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Thor Subsidiaries Launch ‘Concierge Connection’

November 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Thor Motorized Services (TMS), the service arm of Damon Motor Coach and Four Winds International, this week announced its new “Concierge Connection…Your Personal Service Advocate.”

Concierge Connection offers new retail owners of any Damon or Four Winds motorhome a personal service advocate who is responsible to expedite any service needs, according to a news release. The concierge will contact the retail owner within days of being notified of a retail registration and welcome them to the TMS family.

In addition, the concierge will explain the warranty and answer any questions such as how to obtain service and give answers to general FAQ’s about their motorhome operation. The concierge will emphasize the need for the owner to take their motorhome to the selling dealer for service whenever possible and that the dealer is the main point of contact for service. If there is a need for more technical assistance, the owners will be assigned a Customer Service Specialist who will be qualified to handle all of their concerns and help them increase their comfort level with their motorhome.

The Concierge will contact the retail owner again during the third month of ownership to bolster confidence in the service commitment provided by TMS. The follow up will assure the owner that TMS will assist in connecting the owner to a Customer Service Specialist, acting as a liaison between the owner and dealer.

“This is simply one of many unique steps Thor Motorized Services is taking to lay the foundation for an owner friendly relationship between Damon or Four Winds, the retail owner and the dealer,” said Janae Kurtz, TMS director of customer service. “We strive to exceed expectations in customer service, and by building relationships, we are confident we will build loyalty for our products and services. Our goals at TMS include acting on feedback received from all owners, thinking ‘outside’ the box to solve concerns, and striving for continuous improvement.

“We are excited about the opportunity that the ‘Concierge Connection’ program brings to the customer service experience. This program is going to provide a customer focused service relationship between the retail owner, dealer and manufacturer on a level unparalleled in the RV industry.”

Damon Motor Coach and Four Winds International are subsidiaries of Thor Industries Inc., Jackson Center, Ohio.

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Thompson Turned Disappointment into Success

November 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

 

Wade Thompson

Wade Thompson

In the midst of a business downturn for recreational vehicles in 1980, Wade Thompson purchased an iconic but failing brand, Airstream, and turned it into a money maker within a year.

Mr. Thompson, who died Nov. 12 at the age of 69, went on to add a dozen RV manufacturers to the roster of Thor Industries Inc., which became the nation’s biggest RV manufacturer by sales.

The RV industry went through another downturn starting in 2007, when a sharp rise in oil prices was followed by recession. Thor closed factories and cut jobs, but stayed profitable even as leading rivals filed for bankruptcy, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“As long as there’s a Grand Canyon, there will be an RV industry,” Mr. Thompson was fond of saying.

Once a fragmented industry populated by small companies, RVs became big business with Thor. In 1986, the company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and it had sales of $3 billion in its peak year of 2006.

Mr. Thompson and his business partner, Peter Orthwein, were specialists in finance rather than manufacturing. They ran the companies from offices in New York and Connecticut rather than their manufacturing base in the Midwest.

They retained the individual identities of the companies they acquired, including Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., Four Winds International and Keystone RV Co.

The brands have their own manufacturing facilities — many in the Elkhart, Ind., area, that is often called the world’s RV capital — but they benefit from centralized procurement and finance operations.

“By putting many successful companies under one parent, they have changed the face of the RV industry nationwide,” says Allen R. Hesselbart, a historian at the RV/MH Heritage Foundation Inc., a museum in Elkhart dedicated to RVs.

Raised in Wellington, New Zealand, Mr. Thompson as a boy dreamed of living in New York City, which he knew only from photos in an old family encyclopedia. His father operated a metal shop, and Mr. Thompson excelled in school and at sports.

After college, Mr. Thompson made his way to the U.S., where he studied business at New York University while working as a salesman at Brooks Brothers, the men’s clothier. After graduation and in deference to his father’s wishes, he returned to New Zealand to open a clothing store in Wellington, to be called Shirtmasters. But after customs officials refused at first to allow him to import a crate of new Gant shirts from the U.S., Mr. Thompson decided to leave New Zealand.

“I couldn’t live in a socialist system like that,” Mr. Thompson told the Dominion Post, a New Zealand newspaper, in 2004. “I thought, how in the world can this system work here?”

Settling for good in New York in 1967, Mr. Thompson worked in the acquisitions department of Sperry & Hutchinson Co., the makers of green trading stamps distributed as premiums by supermarkets. Eager to have his own business, he tried other ventures, including owning a pair of Orange Julius franchise juice bars in New York’s Times Square area.

In 1977, Mr. Thompson teamed with Mr. Orthwein to buy the Hi-Lo Trailer Co., a small Ohio-based manufacturer of campers. Three years later, they purchased Airstream Inc. from Beatrice Foods Co., which was seeking to unload underperforming assets during a restructuring. The partners named their new company Thor after the first two letters of their last names, but kept the iconic brand name. Airstream went from a $12 million loss in 1979 to a $1 million profit the next year.

More comfortable in his offices atop New York’s Grand Central Station than at Thor’s official home of Jackson Center, Ohio., Mr. Thompson relished life in New York. He became a frequent presence at art auctions. Among his purchases was an Andy Warhol depiction of a pane of S&H Green Stamps that Mr. Thompson bought for $5 million in 2006.

Mr. Thompson also championed the restoration of the Park Avenue Armory, a Victorian edifice on Manhattan’s Upper East Side that was transformed into one of New York’s largest theater and exhibition sites. He donated $35 million to the project, and at his death was chairman of the nonprofit organization spearheading the renovations.

Mr. Thompson never owned an RV, but he did drive one during a 2005 trip to southern Utah, say family members.

Although one of his companies produced an RV known as a Land Yacht, Mr. Thompson preferred to zip around in a red Mini Cooper.

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Four Winds Optimistic About National RV Show

November 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

As Four Winds International prepares to unveil two new products at the National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., next month, a steady stream of optimism is building as the demand for Four Winds motorhomes increases.

Recently, production rates for Elkhart, Ind.-based Four Winds Class A and Class C motorhomes have increased as a direct result of providing the best “bang for the buck” to dealers and retail buyers, according to a news release. “This resurgence of motorhome customers has allowed us to rehire 40 employees over the past two months. This is a great shot in the arm for our company and our community,” commented Bill Fenech, Four Winds International President.

“We are in the process of reinvigorating the Four Winds line-up,” commented Dana Simon, Four Winds International general manager. “Over the past six months we have looked at our overall product offering and had to make some tough decisions that will carry us into the new year. We are focused on simplifying our offerings while providing dealers and retail customers the best products, features and customer support,”

For Louisville, Four Winds will display to its dealers and prospective dealers the Hurricane Class A, along with the Four Winds and Chateau Class C. The Montecito diesel pusher and redesigned Windsport basement models will provide a new spark to the overall line-up. The new Montecito offers the best in floorplans, features and drivetrain. The Montecito features five unique floorplans starting at 39 feet and includes two 42-foot. tag axle models. Power comes from a Cummins ISC 360-HP engine, while the Freightliner XCR chassis provides the structure. The 42C, bath and half floorplan will be unveiled for the first time to dealers.

The Windsport basement models have been updated with new front and rear fiberglass caps and new halogen lighting inside the coach. The new “Prestige Package” features Ultraleather furniture packages, residential cabinetry styling and new décors.

The Serrano Class A motorhome combines fuel efficiency and compact design. The powerful International MaxxForce 7 engine and Workhorse chassis provide power, stability and driving comfort.

Four Winds International is a subsidiary of Thor Industries Inc. Jackson Center, Ohio, the world’s largest manufacturer of recreational vehicles.

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RV Buddies Online Video Tours Four Winds’ Serrano 31V

November 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

A complete video tour and review article for the Four Winds International Serrano 31V are available live on “RV Buddies Online” www.rvbuddiesonline.com

“The Serrano 31V features a lot of big things in a smaller, more convenient package. At just under 33 feet in length and only 8 feet wide, this well-designed coach has access to many places bigger coaches just can’t go,” said Mark Summers, host and producer of “RV Buddies.”

But just because the 31V is a smaller, more convenient coach, doesn’t mean it gives up anything in storage.

“The amenities and mega-storage are hard to find even in much larger coaches, making the Serrano a serious contender for the RV buyer,” said Summers, adding, “especially if you want to be able to go just about anywhere without leaving behind any of the comforts of home!”

In addition to generous storage areas, the coach rides atop the Workhorse W-20D chassis, powered by the International MaxxForce 7 V-8 diesel engine. The Serrano is larger than the “Sprinter-class” coaches – but for its size it is fuel efficient and powerful with 620 pound-feet of torque. It also features 5000 pounds of towing capacity and 19.5-inch full-size tires and wheels.

“The Serrano offers style, storage and diesel at an affordable price. It’s a great combination in a nicely sized package,” Summers said.

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AutoWeek Allies with Four Winds and Camping World

June 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

AutoWeek, Four Winds International Corp. and Camping World Inc. today (June 10) announced their partnership for the Rock ‘n’ Race AutoWeek.com Summer of Love Tour 2009.

For the next two months, AutoWeek editors will tour the country visiting uniquely American events — and writing about them — from the comforts of a 32-foot-long Serrano motorcoach supplied by Four Winds and Camping World, according to a news release.

“It’s an excuse to climb into an all-time great ride, go to the hottest music, car and race venues in North America, step into some of our readers’, listeners’ and viewers’ lives and truck it on down the road,” says Dutch Mandel, AutoWeek editor and associate publisher. “The idea began with the epiphany that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the original Woodstock festival. While some of our readers were there in body and mind, we all attended Woodstock in spirit. And let’s face it — music and cars go so well together that this was a natural.”

The tour will include inside access — and on-site reporting — from great music festivals, car shows and races.

Some of the stops:

  • Bonnaroo Music Festival – Manchester, Tenn., June 11-14.
  • NASCAR Camping World Truck Race – Loudon, N.H., June 24-28.
  • Rothbury Music Festival – Rothbury, Mich., July 2-6.
  • Blue Oyster Cult Concert – Clarkston, Mich., July 8.
  • Michigan Softball World Series – Croswell-Lexington, Mich., July 9-22.
  • NASCAR Camping World Truck Series – Indianapolis, July 23-26.

Four Winds International, based in Elkhart, Ind., is a manufacturer of Class A, B and C motorhomes and has been building motorhomes since 1992.

Camping World, based in Bowling Green, Ky., is America’s largest direct marketer and specialty retailer of recreational vehicles and outdoor camping accessories and services. 

AutoWeek magazine is America’s fortnightly automotive-enthusiast publication based in Detroit, Mich., and is one of more than 30 titles published by Crain Communications Inc.

Camping World is affiliated with Affinity Group Inc. (AGI) which publishes RVBusiness and RVBUSINESS.com.

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Elkhart Dealer Posts Profitable 1st Quarter Sales

May 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Tiara RV in Elkhart, Ind., kicked off its spring selling season with a successful open house this past weekend.

“We were more than satisfied,” Brian Calhoun, sales manager, told RVBusiness.

The open house drew shoppers from as far away as 200 miles and generated some sales that would not have been made without the event, he said.

“People still perceive, ‘buy close to the manufacturer and save money,’” he said.

Internet sales are a vital part of Tiara’s business, generating approximately 75% of it sales, he added.

The dealership featured 2010 model towables and motorized products by Keystone RV Co., Four Winds International Corp., Forest River Inc., Carriage Inc. and KZRV LP.

He identified Keystone’s Montana and Carriage’s Cameo as the units garnering the most interest, but he also saw interest in motorized RVs and used product such as Keystone’s Springdale.

He said “fulltimer RVers and snowbirds” remain the  dealership’s biggest customer base.

Tiara, which was founded in 2002, reported a record sales performance in the first quarter and expects to turn a profit this year.

“There is a buyer out there. There is a market, you just have to tap it,” he said. “As long as the retail consumer is credit worthy, we have had no problem.”

Typical buyers have credit scores of 700 or better, “but bankers look at more factors than just the score. Some lenders still buy the people, he  said, “if you have a good record of making payments and your debt to income ratio is not out of whack.”

Calhoun identified Tiara as “a pretty good discounter. But our profit margins have been good. We’re aggressive, especially in this kind of market because everyody is aggressive but there are buyers out there.”

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