The Florida RV SuperShow drew heavy traffic last week as more than 50,000 consumers gathered at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa to scope out the new 2013 models of recreational vehicles.
Investors Business Daily reported that the show, which ran Jan. 16-20, is a venue for dealers to sell the products on display from the manufacturers they represent.
Thor Industries Inc. had a strong presence in Tampa, where all its subsidiaries and brands were represented.
Thor President and COO Bob Martin gave an upbeat early read on the show, noting, “Attendance at the Tampa show is up from last year, early indications suggest that retail sales are strong, and our dealers remain upbeat,” Martin told Investors Business Daily Jan. 17. “These are all very positive signs for growth for Thor and our industry this year.”
The warm reception at the show is in keeping with the overall climate for the RV industry, which has seen demand heat up after cooling off in a big way during the recession.
The industry started to move on the comeback trail in 2010, and has been gaining speed ever since. RV wholesale shipments are estimated to have grown to 277,000 to 285,000 units in 2012, says Kevin Broom, a spokesman for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). That would be up from 252,300 units in 2011. Forecasters call for a 4% to 5% rise in RV wholesale unit shipments in 2013, says Broom.
Thor, which makes the whole gamut of RVs, has been cashing in on the rebound. Sales have climbed by double digits in all but one of the past 13 quarters. And profits have risen by double digits for two straight quarters.
First-quarter fiscal 2013 sales popped 30% to $875.6 million, the highest level of sales growth in over two years. Profits climbed 41% to 58 cents a share.
Thor, which also is a major builder of commercial buses and ambulances, saw total RV sales rise 36% to $761.14 million from a year earlier. Its biggest piece of business is in towable RVs, which enjoyed a 28% pop in first-quarter sales to $639.2 million. Motorized RV sales surged 95% to $122.2 million.
First-quarter results were supported by dealer optimism and strong orders at its open house for dealers in Elkhart, Ind., in September, said Thor Chairman and CEO Peter Orthwein in a statement.
Thor Industries Inc. reported record sales of $876.8 million during its fiscal 2013 first quarter, ended Oct. 31, representing a 30% increase from $673 million the previous year.
RV sales were $763 million, up 36% from $561.7 million in last year’s first quarter. Towable RV sales were $640.8 million, a 28% increase from $499.1 million a year ago, while motorized RV sales doubled to $122.2 million from $62.6 million. Bus Group sales were $113.8 million, up 2% from $111.3 million in the first quarter last year.
Cash, cash equivalents and investments on Oct. 31 were $215.6 million versus $209.5 million the previous year. Backlog on Oct. 31 was $720.4 million, up 41% from $509.7 million last year. RV backlog was $516.7 million, up 73% from $299.5 million at the end of the first quarter of fiscal 2012.
“Thor achieved a first-quarter record for revenue in the quarter ending Oct. 31 as the strength of our products met with considerable success among dealers at the Open House held in Elkhart, Ind., in September,” said Peter B. Orthwein, Thor chairman and CEO. “While we are pleased with the favorable reception our products received, the overall environment is still very competitive and industry incentives remain elevated. Our higher backlogs provide us with a clearer view into sales expectations through the first half of fiscal 2013.
“Given the view of our business through the January quarter, we believe Thor will be well positioned to enter the important spring retail show season. The success of our products in those early spring shows will help shape our outlook for the second half of the fiscal year.”
Yesterday’s (July 18) announcement that Thor Industries Inc. RV Senior Group President Bob Martin is being promoted Aug. 1 to president and COO is being viewed by industry insiders as a natural move for the respected executive. Martin, 42, had worked his way up through the ranks at Coachmen Industries Inc. and Thor’s Keystone RV Co. subsidiary before assuming the senior group presidency in February.
But many hadn’t expected it so soon for the 18-year industry veteran, an Elkhart, Ind., native who essentially assumes responsibility for all of the operating divisions of Jackson Center, Ohio-based Thor, which posted $2.75 billion in fiscal 2011 sales.
Martin continues to answer to Peter Orthwein, Thor’s chairman and CEO.
“Bob’s done a great job,” Orthwein told RVBUSINESS.com Thursday. “He’s really stepped up. You know, six months or so ago, he became RV Group president, so he’s had responsibility for all the RV companies for the last six months. And this is just the next step, and puts the bus companies under him as well. So, basically, that’s all our operations. He has all of our operating companies now under him.”
In an industry where some have questioned the general depth of management ranks at a host of companies, Orthwein says the Martin move will serve Thor’s succession plan well, even if it was bit quicker than some had anticipated. “Look,” Orthwein told RVB, “I’m going to be 67 in October. You know, I’m getting old, and, plus, I don’t have the operating experience out there that he has. So, I think that this move is definitely better for Thor.”
All in all, Orthwein agreed, this week’s news puts Thor in a more aggressive mode for the years ahead “where we transition into a younger management team, really making way for the next generation of management.”
Does Thor plan to move anyone up into the group presidency slot now being vacated by Martin? “Well, I think Bob right now wants to have all the RV company presidents report directly to him,” said Orthwein.
Is this the extent of the changes we’re to expect from Thor for the time being, coming as it did only weeks after the transition of leadership at Thor’s Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC division with Prime Time’s Chris Hermon stepping up to Heartland’s presidency after the May 1 resignation of Brian Brady? “Yeah, there may be some corporate staff changes coming on,” said Orthwein, “but nothing in terms of operations.”
The recreational vehicle lifestyle is gaining a die-hard fan-base in China.
International Business Times reported that the American dream of living on the open road, seeing the country on your own set of wheels, and getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city is also becoming a Chinese dream.
Granted, China remains behind even its much smaller neighbors South Korea and Japan in RV numbers, but it is quickly catching up. In 2001, there was only one single, lonely RV in the entire country. By 2010, there were 900 on the road. By the end of 2012, there are expected to be 6,000.
But even if the Chinese appear to be seduced by the American image of motorhome ownership, some U.S. RV makers are still wary of doing business in China.
Peter Orthwein, the CEO Thor Industries Inc., said in an interview that there was still “too much uncertainty” in the China market for him to want to open up facilities there or enter into a joint venture with a Chinese company. Too many complex factors, such as regional Chinese laws against civilians towing vehicles, remain barriers to making a more significant investment, in Orthwein’s opinion.
“The market is growing, but a long ways away,” said Orthwein. Even if it were more developed, Orthwein asked, “Why do they need us?” Chinese companies could “copy the technology and do it themselves,” he says.
Chinese companies are eager to market their own towable and motorized designs against famed Western makers like Winnebago. China’s super-rich have been eager to import larger U.S.-made caravans, but the purchases are mostly meant to impress business partners and rivals rather than to actually be taken on road trips.
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Jackson Center, Ohio-based Thor Industries Inc. announced today (Sept. 12) that, effective Oct. 1, its Recreation Vehicle Division presidents will report directly to Peter Orthwein, Thor’s chairman, president and CEO.
“Looking ahead, I am excited to be working more closely with our talented RV Division presidents,” said Orthwein, commenting on the reporting change resulting from the previously announced departure of Ron Fenech which will occur on Sept. 30.
Fenech was one of the original owners of Keystone RV and served as Keystone’s president for eight years during which time, the Goshen Ind.-based company tripled in size. Most recently, Fenech served as RV Group president and was responsible for developing the strong RV leadership team Thor has today.
Orthwein noted, “We thank Ron for all of his contributions to the company and for his help and assistance in making this leadership transition.”
Hi-Lo Trailer Co. Inc., Belleville, Ohio., a respected long-term player in the RV industry, has closed its doors.
In a July 6 letter to Hi-Lo dealers, President Jim Beveridge said shareholders ”have voted to liquidate the assets of the corporation and dissolve same, effective immediately.”
”In light of the current economic situation and the downturn in sales of recreational vehicles, Hi-Lo Trailer can no longer continue to operate,” the letter said.
Hi-Lo, the company that originally brought late Thor Industries Inc. Chairman Wade F.B. Thompson into the RV industry, manufactured a unique telescoping travel trailer that used a push button hydraulic system to automatically raise, lower and lock the top that fit over the lower portion of the trailer when in travel mode.
Hi-Lo announced late last year that it had streamlined its 2010 product lineup to include four floorplans based on the Hi-Lo Classic.
The company was founded in 1955 as Snyder’s Hi-Lo Trailer Co. by the late Don Snyder, who engineered Hi-Lo’s basic design because he wanted a popup-like trailer that was safer to tow and had hard sides so that it could be used in the winter.
The company later passed to the founder’s son, Jim Snyder, who remained active in the company after selling it to New Zealand native Thompson, who came across Hi-Lo while working in marketing in New York City.
”I thought this was a neat little company with a great little balance sheet,” said Tompson, who had met Peter Orthwein, now Thor chairman, at a New York conference.
”I called him up and asked if he would help me finance this little company called Hi-Lo,” Thompson recalled in a 2002 interview with RVBusiness. ”He said he could get the financing, but he wanted to be a partner as well.
”We did the deal, and Oct. 28, 1977, we bought the company (and) for the next three years I commuted between New York where my family was — literally every week.”
Thompson ran Hi-Lo for three years before he and Orthwein acquired Airstream Inc. from Beatrice Foods, beginning to build Thor Industries into a national power.
Thompson and Orthwein owned Hi-Lo into the middle of this decade, before quietly selling the company in July 2003.
Efforts to reach Beveridge and recent Hi-Lo executives Jim Snyder and Larry Mills were unsuccessful.
Thor Industries Inc. divisions will continue to operate as independent entities — in much the same way as they have for years — following today’s (Jan. 7) appointment of Keystone RV Co. President Ron Fenech as Thor senior vice president charged with overseeing the company’s RV operations.
”I fought for that independence when I was responsible solely for Keystone and I will support that in the way we are going to operate the divisions,” Fenech told RVBUSINESS.com. ”It’s been Thor’s model since the inception and it’s been very successful. That’s my job, to continue to propel that.”
Fenech’s appointment and that of Thor COO Richard ”Dicky” Riegel as senior vice president with responsibility for Thor’s bus group, investor relations and developing new business segments, was announced today (Jan. 7) by Thor co-founder Peter B. Orthwein.
An executive who had typically operated behind the scenes, Orthwein was thrust into the limelight as Thor chairman, president and CEO upon the Nov. 12 death of Wade F.B. Thompson, who founded Thor in 1980 with Orthwein. Thompson’s passing was among the factors that led to the management changes.
Keystone Executive Vice President Bob Martin was appointed president to succeed Fenech while Andrew Imanse will remain group president of Thor’s commercial bus division and report to Riegel, who will report to Orthwein.
Fenech, 52, was Keystone president for eight years and at one time was Coachmen Industries Inc. vice president of sales.
Besides Keystone, Thor RV divisions include Airstream Inc., Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., Four Winds International Corp. CrossRoads RV, Damon Motor Coach, Breckenridge, Komfort Corp. and General Coach.
Fenech said the most difficult part of the change will be ”having to leave Keystone and all the great people at the company.”
While Thor, with headquarters in Jackson Center, Ohio, will retain independent divisions, Fenech said it will be his goal ”to find ways to become even better within each of our divisions.”
”The biggest impact for Thor will be that I have a lot of operational experience and I’ll probably have a more hands-on approach with our divisions in terms of strategic planning and trying to do those things that make good companies great companies,” Fenech said. ”I want to remove roadblocks and hopefully help the companies see opportunity that they don’t see today.”
At the same time, Fenech said he won’t be reticent to make changes in Thor’s operations where needed.
”Some of our divisions are strong and some of our divisions are weak and need help,” he said. ”I don’t mind saying that some of them are not performing the way they need to be and that’s unacceptable. That will change.”
On Tuesday (Nov. 17), the board of directors of Thor Industries Inc. elected Peter B. Orthwein, a co-founder of the company, to the offices of chairman, president and CEO, the company announced in a news release.
Orthwein, 64, has served as treasurer and a director of the company since its founding in 1980 and as vice chairman since 1986, and was appointed as interim chairman, president and CEO on Nov. 10. Orthwein resigned from the office of treasurer, effective Nov. 17.
Orthwein fills the position held by co-founder Wade F.B. Thompson, who died last week.
Also on Tuesday, the board also elected Christian G. Farman to the office of treasurer. Farman, 50, has served as senior vice president and CFO since May 5, 2008. Prior to joining the company, Farman served as CFO of Deutsch, a leading manufacturer of electrical connectors, from May 2006 to May 2007. From December 2003 to December 2005, Farman served as CFO of Insituform Technologies Inc., a NASDAQ listed infrastructure company, first as vice president, from December 2003 to January 2005, and then as senior vice president, from January 2005 to December 2005.
From February 2003 to April 2003. Farman served as COO of the National Audubon Society. Prior to that, from 1989 to 2001, Farman was employed by Vivendi North America (previously Anjou International), a water treatment and environmental services company, which he joined as controller and was ultimately promoted to executive vice president and CFO.
Prior to Vivendi North America, he was employed as a senior audit manager at Price Waterhouse (now known as PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP), where he worked from 1979 to 1989. Farman is a Certified Public Accountant.