Open Range RV Co. is the latest builder to join the growing list of companies participating in Elkhart County’s 4th Annual RV Open House, set to run Sept. 19-23 at the industry’s manufacturing hub in Northern Indiana.
The family-owned company, based in Shipshewana, will be showing its line of towable products at a site along County Road 6 – a major artery in Elkhart County – at the intersection of Northland Dr. According to Mike Crane, national sales manager, Open Range will be situated across from the Forest River Inc. display.
Crane reported that Open Range will be showing over 20 models, highlighted by the introduction of its Light series of travel trailers and fifth-wheels. The company will set up at noon on Sept. 19 and be available 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Sept. 22.
“We’re very excited about the Open House,” said Crane. “We have already received calls from a lot of our dealers anxious to view our product, especially the new Light line.”
Over 4,000 dealer representatives are expected to converge on the area as the event continues to gain traction with Elkhart’s manufacturing base since its inception in 2007.
Open Range, founded in August of 2007 by industry veteran Randy Graber, builds travel trailers and fifth-wheels under the brand names Open Range, Mesa Ridge, Journeyer, Residential, Light and Roamer along with the Rolling Thunder toy hauler line.
Dealers can contact Open Range at 260-768-7771.
Today’s video comes from the show “RV Kitchen” featuring Evada Cooper as she performs a walkthrough on the kitchen amenities in an Open Range fifth-wheel.
Open Range RV Inc., Shipshewana, Ind., is incorporating standard outdoor kitchens and entertainment centers in its new widebody, all-aluminum Mesa Ridge travel trailer series. ”The aluminum exterior has a smooth automotive look and will look new 25 years from now,” reports Gary Stanley, Open Range national sales manager. The least expensive towable from Open Range, Mesa Ridge is available in five 30- to 34-foot travel trailer floorplans with one or two slideouts. Also standard: heated and enclosed tanks, outdoor showers, full-length queen beds, 32-inch flat screen LCD TVs, ball-bearing drawer guides and two-tone knotty alderwood cabinets. Base MSRP for a 32-footer: $25,871.
As the dust settles from the first annual Open House Week in and around Elkhart County, Ind., the region’s recreational vehicle manufacturers are beginning to assess the impact of what they experienced this week as at least 15 RV builders followed the lead of Elkhart-based Forest River Inc. in opening their doors to thousands of North American RV dealer personnel.
What makes it so unique and novel is that few of these companies worked together in orchestrating these open houses. No chamber of commerce or economic development agency called industry players to the table and proposed that they all, in concert, host dealers the week of Sept. 27-Oct.1.
This, instead, was more of a spontaneous action by RV builders intent on capturing the attention of North American RV retailers in the fall, even in some cases if it means pre-empting to an extent the industry’s traditional “Louisville Show,” the 48th Annual National RV Trade Show slated for Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in Louisville.
Again, Forest River started it all in 2008 when the economic atmosphere wasn’t all that good and the Berkshire Hathaway unit’s senior management decided to do something to build dealers’ spirits. Their answer was a big product show on the grounds of the company’s corporate headquarters on the west side of Elkhart.
“The recession led us to this because of our financial strength, and, being a strong company, we wanted to show the dealers that we thought that they needed a boost because a lot of the morale was weak that year,” recalls Forest River National Sales Manager Jeff Babcock. “We wanted to build the dealers’ confidence that, of course, Forest River’s going to be here and have them come down here, as we said, and stroll through the acres of product and have a good time on us.
“And I think we’ve got a pretty good reputation for taking care of dealers down here,” Babcock added. “We thought that, hey, it would be a good thank you to the dealers to throw something here. And, you know, we had a good turnout that year, and every year it continues to grow and grow and grow.”
The difference this year is that other manufacturers decided to piggyback on Forest River’s event with their own open houses on the same week, and the dealers came in droves, flooding area hotels, restaurants and bars starting on Monday. The action built up on Tuesday and peaked for the most part on Wednesday evening when hundreds of dealers converged on two sites in particular.
The social hour hot spots were rather predictable, as three Thor Industries Inc. divisions, Keystone RV Co. Inc., Thor Motor Coach and Breckenridge, worked together to host several hundred dealers at a happy hour gathering in a tent outside the RV/MH Hall of Fame on Elkhart’s east side. Some estimated the crowd at 650.
On the opposite side of town, Forest River presided over a blowout party so big – they say it drew in excess of 3,000 dealer personnel – that the company’s caterers were hard pressed to keep up. The party tent, which also featured live music like Thor’s, was positioned amid 500 display units.
From all we can tell, most all of the parties involved this week seemed to come away with a good taste in their mouths for the entire sequence of events. The general consensus was that, whatever occurred here in Elkhart this week, it was all “plus business.” And that goes for some of the smaller companies like Open Range RV, Evergreen Recreational Vehicles, Dynamax Corp. and Carriage Inc. for whom a story was posted earlier this week.
Manufacturers say that Open House Week did a good job of servicing an industry that is still finding its equilibrium on the heels of a global recession.
“It was fantastic,” said Doug Gaeddert, general manager of several Forest River divisions and first vice chairman of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), sponsor of the annual Louisville Show. “Each year (the open house) gets better, and anybody who’s anybody in the RV business was pretty much in town this week. And, absolutely, it will be a record-breaking deal that will take us right on through into the first part of the year. It’s been fantastic.”
Gaeddert says everyone benefitted from the added participation of other companies. “I think it has benefitted the local community,” he said. “It’s obviously benefitted Forest River greatly and all the companies who have tagged on. I don’t know if there’s anybody left who didn’t do one this year. But if there are, I hope they do one next year.”
Forest River President and CEO Pete Liegl says the towable and motorized manufacturer drew in excess of 800 U.S. and Canadian dealerships and ultimately hosted 400 more people had pre-registered for the event, many of whom were bonafide buyers.
He says it’s all a general reflection of the industry’s surprising strength at this point in time. “Unquestionably,” said Liegl, “things have been good this year, and I think that things are going to be damn good next year. I really do.”
So, plan on Forest River following suit next year. “We’re running out of land,” said Liegl. “In fact, we added 20 acres next door that we didn’t have last year for extra parking. Heck, we can close down the streets next year, but I don’t know if we can outdo the enthusiasm of the dealers this year. I really don’t. Dealers are positive, happy, not only with us, but with everything. They’ve all had a pretty good year. They’ve survived 2009, and they’re operating much more like true businessmen, which is good, and I believe next year’s going to be even better. I really do.”
The general tenor of comments was much the same among the Thor companies that joined forces over at the Hall of Fame.
“It’s a good thing, a great thing for our dealers from all over the continent and overseas, and it’s a great thing for us as manufacturers,” Bill Fenech, president of Thor Motor Coach, told RVBUSINESS.com. “Dealers got to see a bunch of new products in a casual, relaxed environment. I can’t tell you how many dealers are saying ‘this is a great thing you’re doing for the industry.’”
“The venue here brings a whole different atmosphere,” noted Matt Thompson, vice president and general manager of Thor Motor Coach’s diesel brands. “And I think the dealers really appreciate it, and we’ve been able to really relax, sit down, spend a lot more quality time together with individual dealers and really rekindle some old relationships and build some new ones. It’s really unlike anything I’ve seen in the last ten years that I’ve been in this business.”
“For us, it was phenomenal,” Keystone President Bob Martin told RVBUSINESS.com. “It’s our first time doing it, and we’re very excited. We had great attendance.”
In anticipation of Open House Week, Martin said, Keystone moved some 2011 product changes forward on the calendar and had plenty for dealers to see. Fact is, Martin noted, September may be a better time frame for new model introductions rather than November or December when the Louisville Show is held – at least for some dealers and some products.
Thus, open house week could be playing a role in changing – to an extent – the industry’s habits. “It is,” said Martin. “Dealers are excited. They think it’s a good time of the year to come in and see product – a good time of the year to make buying decisions because they can buy new current product for the fall so they’re ready for spring show season. Everybody’s asked, ‘how does this affect Louisville?’ We don’t know yet. I mean, we’ll still have new products at Louisville and a reason to come to Louisville as well.
“Overall, though, it was very positive. Many dealers came through. They loved the product and the venue. You know, having it at the Hall of Fame is a draw. Many of the dealers actually haven’t been to the Hall of Fame, So, with that, it’s made the complete package with Keystone, Thor Motorized and Breckenridge. It’s been a very good venue for us.”
Indeed, the open house – a low-budget approach to manufacturer-dealer relations that has been used for years by individual companies — was a topic of choice over drinks at more than one local lounge as people began to analyze where all of this might lead.
Many in the industry have long treasured the fact that the recreational vehicle business still has a strong, single-site national show at which an entire spectrum of companies can participate, including component and service suppliers, aftermarket distributors, software vendors, finance companies, etc.
These open houses certainly aren’t cogent supplier venues, although a few suppliers did set up displays at a couple open houses. And their absence, most agree, would be a real problem if open house week ever gained an edge over Louisville.
Other concerns? How about the weather? The elements cooperated this past week; the weather was beautiful. But what if it wasn’t? With so many companies operating with outside venues, with tents in a few cases being the only shelter other than nearby factories and the insides of display units, the entire sequence of events was completely vulnerable to the elements. And everyone knows it.
As for expenses? While this whole phenomenon is sort of a low-budget sales tactic, it’s not all that cheap of an approach for the key manufacturers who covered dealers’ lodging, shuttle service and entertainment while in town.
And what about RVIA, the national trade association that depends so heavily on revenues from the Louisville Show to balance its annual budget? Louisville, loyalists point out, helps fund standards programs, political lobbying, public relations initiatives and so forth. What would become of the association and all of its critical services it if the wheels would ever come off the Louisville Show?
RVIA, for its part, is standing by and observing the whole scenario, cognizant, as RVIA President Richard Coon pointed out in a Monday (Sept. 27) statement, that “there continues to be strong, widespread industry support” for the Louisville Show.
“This year,” wrote Coon, “we will have 71 manufacturers and 230 suppliers displaying the latest RVs and products across more than 760,000 square feet of exhibit space. That is a substantial increase over the 604,000 feet of space used last year. Additionally, my colleagues at the manufacturing companies holding these events in Elkhart have assured me that the National RV Trade Show remains an integral part of their plans this year and moving forward.”
That said, few would argue that this past week’s activities around Elkhart County could be a harbinger of some eventual changes for the industry and, ultimately, for RVIA and the Louisville Show.
How much change remains to be seen.
“Well I think it’s changing the industry’s habits pretty greatly,” said Gaeddert. “As to the fate of the Louisville Show, which I know is a little bit of a question on everybody’s mind, I don’t think it threatens the Louisville Show. (But it’s) probably a little incentive for the Louisville Show to become a little more creative, raise the value of that product even further.
“Obviously,” he added, “I’m involved in RVIA, and I think it’ll push RVIA to increase the value of the Louisville Show and look at some issues – maybe timing – with respect to the value of that product. This is a competitive world, and I don’t care if you’re an association, a manufacturer, a publisher, if you don’t improve the value of your product continuously, somebody else will.”
“Louisville is a great show and it has its place,” noted Fenech. But he said that timing is a key issue because dealers who wait to buy at Louisville usually can’t get product in time for their key early retail shows – often not until February or March. In a perfect world where both the open houses and Louisville prevail, he suggests, dealers can do both – buy in September and December.
“Consider this a sneak peak at the Louisville Show,” adds Thompson, noting that his Thor division will be bringing significant new product to Louisville, including the company’s biggest unveiling of the year — a Class A that will be “one of a kind in the industry.”
“I think that dealers are taking more time in choosing the brands and the companies they do business with,” said Don Clark, president of Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., a Thor division that set up separately on the north side of Elkhart in a vacant boat manufacturing plant. “And having an Elkhart open house will give them an opportunity to meet with the manufacturer and find out not only if the product is a good fit, but if the company and the people are a good fit for their businesses.”
Dealers with whom RVBUSINESS.com chatted in Elkhart generally viewed the open houses as a plus. “You can see product in a relaxed atmosphere,” said Doug O’Banion, president of Motor Home Specialist, Alvarado, Texas, a key Monaco dealer and one of Texas’s largest RV retailers. “It’s a great idea for the manufacturers and the dealers to come and see what they have to offer. If we see something we don’t have, we’ll order it.”
O’Banion, on the other hand, doesn’t see the open houses as a viable replacement for the Louisville Show. “As a dealer,” he said, “you will see at Louisville what the other manufacturers have. You have to go to Louisville.”
Jeannie Haught, co-owner of Northtown Motor Home in Rockford, Mich., also sees a lot of value in Louisville and suspects that the open house impact will be minimal. “This is a product show,” she said of this past week’s events. “Louisville is where you go to see what your competitors are carrying. This should not hurt the Louisville Show.”
But Roger Smith, owner of Smith Trailer Sales in Monroe, Ind., thinks this latest open house twist could make the Louisville Show obsolete. “I think we can do away with Louisville,” he said. “I saw more here than in Louisville. That’s the disappointment (vs. the National RV Trade Show).”
Based on what they saw and experienced this past week in Elkhart, meanwhile, Robb Cusack, Rod Roy and David Epp of Fraserway RV’s seven-store Canadian operations feel they may have seen a glimpse of the future. The trio, who visited Gulf Stream Coach Inc., R-Vision, Starcraft RV, Evergreen and Thor events, among others, think this whole open house concept is going to get legs in the future.
“I feel this is the new Louisville,” said Cusack, who runs the company’s Halifax store. “This is where dealers are going to come and see what’s new for the following year for product. I mean, it’s very exciting to be here. The weather’s awesome. And I’ll tell you what: The manufacturers have gone way over the top. There’s entertainment, food – I mean we didn’t buy one meal in four days. It’s amazing.”
Warm, sunny weather this week is greeting thousands of RV dealer personnel from the U.S. and Canada, all of whom are here to visit with manufacturers, party some and bargain hunt for 2010 and 2011 product as part of a new wave of dealer “open houses.”
The open houses reach a crescendo today and tonight as industry leaders Thor Industries Inc. and Forest River Inc. entertain retailers at their respective open houses. Three of Thor’s four divisions, Thor Motor Coach, Keystone RV Co. Inc. and Breckenridge, are situated in a joint display at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in northeast of Elkhart, while all of Forest River’s divisions, including the company’s resurgent Coachmen RV unit, are showing product at the company’s headquarters on Elkhart’s west side.
Most of the area’s manufacturers seem pleased with the whole open house concept thus far – especially the smaller companies and various niche players — although it will be hard to tell how this year’s combined explosion of open houses plays out next year.
“Yesterday, we had a great turnout,” Ed Kinney, vice president of sales for Carriage Inc., told RVBUSINESS.com. “We were pleasantly surprised, being over here in Millersburg. We had several of our current dealers and dealer prospects here, and our new Cabo (trailer) and all of our existing products went over real well. So, it was a great day for Carriage.”
Speaking for Carriage, Kinney likes this evolving “open house” concept. “It’s a great concept, and we thank (Forest River Inc. President & CEO) Pete Liegl for starting it because I think it’s good for the industry,” said Kinney, whose company’s open house doors remain open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today (Sept. 29) and Thursday.
In general agreement with Kinney is Gulf Stream Coach Inc. Co-President Dan Shea, whose company had always hosted its own private open house each June at the towable and motorized RV manufacturer’s Nappanee facilities.
“Obviously, a number of manufacturers were looking at this time frame to start bringing in dealers,” said Shea, whose family-held company is considered more of a mainstream manufacturer vs. a niche player. “And in talking to our dealers, “it made sense, particularly last year with the transportation issues (the difficulty in delivering RVs) and the pickup in business so quickly last spring that dealers are planning ahead for next year and are very interested in coming in and looking at new product and making their buying decisions earlier this year.”
”So, we’ve been very happy with the turnout of dealers coming in, and I think it makes sense when a lot of dealers are doing something at the same time. The dealers can come in and see several manufacturers and see the new ideas at one time and a little earlier than the typical December time frame.”
Reflecting a market in which wholesale motorhome shipments have plunged from about 71,000 to 13,000 units in the aftermath of the recession, Gulf Stream’s open house displays are predominantly towable product.
“There’s less players and less dealers and, you know, the banks are sort of frowning on big item purchases,” noted Phil Sarvari, Gulf Stream’s executive vice president. “So, our focus is going to be to ‘major in the majors,’ and there’s certainly more buyers and more shipments of towable products than there are motorhomes. But motorhomes are still a part of our company, and we’re still going to take care of the dealers that we have out there.”
Does this whole open house format threaten the viability of the industry’s National RV Trade Show in any way? Shea doesn’t think so, and Gulf Stream remains a strong supporter of a viable national show in which manufacturers, suppliers and distributors all congregate.
“No,” says Shea, “I still think that there is that camaraderie of all the dealers getting together, the new products of the suppliers, the events of the week in Louisville, you know,” he observed. “I think it will continue to be important to dealers as well. I think it’s important to have the entire industry in one place. I think we get a lot of play out of the press coming to it, and the coverage from the suppliers and all these stakeholders in the industry having one place to go.”
Northward in Wakarusa, Livin’ Lite Recreational Vehicles’ President Scott Tuttle is working to expand his company’s dealer body through open house contacts.
Tuttle, who specializes in light-weight, all-aluminum trailers, points out that this whole open house concept isn’t altogether new in that it’s been going on for years on more of an ad hoc basis. As has always been the case, he added, even companies who aren’t hosting big events with buffets and bands are expecting dealers to come by.
That said, Tuttle told RVBUSINESS.com that the first two dealers showed up at Livin’ Lite’s driveway at 8 a.m. Monday, one having driven in from Quebec, the other from Kansas. Both were including Livin’ Lite in their tour of area manufacturers.
While his sales staff has been making an effort to contact retailers who were planning to be in town this week – many of whom are in town to do business with manufacturers who “are blowing out yards full of inventory” – Livin’ Lite had several units set up in a display outside his plant.
“You know, this is a shoppers’ bonanza for a lot of RV dealers,” said Tuttle, “where guys (manufacturers) have built up open stock and they’ve filled their yards with it. We don’t do that. We just build what’s sold. So, there’s a lot of dealers in town, seeing what kind of deals they can get.
“But when they go to Louisville, they’re definitely looking at what they’re going to carry next year,” he added. “So, Louisville’s still the benchmark for us. While there will be some dealers picking up product this week, I think Louisville’s still the show for dealers to pick up new product lines.”
Also set up in a low key fashion with a small cluster of display units outside the company’s headquarters north and east of Elkhart in LaGrange County near the Michigan State Line, EverGreen Recreational Vehicles LLC President Doug Lantz says his firm is a “small player in this whole open house scenario.
“I just appreciate the fact that we’re able to bring dealers into the Elkhart County area,” he said. “I think it’s good for the economy here and for relationships. It’s nice to be able to have dealers stop by and see the facility, meet personnel. So, I welcome it. I think that it’s something that we should continue to focus on. I know that we’ll continue to do it. And we tie it into sales training as well and getting together and strategic planning, so it’s something that we’re going to embrace and continue to work for.”
Lantz, for his part, thinks there could be some impact on Louisville.
“I think it may make some difference in some of the dealers’ purchases. It might, especially from a floorplanning standpoint. I mean most of the dealers placing orders this time of year are going to be receiving product around Louisville… So, there’s probably some floorplan lines that will be impacted at the credit level at Louisville. So, yeah, I think it will have some impact.”
The timing of these new open houses is perfect for other niche players like Open Range RV, located farther to the east in Shipshewana, an Amish-populated tourist village. “I think so,” notes Open Range President Randy Graber. “I think it makes sense to have this (open house) at this time of year, rather than waiting until the middle of the selling season to make all the (new model product) changes.”
As for Louisville, he says it will be interesting to see how it plays out over the next couple of years, especially considering how much early buying does or doesn’t occur during this expanding open house format.
There was a time in the 1970s until the mid-‘80s when the RV industry would gather annually each August in the sweltering heat of northern Indiana for what was then known as the South Bend Show. Dealers would come from near and far to be wined and dined by manufacturers and to see some new model year lineups.
New models would also be shown at subsequent private dealer meetings and then at the annual all-industry Louisville Show.
Now, the North American RV industry is headed back to the future to an extent this week as a host of companies — spurred by a budget-minded atmosphere in the wake of The Great Recession and by the success of Forest River Inc.‘s own big Elkhart dealer meetings over the past two years – beckon dealers to the flatlands of
Elkhart County for a series of “dealer open houses.”
Although it’s a bit later than the South Bend Show, which was held outside the Notre Dame Stadium, these new open houses should benefit the region’s hotels, restaurants, lounges and shuttle bus drivers in much the same way.
Forest River, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary that again sets up shop this week next to its corporate headquarters on the west side of Elkhart, is expecting 2,800 people and reportedly had registered more than 700 dealerships by the beginning of this week. Along with a series of dealer displays that will include everything from conventional RV’s to commercial trailers, boats and mobile latrines, dealers can expect lavish buffets and a bustling Wednesday night cocktail party that should rival the best of those good ‘ole days at South Bend.
“I assume it’s going to be as good as last year,” Forest River President and CEO Pete Liegl told RVBUSINESS.com.
Much the same can be expected across town on the east side of Elkhart at the RV/MH Hall of Fame as three Thor Industries Inc. divisions set up shop for the first time this year on the grounds around the RV/MH Heritage Foundation Inc.’s museum, library and hall near the Indiana Toll Road. This is the first year that Thor, another market leader, has hosted dealers for a September open house and, in the process, did not manage to station all of its divisions in one place like Forest River did.
So, Thor Motor Coach, Keystone RV Co. Inc. and Breckenridge will be manning displays – Keystone itself is setting up about 200 units on the hall’s periphery – on Wednesday and Thursday. Also on tap at the hall: Seminars sponsored by Freightliner Custom Chassis Inc., GE Capital, Ally Financial and Statistical Surveys Inc. plus a Wednesday night cocktail party – scheduled, perhaps coincidentally, at the exact same time as chief competitor Forest River’s. Tunes are being provided by the popular John Kirkwood band.
Keystone President Bob Martin, who tells RVBUSINESS.com that he’s expecting somewhere between 700 and a thousand dealer personnel to stop by, says Keystone has always brought dealers in during the fall for a look at new product. And while they’re stepping it up this year, his Goshen, Ind.-based firm is still planning an aggressive display with additional new product at RVIA’s 48th Annual National RV Trade Show, Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in Louisville.
‘It’s a good opportunity to get in front of your dealers in the fall,” says Martin, whose company will also host vendor booths and meetings with customer service representatives and retail and wholesale financing sources.
Just down the street a few minutes to the west at a temporary rented facility at the corner of Marina Drive and County Road 6, Thor’s Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. division will launch an open house of its own tonight (Sept. 27) with cocktails provided by the Thor division and entertainment supplied by a group called Blammo. Displays, complete with continental breakfast, are open all day Tuesday and Thursday, closing out Thursday at noon.
Also kicking off the festivities tonight down in Nappanee – with a tailgate party, casino night and poker tournament — is Gulf Stream Coach Inc., which will be featuring a favorite of the company’s founder, the late Jim Shea Sr.: Daily lunch consisting of Stanley’s famous steak, shrimp and eggroll. Gulf Stream’s event runs through Thursday
“We believe recent developments in the RV industry will create great opportunities for the independent manufacturers,” says Gulf Stream Co-President Dan Shea. “We developed many new dealer relationships this year and we look forward to showing our new innovative, value-packed models.“
Also opening their doors to dealers this week:
Carriage Inc.: Tuesday through Thursday at the towable manufacturer’s Millersburg, Ind., plant.
Dynamax Corp.: Monday through Thursday at the company’s north side Elkhart plant at the corner of Northland Dr. and County Road 6.
Earthbound RV: Monday through Friday at the Spring Meadow Farm Golf Club east of Elkhart in Middlebury, as well as at the firm’s new main plant 70 miles to the south in Marion, Ind.
Evergreen Recreational Vehicles: Monday through Thursday at the company’s plant in Middlebury.
Livin’ Lite Recreational Vehicles: Monday through Thursday at the firm’s Wakarusa facility a few miles south of Elkhart off of Indiana 19.
Monaco RV LLC: Tuesday through Thursday at the Navistar division’s Wakarusa plant.
Open Range RV: Tuesday through Thursday at the company’s facilities east of Elkhart in Shipshewana.
Sunnybrook RV: Tuesday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the company’s plant in Middlebury.
Meanwhile, adding to the week’s industry activities, Jayco Inc. will have about 250 retail personnel on hand for intensive sales training at its complex in Middlebury, Ind. Jayco’s second Master RV Product Training Session runs Monday through Thursday, with a graduation ceremony Wednesday at the Marriott in South Bend.
Click here to watch a video on this news broadcast.
An Indiana RV company took the bumpier road to find smooth sailing to success.
Open Range RV in Shipshewana opened just months before the market bottomed out. Now three years later their production and workforce has doubled, reports WNDU-TV, South Bend.
The wife and husband team says the secret to success is marketing their product to women.
From the start of opening his own business, owner Randy Graber had lots of ideas.
“He’s full of ideas,” agreed plant manager Jason Martin.
His ideas included ways to build better RVs than his competitors after working for them for nearly 20 years.
“We are always looking for that innovative new idea,” Graber said.
He also had ideas on how to sell more RVs when he started his own company just before the industry hit rock bottom. “When we started in August of ‘07 there was a lot of product out there,” Graber said. “We know we needed to do something out there and look unique.”
At Open Range in Shipshewana the trailers have a home-away-from-home feel with fireplaces, comfy cushions and unique curtains.
Graber can point out features in the trailers and fifth-wheels that include fireplaces, portable kitchen islands, and Corian countertops. He says one of the biggest selling points is the two-tone cabinets or the silver metallic exterior finish on the RVs.
“That’s a trend we set. It’s our marquee,” he explained. “And we’ve seen a lot of our competitors copying us.”
It all appeals more to women, a key selling point.
“I think when the woman walks in and falls in love with it, the man works from there,” agreed Human Resources Manager Tammy Holland.
At Open Range the road to success is ‘wide open’ because in the past year sales have gone up by 85%.
Martin said production doubled in the past year, “We went from six units a day to 12 units a day.”
Soon they’ll debut their sixth model Graber is calling “revolutionary” but won’t say much more. “It’s going to look like a million bucks for very few dollars,” he joked.
Except we know it will be full of new ideas.
Wife Pam Graber handles the RV designs.
Open Range started with just 50 employees in 2007. They now have 250 people working for them in Shipshewana.
The company plans to unveil their latest model at the National RV Trade Show in Louisville in November.