A review and video of the Jayco Pinnacle 36REQS fifth wheel is now live on www.RVBuddies.net.
“Jayco has stepped up its game with the Pinnacle,” says Mark Summers, executive producer of RV Buddies. “This entry into the higher end of fifth-wheels brings a lot of quality and value at a very competitive price.”
The 36REQS features a large living area with a pop-up HDTV and fireplace, comfortable sofa and two large, residential recliners. The kitchen of the review model was fully-loaded with convection microwave and double-door refrigerator. There is ample counter-space to prepare a feast.
Topside is a side-bath with guest entry and a private door to the bedroom. This model was fitted with a residential king size bed and the cedar-lined wardrobe gave the space a very cozy feeling.
Elkhart County’s workmanship was on display this week at the 48th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.
In two sports arenas, hallways, meeting rooms and expansive convention space, 318 exhibitors who make anything and everything for RVs had their goods on display. Of those exhibitors, at least 83 were from Elkhart County, the Goshen (Ind.) News reported.
In a hallway at the Kentucky Exposition Center, Mike Blankinship held up a flexible light strip with a bright yellow glow. It got people’s attention.
Blankinship is national sales manager for Vista Manufacturing in Elkhart. The company makes and distributes light strips of all types. Mirrored glass panels lit with imbedded LED lights, as well as a curvey mirror with white lights sparkling like the stars in the Big Dipper, drew plenty of attention from passersby. One woman stopped, moved her finger around the mirror and told her husband, “Oh, I really like that.”
At the RV show, which ended Thursday, suppliers attempted to get their products noticed by manufacturers and manufacturers attempted to get their products noticed by dealers. Dealers walked and talked a lot. They went from manufacturer to manufacturer looking for good deals and good products.
In this endless cycle of supply and demand, demand and supply, a dizzying array of products made in Elkhart County were on display. There were massive Class A motorhomes more than 40 feet long that cost close to $1 million. There were also the tiny LED lights that Blankinship was hawking.
The company’s offerings were a mix of products made in Elkhart and those that come from overseas, where Blankinship said the cheap labor makes local production of some lights unprofitable. But Vista workers take those imported LED products and put their own stamp on them.
“We bring it in and take it and adapt it to what the customer requires,” Blankinship said.
That may mean filling an order for 50 custom strip lights, or creating a clear plastic molding to hold the lights inside an RV.
That kind of service keeps the company of about 30 employees going. And the RV show was obviously important to Vista workers.
“The more we sell,” Blankinship said, “the more work we have.”
Demand ‘gone crazy’
Nearby in Hall 1, a model Class A RV was attracting many sets of eyes. The Miller brothers, Ryan and Darren, were showing off their family business, Paul’s Welding Inc. of Nappanee. The model RV was a prop for the steel fabricated industrial lift systems and work stations the company designs for and installs in RV plants.
“Dad just started doing small stuff,” Ryan Miller explained, “and the demand for the RV industry in the past 15 years has gone crazy.”
Now, Paul Miller designs all sorts of lift equipment to make the manufacture of RVs easier and safer. There is even a machine that lifts and turns an RV chassis on its side to make production easier.
The company’s skilled workers include welders, fabricators and material handlers.
“When we leave (an RV plant), it will be completely set up for production,” Miller said. “Way over half our sales are RV sales.”
And of course, there were RVs at the RV show.
Dealers strolled in and out of the Jayco Entegra Coach display. The Entegra is a Class A motorhome that exudes luxury. While the dealers were looking at color schemes and floorplans, Tadd Jenkins, national sales manager for Entegra, talked about quality products from Elkhart County.
“The customer is demanding that (quality),” he said. “If you are going to survive in the marketplace, you have to give them a product that gives them the enjoyment they are looking for on a consistent basis.”
Much of the Entegra work force comes from Middlebury’s Amish community, which Jenkins praised as being productive and able to put a motorhome together.
“The wiring on these things,” he said, “is exponentially more difficult than a towable.”
The show ended Thursday.
In the community of Middlebury, Ind., just about everyone knows someone who is been laid off from work in the RV industry.
“My dad was,” said Krysten Mishler. “His hours were cut and then he was completely laid off, and I know it was really hard for them.”
But now things were picking up, according to WSBT-TV, South Bend. Mishler’s dad once again has a job in an RV factory, and he is far from alone. Since last summer, Jayco has recalled or hired more than 200 workers, and this week Derald Bontrager, the company’s president and chief operating officer, announced Jayco is increasing production rates as a result of “higher than anticipated levels of incoming orders.”
“As a result of improving market conditions, lower dealer inventories, and retail incentives provided to dealers, Jayco needs to significantly increase our output in order to meet rising demand for our products,” said Bontrager.
Last spring, the company was producing approximately 75 RVs a day. Today, company officials estimated it to be about 130.
“We went from wondering how we were going to keep people busy these couple of months here, especially November and December, to a sudden turnaround of ‘how are were going to get them all built?’” said Jayco line supervisor Devon Miller. “It’s definitely a bit of good news.”
And Jayco isn’t the only manufacturer to see light at the end of the tunnel. In August, Dutchman Manufacturing Inc. in Goshen announced it was ready to hire 50 more workers.
Last week, Cozy Traveler in Elkhart said it would be hiring to keep up with demand for lightweight RVs.
Sales were up 13% industrywide for the second month in a row compared to the same time last year. The industry expects a 27% jump in shipments for 2010. And while that’s positive news after a devastating year, Bontrager said he’s not ready to strike up the whole band just yet.
“We certainly are aware both nationally and globally that the economy isn’t on really solid footing yet in many areas, so there are some unknowns out ahead of them, and I think some things we have to work through,” he said.
But locals say the increasing demand is a great start.
“It’s a beginning,” said Sandy Harter, who lives in Middlebury. “We’re hopeful.”
With unit sales for motorized and towable RVs experiencing sharp declines for 2008 – down 41.6% and 23%, respectively – manufacturers are engaged in a battle for market share that could determine their viability once sales recover.
Tom Walworth, president of Statistical Surveys Inc., maintains that line of strategy requires manufacturers to look past current conditions and concentrate almost solely on market penetration.
“Significant unit growth will be hard to find in this type of market,” said Walworth, whose Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company regularly tracks retail registrations. “Market share is the area where manufacturers need to focus this year. When sales are down, the companies that can effectively increase market share will see higher unit sales once the market comes back – and it will come back.”
Walworth said that improving market penetration had to be accomplished through “granular steps” – working from the bottom up to improve the bottom line.
“OEMs have to be judging and assessing their companies right now,” he said. “They need to take another tack with this market, although the same principles still hold up – gain market penetration and shelf space on dealer lots.
“Builders have to fight for market share on a national level, but that has to be approached by going dealer by dealer, state by state and then region by region. It requires getting your entire company moving in the same direction while constantly monitoring progress to make sure what you are doing is making impact. That’s how the war will be won.”
Walworth offered specific examples of companies that were able to aggressively capture market share during last year’s contracting market.
Among motorized manufacturers, market share leader Winnebago Industries Inc. posted a 41.7% drop in unit sales for the year – comparable to the industry average – but only lost one-tenth of a percentage point in market share. “Basically, they were able to stay even with the market,” Walworth said.
Other manufacturers making notable market share gains in the motorized sector were: Thor Industries Inc. (10.5%), Tiffin Motorhomes Inc. (11.8%) and Jayco Inc. (12.2%).
On the towable side, unit leader Thor showed a 3.9% market share gain. Other companies showing noted improvement included: Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC (89.3%), Jayco (4.7%,), KZRV LP (27.8%) and Palomino RV (17.1%).
“Just staying in business in this environment is an accomplishment,” Walworth said. “But the companies that are really doing things right are outperforming the market.”
Walworth noted that in addition to tactical adjustments, navigating in the down market also requires the proper attitude.
“I talk to so many people that have their heads down and are zoned in on all the negative news,” he said. “People have to live in this market, and the only way to do that is to keep moving forward and not give up.”