Red markers got a workout Friday (April 18) in Wixom, Mich., as 50 employees and family signed their names to the final steel beam to be placed in the new General RV headquarters now under construction.
Afterwards construction workers hoisted the 30-foot beam above the crowd and attached it to the building frame, according to a report by The Daily Tribune.
“We’ve come a long way since 1962,” said Loren Baidas, 39-year-old president and grandson of original owner, Abe Baidas. “We were out of space at the old facility.”
The 98,000-square-foot building, which can be seen from I-96, is located on 34 acres on the western edge of the old Ford Wixom assembly plant. Demolition of that plant ended last fall.
The new headquarters –– which will hold service bays for maintaining RVs, showroom, sales areas and corporate offices –– will open in early October this year.
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Hometownlife.com reported that the local company is relocating its Wixom dealership/headquarters to 33 acres of land just down the road from its current store.
“Things are moving along really well and we are looking forward to getting into this new location,” said Dennis Anderson, vice president of marketing for General RV.
Owned and operated by the Baidas family, General RV has become the largest family owned RV dealer in the nation with nearly 600 employees in 10 locations.
Staying in Wixom was important for the company. It had a previous offer to move to South Lyon, but never pursued it. Anderson said that when this new opportunity came about, it was ideal.
“We need more space is the biggest reason, but we also want to provide an even better service to our customers. This new location will help in that and should be a perfect fit,” he said.
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Fleetwood RV Inc. and Michigan-based General RV recently achieved record sales at the Detroit Camper and RV Show, held Feb. 5-9 in Novi. According to a press release, Fleetwood’s three most recognized models, Bounder, Discovery and Storm, contributed to the most Fleetwood motorhomes ever sold at the Novi event.
Offering innovative floorplans, the Bounder 35K remains a leader in the Class A gas segment with a layout that “flows seamlessly from front to back,” the company said. The gas-powered Discovery 40E floorplan was also a hit of the show, featuring a spacious galley design, an over-the-top pantry and pop-up 46-inch LED Sony HDTV.
The Storm gas Class A remains a top seller, resulting from its crossover design, blending the best of both a Class A and Class C coach with Fleetwood’s exclusive Hide-A-Loft drop-down bed and Bunk-Bed-n-Breakfast features.
“The Detroit show was a great success and we look to continue that success with our three key models, Discovery, Bounder and Storm,” said Lenny Razo, Fleetwood RV director of sales, eastern region. “We are proud to be partners with General RV and excited to be teaming up with them again at three major upcoming shows.”
“Fleetwood’s products definitely resonated with the crowd at the Detroit Camper and RV Show,” said Bob Green, director of sales at General RV. “We’re looking forward to seeing equally strong support of these amazing models at the other shows we’ll be attending in February.”
Upcoming shows for Fleetwood and General RV include:
• The 46th Annual Chicago RV & Camping Show, Feb. 12-16, Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, Rosemont, Ill.
• Jacksonville RV Show, Feb. 13-16, Jacksonville Equestrian Center, Jacksonville, Fla.
• Utah Sportsmens Vacation & RV Show, Feb. 13-16, South Towne Expo Center, Sandy, Utah.
Multilocation dealer General RV Center has a tentative agreement to purchase about 33 acres of land in Wixom, Mich., at a former Ford Motor Co. manufacturing site where it plans to relocate its corporate headquarters.
Crain’s Detroit Business reported that the company, currently headquartered in Wixom, is expected to finalize the purchase from New York-based Trident Barrow Management this week, said Wixom City Manager Tony Nowicki. Barrow purchased much of the land in January.
Loren Baidas, president and chairman of General RV Center, declined to comment until the purchase is finalized. The dealership is reportedly also looking at property in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area for its second location in the Sunshine State.
General RV Center sought and got a rezoning of the property from industrial to a mixed-use classification that allows for some retail, Nowicki said. It plans to construct a two-story building that will house a showroom and service and parts area, he said.
General RV Center plans to move its existing Wixom operations and to consolidate its other corporate operations from other states to the new site, Nowicki said.
The company currently employs about 75 people in the city, he said, and it expects the moves to create roughly another 75 jobs there.
Once it has completed its purchase of the property, General RV Center will submit a final site plan to city officials for approval, which should come within 30-45 days, clearing the way for construction to begin, Nowicki said.
The city is not providing incentives for the project, he said.
In honor of President Obama’s declaration of June as “Great Outdoors Month, Mich.-based General RV has launched a campaign designed to introduced underprivileged children to the RVing and camping lifestyle.
According to a press release, through the end of June General RV will be looking for families who are RV owners that would be willing to take an underprivileged child or family camping with them. General RV will pay for the expenses of the camping trip, including a gas allowance, campground fees and miscellaneous expenses.
“The RV community is extremely family oriented, and can make a difference in children’s lives in our communities,” the release stated.
The company will be selecting families in each of the states in which they have stores (Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Florida and Utah). Some details, regulations, and background checks may apply.
Interested individuals, families and those who would like to take advantage of General RV’s offer, should contact the company through its corporate Facebook page here. For more information, call Dennis Anderson at (248) 866-4657.
Despite the challenging economic climate throughout the United States, Michigan-based General RV Center is preparing for another prosperous year, according to a report in the Macomb Daily, Mount Clemens, Mich.
In fact, General RV Center, one of the top RV retailers in the nation, projects $300 million in gross sales with plans to add more than 200 jobs between all of its locations and departments.
“By the time it’s all said and done, that number is actually closer to 300 new jobs,” said Dennis Anderson of General RV Center. “There are a lot of businesses that are starting to rebound in Michigan and the RV business has actually benefited lately.”
General RV Center boasts Michigan locations in Mount Clemens, White Lake, Wixom and Birch Run. It has nine locations nationally and plans to open another in Huntley, Ill., this spring. The Illinois location alone is expected to create 60 to 70 local jobs. In addition, three of General RV Center’s locations — North Canton, Ohio; Jackson, Fla.; and Salt Lake City, Utah — are expanding and adding 20 to 30 new positions at each property.
Anderson jokes that it’s magic, but in reality it’s the fact that people are choosing to stay closer to home on vacations and opting for RVs as the best way to go.
“New data is showing that young families are the fastest-growing group of RV owners,” he said. “I think there’s an overall shift in values among young families and RV vacations are an affordable way for families to spend time together.”
Anderson said people choose to travel by RV for several reasons — one of the greatest being cost.
“If you’re single, you’re probably not going to vacation in a RV,” he said. “If you have a family, though, it can get very expensive very quickly to pay for plane tickets and hotel rooms.
“A lot of people want to go on vacation but they don’t want to go thousands of miles away to do it,” he said. “They’d rather go 100 or 200 miles away so they not only don’t spend as much time traveling but they don’t have to spend as much money, either.”
According to the Macomb Daily, the increase in RV sales has forced a change in vacation destinations with many places creating special RV parks and hotels, including Las Vegas.
“Some of the RVs are like campers, but others are like having a home you just happen to travel with,” Anderson said. “There are different choices for everyone depending on exactly what it is they’re looking for.”
Richard Curtin, director of consumer surveys at the University of Michigan said recreation-vehicle shipments are projected to total 236,700 nationally for 2010, a gain of 42.8% from 2009 shipments.
“We want to promote the fact that there are good things going on not only in the country but here in Michigan as well,” Anderson said.
Michigan-based General RV, which is opening a dealership in the Auto Mall in Huntley, Ill., held a job fair last week attracting about 125 applicants for 33 sales, office and service positions, the Huntley Patch reported.
Operations Manager Keith Lessner said he was pleased with the turnout and General RV had seen many qualified applicants at Thursday’s and Friday’s job fair held at a West Dundee hotel.
“We are doing a lot of the hiring on the spot,” Lessner said.
Applicants have ranged from those who have been unemployed for a while to those with jobs who are looking for a better opportunity, Lessner said.
General RV’s job fair comes at a time when unemployment in McHenry County has continued to increase. Pam Cumpata, president of the McHenry County Economic Development Corp., said the county’s unemployment rate was 8.4% in December and increased to 9.4% in January, she said.
MCED has co-hosted job fairs with Illinois Worknet Center in Woodstock. The center offers assistance to the unemployed but has so many people calling its phone lines get overloaded, she said.
There were many people applying with General RV who had excellent credentials, but the company just didn’t have a position open for their skills, Lessner said.
General RV is the first Auto Mall development, located off of Route 47, in 10 years and it’s the company’s first Illinois dealership. The building is under construction.
Despite competing with another RV show in DeLand, Fla., organizers said last week’s Jacksonville RV SuperShow was one of the most successful in the show’s 25 years, The Florida Times-Union reported.
Alan Dulberger, regional president of the Florida RV Trade Association and general sales manager of Camping World RV Sales in St. Augustine, said Wednesday )March 2) that attendance dropped by about 300 to 400 people. He also said that organizers of the DeLand show reported reduced attendance.
“I was told every dealer did as good or better than last year,” Dulberger said, adding that Camping World had its best show ever in sales.
“This really was a very positive show,” Dulberger said.
Another participating dealership agreed.
“I don’t think it could have gone any better,” said Steve Fogle, general sales manager of General RV Center on Wells Road in Orange Park.
Fogle said the dealership, now in its second year of operation, topped last year’s show sales with a reported 80 units sold.
Even with the slightly lower turnout, the show remains one of the largest in Florida. Dulberger credits much of the SuperShow’s success to the facilities at the Jacksonville Equestrian Center.
Having the show at a permanent structure allows for a much simpler show to run and makes it friendlier to show-goers, compared to the parking lots at EverBank Field, where the show was held until last year, or other impermanent locations used by other RV shows.
The Jacksonville SuperShow annually displays more than 350 RVs or various sorts, from popup trailers to massive diesel RVs.
“I expect it to be even bigger next year,” Fogle said, expressing hope in a recovering economy.
Fogle also said he continues to see RV sales pick up. General RV has even seen fit to begin a massive expansion of their dealership in response to growing sales.
The last few years have not been kind to the RV business. Sales across the country of that very discretionary toy dropped by almost half from 2007 to 2009. In Jacksonville, Fla., they dropped more than that, the Florida Times-Union reported.
“For 2 1/2 years, you couldn’t give them away,” said Richard Gore of Dick Gore’s RV World.
But things have changed.
- Three months ago, Gore opened a new location in St. Augustine.
- In Orange Park, General RV is expanding its dealership from five to 25 acres.
- Rivers RV delivered two units each in December 2008 and December 2009. In December 2010, it delivered 14 and signed contracts on twice that many.
“I’m flat-out speechless,” said Karen Schaffer, sales manager at Rivers RV.
Gore said he started to see things pick up last year.
“My customers said they were tired of listening to Fox and CNN and they were going to go out and have some fun,” Gore said. “People are feeling better.
“But it’s not like it was,” he said. “We’ve still got problems.”
Sales of new RVs last year in the Jacksonville area were still less than half of what they were three years ago.
But with the increased sales late last year and attendance at RV shows, dealers are getting ready for major increases. Manufacturers are expected to ship 246,000 units to dealers this year, that’s 80,000 more than 2009.
The drop in sales had a major impact on the manufacturers.
Now, Gore said, the manufacturers are telling him another story.
“They’re building more at the plants,” he said. “Instead of working three days a week, they’re back up to four and five days.”
Which types of RVs are leading the charge depends on who you talk to.
Schaffer said she’s seeing the biggest increase in the diesel motorhomes, which can run as high as $300,000 on her lot.
At General RV, a national chain that opened two years ago on Wells Road in Orange Park, it’s towables: travel trailers, fifth-wheels and popups.
Gore said he’s seeing a bit of everything.
But they all agreed that the buyer is changing.
“Back in the early 2000s,” Schaffer said, “the average demographic was the retired couple, with only the occasional 30s and 40s.”
Though retirees still buy the bulk of the large motorhomes, younger buyers are now a bigger chunk of the market.
“If you’ve got a young family,” said Dennis Anderson with General, “it’s a lot more affordable to camp in a travel trailer than it is to rent a condo or getting in an airplane and flying somewhere.”
R.J. White, a 33-year-old construction project manager, just ordered a new 21-foot travel trailer from Gore’s RV World. He’s not new to it, he’s had a pop-up that he’s taken around the state.
“We just get out to the state parks,” White said. “Blue Springs, Hillsborough River, Torreya. We’re going to try to get up into Georgia with this one.”
White doesn’t have a family yet, but he’s engaged.
And he chose the 21-footer because it has a couch that folds into a bed for children, just in case.
In addition to consumer confidence, Schaffer said much of the improvement has come because banks have started loosening up on loans.
Five or six years ago, she said, it was easy for an RV buyer to get financing, particularly if the buyer were trading in.
“You could just roll over your negative equity from your old RV with no money down and do it over and over,” Schaeffer. “It wasn’t uncommon to see people do that three times.”
But then the banks started wanting higher down payments and credit standards went up.
Of course, a lot of RVs, as with homes, were being repossessed.
“We had people wanting to come up here, park it and hand us the keys,” Schaffer said.
But more available credit and more eager buyers has things looking up.
Gore said his father, who started the business in 1985, made this observation years ago: “He said ‘The RV business is the first people to feel a recession and the first to come out of it.’
“I’m starting to see good things.”
Dealerships specializing in recreational vehicles turned a corner in the second quarter of 2010, and the dealers expect the uptick in sales to continue well into the new year, The Florida Times Union, Jacksonville, reported.
“I anticipate 2011 will be an extremely good year for us,” said Scottie Manson, general manager of Camping World RV Sales in St. Augustine. “Our inventories are in line with what our customers are wanting today. The manufacturers are responding to the market, and are actually building more RVs that are available for less money.”
Beyond the RV industry as a whole, Manson’s dealership has experienced a record year in sales compared to the other 47 Camping World locations nationwide. His St. Augustine location ranked No. 1 in sales in November.
General sales manager Alan Dulberger gives much of the credit to the team Manson has put in place at the store, with many of its 11 salespeople boasting years of experience in automotive sales. Manson attributes part of the success to the dealership’s competitive pricing – which has brought customers from as far away as Pennsylvania to the dealership, located next to the Prime Outlet Mall at State Road 16 and Interstate 95.
“Unlike some of our competitors, we also get a great deal because we buy in bulk,” Manson said. “We buy 10 to 40 [RVs] at a time and can pass those savings on to our customers. The savings are significant enough that they result in a widespread customer base.”
Compared to the automobile industry, RV manufacturers responded more quickly to customer demand, retooling their factories to turn out more lower-priced and small-to-midsized RVs.
Consumers have responded. According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), RV shipments in the third quarter of 2010 were 20% higher than in 2009. The association expects total shipments in 2010 to reach around 236,700. That’s a 43% increase over the 165,700 units sold in 2009 — the most anemic sales recorded by the industry over the last decade.
University of Michigan economist Richard Curtin projects further growth in 2011 with shipments rising by 4% to 246,000. Curtin anticipates growth in every vehicle type.
The resurgence in RV sales led Suncoast RV, located at Beach and Southside boulevards in Jacksonville, to reopen its location up the street at Beach Boulevard and Forest Street two months ago, which was shuttered when the recession began. The company has added salespeople and technicians to support the growth in both sales and service.
Suncoast General Manager Matt Bateh credits the nimble actions of the manufacturers, along with an easing of financial hurdles, for the comeback.
“I have to give some credit to the banks, because the rates that are available now are phenomenally low,” Bateh said. “While it’s not like it was three years ago, when a customer with a 600 credit score could get a loan with no money down — which got us into this mess in the first place — it’s gotten a lot better.”
Bateh notes that RV buyers with a credit score of 700 or better, who will put at least 10% down, can capture a great financing rate.
Just as Suncoast is expanding, so is General RV in Clay County with the addition of another five acres to its dealership on Wells Road.
“We’ll basically be doubling the size of our lot, in addition to expanding our service bays,” said Operations Manager John Dyer. “From the corporate side, we have a total of 37 stores and will be adding another 10 nationwide over the next few months. We’re gearing up for a very big year.”
Unlike previous years, most RV dealers say the growth in sales in 2011 will be in the areas of towable and smaller RVs and not the large 42-foot motorhomes that supported the industry in the early 2000s.
“The trend actually began about eight years ago, well before the recession started,” said Dulberger. “Because of the economy, owning a big motorhome is out of the range of most camping families. The cost difference is significant. You’re looking at $100,000 for a large motor home compared with $30,000 for a travel trailer or towable, which also makes it much easier to finance.”
Also, Dulberger said that many families now own either a sport utility vehicle or crossover SUV, which allows them the flexibility of transporting towables and travel trailers with their own vehicles. This trend has been further aided by RV manufacturers, who are churning out lighter campers that are easier to pull.
“For the novice or part-time camper or camping family, who may go out six to 10 times a year, by far the travel trailer makes the most sense and is the least expensive to own,” Dulberger said.
Depending on the size and amenities, travel trailers range in price from $12,000 to $35,000, with pop-up campers available for even less, ranging from $4,500 to $10,000.
Dulberger and many in the RV industry expect travel trailers will lead the way in sales next year, followed by fifth-wheel trailers, and the three classes of motorhomes and other RV types bringing in the smallest percentage.
“The large RVs are a luxury item, similar to yachts in the boating industry,” Dulberger said. “And it’s going to be awhile before that market rebounds.”