As Forest River Inc. readies to ramp up production at its recently acquired manufacturing plant in Harrisburg, Ore., the builder hosted a toned-down version of the upcoming September RV Open House – in part to accommodate West Coast dealers not making the trek to Indiana’s Elkhart County.
General Manager Paul Eskritt reported that the Aug. 19-21 Open House drew strong numbers, with 137 retail personnel representing over 60 dealerships gathering at Forest River’s established manufacturing campus in Dallas, Ore., to the north of Harrisburg near Salem.
“We had 94 units on display and 32 different brands, including a lot of units that are built in Indiana,” said Eskritt, a former Fleetwood executive who joined Elkhart-based Forest River in November of 2012 and is charged with heading up both Oregon operations. “This was the fourth year for the Open House, and it has continued to grow. We were busy for the entire show and were able to sell a lot of product – enough to keep us running in Dallas and Harrisburg through the winter. There were also a lot of Indiana sales reps on hand who were writing up orders.”
In addition to providing an opportunity for local dealer partners to examine Forest River’s new lines, Eskritt noted that the event also speaks to an emerging trend on the West Coast.
“For the past few years, there seems to be a movement for dealers to be more loyal to the West Coast OEMs,” he said. “A major cause is the backlogs across the nation due to transport issues. That makes it even more important for Forest River to have a strong presence on the West Coast, which facilitated the addition of the new facility and the growth in production.”
The Harrisburg plant, purchased by Forest River in early August, closed in February when its then-owner, Allied Specialty Vehicles, decided to exit the small towable trailer market. Allied had bought the plant the previous year from Navistar Inc., which in turn had acquired it from now Monaco Coach Corp. in 2009.
Eskritt said that although some retooling was required, the facility was essentially in turnkey condition. “We purchased all the equipment, so it wasn’t a complicated process to get started,” Eskritt said, noting the plant encompasses 180,000 square feet, including around 160,000 square feet of manufacturing space capable of running three production lines.
“We’re looking at starting up production by the end of September,” he added. “Initially, we’re going to build our Vibe lightweight hardwall trailer, which is new to the West Coast market. We have management and sales personnel in place and we have started to add production group leaders. We will be bringing on assemblers over the next couple of weeks. We’ll start with one a day, then two a day, and then continue to ramp up through the winter. We’re looking to have around 30 assembly workers when we completely shore up production.”
He said that by winter the Harrisburg plant would be running Forest River’s Cherokee trailers down a second line, also resulting in increased employment. “Depending on market conditions, which have really improved in the past couple of years, we’ll eventually open up a third production line with a new brand or another ‘like’ product that caters to the West Coast market.”
The plant’s proximity to former RV hotbeds in Eugene and Coburg has benefited the hiring process. “There is no shortage of skilled workers as there were a lot of manufacturers in this area,” Eskritt said. “We’re hearing from local officials that the acquisition will be a big economic boost to the area.”
Harrisburg production will complement manufacturing in Dallas, which has grown to include around 250 workers assembling Forest River’s Salem, Wildwood, Cherokee Grey Wolf, Cherokee Wolf Pup and Wildcat MAXX towable lines.
“We had a really strong couple of years at the Dallas factory,” Eskritt said. “The West Coast lagged a little behind other areas after the recession hit, but it’s rebounded nicely.
“The main reason behind our success is that we have a really good dealer body. We saw that at the Open House. Our focus is to keep building on those relationships and, in turn, building business.”
An Elkhart, Ind., RV firm has bought the former Monaco Coach Corp. plant in Harrisburg, Ore., for an undisclosed sum and plans to restart production in a few weeks, a company official said Thursday (July 31).
The Register-Guard reported that Forest River Inc. completed its acquisition of the plant last week, has hired back the plant’s former management team and soon will be hiring office and production staff, said Paul Eskritt, who is general manager of Forest River’s plant in Dallas, Texas, and will oversee the Harrisburg plant.
“We’re going to build towable (trailer) brands from Forest River,” Eskritt said. “We’re going to start to bring more brands from the eastern region of the U.S. to serve our dealers. Vibe is the first brand we’ll open the factory with; shortly after, we’ll bring out the Cherokee brands.”
The company will have eight to 10 office staff to begin with and about 30 production workers, Eskritt said.
“I know that starting number looks small,” he said, but the company intends to quickly ramp up production — and employment.
“We will start with building one a day … it will take about three weeks to get the first unit out the door,” probably in mid-September, he said.
“After about two to three weeks, we’ll go up to two a day, then three a day. … Each one will require additional head count,” Eskritt said.
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Forest River Inc.’s XLR division announced the relaunch of its Nitro line of toy haulers, according to a press release.
The newly re-engineered wide-body Nitro utilizes lightweight laminated side walls, low energy LED lighting inside and out, plus a power awning featuring LED light effects for extended dry camping excursions. These lightweight towables, sporting bold exteriors and upgraded interiors, are designed to pair with 1/2- or 3/4-ton trucks.
Each Nitro features private sleeping quarters up front and Nitro’s bold exterior design. Currently five models are available, ranging in lengths of 29 to 40 feet including four travel trailers and one fifth-wheel, with new floorplans under development.
“We’re positioning the New Nitro as a true ‘cross-over’ RV with both open interiors and enclosed garage models designed for a variety of uses with the option of a bunkhouse,” said XLR General Manager Brent Stevens. “These versatile 102-inch wide-body floorplans have no interior wheel wells, for unencumbered living and hauling space and accommodate anything our customers can dream up, from side-by-side quads to dirt bikes and kayaks and pets. And they’re offered at a very appealing price.”
The new Nitro lineup will be built at XLR’s premier toy hauler production facility, which houses XLR’s Thunderbolt flagship brand.
Forest River Inc. announced the acquisition of certain assets of the Startrans Bus division from Supreme Industries Inc. According to a news release, Startrans Bus is a major builder of small to midsize shuttle buses for both the public and private transportation markets in the U.S.
Forest River’s latest acquisition will be manufactured in one of their 100,000 square-foot plants in Goshen, Ind. David Wright, president of the new Startrans Bus division, noted, “Production of Startrans buses will resume April 14 after the transfer of machinery, inventory and equipment from their current Goshen facility.”
Wright would not provide 2014 production estimates yet for Startrans Bus, but is optimistic that 2014 output will exceed the 1,000 buses manufactured in 2013. “The combination of Startrans’ strong dealer base, brand loyalty and Forest River’s manufacturing expertise should quickly return Startrans to the forefront of the shuttle bus market,” he said. “We’ve interviewed and offered positions to several current Startrans Bus employees, however we do not yet have an exact count on how many of their employees will actually be joining Forest River. The acquisition of Supreme Industries’ bus division will likely add about 80 jobs overall once our hiring is complete.”
Wright added, “The recent expansion of our facilities has given us an opportunity to provide additional capacity for future growth in our bus divisions. In addition, we will be able to leverage economies of scale created by sharing our paint, PDI (Pre-Delivery Inspection) and chassis facilities for several of our bus divisions. We are excited about the strong potential for growth as we integrate Startrans Bus into our Forest River facilities.”
Startrans bus design, production, purchasing, quality control, sales and marketing will all be kept as a separate unit from other Forest River bus divisions.
Of Forest River’s four bus divisions, Starcraft Bus and now Startrans Bus will be built in Goshen. The Glaval Bus and Elkhart Coach bus divisions are built at Forest River plants in nearby Elkhart. Forest River’s other main business units include recreational vehicles, pontoon boats and cargo trailers.
Forest River, Inc., is a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
Lippert Components Inc. (LCI) announced that Forest River Inc.’s new Work and Play Catalyst fifth-wheel toy hauler is the first model to feature the supplier’s touch-screen, Android-based Linc Pad wireless tablet to control several key functions.
According to a press release, Linc Pad technology allows Catalyst owners to control all three sliderooms, LCI’s six-point Level Up system, awning, awning lights, generator, tank monitor and, as an option, LCI’s Happijac bed lift.
RVers can control functions from within 50 feet of the fifth-wheel and monitor the progress of external functions from outside the RV. The Linc Pad can also be used to download Android-compatible applications, access the Internet, take photo and play games.
“We wanted our customers to have access to the most cutting-edge technology, and LCI’s Linc Pad and Linc wiring technology does it all,” said Kevin Finn, Forest River Work and Play general manager. “Customers can even upload their favorite music to the Linc Pad and listen to it using our integrated Bluetooth radio.”
Finn also emphasized the benefits of Linc technology for the manufacturing process. “Linc technology saves us money and time during manufacturing because it drastically reduces complicated wiring as it is wired to the master controller with a single data cable,” said Finn. “This saves us money on material, saves us time and promotes quality — less wiring means less opportunity for wires to mistakenly get disconnected or damaged during production.”
LCI Vice President of RV Sales Andy Murray believes customers are getting more comfortable with newer technology.
“Forest River is the first to make our Linc Pad standard on a fifth-wheel brand,” said Murray. “We have all seen electronic controls become the norm in the automotive industry in recent years, and it seems the RV industry is ready to start the same evolution. We are excited to offer a wireless platform that not only integrates all the critical RV functions, but also makes the manufacturing process easier for our customers.”
Forest River Inc.’s Work and Play brand has been recognized by Statistical Surveys Inc. as the No. 1 retail-selling toy hauler travel trailer in North America for the fourth consecutive year.
“Work and Play offers a unique product that provides our dealers with a competitive advantage because of the broad breadth of product uses and prospective owners,” said Kevin Finn, general manager of the Work and Play division. “Our growth reflects the product development successes we have had to date. The focus and drive we have put on understanding our customers wants and needs have been the catalyst to our success. Work and Play isn’t just another toy hauler, it’s a specialty vehicle that provides a wide array of product usages including up to the capacity of hauling a vehicle.”
He added, “Our dealers really understand the broad usage that Work and Play offers and have been instrumental to our success. We appreciate their hard work over the past four years in helping Work and Play maintain the top spot for the SUT travel trailer segment.”
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Elkhart, Ind.-based Forest River Inc. is the newest approved provider for KOA Deluxe Cabins, according to Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) Senior Business Development Consultant and Cabin Program Manager Mike Atkinson.
“Adding Forest River to our line of approved cabin suppliers adds healthy competition and increases the purchasing options for our campground owners, while maintaining the quality of deluxe cabins being added to the KOA system,” Atkinson said in a press release.
Other approved deluxe cabin suppliers include Cavco Industries and General Coach of Canada.
Kampgrounds of America now has 2,200 KOA Deluxe Cabins, which include full bathrooms and some kitchens, located at more than 334 KOAs in North America.
Supreme Industries Inc. will sell its shuttle-bus assets to Forest River Inc.
The Goshen (Ind.) News reported that in December Supreme management announced it would sell the shuttle-bus business. Forest River, headquartered in Elkhart, will buy the division for about $7 million, depending on bus sales before the deal is finalized.
Supreme is making the move to focus on its core work truck and specialty vehicle markets. The company customizes vehicles.
Supreme announced in a statement Friday (Feb. 28) a modest gain on the sale is anticipated and the proceeds will be used to fund a series of growth initiatives, capital expenditures and margin expansion projects. The transaction is expected to close within 30 days.
“We are pleased to have reached a mutually beneficial agreement for the sale of our shuttle-bus assets to Forest River,” said Mark D. Weber, Supreme’s president and chief executive officer.
“The bus market has become increasingly competitive and this business has been unable to achieve our profitable growth objectives,” he added. “This divestiture allows us to concentrate our resources on growing our work truck, specialty vehicle and trolley businesses.”
Forest River is a Berkshire Hathaway company and manufactures transit buses, shuttle buses and tour coaches as well as recreational vehicles.
Looking to expand market share in the growing Class A diesel marketplace, Forest River Inc. initiated an across-the-board restructuring of the division over the past year. “We completely rebuilt the management, sales and design teams, but most importantly the product has taken on a new design and direction,” said Jeff Babcock, general manager. The product redesign includes improved floorplans in the Charleston and Berkshire lines along with an all-new 35-foot Legacy SR300 that debuted at last September’s Hershey Show. With an MSRP of $199,000, the entry-level Legacy establishes a new category for Forest River in its diesel offerings, hitting a price point “that is normally reserved for a high-end gas Class A.” The coach boasts a 300-hp Cummins diesel engine built on a 2500MH Allison transmission and a full air-ride/air-brake straight-rail Freightliner chassis. Available in two floorplans, the 340BH is a bunkhouse model featuring a power cockpit bunk-option bed up front, extra sleeping area for two people and a bunkhouse in the rear capable of sleeping nine. The Legacy 340KP replaces the standard bunks with a pantry, stackable washer/dryer prep and additional wardrobe space. Slated for introduction soon is a bath-and-a-half floorplan and another to be announced. Noting that Forest River’s restructuring generated strong initial sales, National Sales Manager Mike Peterson reported that the builder also introduced a $5,000 rebate coupon to incentivize consumers. “It’s basically a thank you to our dealers to help them flush out their older 2014’s since the 2015 models come out at the end of April,” Peterson said, adding the rebate goes directly to the consumer. “It’s available on our website and Facebook page, and in FMCA Magazine.”
Forest River Inc.’s XLR division announced its partnership with Michael Waddell, Travis “T-Bone” Turner and Nick Mundt – members of the Outdoor Channel’s “Bone Collector” team.
According to a press release, the team will travel with an XLR Hyper Lite 29HFS travel trailer toy hauler while filming its top-rated television show and during attendance at “Bone Collector” tour events throughout the country on a regular basis.
The new “Bone Collector” is the No. 1 show on the Outdoor Channel, reaching 908,000 unique households during the month of January with a gross Nielsen rating of 3.07. The “Bone Collector” team is led by Waddell, who is one of the most popular personality in hunting. Besides hosting “Bone Collector,” “Realtree Roadtrips,” and other television shows over the years, Waddell has also been selected as the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) spokesman.
Turner has also appeared on several TV shows and videos, including Realtree’s “Monster Bucks” video series, before joining “Bone Collector.” Mundt rounds out the team with years of experience as a professional guide and field producer. He has proven this season that he is the go-to guy when it comes to collecting big bucks.
“This is the perfect fit between the ‘Bone Collector’ team, and a cross-over RV product designed specifically to appeal to fans who enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle,” said XLR National Sales Manager Brent Stevens.
The 29HFS Hyper Lite was selected to pair with the team’s new Chevy half-ton truck. The lightweight towable model offers two complete bedrooms – one up front and one in the rear for privacy. It also has plenty of space for the team’s quad and outdoor gear. Waddell added the electric bed and 4.0 generator with fuel station options to outfit the 29HFS Hyper Lite for dry camping, while on the “Bone Collector” tour.”
Blue Ox President Jay Hesse and Vice President Ellen Kietzmann announced Tuesday (Oct. 1) an alliance with Forest River Inc. to equip select V-Cross and XLR models with SwayPro built-in sway prevention systems as optional equipment.
According to a release, Brent Stevens, national sales manager of the V-Cross and XLR divisions, is premiering the SwayPro system as an optional feature on the new 2014 lineup. Additionally, SwayPro is offered free as part of a special limited promotion on the Vibe brand through March 1, 2014.
“Blue Ox is the best name in sway control. Our customers will appreciate Blue Ox’s intuitive, easy to hookup hitch system that prevents trailer sway before it starts for a smooth towing experience. Each SwayPro system is specifically engineered for the weight of the unit it ships with,” Stevens said.
Blue Ox’s SwayPro hitch offers built-in sway protection that prevents trailer sway before it starts, under heavy loads, high winds and rutted road conditions with the latest in weight distribution technology. SwayPro’s spring bars are made from spring steel and flex to provide optimal weight distribution and improved ground clearance, providing a softer, smoother ride. There are no pins or clips to lose and no adjustments are needed. The tow-ready system comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
Forest River Inc. is the top U.S. RV retailer for the first seven months of 2013, based on July retail sales figures released Friday (Sept. 20) by Statistical Surveys Inc., the company reports.
This includes recreational vehicles marketed under the Forest River, Coachmen, Palomino, Shasta, Dynamax and Prime Time brand names, but does not include Class B van campers, a relatively small market niche in terms of total sales.
The Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, meanwhile, announced that it has expanded its lead retailing position in conventional motorhomes.
“In all products combined (motorhomes and towables), Forest River Inc. ranks No. 1 with 34.4% market share, representing 7.4% market share growth year-to-date over the same period last year,” Forest River stated in a Friday press release. “Thor Industries ranked second with 33.9% market share and Jayco Inc. third with 10.8% market share.”
In Class A and C motorhomes, the company added, Forest River ranks No. 1 with a 25.5% market share, Thor second with 24.6% and Winnebago Industries Inc. third with an 18.3% market share. However, Statistical Surveys National RV Sales Manager Scott Stropkai points out, Thor still ranks first in all motorhomes if Class B’s are counted.
In consolidated towables, Elkhart-based Forest River ranks first with a 35.5% market share, while Thor is second with 35.1% and Jayco third with 11.4%.
“While we are certainly pleased to earn the No. 1 position in the RV industry, we are humbled by this accomplishment and remain focused on the continuous improvement of our products and services,” commented Pete Liegl, president and CEO of Forest River. “Our commitment to the satisfaction of our retail owners and to providing the absolute best value in the RV Industry has only strengthened with our success.”
Forest River, in addition to RVs, is a leading manufacturer of pontoon boats, cargo trailers and buses.
For the first time in memory, the industry’s two RV-building volume leaders, Thor Industries Inc. and Forest River Inc., are in a dead heat for retail market share in both towable and motorized RVs, according to Statistical Surveys Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich.
At least they were at mid-year, with the two Elkhart, Ind.-based manufacturers each occupying exactly 35.4% of the “all towable” market. In fact, they were only nine units apart through June – Thor at 39,803 units vs. Forest River at 39,794. At the same time, Thor’s towable RV unit sales were up 8.8% and its market share was down slightly to 1.7%, while Forest River’s unit sales were up 19.5% and its market share grew 8% for the six-month period.
The picture is much the same on the motorized side of the ledger because Forest River through June was accounting for 25.2% of the retail market based on sales of 3,769 units vs. Thor with a 25% market share on 3,747 retails — a margin of only 22 units.
The rather respectable — yet heated — competition between these two hard-hitting industry leaders, occupying together more than 70% of the U.S. towable marketplace, has been going on for a good while. But the numbers haven’t been quite this close, keeping in mind that, as Stat Surveys President Tom Walworth points out, “you still have to take into account the fact that Forest River’s towable RV product lines include some lower-priced folding camping trailers, a market in which Thor isn’t involved.”
But the real news here is to what extent Forest River is pressing its case in both towable and motorized RVs, even while both companies continue to post impressive growth during the current economic recovery. Thor, for its part, recently posted its first $2 billion quarter, and revenues for Forest River, a Berkshire Hathaway Inc. subsidiary, were running at least 22% ahead of last year through June, Forest River President and CEO Pete Liegl confirms.
“I think that Forest River has been narrowing the gap,” said Walworth. “Both Forest River and Thor have aggressively gone after the market and they’ve put out a bunch of new product that has allowed them both to maintain their leadership in the market.”
Behind Forest River and Thor on the motorized side is Winnebago Industries Inc., with an 18.1% share of the market. In third place in tow-type RV retail sales is Middlebury, Ind.-based Jayco Inc., which occupied 11.2% of the market through June.
“Think about that,” said Walworth. “The top two (towable builders) are 70% of the market. Jayco brings it up to 81% of the market and the next five players take it up to 90% of the market. I mean, it’s a very top-heavy industry and more so all the time. The two big players have gained market share in an up market. The only thing to consider is that if the market becomes really hot, that usually opens the doors for the smaller startups to come in.
He added, “You know, through this, we’ll probably introduce one or two new manufacturers here who could someday end up being major ones. That’s usually because the majors and the other competitors can’t meet the dealers’ supply times, opening the door for some of the startups to get involved.”
The first half of 2013 was a very good period for the recreational vehicle industry as a whole, but it was even better for Elkhart, Ind.-based Forest River Inc., as the company reported that sales were up 22% in the first half of the year.
According to The Elkhart Truth, that’s one of the scant details made public about its operations when parent company Berkshire Hathaway filed its quarterly financial report with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
“Over the first six months of 2013, Forest River generated a 22% increase in revenues due to increased volume and average sales prices,” the company reported in the filing.
Forest River and Berkshire Hathaway’s building products businesses generated higher earnings in the first half of this year than last year.
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Prime Time Manufacturing, a division of Forest River Inc., recently surpassed a significant company milestone with the shipment of the 10,000th travel trailer produced by its Tracer/LaCrosse manufacturing group.
To mark the occasion, company leaders were on hand to serve lunch and thank over 160 employees for their efforts, according to a press release.
“Division 48 was the very first Prime Time plant we started in 2009. That small group of employees had a commitment to build innovative, high-quality products that customers would love to own,” said Prime Time President Jeff Rank. “Now, that very same commitment to quality has become the foundation with which all of our employees and all of our manufacturing facilities operate. Building 10,000 units is a great accomplishment, but Plant 48’s positive contributions to the culture of Prime Time will always be appreciated.”
The Tracer/LaCrosse division has been a recipient of the prestigious Quality Circle Award from the Recreation Vehicle Dealer Association (RVDA) for three consecutive years. May retail statistics list Prime Time Manufacturing as the No. 7 retailing towable manufacturer in the United States with a year-to-date sales increase of 48%.