Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from an article appearing in a special Business & Industry Magazine published by The Elkhart Truth, based in the RV industry’s hub in Indiana’s Elkhart County. To read the entire article click here.
A group of local RV industry veterans is betting their reputations, their time and their money on a new business model for the industry.
“This is putting our money where our mouth is, and we never looked back,” said Don Clark, president of Grand Design RV. Clark founded the company alongside brothers Bill Fenech and Ron Fenech.
They left major positions in Thor Industries Inc. in the second half of 2011 and decided to start over. “We knew we wanted to create a special company, something that’s going to matter to the industry,” Clark said.
They have a 67-acre site north of Middlebury, Ind., with 450,000 square feet of manufacturing space. Right now they have exactly one product with exactly one floorplan. They have exactly one dealer in any given market.
At the most, they plan to have six product lines, one for each market segment they’ll target.
That’s a big change from most of the industry, which sometimes has a dealer for one line just a few miles away from another dealer offering a line that may have a different name, but may be the exact same product made by the same company.
To read the entire article click here.
After a solid Florida RV SuperShow, startup manufacturer Grand Design Recreational Vehicles has shipped its first unit — the extended-stay 38-foot Solitude fifth-wheel — to Dandy RV Superstores in Anniston, Ala.
Grand Design, founded in October by industry veterans Don Clark and brothers Ron and Bill Fenech, made its retail debut at the Tampa show in a Lazydays RV Center booth earlier this month at a prominent display that drew a steady stream of consumers throughout the event.
”It was the grand debut of Grand Design,” Clark told RVBUSINESS.com. ”I’m pretty confident that we hit the nail on the head. We’ve got a real winner. It exceeded our expectations (in Tampa) and we had high expectations.”
Middlebury, Ind.-based Grand Design’s first product came together quickly after the three principals’ non-competition agreements expired last year with Thor Industries Inc.
”You have all these ideas in mind and then you have to put them down on paper, and then you’ve got to make sure it works,” Clark said. ”(General Manager) Marc Hauser and our production and engineering staffs did a great job in a short amount of time.”
Clark and both Fenechs specifically attended the Florida show to interface with potential buyers. ”You have a lot of experienced buyers in Tampa,” Clark said. ”They know what they want. All three of us wanted to come here to get some feedback and ideas about improvements we could make to the coach.”
With the early success of the 38-foot Solitude, 35- and 36-foot floorplans will follow quickly with MSRPs that range from the low- to high-$60,000s, depending on equipment.
”Eventually, we will have six or seven Solitude floorplans when we are done,” Clark said.
At the same time, Grand Design has escalated the development of its next two brands which are expected to go into production later this year, Clark reported.
Grand Design RV Co., the new towable manufacturing company currently being set up at a 67-acre complex near the Indiana Toll Road north of Middlebury, Ind., has created plenty of positive industry buzz recently – a fact that’s perhaps most interesting because the newly founded company has yet to build its first unit.
In fact, as Grand Design’s three co-owners — all former executives of Jackson Center, Ohio-based Thor Industries Inc. — were introducing themselves to a crowd of more than 350 at an introductory meeting last week (Nov. 28) at the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) 50th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., a prototype of Grand Design’s first Solitude-brand, extended stay fifth-wheel lineup was still in the works at the firm’s 400,000-square-foot plant near the Michigan state line.
And now that Grand Design co-owner Ron Fenech, former president of Thor’s RV Group, is back in northern Indiana after a hectic week at the Louisville Show, he told RVBUSINESS.com that he and his partners, brother Bill Fenech and long-time associate Don Clark, are pretty pleased with the way things are going.
“We were very excited by the reaction to the news that we were coming back into the marketplace, but more importantly the dealer reaction to how we were going to position the company in regard to products that we were going to introduce, and, most significantly, the fact that we were going to pick one dealer per market who would have our full line of Grand Design products and that we would not be building sister or cloned products under the Grand Design name,” says Fenech, who played a key role in building Goshen, Ind.-based Keystone RV Co. into a national player as well as Thor’s largest single division. “All the dealers seem to be reacting very positively to it, and that — more than anything really — is gratifying at this point.”
In fact, Fenech, whose new firm has begun signing up selected dealerships, says the positive reception at Grand Design’s Louisville Show meeting wasn’t any different than what they’ve been receiving elsewhere throughout the country.
“Yeah, part of it I think is that there was some anticipation that we would be coming back into the marketplace,” he added. “We’ve built a lot of relationships over the years. We think that dealers recognize they can trust us and they believe in our track record. So they’re giving us a chance to talk to them seriously about joining forces.
“Part of it I think that is rather appealing is that we’re taking things back to how the business was done 25 or 30 years ago when companies had one dealer in a market. And I think in today’s market with so much Internet shopping, the fact that there’s fewer dealers in the market and credit isn’t flowing as it was back in the early 2000s that we are providing a way for dealers to build margin with the distribution strategy we’ll put in place. And I think that’s what they’re reacting to.”