Coburg, Ore.-based Marathon Coach Inc. is expanding its Grand Prairie, Texas, location and currently has openings for an experienced RV salesperson and service technicians.
Marathon converts Prevost buses into luxury motorcoaches equipped. In addition to Grand Prairie, Marathon also operates a sales and service facilities in San Antonio, Fla.
Applicants should submit resumes to email@example.com.
Coburg, Ore.-based Marathon Coach Inc. announced that the company has completed its 1,200th luxury bus conversion. According to a press release, the milestone represents a bus industry record.
Built on a Prevost H3-45 chassis with a single salon slideout, the 1,200th unit is an “Executive/VIP” style coach that was custom ordered by a private individual to entertain friends and family.
Marathon said the custom coach is a “one-of-a-kind blend of beauty and technology.” Elegant interior features contrast light and dark laminates in warm tones, granite flooring in the entry and galley, and striking carved wood valances. Seven Italian leather recliners are positioned comfortably in the salon, each with its own independent sound system, lighting and storable tables.
The large private meeting room to the rear of the coach features two large sofas that face a large expandable table. When sleeping quarters are needed, the push of one button activates a sequence of events that lowers the table, raises and moves the sofas, and then folds the sofas down over the lowered table to form a large, comfortable king-sized bed.
The coach is equipped with the finest in theater systems including multiple LED backlit HD TVs stationed conveniently throughout the coach. Lighting, shades, audio, video and temperature are all controlled through Crestron remote controls. Cutting-edge iPhone interfacing allows for remotely monitoring and controlling the coach’s systems anywhere in the world.
The coach is also equipped with Marathon’s patented TechLink electrical system that eliminates miles of wiring while making countless “smart home” capabilities possible.
Reports of the demise of the RV industry in Oregon’s Lane County are greatly exaggerated, industry veteran Bradley Waring says, borrowing a line from Mark Twain.
There’s no denying that the industry has taken a beating in the economic downturn. Two of the area’s major coach companies, Country Coach Inc. and Monaco Coach Corp., were purchased out of bankruptcy and now operate on a much smaller scale, The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore., reported.
Monaco is a tiny division of multinational Navistar International, and Ron Lee, younger brother of Country Coach cofounder Bob Lee, recently resurrected Country Coach as a sales and service center, with hopes of eventually resuming production. Marathon Coach in Coburg still converts buses into million dollar coaches, but far fewer than in its heyday.
Lane County’s transportation equipment manufacturing sector, which has been dominated by the three RV manufacturers, employed 800 people in November, according to the state Employment Department. As recently as 2005, it had employed 4,500 people.
Even without a major manufacturing presence, Lane County still has a deep well of experience and expertise in RV sales, service and support, people in the industry say. They wanted to get the word out to RV owners across the country, so they formed the Oregon RV Alliance, a nonprofit marketing group. On Tuesday, the alliance’s founder, Bradley Waring, and several other members boarded a coach headed to the RV resorts near Palm Desert, Calif., where the snowbirds flock.
More than 2,000 snowbirds were expected at the Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) rally in Indio, Jan. 13 through Jan. 15.
The Lane County delegation in Indio included Waring, former Lane County Commissioner Jerry Rust; Susan Graham, sales manager at Premier RV in Junction City; Meg Trendler, Travel Lane County’s tourism sales manager; and Tom Schneider, a retired Guaranty salesman.
Travel Lane County provided 1,200 Lane County Visitor Guides to hand out at the rally, and the Southern Willamette Valley Wineries Association supplied local wines for the delegation to serve as samples.
“We’re telling coach owners we’re still here,” Waring said. “The same people who sold you your coach, the people who serviced your coaches, the manufacturers who have built your coaches are still here.”
And while coach owners are having their vehicles serviced, they also can check out all the sights and attractions of Lane County, he said.
“We’re going to give them our message of renewal, and we’re going to … encourage them to bring their (coaches) back into this community over the spring and summer,” Waring said.
This is just the first of many of the alliance’s outreach efforts, he said.
Alliance has 30 members
Kurt and Betty Simon already visit Lane County often. The Eugene area is a convenient rest stop between their home in Auburn, Calif., and their children and grandchildren in Seattle and Portland, Kurt Simon said.
The retirees routinely have their 45-foot Monaco Executive serviced at Guaranty RV in Junction City where they bought it several years ago.
Simon said he’s not sure whether more RV owners will put Lane County on their itinerary after talking with Oregon RV Alliance members.
“I suspect that people are still staying closer to home,” he said.
But the Oregon draw is there, he said. “Motorhomes tend to be mobile anyway, and Oregon is a good place to go. It’s a beautiful state.”
The alliance already has 30 members, including RV manufacturers, dealerships, service centers, suppliers, local chambers of commerce, community festival organizers and others. Waring predicts it will have at least 200 members by the end of the year.
“I started this movement over Thanksgiving, and, frankly, it’s such a sensible idea that I’m having trouble getting around to meet with all the people who want to participate,” he said.
Through the ’90s and up until 2007, when the local manufacturers were going strong, there was a steady stream of out-of-town coach owners, who dropped by the factories to have their coaches serviced or remodeled, or to take part in motor home rallies.
Many stopped to shop at Guaranty RV in Junction City, formerly the largest RV dealership in the nation — and now the largest one that has managed to stay out of bankruptcy, general manager Shannon Nill said.
He said RV manufacturing has been Junction City’s strong suit for years.
“Even though it’s down a notch; it’s not gone,” Nill said.
So he said he was all ears when Waring contacted him about the alliance.
“I thought it was really tremendous that he would take it upon himself to gather up all the quality elements and put a shine on it and find ways to further network and make sure people know we are open for business in Junction City for motor home sales, service and accessories,” Nill said.
Some out-of-area coach owners still stop in Lane County, “but with the motor home manufacturing on the downside, there’s less and less of a need for them to come to this area,” said Rob Dickman, owner of the Les Schwab tire store in Junction City, a longtime supplier to the RV industry.
“By promoting the area, the recreation, the other people who work on motor homes here, and just the beauty of our area, we hope to give them a good excuse to keep coming back here,” he said. “They bring a lot of money when they come.”
Just filling up a coach’s 100-gallon tank, for example, is a nearly $400 expenditure, Waring said.
“If we band together and pitch to those people to come back to our area, it’s going to help everybody,” Dickman said.
“Attracting RV travelers to the region for service as well as sightseeing is mutually beneficial for the tourism and RV industries,” said Lisa Lawton, community relations manager for Travel Lane County. “We’re looking forward to connecting with industry leaders and RV travelers one-on-one to tap into this market and ultimately bring more visitors to this region,” she said.
More disposable income
Many coach owners have maintained ties with the people who sold and serviced their RVs. But alliance members said they want to cast an even wider net.
Most of the coaches serviced at Oregon Motorcoach Center are from out of the area, operations manager Ed Read said.
The 2-year-old business is owned by Bob Lee, founder of Country Coach, his wife, Terry Lee, and their son-in-law, Patrick Mason.
Oregon Motorcoach was eager to participate in the Oregon RV Alliance’s marketing efforts to RV travelers. “We want them to know that there’s a reason to be here again,” Read said.
Waring founded the alliance after losing his RV-related businesses, his mobile office — a Country Coach — and even his home in the downturn. He said he took “an involuntary sabbatical” from his 15-year career as a nomadic salesman, selling heated flooring and other supplies to major coach makers, and moved to Eugene in March 2009.
“I had all my eggs in the RV basket and I’m starting again,” he said. “My wife has been feeding me and giving me gas money.”
Recently, Waring has renewed relationships with old friends and associates in the RV industry.
“I’m so passionate about this,” he said. “(I want) to bring my friends back to work.”
He said he thought for years that the Lane County RV industry should partner more closely with the local tourism agencies to market the area to RV owners.
“This is a group of people who are mobile, they’re more affluent than most, they have disposable income that most of us don’t have,” Waring said.
The idea came into clearer focus over the summer when he volunteered at the front desk of Travel Lane County’s new adventure center in Springfield’s Gateway area.
Waring said he reached out to former Lane County Commissioner Jerry Rust after reading his campaign paper outlining his economic development ideas.
Rust signed on as the alliance’s co-director.
“I think it’s an interesting assignment,” he said. “I’m happy to go do it — be a cheerleader for Lane County.”
Before Rust and his wife, Zhang Yu Cai, boarded the coach Tuesday, he said he had ridden in Georgia-Pacific’s helicopter and even in the Goodyear blimp, but he had never ridden in a large RV.
“I’ve been in little camper outfits, but I don’t think I’ve really ever set foot in one of these monsters,” Rust said. “I’m looking forward to it, and I understand how excited the people in Junction City and Coburg must be to see some new life breathing into this industry that a lot of people thought was dead, dead and never would return.”
An all-volunteer project
The nonprofit alliance is an all-volunteer project, Waring said. Its sole source of funding is annual membership dues: $500 for charter members and $200 for associate members.
He said he’s heartened to see a core group of RV entrepreneurs have survived the downturn and are working to renew the industry.
“It’s pretty hard to put an entrepreneur down,” he said.
“I just want to inspire people to dust themselves off and pick themselves up and put this behind us,” Waring said. “We have everything in the world to offer here.”
Stocks are up, executive bonuses are back and Bob Phebus is ready to sell some multimillion-dollar motorhomes.
“The last two years have been terrible for business,” the director of sales and marketing for Marathon Coach Florida told the St. Petersburg Times. “But we just had the best December that I have seen in 17 years. I really think we have turned a corner. I really think the worst is behind us.”
Judging from the turnout at the opening day of the 26th Annual Florida RV SuperShow in Tampa, Phebus may be right.
A steady stream of potential customers from as far away as California and Canada lined up to check out Phebus’ Oregon-built recreational vehicles.
The 45-foot-long 1180 XLV Triple Slide Marathon Coaches retail for anywhere between $2 million and $2.8 million, depending on the optional equipment such as leather seating, hardwood floors or Sub-Zero refrigerators.
But don’t expect any bargains from the San Antonio, Fla., RV dealer. At this year’s SuperShow, inventory is limited, and cash is king.
“We built both of these coaches just for this show,” Phebus said. “But both of them were sold before they even got here.”
In fact, it was a bit of a challenge even getting something to show at this SuperShow. Marathon scaled back production during the recession and concentrated on moving existing inventory.
Before the economic downturn, the company made 55 motorhomes a year. In 2011, Marathon plans to make only 25.
The owners of the two RVs on display at the Florida State Fairgrounds wanted delivery of their vehicles. But Phebus needed the RVs in Tampa.
“This is the largest retail show in the world,” he said. “If you are not here, then you are nobody.”
Phebus hopes to sell several luxury RVs before the show packs up Sunday afternoon.
And the RVs that do sell this weekend won’t be delivered until July or August at the earliest.
“If we have to ramp up production, we will,” Phebus said.
Marathon, one of the top luxury coach builders in the United States, weathered the economic downturn better than most in the industry. Phebus estimated that roughly 50% of RV-related businesses dropped out of the show during the past two years.
“Our industry didn’t get hit as hard as the boating industry,” he said. “We just didn’t have as much inventory. So when the market got bad, we didn’t have as much to move.”
Others, such as Parliament Coach Corp., diversified their operations. The Clearwater-based company specialized in customizing RVs.
“Our most notable project to date was CNN’s coach for the 2008 election,” Parliament Coach president Steve Mitchell said. “All the candidates were on board. We even had Obama playing Wii.”
But when the recession hit, Parliament started repairing, refurbishing and upgrading existing RVs.
“It was tough there for a while,” Mitchell said. “But 2010 was better than 2009, and we expect 2011 to be better than 2010.”
Parliament is back in the custom motorhome business. The company’s latest project is the Mercedes Sprinter, a V-8 diesel van that is turned into a small, luxury motorhome, ideal for weekend getaways. It starts at about $150,000.
“We are optimistic,” Mitchell said. “This could be a good year.”
Dennis Witherow, general manager of Oak Water Village Resort in Ocala, echoed Mitchell’s optimism.
“In our opinion, the high-end market is where you’re going to see the real influx, especially with the Baby Boomer buyer coming in,” Witherow said. “… It’s a home, but it doesn’t come with all of the tariffs or (expenses).”
Dave Kelly, marketing director for the Florida RV Trade Association (FRVTA), said that if turnout on the opening day of the SuperShow is any indication of things to come, 2011 could be a good year for the industry.
“I think a lot of people are tired of waiting to see what happens with the economy,” he said. “Hopefully, this show might be all some people need to make a move.”
The fall of the recreational vehicle industry in Oregon’s Lane County was swift, relentless and brutal.
A year ago at this time, local RV makers sent workers home for their customary holiday furloughs. Most workers never came back. Within months, two companies, Monaco Coach Corp. and Country Coach LLC, filed for bankruptcy, reported The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore.
Today, Country Coach is all but dead, its bankruptcy case now in Chapter 7, meaning everything it owns will be sold to satisfy debtors. Monaco Coach, once a high-flying publicly traded company headquartered in Coburg, became a tiny division of a multinational corporation, Navistar International, after its assets were sold off in bankruptcy. A third manufacturer, Marathon Coach, remains in business, but has limped along on a curtailed production schedule, building a fraction of the high-end bus conversions that it did in previous years.
“It was one of those business cycles that happens once a century,” said Steve Schoellhorn, president and chief operating officer of Marathon Coach. “It came so fast and so hard, it was like a tsunami, and we couldn’t get out of the way of it. … The whole thing blew up.”
While the Oregon RV industry is not gone, what’s left is a mere shadow of what was a major force in the local economy.
As recently as 2005, transportation equipment manufacturing — an industry dominated by the three RV makers — employed 4,500 people in Lane County, second only to the wood products industry. By last March, that number had fallen to 900, before rebounding to 1,400 in October, according to the state Employment Department.
Monaco Coach employed more than 2,000 people in Lane and Linn counties as recently as 2008. Today, about 400 people are working at the Coburg plant, Navistar spokesman Roy Wiley said. Country Coach employed nearly 2,000 workers at its Junction City plant as recently as 2006. Today, the company is defunct. Marathon Coach employed more than 400 people in 2008. Today, it has 240 employees.
Ron Folk is among the former RV workers who hopes things start turning around soon. A production worker at Monaco for 51/2 years, Folk now is working part time, doing maintenance at an RV resort on the coast, making about one-third of what he earned at Monaco. He stays in a travel trailer, and only makes it home to see his wife in Springfield a couple of times a month, he said.
“It pays more than unemployment,” he said. “You do what you got to do. … As soon as the economy turns around, and people start hiring inland, I’ll probably find something closer.”
Other workers, such as Todd Wilson of Springfield, were called back to work for the new Monaco last summer after being unemployed for more than six months.
“When I got the call, I was ecstatic,” he said.
With fewer people on the job, workers carry more responsibility for quality, he said. Workers also make more money than before, and get similar benefits, he said.
“It’s still a great place to work, and a great crew of people to work for and work with,” he said.
Skilled workers remain
Jack Roberts’ job is to find the silver lining — or at least a ray of hope — in all those clouds. As executive director of the Lane Metro Partnership, Roberts works to retain and recruit employers. One bright spot he sees in the implosion of the RV industry is the number of skilled workers left behind. He said he’s hopeful most will stick around Lane County until the economy turns around.
“When people get back into the production cycle, when manufacturing jobs start to come back, the presence of that work force here should make us attractive,” he said.
Roberts said that, in hindsight, it’s obvious that a business that relied on wealthy people spending large wads of cash on discretionary, luxury items would be vulnerable in an economic downturn. But, he said, “It’s very hard to say no to people who have large sums of money and who want to buy what you’re selling.”
While the industry looked at demographics in its favor — aging baby boomers with time and money to spend on leisure — they missed the economic clouds, he said.
“We didn’t fully understand how much we were riding a stock market and real estate bubble,” Roberts said.
Monaco is building both motorhomes and towable RVs. Wiley, the Navistar spokesman, was vague on production levels, saying it has “gone up somewhat.”
“We’re looking for a pickup in the market next year,” he said.
Navistar, based in Warrenville, Ill., is best known as the maker of International brand buses and heavy trucks, and Roberts said he’d like to see the company move some of that production out to Coburg. The proximity to the large California market makes an Oregon location attractive, he said, but there isn’t the supply network established here that there is for its Midwest factories.
The local RV companies weren’t the only ones hurt by the downturn. The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) predicts companies will ship 159,500 units this year, down 40 percent from the 265,000 units shipped in 2008. Those numbers include both motorized and towable RVs.
As for 2010, Richard Curtin, the University of Michigan economist who does forecasts for the industry, predicts RV shipments will increase by 27% to 203,500 units.
Richard Coon, president of the RVIA, points to signs of a recovering economy, including a stronger stock market, slowing job losses, higher productivity, increasing home sales and rising manufacturing hours. But weak consumer confidence, continued high unemployment, and anemic consumer spending remain cause for concern, he said.
RVs, he said, “are woven into the fabric of America.”
High-end market survives
Marathon’s Schoellhorn said the high end of the RV market — the niche that his company occupies with its $1 million-plus custom bus conversions — “is still really, really challenging.”
“It’s better right now than it was a year ago, but it’s still way, way off from the highs of a few years ago,” he added.
Marathon built fewer than 20 coaches in 2008, compared to 70 or 80 per year a few years back.
“We really slowed down production” in 2008, Schoellhorn said. “We’re just starting to ramp up a little bit.”
Marathon, which is a privately held, family owned business, specializes in building high-end coaches, bought by race car drivers, professional golfers, actors and others who can spend $2 million for what Schoellhorn once called the “Ferrari” of motor homes. That rarefied niche has enabled the company to survive the recession, he said.
“Our niche doesn’t require the volume that a typical RV maker requires,” he said. “Even though things are bad, we can get by and even prosper with fairly minimal sales, while other companies need substantial volume.”
But the recession has hurt prospective Marathon buyers, he said.
“I put a lot of our customers and prospects in two categories: One group doesn’t have the money they used to because of lost investments; the other has it, but is afraid to spend it.”
“Every now and then I hear people express the view that the rich will always have money,” said Bill Conerly, a Lake Oswego consultant.
“It’s kind of true, but there are times when the rich don’t want to spend money.”
Comeback will take time
As the RV industry comes back, it will look different than the prerecession industry, experts say. The high end of the market in particular will take time to come back, said Frank Magdlen, a Portland analyst.
“It’s going to be smaller until times get better,” he said. “It might take three to five years for it to be what it was in ’06.”
Bob Lee is the godfather of the local RV industry, co-founding the company that became Monaco Coach in 1968, and starting the company that became Country Coach in 1973. He said that while lower-end RVs, such as trailers and toy haulers, will bounce back, he thinks the high end of the market — the niche that Country Coach carved out for itself — “is pretty much history.”
“The tribal knowledge to build high-end is going away fast,” he said. “With that gone, there’s no way to crank it back up again.
“It’s not just a production line product,” he added. “It’s not an easy program to just go out and build some of these. I’m not even sure I could put together a company that could build these at this point.”