Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from an Elkhart Truth article offering a response by local RV officials to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) move toward changing the date of its annual Louisville Show. The time frame proposed is for late September/early October beginning in 2014, which would conflict with the Elkhart Open House that has gained momentum since its inception. Pete Liegl, the president and CEO of Forest River Inc. which founded the event, was especially vocal as seen in the excerpt below. To read the entire story click here.
Pete Liegl, president and CEO of Forest River, kick-started the idea of an open house and as other manufacturers have piled on, it has grown into a major showcase. Some dealers have acknowledged they get what they need at the open houses so they are skipping Louisville.
When the national event is held depends on the dealers, Liegl said. Whether the retailers want December, June or some other time, that is when the trade show should be held.
However, a change in the Louisville dates does not necessarily mean an end to the open houses. Liegl again noted if the dealers want the Elkhart County event to continue, it will. That is good news for the local economy since the product shows pump money into area hotels, restaurants and other businesses. For the 2011 event, Forest River alone spent an estimated $1 million on hotel rooms, food and liquor for its dealers.
Emphasizing the open house is for the RV retailers, Liegl said he would resist any effort by the RVIA to ban the event altogether.
“They can go to hell,” he said. “If I want to have a product show, I’ll have a product show. The RVIA is not going to tell me what I can and can’t do.”
Wakarusa, Ind.-based Prime Time Manufacturing, a division of Forest River Inc., has expanded its Avenger product lineup with the introduction of the Champagne Edition Avenger travel trailer. According to a press release, full production began in May and features a champagne-colored high gloss fiberglass exterior. Prime Time officials recently delivered the first model to Alpin Haus RV and Marine in Amsterdam, N.Y. Shown in the photo, Andy Heck (R), president of Alpin Haus, was presented with the 2013 Avenger 23 FBS by Prime Time President Jeff Rank. Rank noted, “Alpin Haus RV and Marine has a long history of award-winning sales and service. They only became a dealer last fall but are quickly becoming one of our largest volume dealers and they’ve enthusiastically embraced Avenger and the new Champagne Edition. It’s an honor to deliver this very special Avenger to Andy and his team.” Alpin Haus has two retail locations selling recreational vehicles in the Albany, N.Y., market. Founded in 1964, Alpin Haus is an outdoor recreation specialist selling boats, snowmobiles, skis, pools and spas. Heck sees great potential with the new product, stating, “Avenger has made a big splash with our sales people and our retail customers. It has great interior eye appeal and lots of easy-to-sell features. Now with the Champagne Edition, we can offer our customers a luxurious exterior look at an entry level price point that gives us a clear advantage in our local market.” Base MSRP of the Avenger Champagne Edition is $15,300. For more information regarding Prime Time Manufacturing and the Avenger Champagne Edition travel trailer, visit www.primetimerv.com or call (574) 862-3001.
Forest River Inc., a leading RV manufacturer based in Elkhart, Ind., has selected Ally Financial as an additional provider for dealer inventory financing in the U.S. The agreement is effective immediately.
“Ally Financial is a proven financial services provider with nationwide scale for the U.S. RV industry, and we are pleased to develop this relationship for our dealer network,” said Joseph Greenlee, CFO for Forest River.
According to a press release, Ally Financial will participate in Forest River’s interest reimbursement program for RV dealers obtaining wholesale financing from Ally. Eligible dealers can receive an interest rebate from Forest River for units sold to retail customers within 90 days of invoice.
“We’re excited about the rebate program because it essentially speeds up the average turn time for inventory,” said Mark Manzo, vice president of Alliance Sales for Ally Financial. “That’s good for us and good for dealers, enhancing their business model.”
In addition to wholesale financing, Ally also offers RV dealers real estate and commercial loans, inventory insurance, remarketing services for RV trade-ins and consumer financing to support new and used RV sales.
“Forest River is a quality manufacturer that expects a world class financing experience with attractive terms,” said Mark Manzo, vice president of Alliance Sales for Ally Financial. “We have the infrastructure and capabilities to meet those needs, and Ally welcomes the opportunity to grow its RV portfolio while serving Forest River dealers and their customers.”
“Since we entered the RV finance business, our goal has been to provide a full gamut of services to the industry. Our focus ranges from smaller dealerships to the large, national retailers. Currently we have over 1,000 RV dealer relationships.”
Forest River, a Berkshire Hathaway company, currently has manufacturing in six states within the United States with more than 8,000 employees producing numerous brand names. The company sells to independent dealers in the United States and Canada.
“At Ally, we are committed to the RV market,” Manzo said. “Looking at the seasonality and flexibility in the wholesale market, we see this as an opportunity for us to grow our market share and help dealers grow sales.
Faced with growing demand and limited production capacity, Forest River Inc.’s XLR toy hauler division is set to break ground on a 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility with a completion date targeted for November.
“We have been working out of two leased buildings that are around 55,000 square feet total, and we’re maxed out on capacity,” said Brent Stevens, national sales manager. “Sales have really started to pop – our market share was up close to 63% through February from last year – so this was a very necessary move to keep pace with sales.
“Essentially, we will be doubling our production capabilities. With our current backlogs, it will provide some much needed relief.”
The new facility, situated on Forest River’s complex in Goshen, Ind., will produce XLR’s four distinct toy hauler lines: the conventional-built, 102-inch wide body Nitro; laminated lightweight Hyper Light; V-nose designed Viper; and the upscale Thunderbolt. Currently, the XLR brand offers 18 floorplans with MSRP’s ranging from the low $20,000’s up to around $100,000 for the top-end Thunderbolt.
Stevens noted that the lineup reflects the objectives of a “three-phase plan” put into play when he took over XLR operations in November of 2010.
“We wanted to rebrand and better define our product so that it reflects the various segments of the marketplace,” he said. “The goal was to provide dealers with a family of products, giving them a full menu of sub-brands to carry rather than just taking on one line. Right now, we’re the only company offering a full line of toy haulers.”
The process was marked by systematic new product launches over the past 1 1/2 years, starting with the company’s Hyper Lite and Nitro. “We wanted to get our volume products in place,” said Stevens.
Last August, XLR introduced the retooled Thunderbolt, bearing a new name and a new look. “We performed a complete overhaul on our high-end piece,” Stevens noted. He reported that the Viper “transformation” will be rolled out in August.
Stevens acknowledged that the toy hauler market had dropped off after a meteoric rise when the product was first introduced on the West Coast. But he contends that the market has evolved, shedding its niche status and attracting a broader consumer base.
“Toy haulers are trending differently,” Stevens said. “When they were super-hot, it was all about a younger, more aggressive buyer, and California was the home. That buyer is still out there, which we target with our Hyper Lite series, but we’re now focusing more on the 55-plus buyer with more reserved and modern interiors to match their higher end tastes.”
In a contract that reflects the growing economic impact of America’s seniors, an Indiana transit bus manufacturer has received its biggest-ever order from a non-municipal organization. Under the nearly $8 million agreement, Elkhart Coach, a division of Forest River Inc., will manufacture 189 14-passenger buses for Emeritus Senior Living.
According to a news release, Emeritus is the nation’s largest provider of assisted living and memory care, and also offers independent living and other related senior care and services. The company operates Brentwood at Elkhart along with 477 other senior living communities in 44 states. The order from Elkhart Coach is the single biggest vehicle purchase in Emeritus’ 19-year history. Production of the vehicles begins in mid-May.
“In addition to being our largest non-municipal contract to date, it’s our biggest for senior transportation,” said Elkhart Coach General Manager Tony Cundiff. “We’re proud to have been selected for this important order and very pleased that it will benefit the local economy.”
The nearly $8 million order equals $15.2 million in value for sustaining and creating jobs in the area, according to Morton Marcus, economist and former faculty member of the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Elkhart Coach recently increased its factory floor work force by more than 6%, hiring four additional people due to the rising workload from the Emeritus order and other business.
Elkhart Coach currently employs 63 on the factory floor and 10 in its office. With this contract and America’s 65-plus population continuing to increase, “I would hope the senior market becomes a growing segment for us,” Cundiff said.
The buses can transport 14 passengers, including two in wheelchairs who board using a lift through the rear side doors. Built on a Ford chassis, the buses are more than 80% American-made. Each takes three weeks to build. The first bus is expected to roll off the line in mid-June, with production continuing through December.
RV manufacturer Forest River Inc. has enrolled ”in excess of 8,000 families” in its new Forest River Owners Group (FROG), which has monthly rallies and trips planned through the end of the year.
“Anybody who owns Forest River or related products — new or used — is eligible to join,” said FROG Director Bob Byrne, an RVer for 12 years and a retired banker, insurance industry executive and high school math teacher hired late last year with his wife, Cindy, to oversee the new owners group.
FROG is free to join with members paying only for camping at the rallies or participating in the trips, Byrne emphasized, adding that the FROG club is not intended to replace the 45-year-old Coachmen Owners Association operated by Forest River subsidiary Coachmen RV, Middlebury, Ind.
”We did a quiet launch in October, primarily through (independent) Forest River forum websites and then did a mass mailing in December to people who had bought new Forest River RVs over the last 16 months,” Byrne said. ”The primary thing we are focusing on is getting Forest River owners together to expand their opportunities to go RVing, and when they are ready to trade, we want them to stay with us.”
FROG also launched a website (www.forestriverfrog.com) in October and held its first rally during the National Cherry Blossom Festival March 27-April 1 at Cherry Hill Park in College Park, Md., the closest campground to Washington, D.C.
“One of the things we are doing a little differently from some organizatione is that we don’t have a formal organizational structure,” said Byrne, who drives a 40-foot Coachmen Class A. ”We don’t want people to feel that they are committed to having to do something every weekend or every month.”
Some rallies are organized by Byrne while others are coordinated informally by local Forest River owners in their areas.
”We tell them if one of the rallies fits your interests and time frame, come on and do it.” Byrne said. ”They shouldn’t have to feel that they are committed to doing a specific number of activities.”
An international rally is planned Aug. 13-17 at the Elkhart County Fairground in Goshen, Ind., with regional rallies scheduled this summer and fall at Ouabache State Park in Park Bluffton, Ind., Gore, Okla., Branson, Mo., Tucson, Ariz., Wisconsin Dells, Las Vegas and Charleston, S.C.
As of late April, some 180 RVers had registered for the international rally in Goshen, Byrne said.
”I would love to announce that we have 10,000 members by then, but obviously, our goal eventually is to go beyond that,” Byrne said.
A group of eight RV industry executives met Thursday (April 12) evening with two freshmen Republican U.S. Congressmen at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Mishawaka, Ind., in what amounted to a “bridge-building” session for both sides.
The meeting was called by U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, a farmer from Howe in LaGrange County just east of Elkhart whose 3rd District includes much of Elkhart County, and Congressman Larry Buchson, a heart surgeon from Newburgh in southern Indiana’s 8th District and a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) staff had a hand in pulling together the get-to-know-you session, according to Gregg Fore, current chairman of RVIA and president of Elkhart, Ind.-based Dicor Corp. “The primary goal, as I had talked to Marlin Stutzman about this some months ago, was about trying to find an opportunity to get some RV folks together to meet with him because he had not had the opportunity to do that since he had been elected to office,” said Fore.
Stutzman, who currently serves on the House Committees on Agriculture, Budget, and Veterans’ Affairs, says Buchson’s seat on the Transportation makes his role rather pivotal for Elkhart County’s RV contingent.
“Yeah, I had been working with Congressman Buchson, and the RV industry had an issue with trailer-axle weights, and he was willing to take the lead on that and actually get the issue into the transportation bill to promote the RV industry,” said Stutzman, whose own father once worked for Coachmen Industries Inc. “So last night, I thought it would be helpful both to folks in the RV industry and to Congressmen Buchson to have the opportunity to sit down and meet each other and build those bridges and work together with myself and Larry and folks in the RV industry. We had a great visit and we’re looking forward to working together in the future as well.”
Among the topics discussed: A stymied transportation bill, formaldehyde issues, energy policy, the economy, the budget — or a lack thereof — and potential standards issues affecting recreational park trailers.
Doug Gaeddert, a general manager for Elkhart-based Forest River Inc. and 1st vice-chairman of RVIA, said it was time well spent. “It was productive and they’re (the two freshmen Congressmen) far more educated than they were before we got there. All in all, it looks like both of them ran for public office for the right reasons.”
“They were very interested in learning more about the industry, getting an update on industry trends as well as any challenges and difficulties we were facing that might impede our progress,” added RVIA Public Relations Committee Chairman B.J. Thompson, president of BJ Thompson Associates, Mishawaka.
Suffice to say that this probably isn’t the last the industry has heard from Stutzman, who’s unopposed in the primaries but faces re-election this fall against any one of six Democrats, as a potential political ally.
“No, absolutely not,” said Stutzman. “I have an agriculture background and also a trucking industry background, and we used to haul cargo trailers and other products for the RV industry when we were in the trucking business. So, obviously it’s a huge part of our economy in northern Indiana. And, with friends and neighbors that work in the industry, I know how important the RV industry is to our economy and also to the lives of people in our community. So this is something that I feel very passionately about, and the hard work and the values of the RV industry are the kinds of things we want to promote and support as much as we can.”
Shasta RV, a division of Forest River Inc., today (March 7) announced that Mark Lucas has been appointed the new president and general manager, according to a press release.
“Mark brings a wealth of product knowledge, customer relations, as well as sales and operational experience to Shasta,” said Michael Terlep, who oversees Forest River’s Coachmen RV division. “Mark is capable of assessing organizational needs and devising, implementing and executing strategies to facilitate sustainable growth. One of his strengths is the ability to translate ideas into rapid action and introduce products and solutions built around the needs of the customer.”
Lucas served as president and general manger of Thor Industries Inc. subsidiary CrossRoads RV from 2002 through 2010. Prior to joining CrossRoads RV, Lucas started his career in the RV industry as a regional sales manager for Shasta Travel Trailers in February of 2001.
Lucas will work out of the Shasta complex in Middlebury, Ind.
“We look forward to Mark’s leadership and influence as we lead Shasta RV toward its mission of outstanding growth and profitability,” Terlep said.
Forest River Inc. has contracted with California-based McMahon’s RV to sell the builder’s new Trilogy luxury fifth-wheel.
According to a press release, the 42-foot Trilogy offers a roomy interior with three sildeouts and 6-foot, 7-inch ceilings. Other amenities include a 40-inch HD TV in the living room, a 32-inch HD TV in the bedroom, Frigidaire stainless steel refrigerator, solid-surface countertops and an on-board floor vacuum.
“The Trilogy is a great RV addition to our already wide selection of fifth-wheels,” said Brent McMahon, president of McMahon’s RV. “We know our customers, and this fifth-wheel is something they will want for sure.”
McMahon’s RV is a division of MegaRV Corp. and has been serving Southern California since 2000. The dealership recently expanded into Arizona. For more information visit www.mcmahonrv.com.
Tom Johnson Camping Center today announced it will be carrying Forest River’s Inc.’s line of handicap-accessible V-Cross travel trailers.
“We are very excited to add the V-Cross handicap model to our extensive line of recreational vehicles,” said Gary Stroud, vice president of Tom Johnson Camping Center, in a press release. “It is rewarding for us to be able to open RV travel to individuals who the past have missed out on the RV lifestyle.”
The V-Cross handicap-access model is built with wider entry doors and hallways, handicap-accessible bathroom features, large bedroom areas with grab handles, wiring for lift system, available remote controls for slideouts, power jacks and awnings and modifications to the kitchen areas. The V-Cross also has a unique front end that assists in aerodynamics and eases towing.
“While we have been offering access model motorhomes from Winnebago for years, this addition of affordable towable RVs greatly expands our offerings for our customers,” stated Stroud. “As we have increased our support of Shriner’s Hospitals for Children we have continued to grow our customer base of parties interested in these access model RVs.”
Founded in 1967, Tom Johnson Camping Center has locations in Concord and Marion, N.C.