With a wife and three children depending on him, Ryan Fore did not realize the extent of struggle he would face after being laid off from New Horizons RV Corp., an RV manufacturer based in Junction City, Kan., in December. His family no longer had health insurance.
The cost of gas mileage – necessary for job-hunting sometimes 10 or 20 miles away from his Chapman, Kan., home – took a toll, according to the Associated Press.
Unemployment compensation helped, but did not provide enough.
“At first, I didn’t think it would take very long to find work, but it did,” Fore said. “I took what I could get – and it took about three months.”
He moved out to western Kansas for almost two weeks to help his mother install fence on pastureland.
After that, he found temping jobs in Abilene and Chapman. Meanwhile, his wife Crystal, a full-time Kansas State University student, had to work more than 30 hours each weekend.
“When I lost my job, she worked more,” Fore said. “We have three kids, and they missed mom a lot.”
Then, in late April, he got the call. Jobs were returning to New Horizons, his supervisor said.
“I told him I’d be happy to come back again,” Fore said during an interview last week. “That was very good news.”
Between layoffs in November and December, New Horizons’ staffing dwindled to as few as 19 people.
Since then, the payroll has increased to 38 full-time employees. Only four positions have been eliminated, Hew Horizons president Phil Brokenicky said.
Interviews with Brokenicky and three of his employees suggested that while a variety of factors appear to have contributed to this turnaround, a commitment to product quality has been prominent.
The company’s 2010 fifth-wheel model has been top-rated by RV Consumer Group and sells for $134,000.
The custom RV features slide-out sections that extend an extra half-foot over the 2009 edition.
At 102 inches wide, the new unit’s width has increased by six inches. The RV has been built with double insulation, a ducted air conditioner and cherry-wood interior. With a goal of producing one new unit each week, New Horizons has a policy of building RVs only after orders have been placed.
Sluggish sales since August 2007 appear to be rebounding, but the year-to-date number of units delivered remains down 60%.
Late last year, Brokenicky said, the downturn meant employee layoffs, hiring his wife to work without pay and dipping into personal resources to keep the company afloat.
In essence, he said, it was not a time to “sit back and lick our wounds, but to look at our product, and make it even better than it already was.”
On the assembly line, this philosophy has been like the glue applied to fiberglass after Gerald Lechner has finished laminating.
For 39 years, Lechner has performed this and other production tasks.
He has seen the industry pummeled by Desert Storm, by the 1973 oil embargo, and by the recession that caused Mobile Traveler to sell its assets in 1989 to Harold Johnson, who started New Horizons.
A high-end product sold to relatively wealthy people has little chance of being permanently devastated by this recession, said Lechner, who had been laid off in January for three weeks, called back for three weeks and then laid off an additional two weeks.
“If it happens again, I might be in a little more trouble.
She carried us through,” Lechner said, referring to his wife.
Layoffs were determined by which parts of the production line were not in need. Roger Wilcoxson, a Clay Center man who has worked at New Horizons for two years, remained on staff, working on the 2010 prototype that will be featured on the cover of Trailer Life magazine later this summer.
“It was pretty stressful for everybody, really. Stressful for all of us,” Wilcoxson said. “We all know that it could still happen again.”
“It was scary when we were building the prototype, looking across the street and seeing the empty parking lot” at the call center, Wilcoxson said.
Consumer confidence has improved the odds at New Horizon, as has an employer’s commitment. “I’ve drawn very little salary for 16 or 17 months,” Brokenicky said, “because your family can’t survive if the company can’t survive.”
Near a conference room where the employees shared their experiences, scenic photos reminding customers of the views that await them hung in the lobby.
“If somebody finds themselves out of employment, and things are looking gloomy, even if you have kids, I would say to not stress about it all the time,” Fore said. “Find a way to enjoy the weather, enjoy the sun,” he added, beads of sweat touching his brow as he paused from production.
“Things will work out – and usually when you least expect. Things do happen, the bad times do come to an end. You have to believe that.”