we properly notified the appropriate federal, state and local authorities.”
As Country Coach LLC and Monaco Coach Corp. developed into major employers and economic powerhouses during the past 25 years in Lane County, Ore., an intertwined web of independent businesses grew up around them, providing the RV makers with paint, steel, upholstery, electronics and other materials and services required to build the luxurious land yachts.
As reported by the Register-Guard, Eugene, many of these local and regional companies came to rely on the money they made from the RV makers.
And, now that the RV manufacturers have fallen on hard times, many of their suppliers have lost a big chunk of business. A number of them are owed a lot of money — money they worry that they may never see with both Country Coach and Monaco in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.
But the impact of the near collapse of the RV industry in Lane County hasn’t been the same for all of the companies that previously grew along with the RV makers. Some of them say they’ve diversified enough that they’ve not been hurt too badly by the erosion of RV manufacturing. Others say they have had to lay off workers and scramble to find new business.
“They just hung us out to dry,” said Ken Millard, owner and president of Aries Engineering, which makes heated mats that go under tile floors in high-end motorhomes. “It’s devastating.”
His top three customers were Monaco, Country Coach and Fleetwood — all three of which are in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Sales at the company are 10% to 20% of what they were a year ago, he said. He’s had to lay off three of his six employees. While not among the top creditors, Millard figures his company is owed a total of $125,000 by Monaco and Country Coach.
“The loss of sales is tough,” he said. “What’s tougher is the loss of cash. They didn’t just stop ordering mats. They stopped paying for mats they ordered and that were shipped.”
Millard said he’s trying to branch out into the residential market for heated floors, but competition is stiff.
“I’m lucky to still have a company,” he said. “We are working furiously to generate a living revenue.”
The Bill Benetreu Co., a metal fabricator in Springfield, has been doing business with Country Coach since the early 1980s, building steel and aluminium parts such as hinges and brackets and storage bay doors, said Dawn Kosinski, the company’s CFO. Country Coach has been one of the company’s biggest customers, she said.
“We were prepared for a substantial downturn with them,” she said. “We did not anticipate a complete and sudden death of an entire industry.”
According to the Register-Guard, the company is among Country Coach’s top 20 unsecured creditors, with outstanding bills of $200,574, according to documents Country Coach filed last week in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Eugene.
About two years ago, the firm had 50 employees. Today, it’s down to about 30. In recent months, the company has imposed extended furloughs and gone to alternating work weeks, Kosinski said.
“We’re doing what everyone else is doing and just trying to be as prudent as possible and continue to ride out the economic storm,” Kosinski said. “We do have other industries we serve and we continue to serve those and foster those relationships. We’re trying to look for hot spots in the economy.”
When manufacturers spend money with a supplier, it doesn’t just sit there — it ripples through the economy, in what economists call a multiplier effect. The supplier, in turn, buys goods from other businesses. And it pays employees, who in turn buy groceries, pay rent, buy shoes or make a car payment.
But the opposite also is true. If the supplier loses a major customer, as has happened with the RV industry, and has to lay off employees, those workers don’t have the money to spend, and the economy suffers.
“It’s one of those domino things,” University of Oregon economist Tim Duy said. “One domino falls and the other falls after it. That ensures that the impact from this downturn is not limited to just the jobs at Country Coach or Monaco. It magnifies to the suppliers in the industry.”
TNT Speciality Advertising in Eugene is an example of a company on the periphery of the RV industry, but one that’s been hurt by its decline. The business, which produces promotional and marketing materials, sued Country Coach in November alleging the RV maker never paid for $91,734 worth of polo shirts, caps, travel mugs and other items emblazoned with the Country Coach logo.
“We were greatly affected,” company president Kim O’Brien said. “We’re still in business. We’re not going under, because we were able to absorb that hit over time. But we did have to let go of an office person who had been with us for six years.”
TNT had done business with Country Coach for about four years, and the RV maker represented about 35% of TNT’s business, O’Brien said.
O’Brien, who was working part time, has gone back to full time, and the business is out “beating the pavement” trying to drum up new accounts, she said.
On the other end of the spectrum is Guaranty RV, the Junction City dealer that’s been selling Monaco and Country Coach RVs since the 1970s. The dealer is among the biggest creditors of both Monaco and Country Coach.
Guaranty General Manager Shannon Nill said the rapid fade of the two RV makers is “still a shock.”
“Country Coach unraveled slowly, but no one expected Monaco to do this,” he said.
With the two companies in Chapter 11 and unable to pay bills, “It affects us greatly,” he said. “It hurts our financial capacity to do the things we’d like to do.”
Other, smaller vendors say they see a silver lining in the dark clouds around the RV makers. If people aren’t buying new RVs, that means they’re hanging on to their older models and might be willing to spend money to repair and update them.
The Register-Guard reported that the decline of the RV industry has forced Innovative Coach Works in Junction City, formerly Soundsational, to focus more on the after market, retrofitting older RVs with new electronics, said Matt Rossiter, owner of the Junction City business that specializes in RV electronics.
Country Coach often would hire the shop for custom jobs after the sale of a coach. Rossiter wouldn’t say how much his company is owed by Country Coach, other than it’s “enough to buy a new vehicle.”
While 2008 was a record year, Rossiter said he’s recently been forced to lay off four of his five employees, including family members — the first time in 13 years in business he’s had to let anyone go because of the economy.
He said he and other RV vendors are trying to put together a consortium that would market Junction City as the place to come for after-market service and maintenance.
“Regardless of the manufacturers, this is still the place to get your RV worked on,” he said.
“This is new for everybody. No one has ever seen the manufacturing base so low,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the summer months when people are coming back through.”
Steve Skiller, owner of Countryside Interiors in Junction City, said his business hasn’t been hurt too badly by Country Coach and Monaco’s problems because it already has diversified into after-market service. His business specializes in RV interiors, including reupholstering furniture and installing carpet. At its peak, the business had six employees. Today it has three full-time workers.
“The aftermarket is alive and doing well,” he said, although business is slower than it has been. Like Rossiter, he’s hopeful things will pick up this spring and summer.
“We have a bright outlook for the after market,” he said. “People are going to fix up what they have instead of buying new.”
Riverside, Calif.-based Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. responded to a class action lawsuit filed today (March 13) claiming the company violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) in connection with the March 9 closure of its travel trailer division.
Fleetwood stated: “We don’t usually comment on pending litigation, but in this case there is a great deal of misinformation which is being disseminated, so we want to be very clear that we provided WARN notices to the affected associates in full compliance with the law, and further that we properly notified the appropriate federal, state and local authorities.”
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California on behalf of over 700 employees who were laid off as a result of the March 9 announcement. On March 10, Fleetwood filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Riverside.
The lawsuit claims that Fleetwood violated the WARN Act which provides that employers must give 60 days notice to employers prior to a plant closing or mass layoff. The lawsuit seeks 60 days wages and benefits in lieu of the notice.
The lead plaintiffs, Sandra Justice and Alicia Rice, were employed at Fleetwood’s plant in Edgerton, Ohio, that constructed travel trailers. Plants were also closed in Pendleton and La Grande, Ore.
Fleetwood stated in its bankruptcy filing that it will continue to make motorhomes and manufactured homes.
he Fleetwood brand name is likely to be around on motorhomes and manufactured homes after Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. emerges from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, presumably under new ownership, according to Elden Smith, chairman and CEO.
“There could actually be two very strong Fleetwoods continuing – one in the manufactured housing industry and one in the recreation vehicle industry, even more independent than what they have been under the overall Fleetwood umbrella,” Smith told RVBusiness.
Fleetwood Tuesday (March 6) filed for voluntary bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California, with assets of $558.3 million and liabilities of $518 million. The company said it had $23 million in cash on hand.
The bankruptcy came on the heels of a Friday announcement to dealers that the Riverside, Calif., company was exiting the travel trailer business in which it once held a third of the U.S. market. That resulted in the loss of 675 jobs in three plants in Oregon and Ohio and two service centers in California and Indiana – 225 workers immediately and the balance when Fleetwood completes existing orders.
Smith said that dealers with buy back provisions in their agreements with Fleetwood that were canceled by the company last week now are unsecured creditors under the bankruptcy proceedings.
Smith said that it is logical that new owners would keep the Fleetwood name, which has been around the RV industry for nearly six decades.
“I would be very surprised if new ownership in whatever form that came didn’t chose to use the Fleetwood name and most, if not all, of the brand names,” Smith told RVBusiness. “There is substantial equity there. There are strong dealer organ0zations behind those brands and that is one of the opportunities that any buyer would want to take advantage of.”
He also said the travel trailer division was closed down rather than scheduled to be sold because of declining market share and the general economy, which would not likely enable travel trailer sales to turn around anytime soon.
“We did not feel (the travel trailer division) was saleable as a business entity,” Smith said. “There are certainly assets that are very saleable – one is the facilities, the other could be the product brand names.”
Of greater value right now in Smith’s view is Fleetwood’s manufactured housing business and its motorhome division with such brand names as Bounder, Southwind, Expedition, Providence and American Coach.
In fact, despite daunting shipment numbers for the industry, Smith is convinced that the motorized sector – of which Fleetwood holds a 16% share – can recover.
The fact that several other motorhome manufacturers recently have vacated the markets contributed to Fleetwood’s decision to keep the motorhome division going into Chapter 11.
“Consolidation improves the opportunities of the survivors,” Smith said. “Because it’s a more difficult portion of the market to enter, it takes a lot more capital. There’s much greater risk to it. It does warrant the investment on the part of a company like ours that has a substantial market share position. The margins are strong on the motorized product, so we continue to believe there is tremendous opportunity for our motorhome unit in that segment.”
Although several towable division managers were let go this week, Smith said that Fleetwood’s day-to-day operations continue under existing motorhome division management.
Smith said that Fleetwood has enough cash on hand to last “a good period of time,” but that it also is negotiating with lenders for debtor-in-possession financing that often occurs during bankruptcy proceedings.
However, it’s too early to tell when publicly-owned Fleetwood might emerge from bankruptcy. “Obviously, our intention and our effort is to bring it to a very speedy conclusion and let these businesses move on without having to carry the debt that they currently do,” Smith said.
Smith, who retired from Fleetwood for 7 1/2 years before returning in March 2005 to attempt to bring the firm back to profitability, also said it’s too early to tell whether he and other key Fleetwood managers will remain.
“My commitment always has been for a five-year period,” Smith said. “It’s been four years. I would certainly like to take this to a successful conclusion and see these two businesses under strong, new, committed ownership. At this point, that is my primary objective.”
He added. “I believe I’ve enjoyed the best and the most challenging (times) in my career.”
Had the national economy not collapsed, the veteran executive maintained that Fleetwood would not be in Chapter 11 bankruptcy today. “We’ve made tremendous progress,” Smith said. “Absent of this credit crisis and general recession worldwide, we were on a very solid track for continued improvement if the markets had just leveled out.”
Smith told RVBusiness that the bankruptcy “can have a very positive outcome.”
“It has the potential for taking a great deal of weight off the back of this company, giving it the opportunity under new ownership with a different capital structure to be much more competitive than we’ve been,” he said.
But Smith said the first thing that has to happen for the RV industry in general to recover is an improvement in consumer confidence. “People have to start feeling better about the future,” he said. “The worry has to go away, and they have to feel comfortable going out and making discretionary purchases without threatening their future lifestyle.
“That realistically, probably will not happen until we see less uncertainty in the banking and lending community.”