When Elkhart, Ind.-based supplier LaSalle Bristol began construction on its showroom in 2009, the company’s senior management didn’t realize that it would go unfinished until almost five years later because of the fiscal austerity imposed by the recession, which surfaced part way through the project. Like much of the industry, LaSalle Bristol was forced to make concessions to a tighter market, a decision that also prompted the OEM and aftermarket supplier to suspend its annual national sales meeting.
Mirroring a trend seen lately throughout the RV industry, Lasalle Bristol — providing the RV industry with key building and plumbing components since the mid-1960s — has put the finishing touches on its long-awaited 2,200-square-foot showroom, just in time for this week’s (Feb. 12-14) first national sales meeting in five years. As Rick Corry, LaSalle Bristol’s senior vice president of sales and marketing noted, it was more than the unveiling of a new showroom; it was also a celebration of the company’s emergence from hard times.
“We flew our sales teams in, all of our vendors came in, we had a kick-off at the RV Hall of Fame and then we’ve been doing product and process presentations and conferring how best to run the business with our sales organizations,” Corry said.
Robert Barr, CEO of LaSalle Bristol’s parent company Arran Isle Ltd., flew in from the U.K. for two days and was reportedly “really excited” about the company’s position and outlook. “He’s pumped about us just being able to talk about growth because for so long it was about survival and managing cash, and now it’s about how we can use the cash to grow. And that’s the fun part,” related Corry.
He said the mood is now lighter all across the RV industry, describing how various corporate executives reacted while touring LaSalle Bristol’s new showroom this week, located at the company’s headquarters on County Road 17 on the east side of Elkhart.
“We were here with Doug Gaeddert from Forest River the day before yesterday, then Mike Terlep from Coachmen, Jack Lawless from Champion Homes, and they’re all saying the same thing: This thing (recovery) is real. We’re coming out of it,” Corry said. “And now their concern is that the supply chain can’t keep up, and they’re telling us, ‘Please don’t run out of product!’ We’re like, ‘What a great problem to have!’” — Barb Riley
A few RV industry companies in northern Indiana will try their hand at “boating” later this month in an effort to help the needy in their community through United Way of Elkhart County.
Supplier LaSalle Bristol will host the 3rd Annual Cardboard Boat Race Aug. 23-24 at its corporate headquarters in Elkhart, Ind. Other industry companies currently registered for the event are Thor Industries Inc. and Cummins Onan.
Entrants must race their boats through a pre-set course around LaSalle Bristol’s corporate pond. All of the boats are handmade by the participants, fashioned out of corrugated cardboard and duct tape.
Water rescue teams in rafts will patrol the pond and provide hazards in the form of wakes for the boats during their laps. While trophies are given to the first three finishers, creativity outside of performance is awarded with special trophies such as the Way To Live United Award, new this year in honor of the charity’s 90th birthday, and The Wonder That Went Down Under Award for the most spectacular sinking of the day.
The event has gained such popularity since its inception that it is now conducted over two days instead of one, as in previous years. In 2010, the event had six entrants and about 200 attendees, raising just under $2,000 for United Way. Last year, it grew to the maximum 16 entrants and nearly 700 people with about $3,200 raised.
This year introduces the Buffet & Boats pre-event on Aug. 23 from 6-8 p.m. The exclusive ticketed dinner is limited to 150 people and will offer live music, a V.I.P. buffet catered by Lucchese’s Italian Restaurant and an opportunity for attendees to choose their favorite boat for the People’s Choice Award. The race’s celebrity judges also critique the boats for the Judges’ Choice Award and meet with the teams’ captains.
“The pre-event is a little something extra so our donors can see the boats beforehand and hear some great music,” said Jessica Koscher, vice president of resource development and marketing for United Way of Elkhart County. “It’s a fun way to gather in a more relaxed atmosphere before everyone gets amped up for the race the next day.”
The boat race on Aug. 24 is open to the public with the first heat starting at 3 p.m. and an awards ceremony taking place after the final heat. Lucchese’s will be on site with a lunch counter offering dishes such as sandwiches and pasta.
“I recommend people coming nice and early on race day. That gives everybody time to meet the captains and look at all the fun designs of the boats before they get put in the water,” said Koscher. “And that’s a really good idea because some of those boats don’t stay afloat for very long.”
LaSalle Bristol has always been the host of the cardboard boat race. Rick Karcher, CEO, said the company is a long-time supporter of the United Way, and he personally has been involved with the group for 26 years and is a current board member.
“I’m a big believer in United Way. Almost all their donated dollars go directly to the people who need it,” Karcher explained, expressing a hope that even more area companies in the RV industry will support the charity. “With the amount of unemployment in our area these days, we need to give back to the community. United Way is really focused on helping people with things like education, health issues and income issues. Supporting them in these difficult economic times is a great way to give a hand to the people around us that really need it.”
– RVB Contributor Barb Riley
Heywood Williams Group PLC, the parent company of Elkhart, Ind.-based RV industry supplier LaSalle Bristol, has announced the signing of a long-term financial restructuring agreement with its UK Banking Syndicate, the company reports. Upon shareholder approval, this will result in a $34 million debt exchange for equity and a $10 million increase in its credit facility.
Following the restructuring, the UK Banking Syndicate will hold 80% of the company’s issued share capital on a fully diluted basis with existing shareholders holding 10% and executive members of the board and certain other members of management holding the remaining 10%. ”This proposed restructure is very good news,” stated LaSalle Bristol President and CEO Richard Karcher. ”Our UK banks have demonstrated great confidence in the group, and its management team and in LaSalle Bristol. This restructuring strengthens our financial position while making more cash available to us for future growth. The UK Banking System clearly sees the value that LaSalle Bristol brings to the group and more importantly, the value that will be created in the future when our markets recover.
”In 2009 our cash generation has been superior,” Karcher said. ”Moving forward, our key emphasis will be to grow revenues, enhance our product offering, and continue to improve our service performance for our customers. Our management team has been given expanded roles and responsibilities that ensure we will accomplish these goals.”
The proposed restructuring will be voted on at at general meeting of shareholders on Tuesday, Oct. 20, with the last day of dealing in the shares slated for Nov. 20.
The board of directors of United Kingdom-based Heywood Williams Group, corporate parent of RV and manufactured housing supplier LaSalle Bristol, is in Elkhart, Ind., this week reviewing the group’s ongoing plans for supporting its market-leading distribution businesses.
Deriving its income from two industries hard hit by the recession, Elkhart-based LaSalle Bristol has survived those industries’ downturns and is rebounding, CEO Rick Karcher said during a press conference today (July 21) at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart.
“We very much appreciate the support and the confidence of our parent company,” said Karcher. “We are very pleased that we were able to increase our credit line in January from $6 million to $10 million. Due to our cash flow in 2009, we have yet to tap our new line and have a substantial cash cushion that will see us through the deep recession in our markets.
“The extraordinary performance of the LaSalle Bristol team in serving our customers, while carefully managing costs and cash, will ensure that LaSalle Bristol will continue to serve these industries for many years to come.”
LaSalle Bristol supplies branded building products, especially plumbing, lighting, floor coverings and air flow systems to the RV, manufacturing housing and modular housing markets. It has 18 distribution centers and five manufacturing operations.
Karcher orchestrated the public event in part to celebrate that the company is “alive and will be around for a long time” and to quash rumors that Heywood Williams would seek to spin off the company due to the industry downturn.
Robert Barr, Heywood Williams CEO, quickly dispelled those rumors.
“Our objectives for 2009 and beyond will be achieved by the group outperforming its competitors and markets, continuing to reduce costs and, in particular, maximizing cash generation,” Barr said. “LaSalle Bristol has done an excellent job in these areas, most importantly in managing cash and increasing access to credit. We will continue to demonstrate our ongoing support for our businesses and for the industries they serve. We are in these businesses for the long-run and are committed to supporting them until their underlying markets recovery – as they inevitably will.”
It’s been a tough two years for Heywood Williams, which derives some 80% of its sales from the residential housing market. Sales worldwide have slumped some 40% over the past 18 months, Barr noted, but he said the deep decline has morphed into what he called “a fragile stability.”
He sees a world recovery in housing taking hold in 2011 and 2012.
For his part, Karcher said the fourth quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of 2010 will be “difficult” for LaSalle Bristol and it will be the second and third quarters of 2010 “before we see significant recovery” in the RV and manufactured housing industries.
LaSalle Bristol, which historically garnered 65% of its sales from manufactured housing, cut jobs “in every area of the company” starting in the end of 2006, going from 550 employees nationwide to about 335 today, Karcher said. Many of those jobs are in the Elkhart area. He does not anticipate any additional job cuts will be necessary. He said the company’s diversification into other markets helped as the RV industry declined over the past year.
Meanwhile, he’s noticed a slight upturn in business since April and said the LaSalle Bristol sales staff is doing a good job re-establishing business relationships as the former Monaco Coach Corp. and Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. RV businesses come under new ownership.
As part of the Heywood Williams board activities, it is visiting the company’s LaSalle Air Systems plant in Bristol, Ind. LaSalle Air Systems, headquartered in Lakeland, Fla., is one of LaSalle Bristol’s two manufacturing companies. It engineers and produces air distribution systems for system built housing and RVs. Its products include sheet metal ducts and fittings, flexible ducts and prefabricated duct board and components.
LaSalle Bristol’s other manufacturing company is BPC Manufacturing, an injection molding company in Plymouth, Ind., specializing in the production of faucets, sinks and plastic fittings.
The Heywood Williams board toured the Hall of Fame following the press conference. Jerry Pickrell, a 50-year industry veteran and retired LaSalle Bristol sales manager, led the tour.