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When Roger Faulkner nine months ago bought General Coach Canada in Hensall, Ontario, from Thor Industries Inc., the first thing he did was stop building traditional travel trailers, choosing instead to focus on recreational park trailers.
”I sold all the equipment so that I can’t ever be tempted to get in to RVs again,” Faulkner told RVBUSINESS.com. ”I have to remain focused in one direction or I’ll fail. The RV business is strong, but as a little guy up in Canada, I couldn’t compete in the RV business with the Forest Rivers and the Thors of the world.”
Faulkner, then-president of Thor’s Citair Inc., dba General Coach Canada, purchased the 60-year-old company from Thor on April 30, 2010, for an undisclosed sum. Thor had purchased the manufacturer of Citation travel trailers, in the early 1980s as one of the early acquisitions of Thor founder Wade F.B. Thompson.
Faulkner’s son, Chris, is vice president of sales and marketing.
Faulkner said that following his purchase, General Coach is establishing itself as a manufacturer of Huron Ridge entry-level, mid-range and high-end park models. ”I can build something for $35,000 and something for $200,000 and all points in between,” he said. ”I custom build so there’s not anything I won’t do as far as park models.”
General Coach, with 110 employees, is a ”preferred vendor” to Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), and Camping in Ontario, a Canadian campground association, and markets Huron Ridge recreational park trailers in Canada and in the northeastern U.S., although U.S. sales have been flagging recently because of the weak American dollar versus the Canadian dollar.
”It’s going as well as can be expected,” Faulkner said. ”It’s wintertime in Canada and not much is happening right now. But we’re doing fine.”
General Coach will remain 100% focused on the production of recreational park trailers or park models under the new ownership of Roger Faulkner, who purchased the Hensall, Ontario-based firm from Thor Industries Inc. last Friday (April 30) for an undisclosed price.
Faulkner, who served as president of the Thor subsidiary, told RVBUSINESS.com that the firm has been successful in “building a niche in the Canadian market and chopping away at the Northeast and other border states” and he plans to continue to do so, now that he owns 100% of the company.
The company employs 102 workers at a 100,000-square-foot facility in Hensall, located 100 miles northeast of Detroit. General Coach was formed in 1950 and is Canada’s oldest RV maker. Thor purchased it in 1980. Faulkner, 63, has spent 42 years in the RV industry, the last 11 with Thor.
“We’re a small company and we’ll stay small,” he said, noting that General Coach was the smallest of all the Thor subsidiaries. But he quickly added, “We’ll make it without being the biggest king on the mountain. At 63, I don’t have to be the biggest king on the mountain.”
His son, Chris, is assisting him as vice president.
Thor announced today (May 4) that it sold its Citair Inc. subsidiary, doing business as General Coach Canada, to management but gave no other details.
General Coach at one time also produced travel trailers, fifth-wheels and trucks campers, but Faulkner said he will just produce park models in part due to the competitive nature of the RV industry.
“Canadian RV manufacturing is tough,” Faulkner said. “We’ve seen them (manufacturers) drop like flies over the last five to 10 years. There aren’t a lot of them left. It’s tough for us to compete, even in the best of times.”
Faulkner likened the park model industry in Canada to a “less crowded room” in which he thinks his product is the best-built on the market.
General Coach has established a “preferred vendor” relationship with Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), which has paid dividends for his company, Faulkner said, and he hopes to further enhance that in the coming years.
Faulkner didn’t disclose other details of the acquisition but said it will benefit all concerned.
“It’s good for me, it’s good for the company and it’s good for Thor,” he said.
With this transaction, Thor has ceased building RVs of any nature in Canada, although it will likely retain a substantial presence there. In the recessionary year of 2009, Thor’s export sales from U.S. operations to Canada totaled $237 million, down from $421 million in 2008. The totals include RVs and buses.
Until last October, Thor also operated General Coach West, in Oliver, British Columbia. That plant built travel trailers and high-end fifth-wheels. Without going into details, Faulkner acknowledged that “it was a problem for Thor having two Canadian facilities.”
In its 2009 annual report, Thor stated sales from its Canadian operations in Fiscal 2009 totaled 0.9% of its total sales, down from 1.1% in 2008 and 1.2% in 2007.
Faulkner has been active in the industry, serving multiple terms as president of the Canadian RV Associaiton and helping to co-found Go RVing of Canada.
General Coach historically has not displayed its products at the National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., and Faulkner has no plans to begin doing so, he said.
General Coach Canada has anounced it joined hands with Nationwide Leasing, a division of Nationwide Hotel Supply Inc,. Richmond, British Columbia.
The two companies signed an exclusive leasing and financing program for rental cabins being produced by General Coach Canada in Hensall, Ontario, according to a news release.
“The incredible response to our line of rental cabins since their launch in the summer of 2008 has been unprecedented,” said Roger Faulkner president of General Coach Canada.
Faulkner stated, “When the RV industry started to slow down in 2007, 2008, the writing was on the wall as to the future of General Coach Canada. We had to look outside the park for other products that we could build.”
The other product that General Coach Canada chose to pursue is simply an extension of the top of the line recreational park trailer it was already manufacturing.
“We knew we had a winner when we were chosen as a “Preferred Vendor” for KOA (Kampgrounds of America) to build lodges for their Canadian franchisees,” he said.
The major challenge for most campgrounds today is to locate the extra cash needed, which will enable them to purchase the cabins. This predicament is prevalent due to the fact that most banking institutions in Canada routinely struggle to understand the campground model.
Nationwide Leasing has established a proven track record when it comes to leasing equipment to the hotel and lodging industry over the past 20 years and were anxious to entertain a lease to purchase plan for all General Coach Canada’s clients.
The lease-to-purchase plan being launched will allow all campgrounds to now enter the extremely lucrative rental market.