In the midst of the recession, Jayco Inc. held its annual dealer meeting closer to home – at its home plant in Middlebury, Ind., in 2009 and in the Chicago suburbs in 2010. Perhaps reflecting a market that continues to work it’s way back to health, Jayco this week (June 20-22) took a more traditional approach by hosting its Annual Homecoming & 2012 New Product Introduction at The Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.
“This year marks the 43rd year since Lloyd Bontrager founded our company,” Jayco Chairman Wilbur Bontrager told the assembled dealers during the company’s general session on Tuesday (June 21) morning. “I don’t have with me a list of all the RV companies that were in business that year. Suffice to say that there were dozens and that very few of them remain today. I think you can count them on one hand.
“We believe that the reason for our success over those years is that we have set the example for the RV industry when it comes to building products packed with value, standing behind those products and developing a true and trusting relationship with our dealer organization. If you consider the fact that we have built nearly 800,000 RVs over the last 43 years, it is a tribute to the men and women in this room that we have remained so strong for so long.”
Behind that kind of long-term survival are both people and values, said Bontrager, on behalf of the management team of the family-held company. However, he added, living by the Golden Rule is not enough in itself to sustain oneself in the business arena today.
“We think we have a pretty good idea of who we are,” Bontrager noted in his opening remarks, “and we plan to reinforce that identity in your minds this week. At the same time, we understand that the world and the RV market are constantly changing, becoming more dynamic with increasingly aggressive competition. The challenge facing us is to remember who we are, take stock of where we stand today and prepare to move on.
“In order to grow and flourish, we must go to new places and make new plans. We’re stronger now than ever before but we also know that what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow.”
In his turn at the podium, Jayco President Derald Bontrager reflected on the state of the economy and when he had told dealers in Schaumburg, Ill., last year about how the company had weathered the bulk of the economic storms and that all signs pointed to a solid recovery. At that time, he observed, optimism was pretty prevalent in the industry.
“Today,” he noted, “the economy is still expanding but that optimism is tempered by a certain amount of anxiety and uncertainty. While the economy is showing steady improvement, the RV industry is going through a period marked by revolutionary changes in the way our products are built and marketed, forcing everyone in this room to reevaluate our current business models.”
In making his point, Bontrager said he’d had the opportunity early in June during RVIA Committee Week to listen to “some fairly sobering words” from University of Michigan economist Richard Curtin, a forecaster for the national trade association, regarding the fundamental changes in the economy prompted by the Great Recession.
“He said our market and the economy will not return to the pre-recession normal,” Bontrager explained. “There is a new normal and those companies that adapt will survive, and those that don’t, won’t. Disposable income and the labor market will vary across population groups and full recovery is some time in the future. The wealth factor, including housing equity, will slowly recover over years.
“Credit will be more widely available, but under stricter terms, and we will likely be doing business amid conditions of continuing volatility in domestic and global markets.
But Curtin was also emphatic in stating that the appeal of the RV lifestyle will overcome any economic barriers and will continue to transform the industry to meet RVers needs, Bontrager added.
“So as we meet here this week,” he told the dealers, “it is clear that our business is more challenged and more competitive than ever before. The old way of doing things is no longer the most effective plan. We need to be smarter, more innovative and bolder than ever before. But it is equally as clear that for a company like Jayco there are opportunities like never before.”
Middlebury, Ind.-based Jayco Inc. recently entered into an agreement with TCF Inventory Finance Inc. (TCFIF) making TCFIF the preferred inventory finance source for dealers of Jayco’s three recreation vehicles divisions.
Derald Bontrager, Jayco’s president and COO, said that TCFIF will provide Jayco, Starcraft and Entegra Coach dealers with floorplan financing at competitive rates with innovative inventory management tools.
“Over the past few years, it has become increasingly apparent that reliable, effective wholesale financing is critical to the success of both Jayco and its dealers,” he said. “We’re pleased to partner with an organization like TCFIF that will provide aggressive, practical financial services solutions to our dealers,” he said.
Jayco’s agreement marks TCFIF’s entry into the recreation vehicle industry in the U.S. and Canada.
“The launch of this aggressive new program with Jayco clearly supports our entrance into the RV business,” said Ross Perrelli, president and chief executive officer of TCFIF. “We are truly excited about partnering with Jayco and believe the relationship is an excellent fit for Jayco, its dealers and TCFIF.”
TCFIF, headquartered in Schaumburg, Ill., is a subsidiary of Wayzata, MN based TCF National Bank, and offers a full range of inventory financing programs to manufacturers and their dealers throughout the United States and Canada. TCFIF is extensively involved in the lawn and garden industry, the power sports industry, and the consumer electronics and household appliance industry.
Editor’s Note: The following story comes from AFP, the global news agency.
Once idle factories are ringing again with the welcome sounds of motor homes being built, but Elkhart, Ind., seen as a bellwether for the US economy is still hurting nearly two years after the recession officially ended.
“We are just crawling out of this recession — I mean crawling. It seems like our finger nails are just down to the skin here,” said Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder.
Elkhart is known as the recreational vehicle capital of the world and more than half the jobs in the area are in manufacturing — four times the national average.
That used to be a blessing for generations of workers who could land a reliable job at a decent wage with a steady hand, strong work ethic and an eighth grade education.
It became a curse when the RV industry was hit with the double whammy of a spike in gasoline prices and the credit crunch.
After fluctuating between 2% and 5% for most of the past 20 years, the unemployment rate in the Elkhart-Goshen area jumped to 9.4% in July 2008.
By March 2009 unemployment here hit a peak of 20.1% — double the national average and one of the highest in the country — as RV orders dried up amid the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
President Barack Obama visited this Midwestern town of 52,000 four times — twice as a candidate and twice as president — to highlight his economic policies.
Stimulus dollars poured into the area — to fix roads, sewers, an airport runway, the local theater — and Norwegian electric car company Think garnered national headlines when it picked Elkhart for a new plant.
Most importantly, RV orders started to pick up again.
After bottoming out at 166,000 units in 2009 with a retail value of $5.2 billion — less than half of the number sold in 2007 for $14.5 billion — RV shipments rose 46% to 242,300 in 2010 as dealers began to restock their lots.
Shipments are forecast to rise 8.6% this year to 263,100, but only if rising oil prices don’t once again put the brakes on demand for the gasoline-guzzling vacation homes and trailers.
If sales don’t pick up, dealers will send those shiny new RVs right back to the factories, leaving manufacturers on the hook for everything but what amounts to a restocking fee.
The frantic pace of work at Jayco Inc. — one of the biggest manufacturers left standing after an intense period of bankruptcies and consolidation — speaks to the company and the industry’s optimism.
Clinton Lehman slides a cabinet base into a small trailer and quickly drills it into place while a co-worker works on the roof.
Lehman, 30, was out of work for nine months before he was called back to Jayco.
“It was scary at first, but it was not so bad because I knew there were lots of other people in the same boat,” he said.
Things are worlds better now. The shop floor is busy. Most of the people he knows are working again. He doesn’t have to worry any more about how he’ll pay for his daughter’s clothes, or books, or dinner.
There’s a good future in the RV world, said Dave Eash, vice president for sales and marketing at Jayco.
Attendance has been great at recent trade shows and there’s a lot of pent-up demand in the market.
Millions of Baby Boomers are retiring and RVs are also attracting a growing number of younger people.
And the industry has slimmed down with leaner and more efficient operations.
“We’re very confident of where the industry is going,” Eash told AFP.
“People are looking for an affordable way to take a vacation, spend time with family and have a lot of fun.”
It’s not clear if there’s a good future for everyone in Elkhart.
The receptionist at the local unemployment office greeted most people who walked in on a recent sunny afternoon by name. Unlike the dilapidated shopping mall, the parking lot here was full.
While the unemployment rate here may be looking better these days — it was down to 11% in March — only about 6,000 of the 24,000 jobs lost in the downturn have come back.
Meanwhile, the official labor force has shrunk by 13,000 people — or about 13% of the 2007 average — because so many people have left town or simply given up.
Fred Clair, 38, has been out of work for more than 2 1/2 years. He lost his house to foreclosure and had to move in with his parents. He has no idea what he’d do without their help.
“They say everything’s getting better, but I don’t see it,” Clair told AFP after yet another visit to the unemployment office. “Most of the people I know are still looking.”
Clair’s unemployment benefits ran out in September. He managed to find a job in February, but was laid off 2 1/2 weeks later when that section of the RV plant closed. Since then, it’s just been one disappointment after another.
Getting Clair and the thousands of others like him back to work is going to be “really, really difficult,” warned county commissioner Yoder.
Employers are wary of hiring people who’ve been out of work for so long, especially if they’re over 50.
Despite a major retraining effort, Elkhart’s workforce is still not educated enough to attract employers in industries other than manufacturing. Yoder’s hope lies in the entrepreneurial spirit which led to Elkhart’s past prosperity.
“I know the dreams are out there and I know that in the last two years from an economic development standpoint we’ve planted a lot of seeds,” he said.
“We’re just waiting to see what grows.”
Aimed at helping families gear up for the camping season and spend quality time together in the outdoors, Jayco Inc. has announced its annual Blue Tag National Sales Event.
Jayco dealers throughout the U.S. and Canada are participating in the sale, promoting the event across three different media (tabloids, TV and radio), according to a news release.
The event marks the fourth consecutive year dealers have united in a large-scale promotional effort to boost sales, reduce 2011 inventory and promote Jayco’s industry-leading two-year warranty and high average resale value. The event will start on April 1 and run through May 31 at participating dealers.
Jayco increased promotional efforts this year by adding a new system which allowed dealers to customize direct mail tabloids, newspaper inserts, 30-second television commercials or 30-second radio spots. The dealers had the opportunity to play an even bigger role in helping deliver the Blue Tag message by taking advantage of email marketing campaigns, point-of-purchase materials and Internet banner ads.
“We’re gratified to have dealers who share in Jayco’s success, and who understand what makes this type of event a success,” said Sid Johnson, Jayco’s director of marketing. “With an increased arsenal of marketing tools, we think the timing is particularly appropriate for our dealers to make a huge impact across North America”.
Building on the successful formula of the past events, a customer sweepstakes was added to create event awareness and drive traffic during the sales event months. The sweepstakes features 25 giveaway prizes — five camping adventure packages and 20 Flip video cameras.
The adventure packages, valued at $2,000, includes a $500 gas card, a $500 grocery card, $700 in Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park stays, a Flip video camera and a prize pack of goodies for on-the-road fun. Customers are directed to register online and then visit their local Jayco dealer to check their lucky number.
“As a family-owned company, we think we have an understanding of what drives our customers to our products,” Johnson said. “Making sure our RVs are affordable, liveable and well-built are just a few of the ways we can fulfill that commitment, and the sweepstakes this year offers us the chance to help make those family trips even more memorable.”
Repeat top-selling brands included the Keystone Montana fifth-wheel, Jayco’s Jay Flight travel trailer, Tiffin’s Phaeton diesel-powered Class A motorhome, Forest River’s Georgetown gas Class A and Winnebago View’s diesel minimotorhome. The only two first-time leaders were the Coachmen gas Class C motorhome and the Forest River Rockwood folding camping trailer.
The Montana led the pack for the 10th consecutive year with 9.4% of retail fifth-wheel sales while Jayco Inc.’s Jay Flight snagged 6.4% of the travel trailer market, according to Statistical Surveys Inc., the Grand Rapids, Mich., company that tracks RV industry retail sales.
In the motorized market, Tiffin Motor Home Inc.’s Phaeton was the best-selling diesel motorhome with 13.2% share, Forest River Inc.’s Georgetown was the top-selling gas Class A, with 13.9% share, and Winnebago Industries Inc.’s View was the No. 1 Class C diesel on the market with 21.9% share.
Other 2010 market share leaders were Class B, Winnebago’s ERA (16.6%; Class C gas, Forest River Inc.’s Coachmen (17.6%); folding camping trailers, Forest River’s Rockwood (7.3%); and park models, Breckenridge (17.6%).
Keystone President Bob Martin said the Montana has staying power for several reasons with customer loyalty being high on the list.
”Loyalty is important,” said Martin, whose Goshen, Ind., company hosts about 100 Montana owners at a rally each fall at the nearby Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds. Many of them have bought five or six Montanas over the years.
”Members of the Montana Owners Club are incredibly loyal,” he added. ”After they buy a Montana, they just won’t buy anything else. Montana is user friendly and loaded with features with quality that no one else can match.”
Jerry Williamson, Tiffin national sales manager, said that while the Paeton was developed as an entry-level motorhome, over the years it has evolved into a mid-priced coach in the ”sweet spot” of the diesel market.
”We improved the product as far as amenities and styling every year,” said Williamson, who noted that most RVs creep up in price as consumers ask for more features and amenities. ”We ‘mother-hen’ the Phaeton very closely. We have the best feature package that is offered in the mid-range price point.”
Roger Martin, Winnebago Industries Inc. vice president of sales and marketing, said we worked closely with Daimler AG, Mercedes Benz’ parent company, and invested the time and money to develop the Winnebago View along with sister-brand Itasca Navion on the high mileage Sprinter cab chassis, previously offered only in a B-van configuration. These efforts provided Winnebago Industries with a head start in developing these products over other manufacturers.
”That’s the primary reason that the product has been so successful,” Martin said. ” It was unique in the industry for two or three years before folks starting copying the idea.
”The View essentially created the segment of the fuel-efficient, stylish units based on the Sprinter,” noted Martin. ” I also credit the dealer organization we have. They really grasped this concept and did an excellent job selling it.”
Sid Johnson, Jayco Inc. marketing director, noted that the Jay Flight has changed during the six years it has led the travel trailer market.
”Initially, Jay Flight was positioned as a lower-end entry-level product that offered a great deal of value for the price,” Johnson said. ”It’s still somewhat that today, except that it has been steadily improved over the years from the standpoint of features.”
That, he said, appeals to younger buyers with families who have come to expect more than their Baby Boomer parents. ”It’s a heavy number from first-time buyers with a heavier than normal incidence of college education,” Johnson said. ”I’m not sure what all that says, except in terms of Jayco’s strategy, that product has become not only our bread-and-butter, but provides the foundation of our entire travel trailer strategy.”
Admirers of all things RV can fill that particular thrill in Elkhart County, Ind., where more than 20 RV manufacturers offer factory tours.
Elkhart County is the recreational vehicle capital of the world with one of every two RVs being made in that county, according to amishcountry.org.
Fascinated by how things are made, I love factory tours, so I chose three for Best-Ever Friend Dave and me to visit. Dave owned a Winnebago 30 years ago so he was interested to see how things had changed.
First stop: Renegade RV, 52216 State Road 15 in Bristol, a 14-year-old company founded by Chuck McKibbin for the auto racing industry. Here, sales manager Danny Lagunas ushered us onto the factory floor where employees were working on several custom units. The smallest unit they build is about 32 feet, Danny said. Most of their vehicles are made for people who have owned several RVs and now want to design one to their own specifications.
We climbed up into these huge RVs to see the work in progress. We saw granite countertops, flat-screen TVs ready for installation — even one on the outside of the vehicle — granite floors, space-efficient layouts and unique storage solutions. Impressive!
Second stop: Jayco, 903 S. Main St. in Middlebury. You can’t miss Jayco because you’ll see hundreds of white travel-trailers in the factory lot.
But watch carefully for the Visitors Center sign. Inside the center, a renovated 1880s farmhouse, John MacDonald, marketing services manager, invited us to look around the center or to go outside and look at the vehicles on display while we waited for our noon tour. We did both.
A video told us about founders Lloyd and Bertha Bontrager, who started the company in a chicken coop in 1968. They quickly outgrew that and are now the largest privately owned RV manufacturer.
Judy Swihart, visitors center coordinator, took us in a trolley back to the building where they make about 11 fifth-wheels per day.
Then we went to the cavernous and fascinating sewing room. We watched a machine quilting two yards of material every 45 seconds. The material is used for bedspreads and pillow shams.
We watched as employee Deb Lafary filled a pillow cover with a foam cushion. If you’ve done that, you know it can be challenging. But not at Jayco.
Deb placed the foam cushion on a vacuum machine, covered it with plastic, turned the machine on and, instantly, it shrank. She popped it inside the covering and, in a nano-second, it re-inflated and filled the covering.
After Jayco, we had lunch at Village Inn, 107 S. Main St. in Middlebury. This is where locals gather to talk about the weather, a hot topic this winter. So we chose comfort food: cups of sweet, tomatoey chili; creamy and tender chicken and noodles; and homemade pie for dessert, pecan for me, cherry for Dave.
Our final stop was SunnyBrook RV, 201 14th St., Middlebury, which just last December became Winnebago of Indiana LLC. Jeff Baker, sales representative, took us and a group of insurance agents on the tour, explaining the manufacturing process from the naked chassis stage to the finished product, whether a fifth-wheel or a travel-trailer.
With the insurance agents asking questions, Jeff told us all the things RV manufacturers do to avoid problems for the consumers. We learned about glues, insulation, windows, awnings and the craftsmanship.
Most impressive for me was the outdoor kitchen on one of the vehicles. You pop up the cover to find a tiny sink, refrigerator and stove.
This day of “RVs Unwrapped” is a great way to learn about RVs before purchasing one or just to be impressed with manufacturing innovations. It also answered my ever-present question: “How do they do that?”
John Ganyard has been named director of human resources at Jayco Inc.
In making the announcement, Derald Bontrager, Jayco president and COO, said Ganyard will have corporatewide responsibility for employment, employee relations, occupational safety and health and environmental affairs.
Prior to joining Middlebury, Ind.-based Jayco, Ganyard has more than 25 years experience in human resources and manufacturing management. He has held management level positions with RCA, Johnson Controls, Teepak, RR Donnelly, Welch Packaging and Keystone RV. He is a graduate of Indiana University – Bloomington and holds a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification. Ganyard and his family reside in Middlebury.
The 2011 Octane ZX and Octane ZX Super Lite toy haulers by Jayco Inc. are geared toward an active lifestyle.
The 2011 Octane ZX Super Lite gives many of the same amenities as the Octane ZX but as much as 3,500 pounds lighter, according to a news release. Easily towable by most half-ton trucks, crossovers or SUVs, the Octane ZX Super Lite is one of the lightest toy haulers on the market. This unit features a Customer Value Package that includes a 13,500-BTU A/C, bathroom power vent, Carefree patio awning, convection microwave, 6-gallon gas/electric DSI water heater, stabilizer jacks, 5-cubic-foot refrigerator and a Sony AM/FM/CD stereo system.
The 2011 Octane ZX is available in four floorplans and features a full-feature kitchen with deep double-bowl sink, overhead microwave and Concord cherry cabinetry. The in-ramp toolbox helps to keep your tools safe and out of the way, while the garage includes tie-down D-rings rated for 2,500 pounds to keep your toys safe and stationary during travel. The Octane features many notable amenities such as a Sony AM/FM/CD/DVD stereo system, 6-cubic-foot, double-door refrigerator, 102-gallon fresh water capacity and an insulated and laminated aluminum framed floor.
Both the Octane ZX and Super Lite units feature a 102-inch wide body, 8-foot- wide ramp door opening, welded tubular-aluminum floor frame, Dexter Nev-R-Adjust brakes, marine toilet with foot flush and tinted safety-glass windows.
The industry-leading, Jayco Co-Pilot Warranty offers the original purchaser a two-year warranty against defects in materials and workmanship. In addition, all Jayco products have been Green Certified by TRA Certification Inc, an independent, third-party certification agency. The Octane ZX and Octane ZX Super Lite earned Gold Certification through the use of sustainable materials, environmentally-friendly production methods, energy-efficient components and reduction of waste.
For more information on Jayco Octane ZX toy haulers and other Jayco products, call 800-RV-JAYCO, visit www.jayco.com or write Jayco Inc., 903 S. Main, Middlebury, Ind., 46540.
The 2011 Recon ZX toy hauler by Jayco Inc. combines spacious living areas, multiple slide-outs, a full-sized kitchen, residential-style bathrooms and an expanded garage for a hard-core hauling machine that still offers the comforts of home, according to a news release.
The Recon ZX features three floorplans between 42 feet and 43 1/2 feet in length. Inside the toy hauler fifth-wheel amenities include Concord cherry stained burnished cabinetry, Corian kitchen countertops, a surface-mount stainless steel three-burner range top/oven, under-mount stainless sink, hardwood cherry-stained burnished fascia boards and a ceiling fan with lights.
The optional Customer Value Package offers 8-lug polished aluminum wheels, a Carefree Travel’r 12-volt electric patio awning, water purification system and a Sony AM/FM/CD/DVD stereo system with four speakers and iPod adapter/charger.
The 2011 Recon ZX features an optional cargo area and electric queen beds, providing plenty of extra room for friends to stay and play. Making the trip safer and more enjoyable; the Recon ZX offers the MOR/ryde CRE 3000 rubber axle equalizer, Dexter Nev-R-Adjust brakes, tinted safety-glass windows, recessed command center with sliding glass door and an enclosed and heated uni-lock utility center.
Spacious garage storage non-skid floor and ramp along with frame-anchored D-rings ensure that gear is safe during transport. Optional additional sleeping arrangements in the garage area allow for more guests. The Jayco ZX toy haulers combine extreme comfort with extreme durability.
The Jayco Co-Pilot Warranty offers the original purchaser a two-year warranty against defects in materials and workmanship. In addition, all Jayco products have been Green Certified by TRA Certification Inc., an independent third party certification agency. The Recon ZX earned Gold Certification through the use of sustainable materials, environmentally-friendly production methods, energy-efficient components and reduction of waste.
For more information on Jayco Recon ZX toy haulers and other Jayco products, call (800) RV-JAYCO, visit www.jayco.com or write Jayco, Inc., 903 S. Main St., Middlebury, Ind., 46540.
The 2011 Greyhawk Class C motorhome by Jayco Inc. comes in floorplans ranging from 28 feet to just over 32 feet in length, providing a high-quality motorhome in a compact style, according to a news release.
Standard equipment includes a Carefree Travel’r 12-volt electric awning, three-burner range and oven, eight-cubic-foot refrigerator with double doors, microwave and built-in cutting board over the sink.
The Greyhawk features Washington Glazed Maple cabinetry, etched decorative mirrors throughout, halogen recessed ceiling lights and oil-rubbed bronze hardware,
The 2011 Greyhawk also features several available family-friendly components, including an over cab entertainment center with 32-inch LCD HDTV (31FS), in-dash radio navigation system with rear camera built in, side-view camera on the mirror arm, RV satellite kit and an electric slideout for more interior room. Other available options include a Wingard dome satellite dish, two flip screen CD/DVD players for the bunks, Amber Stone premium paint package, a 22-inch LCD HDTV in the bedroom and 400-watt inverter.
Built to deliver power, the 2011 Greyhawk’s standard heavy-duty 6.8-liter Ford Triton V10, E450 HP chassis includes a 130-amp alternator, 5,000 -pound hitch with 7-pin plug, 55-gallon fuel tank and Hellwig helper springs. Greyhawk’s aerodynamic front cap design reduces drag, helping to increase gas mileage. The bold front-end chassis design allows for increased airflow, increased GVWR and a revised suspension system to deliver solid handling.
Other notable features include an 84-inch ceiling height, a powered double entry step system, a chassis vibration isolation system, padded ceiling for sound absorption, Diamond Shield paint protection and a large pass-through rear storage. Other construction features include the Tuffshell vacuum-bonded laminated sidewalls with a welded aluminum frame core, tackless carpeting with padding throughout unit and rubber body mounts with Hellwig helper springs for a smooth ride.
The Jayco Co-Pilot Warranty offers the original purchaser a two-year warranty against defects in materials and workmanship. In addition, all Jayco products have been Green Certified by TRA Certification Inc., an independent third party certification agency. The Greyhawk earned top-level certification through the use of sustainable materials, environmentally-friendly production methods, energy-efficient components and reduction of waste.