Editor’s Note: The following article by Jeff Kurowski, Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) director of industry relations, examines the ongoing expansion in the manufacturing sector and the resulting challenges with regard to staffing. The piece appears in the January issue of RV Executive Today.
Five RV manufacturers either have, or will soon open new factories to build more units to satisfy the robust consumer demand for their products. However, particularly in northern Indiana, staffing those new facilities could be an issue.
The RV builders that recently opened or broke ground for new factories are: Airstream Inc., Lance Camper Mfg. Corp., Grand Design RV Co., Keystone RV Co., and Open Range RV.
The decision to add more factory capacity is understandable, given the fact that total RV shipments were expected to grow 12% in 2016 — from 374,200 units in 2015 to 419,600 units in 2016. Factory-to-dealer shipments are expected to grow another 4% in 2017, reaching 438,100 units, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
The towables sector is, by far, the highest-volume segment of the industry, and it is expected to have grown 12% in 2016, to 365,600 units. This year, it’s expected to grow 5%, to 383,300 units.
Four of the five expanding manufacturers are in the towables sector, while the fifth—Airstream–builds both motorhomes and travel trailers.
Airstream, a Thor Industries Inc. subsidiary located in Jackson Center, Ohio, will add 50,000 square feet to an existing facility to expand its R&D operation, although some additional manufacturing space will also be added.
Airstream, which employed 710 people as of last November, will increase its labor force to around 740 people by the end of 2017, according to the company.
Lance, based in Lancaster, Calif., bought a 61,000-square-foot factory building to increase its output so it can supply its dealers in a timelier manner. “Thanks to our dealers’ orders, our current lead time is stretching into April,” said vice president of operations Jeff Souleles in November.
The building acquisition will give Lance’s lamination department “much needed elbow room while freeing up space in our existing building for other purposes,” Souleles said. “This allows us the unique opportunity to increase both our focus on new and precise machinery, while stimulating new job opportunities to ensure we utilize those machines to maximize efficiency and cut down lead time.”
Two of the manufacturers expanding in northern Indiana, where qualified labor is extremely scarce, are business units of Thor, while a third, Grand Design, recently was acquired by Winnebago Industries Inc.
Open Range, a division of Jayco, which Thor acquired last summer, completed a new, 96,000-square-foot building in Shipshewana last September to build more Open Range Light travel trailers and fifth-wheels and more Open Range Ultra Light travel trailers.
The new Open Range factory will replace a smaller leased facility on the south side of the LaGrange County village. Shipshewana is at the fringe of the Elkhart labor market, about 25 miles east of the city. The move will double Open Range’s output capacity and create about 65 new jobs.
Grand Design, which was acquired by Winnebago in November, opened a new factory in Middlebury the same month. The new, 110,000-square-foot plant is dedicated to building the company’s Imagine brand lightweight travel trailers. Grand Design has built more than 4,000 Imagine units since it was introduced in September 2015, and the new factory will allow for a 75% increase in production, said Micah Staley, general manager for the Imagine and Reflection brands.
Meanwhile, Keystone, Thor’s highest volume towables builder, broke ground in November for two new plants in Goshen where more RVs are built than in Elkhart. The two factories will total 200,000 square feet and are scheduled for completion during the first half of this year.
When fully staffed, the new Keystone plants will add 250 to 300 people to Keystone’s northern Indiana labor force, which totals about 4,800 people. The company, which builds 24 different travel trailer and fifth wheel brands, did not reveal which brands it plans to build in the new factories.
The factory expansions are occurring in spite of the fact that the labor shortage is the hottest topic of discussion among Indiana and Elkhart County business and political leaders. For example, Gregg Fore, president of Elkhart-based supplier firm Dicor Corp., told the Indianapolis Star that only one out of every 10 job applicants he sees is qualified, despite Dicor’s offering premium health care benefits and competitive wages.
Elkhart County Economic Development Corp. President Mark Dobson also has said there are 20,000 more jobs in Elkhart County – which has a total population of around 200,000 — than workers to fill them.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that there are fewer immigrants coming to the area. Census Bureau data show that there were almost 5,000 immigrants in Elkhart County between 2000 and 2005 – prior to the Great Recession– compared with less than 700 now.
One possible solution is to recruit recently discharged military veterans who have ties to Indiana, said Ron Breymier, executive director of the RV Indiana Council (RVIC), which plans to launch such a program soon.
Victor Finegold was named the winner of a Lance 1575 ultralight travel trailer after entering a sweepstakes drawing held during last October’s California RV Show in Pomona.
“We couldn’t be happier to deliver this years California’s RV Show sweepstakes winner the keys to his brand new 2016 Lance 1575 Ultra-Light Travel Trailer,” stated Bob Rogers, Lance director of marketing, in a press release. “Finegold is an enthusiastic RVer who appreciates quality and was genuinely stoked as I showed him around his new rig and welcomed him to the Lance family.”
When presented with the keys he said, “What an innovative, quality and awesome trailer the Lance 1575 is. I am really impressed with every aspect of it, and still can’t believe I am the 2015 grand prize winner.”
The 15-foot, 9-inch length trailer weighs 2,655 pounds (dry/unloaded), making it easy to tow with most mid- and full-size SUVs and pickup trucks, while a”super slide” opens up the interior. Lance Camper Manufacturing Corp. builds with aluminum and Azdel to reduce weight while also resisting water.
Tom Gaither, RVIA Western Show Director commented, “Lance Campers is a true RVIA show supporter and valued member. We appreciate their generous donation of a brand new RV every year for our show. They always have a very professional display of their high quality trailers and truck campers. No wonder they are leaders in their business. Show guests always flock to their display and are treated like part of the Lance family.”
Lance Camper Manufacturing Corp. held a raffle for all member dealers during this year’s National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky. The raffle accompanied the introduction of three all-new models, social media seminars and a host of other in-booth activities.
According to a press release, grand prize winners had the opportunity to take home a DJI Phantom III drone, or quad-copter, valued at over $700.
“We are very happy to announce the winner of the Louisville Show raffle as Wilmington RV in Wilmington, N.C.,” announced Director of Marketing Bob Rogers. “Whether filming their kids or doing video of the dealership and Lance products for promotional efforts, I am sure Matt and Keven will have a great time with the Phantom III.”
The Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) has announced Lance Camper Manufacturing Corp. as a 22nd Annual Dealer Satisfaction Index (DSI) Quality Circle Award recipient for all three of its product lines, including ultralight travel trailers, truck campers and toy haulers. The DSI measures dealers overall satisfaction with manufacturers with whom they do business.
To qualify for the DSI Quality Circle Award, manufacturers must receive at least 15 dealer responses and achieve a score of 4.0 or higher on a 5-point scale. Dealers’ rate manufacturers in the key areas of sales support, product quality and parts/service/warranty support, as well as overall dealer satisfaction.
“We are very proud of our dealer partners and the relationship we have built with them. The Lance team works hard every day to earn their business and to partner in maximizing the return on their investment with us,” stated President Jack Cole in a press release.
National Sales Manager Gary Conley added, “We are very proud of winning the RVDA DSI Quality Circle Award again this year and would like to thank all of our dealers for taking the time to complete this years DSI survey and for their continued vote of support and confidence.”
The DSI Quality of Circle Awards will be presented on Nov. 30, just prior to the opening of the National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.
The Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) will honor RV brands built by 19 manufacturers with its Quality Circle Award in Louisville, Ky, on Nov. 30, just prior to the opening of the National RV Trade Show. According to a press release, manufactures will be recognized during a presentation at the Crowne Plaza Hotel at 5 p.m., followed by a reception.
These brands/manufacturers/product categories received at least 15 dealer responses and scored 4.0 or above on a 5-point scale in overall dealer satisfaction in the association’s 22nd Annual Dealer Satisfaction Index (DSI) survey.
“The DSI Quality Circle Award recognizes the high level of success these manufacturers have had in working with their dealer business partners,” said RVDA Chairman Brian Wilkins of Bath, N.Y.-based Wilkins RV Inc. “Their commitment to continuously improving products and services ultimately helps dealers serve customers better and preserves our industry’s share of consumers’ discretionary dollars.”
The towable RV manufacturers/brands receiving awards are (in alphabetical order by manufacturer): Airstream; Coac
The motorized RV manufacturers/product categories receiving awards are (in alphabetical order): Airstream; Coachmen Class C’s; Jayco/Entegra Coach; Leisure Travel Vans/Triple E; Newmar Corp.; Pleasure-Way Industries Ltd.; Roadt
When rating their brands/manufacturers, RVDA asks dealers to express, confidentially, their level of satisfaction on four core issues: Reliability/quality, parts, warranty and sales
The 22nd Annual DSI survey was conducted between August and October 2015. RVDA reported that 444 dealers responded to the survey this year and provided an all-time record 3,154 brand ratings, an average of a little more than seven per dealer. A summary of the DSI survey aggregate results will appear in the December issue of RV Executive Today.
Included with the purchase of new 2016 models manufactured starting Oct. 1, owners will receive one year of emergency roadside assistance from Lance Camper Manufacturing Corp. According to a press release, the plan is applicable to all Lance lines, including truck campers, toy haulers and ultralight travel trailers.
The membership covers the owner, a spouse or significant other, and children age 24 or younger licensed to drive, and can be used on other vehicles owned. The member is responsible for all charges related to on-site repairs including but not limited to fuel, fluid, key services, parts and labor costs.
An independent third party manages the service for Lance, which includes:
• Technical support and roadside assistance provides 24/7 technical assistance from a staff of RVIA/ RVDA and ASE certified technicians.
• Towing of the disabled vehicle to the nearest qualified repair facility.
• Tire assistance including changing of the vehicles flat tires or towing of the vehicle to a tire facility.
• Delivery of fuel and emergency fluids as necessary to remedy any disablement.
• Locksmith/lockout services to the vehicle and assistance in the opening of the locked vehicle, and or/ obtaining a replacement key
• Jump-starts to the vehicles dead battery or a tow to a qualified facility.
• RV mobile mechanic dispatching of a mechanic to the site of the mechanically disabled vehicle.
• Dealer locator will guide the customer to the nearest Lance authorized location.
Lance Emergency Roadside Assistance can be reached at 1-877-219-9641.
“RVers spend vast amounts of time in the great outdoors, so it’s only natural that they want to help preserve and improve the environment they enjoy so much,” said Sue Bray, vice president and executive director of the Good Sam Club. “These two initiatives give participants the opportunity to make a real difference for generations of RVers to come.”
More than 9 million people in the U.S. now own RVs. For thousands of RVers, The Rally is the event and vacation destination of the year. RV newbies and veterans alike will gather to share the wildly popular recreation lifestyle through seminars, exhibits, entertainment, games and meetings with industry experts from around the world.
The Rally is an annual event hosted by the Good Sam Club, the world’s largest RV owners’ group with more than 1.5 million member families nationwide, along with Camping World President’s Club, Camp Club USA, Coast to Coast Resorts, Woodall’s and Trailer Life and MotorHomemagazines. All the organizations are either owned by or affiliated with Affinity, the nation’s largest provider of outdoor recreation clubs, services, media and events, headquartered in Ventura, Calif.
RVBusiness magazine and RVBUSINESS.com are also owned by Affinity.
Going Green contest participants are asked to submit an initial outline of their projects by April 10 to Bob Difley at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail to “Going Green” ideas contest 2009, 2575 Vista del Mar Drive, Ventura, CA 93001.
Daily admission is $10 for adults, and a second day’s free pass can be obtained at The Rally site; children 12 and under are free. Admission is also free for Albuquerque area Boy Scouts and their immediate families on Sunday, April 19, provided they wear their Boy Scout uniforms. RV sites start at $169 for two people. Additional information and registration can also be found online at www.therally.com.
For more information, visit www.therally.com. To learn more about Brawdy’s adventure, log onto www.brianbrawdy.com or www.wonderexplorebelieve.net.