Detroit may be booming, but the biggest vehicle news of the week may be coming out of Louisville, Ky. That’s where the RV industry is circling those giant metal wagons for its annual show.
Bloomberg Businessweek reported that as companies such as Thor Industries Inc. and Winnebago Industries Inc. prepare to show off their newest homes on wheels, the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) unveiled a bullish forecast. Thanks largely to cheap financing and an improving economy, RV sales are expected to top 316,300 this year, an 11% increase over 2012. The trade group expects a 6% gain next year.
Those numbers aren’t overly impressive when compared with the U.S. auto industry, which is on pace to move close to 16 million machines this year. After all, it took Ford only a few months to sell 300,000 of its F-Series pickups this year.
But these are often much bigger (and much more expensive) machines. Thor, for example, sells a 39-foot model — the “Outlaw” — that costs well over $150,000, sleeps eight, and has a garage in the back.
What’s more, the recent boom has been driven primarily by high-end models. This year, sales of motorized RVs (as opposed to towable models) are on pace to increase by 35%. The RV trade group expects a further 10% gain in the category next year.
The demand has led to a wave of hiring and surging stock prices. But the motorhome business will have to build up a little more momentum before it hits record highs.
The RV industry opened the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) 51st National RV Trade Show at “Outlook 2014: Everywhere,” an informative, entertaining program that laid out details of the industry’s prospects for 2014 and provided an update on advertising and public relations efforts.
According to a press release, the breakfast event began at 7:30 a.m. this morning (Dec. 3) and was attended by more than 1,000 RV manufacturers, dealers and industry representatives. Following a talk from RVIA President Richard Coon about growth in RV shipments and presentation of the new projection for 2014 shipments, Go RVing co-chairs Bob Wheeler and Tom Stinnett partnered with RVIA Public Relations Committee Chairman B.J. Thompson and RVIA Vice President of Public Relations and Advertising James Ashurst for a multimedia presentation recapping 2013 progress in advertising and public relations.
“Time is at a premium and household finances are being squeezed,” Thompson told the audience. “For many, RVs are an ideal solution that offer the flexibility to get away from the stresses of everyday life and have a great outdoor experience with loved ones – without breaking the budget.”
Thompson presented some of the industry’s media relations highlights, including coverage on TV networks including NBC, ABC, FOX News, FOX Business, and CNBC. He also discussed major print and digital placements, as well as a partnership with local dealerships around the country that resulted in media placements in more than 20 markets.
“There’s the old adage that all politics is local and the same can ring true in PR,” Thompson said. “The impact of local news cannot be overlooked. That’s why we worked with dealers in local markets. Who better to talk about the benefits of RVing than the people who sell them every day?”
Stinnett and Wheeler reported on results from the “AWAY” Go RVing advertising campaign. The pair emphasized the impact of the campaign’s promotional partnerships and the effectiveness of Go RVing leads.
“As the industry surged in 2013, Go RVing’s increased promotional spend over 2012 helped keep the RV lifestyle message everywhere,” Wheeler said. “We continued to work with partners who provided us the opportunity to go beyond traditional advertising so we could stretch our dollars even further.”
Wheeler discussed Go RVing’s successful partnership with the Outdoor Channel on a promotion that saw more than 162,000 entries for a folding camping trailer giveaway, as well as efforts to create RV experiences for more than 15,000 consumers at non-RVing events such as fairs and music festivals.
Stinnett reported that the improved and streamlined Go RVing Leads Plus Program has seen a 35% increase in leads downloads in 2013. In addition, Stinnett presented analysis by Polk research showing that Go RVing leads are actually purchasing RVs at rates higher than marketing industry standards.
Stinnett also revealed a new initiative to maintain Go RVing’s reach year-round. This year, Go RVing launched a tailgating initiative in partnership with Sports Illustrated and ESPN. The initiative included a new TV commercial designed to appeal to sports fans while showcasing the amenities of RVs.
“I don’t know about the rest of you in the room, but at my business, we don’t stop selling product just because September rolls around,” Stinnett said. “And that was the thinking about extending Go RVing’s promotional push later into the selling season – to keep the RV experience fresh in consumers’ minds.”
After a brief appearance by football legend “Mean Joe” Greene and remarks from respected Sports Illustrated NFL writer Peter King, Ashurst closed the presentation by discussing some of the plans for Go RVing in 2014.
“We plan to elevate our tailgating initiative, and we are currently in discussions with some third party brands to build on what we did with Sports Illustrated, ESPN and CBS Sports,” Ashurst said. “We’re going to expand event efforts in 2014 by sponsoring a huge, multi-day country music festival that draws tens of thousands, and we’ll continue to work with top-tier cable networks like Travel Channel – both in advertising and in working RVs into their programming.”
In addition, Go RVing will create a new AWAY advertising spot that will allow the campaign to evolve the message while reducing creative and production costs.
Editor’s Note: The following is an investment analysis on the RV industry by The Motley Fool.
As many baby boomers contemplate retirement, quite a few are opting out of an overseas excursion and buying a recreational vehicle instead. With pent-up demand for replacement campers, as well as a flood of new buyers entering the market, sales of motor homes have jumped 30% from the previous year, making 2013 a year of record RV ownership.
More and more families are purchasing RVs for a variety of reasons. Travel trailers save an average of 23% to 59% on typical vacation expenses, and young buyers are discovering the convenience of owning a vacation home on wheels. Overseas travel has become expensive as rising fuel costs have led to airfare hikes, and rising political tension abroad has scared some travelers away from vacationing abroad as well.
Although many people still prefer the common camping experience — mosquitoes, mud, and meals cooked over a fire — camping in luxury with a TV, air conditioning, and most importantly a bed is turning the traditional camping excursion into a luxury experience.
Backlog and inventory
Thor Industries Inc. is the market leader in RV sales and distribution, with 31% of market share. Thor produces and distributes RVs, towable RVs, and fifth-wheel trailers. Revenue increased 35% from 40.9 million in the prior-year fourth quarter due to increased demand in all segments. RV retailers are seeing high demand from young families who are buying recreational vehicles for leisure and a fast, easy way to travel for a getaway weekend.
Inventory management is the key to Thor’s success. Like any motor vehicle dealership, inventory of recreational vehicles cannot build up or the excess will be sold at a discount on the showroom floor. Such sales hurt revenues and reduce profit margins. Thor’s sales growth proportionally matches that of its inventory increase, insuring that there is no excess buildup.
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Editor’s Note: The following story, appearing in the latest digital issue of RV Executive Today, reports on results from the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association’s (RVDA) latest RV Business Survey.
RV dealers were a little more cautious in their outlook as of midsummer compared with the same time last year, according to the latest RVDA survey, which was conducted in late July and early August.
Some 56% of the dealers surveyed said their inventory levels were “just right,” the same percentage who felt that way a year earlier. However, 25% of respondents said their inventory levels were too high while a year earlier only 16% had the same response. Nineteen percent of dealers said inventories were too low compared to 28% last year.
As far as ordering plans are concerned, 25% of the dealers who responded said they planned to order more RVs during the second half of 2013 than they did during the second half of 2012. Last year, 36% of dealers said they planned to order more during the second half of 2012 than they did during the same portion of 2011.
An even 50% of dealers who responded to the midsummer 2013 survey planned to order “about the same” number of RVs during the second half of 2013 as they did during the second half of 2012. A year ago, 20% planned to order the same number as they did during the second half of 2011. The percentage planning to order fewer units stayed about the same – 19% in 2013 and 20% in 2012. Six percent of dealers were undecided as of midsummer 2013, while 24% were undecided a year earlier.
Towable market still in good shape
A slight majority of midsummer survey respondents – 53% – said the retail market for towable RVs was better than it was a year ago. Another 40% of respondents said their towable sales were about the same as a year earlier, and only 7% said they were worse.
During the midsummer of 2012, 72% of dealers said their towable sales were better than they were a year earlier, 20% believed they were the same, and 8% said they were worse.
Although still not as robust as the towable sector, the motorhome business showed significant improvement during the past year. Twenty-nine percent of dealers said it was better as of midsummer 2013, while only 14% said it was better in midsummer of 2012. Another 29% said the motorhome business was worse as of midsummer 2013, a slight increase over the 24% who believed the same as of midsummer 2012.
Forty-three percent of dealers said their motorhome sales as of midsummer 2013 were about the same as a year earlier; a year earlier, 62% said motorhome sales were about the same as the prior year.
Retail Financing Availability Improves
There was a slight improvement in the availability of retail credit between 2013 and 2012, according to the dealers responding to the survey. Eighty percent of dealers who responded in midsummer 2013 said the right amount of retail credit was available for their customers, compared with 72% a year earlier.
Almost all dealers – 94% – said in the latest survey that there was an adequate amount of wholesale financing available, compared with 96% who felt that way the year prior.
Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) members elected eight representatives to the board in the association elections that took place in August.
In the election for two manufacturer seats, Matt Miller, president, Newmar Corp., was reelected to a three-year term while Bob Martin, CEO, Thor Industries Inc., was newly elected to the board for a three-year term as well.
Incumbents Adam Dexter, president and CEO, Dexter Axle Co., and B.J. Thompson, president, B.J. Thompson Associates, were reelected to the board as supplier members for three-year terms. Martin Street, president and CEO, Stag-Parkway Inc., was also elected to a three-year term in a supplier seat.
The election for two at-large representatives saw incumbents Bob Harbin, president and CEO, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., and Bob Parish, vice president, GE Capital, hold onto their seats for three-year terms. Dick Grymonprez, director of park model sales, Champion/Athens Park Homes, was also reelected as a Park Model RV representative for a three-year term.
The RVIA board elections took place from Aug. 5-28 with official representatives from member companies casting their votes electronically through an on-line ballot. Those elected to the board begin serving their terms on Oct. 1. The RVIA board has the highest level of authority in the association’s organizational structure and is responsible for association matters on a broad policy basis.
After completing yearlong discussions that resulted Tuesday (Aug. 27) in the acquisition of Livin’ Lite RV LLC, Thor Industries Inc. President and CEO Bob Martin likes the look not just of 2013, but of the future as well.
And, according to a report by the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune, the Wednesday release of the latest shipment numbers by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) certainly verified there’s much to like about the present.
The industry announced that wholesale shipments of RVs are up 14.7% over the same month last year, the 19th straight month that has happened.
A total of 26,212 units were shipped in July, moving the total for the year past the 200,000 mark at 201,120. That is 13.1% over the total through July of last year.
In 2009 during the recession, the total units shipped for the year was 165,700. Now, shipments are expected to surpass 300,000 and make it four straight years of increased shipments.
Thor, which owns Airstream Inc. in Ohio, Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. and Keystone RV Co. in Goshen, Crossroads RV in Topeka, Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC and Thor Motor Coach in Elkhart, plus the newly acquired Livin’ Lite in Wakarusa, is now solely concentrating on RVs.
Martin believes the increased numbers can continue.
“Definitely, the industry has been on a very nice comeback,” Martin said. “It dropped to a level that was very low quickly, and it’s slowly but surely coming out of the recession.”
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More than 400 people made the annual pilgrimage Monday night (Aug. 5) to the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind., to honor the latest inductees into the Hall.
Nine industry pioneers or their family members came forward to receive praise and appreciation for the sacrifices and devotion to the intertwined RV and manufactured housing industries, two industries with deep roots in the greater Elkhart area.
On the RV side, inductees were Kirwan M. Elmers, Lawrence C. Lippert and Thomas R. Walworth along with the late Clarence M. Fore and Matthew M. Perlot.
As president of Statistical Surveys Inc. (SSI), Grand Rapids, Mich., Walworth established the company as the recognized official scorecard for sales in the RV and manufactured housing industries in the U.S. and Canada. His data is relied upon for marketing planning by every major company in both industries. He also served for over 20 years on the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) Market Information Committee.
Walworth noted that in his 35-year career with SSI, he has had the honor of working directly with 70 of the 339 inductees in the Hall of Fame.
He praised both the RV and MH industries as the “best examples of capitalism,” adding, “With the capitalistic spirit, you can do whatever you want.”
Walworth named a long list of industry pioneers, including Thor Industries Inc. Founder Wade Thompson and Forest River Inc. founder Pete Liegl (both Hall inductees), as examples of “dreamers and hard workers” who achieved the American dream.
He said each person has a “compass” which steers him through life and for him, it has been God, his family and SSI.
Another dreamer was Clarence M. Fore, who started drawing plans for his first motorhome in 1966 and built it under the pine trees in his back yard in Nacogdoches, Texas. Fore drove his first unit to an RV show in Elkhart in 1967 to make contacts and find suppliers in the Elkhart area.
Fore almost shut the business down after five years because he was losing $1,000 on every coach he built. He was one of the early users of fiberglass front and rear caps and side panels. He pioneered dual roof air conditioning units and central vacuum systems in RVs and was the first to build motorhomes on monocoque chassis.
He is credited with being the first to develop an owners club for his consumers. Fore led the concept of factory-owned stores by creating factory outlets in major markets around the country.
Fore died Aug. 5, 2011, exactly two years prior to his induction. His grandson, Tyle Fore, accepted the award on his grandfather’s behalf.
Mathew M. Perlot, founder of Safari Motorhomes, Junction City, Ore., also did not live to see his induction into the Hall, passing away in October 2012. But if he were alive, his son, Martin, said on his behalf in accepting the honor, he would have been a feisty inductee.
Perlot was known as a “rebel” in the industry for his unconventional approach to business. He introduced affordable diesel pushers to the RV world and patented the electronic “magic bed’ that raises to the ceiling to provide additional living space.
He took Safari and Beaver public in 1996 and eventually sold to Monaco Coach.
Martin Perlot described his father as a fierce competitor, noting that he would have arrived in Elkhart, discovered that competitor Bob Lee of Country Coach had already been inducted (in 2000) and said, “Bob Lee got here first? Finish your drinks, son, we’re out of here!”
But Martin Perlot said his father’s induction has allowed he and his brother, Dave, to step back and further appreciate their father’s accomplishments and contributions to the RV industry.
The fourth RV inductee, Elmers, co-founded with his father Custom Coach in Columbus, Ohio, in 1955. The first firm to commercially convert buses into RVs, Custom Coach installed the first automatic transmission in an inner-city bus shell (in 1956), installed the first back-up camera in an RV (in 1965) and was the first to install cruise control (in 1967).
Elmers also served on the Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) Commercial Council since the mid-1960s and was chairman from 1990 to 1999.
Perhaps more than any other inductee, Elmers personifies the perseverance that characterizes the RV industry. Elmers’ parents were told at birth that their son had a weak heart, couldn’t compete in sports and wouldn’t live past the age of 40.
Not only was he able to travel to all 48 states with his father on business trips by the time he was in high school, he was able to celebrate his 85th birthday recently.
Lippert also started his own company in 1955 in Alma, Mich., with two employees – he and his wife – first supplying to the manufactured housing industry with aluminum and steel roofing.
In 1959, he began LCI’s chassis and chassis parts business. The company enjoyed steady growth until Lippert’s retirement in 1977 when he handed the reins to his son, L. Douglas Lippert. Today, as part of Drew Industries Inc., LCI is one of the largest suppliers to the mobile home and recreational vehicle industries, employing more than 5,100 people in 11 states. It provides everything from frames and chassis to roof materials, axles, countertops, mattresses, draperies and furniture.
Lippert remarked that LCI today does a greater sales volume in a half day than his firm produced in an entire year. The company is recognized as a generous corporate citizen. His grandson, Jason Lippert, now runs the company.
From the manufactured housing side, inductees were:
• Craig M. Bollman, Mobile Home Communities.
• Theresa Desfosses, State Manufactured Homes.
• Thomas P. Meyers, Guerdon Industries.
• Claude N. Palmer (deceased), Palmer Homes.
State of the Hall
In his “State of the Hall” address, Darryl Searer, president and treasurer of the RV/MH Heritage Foundation, reported that the Hall of Fame “is in even better (financial) shape than I reported last year.”
Developments this year have included burning the outstanding bank note; a final $600,000 payout to David Woodworth and his wife for their RV collection that now is on display at the Hall; a final settlement with the city of Elkhart on an outstanding water bill for which the city forgave a $150,000 debt; and presentation of a preliminary check to the family of Boots Ingram three years earlier than expected.
The Ingram family has agreed it will match 50% of every dollar paid toward the principal payment going forward, Searer said. Revenue over the past year has risen 40% over a year earlier, he added. With these developments, Searer said, he hopes the Hall will be debt-free by the end of this decade.
In other developments, Searer noted that Fairmont Homes has broken ground on a multi-section manufactured housing display on the Hall’s grounds. The Hall’s website continues to undergo improvements, and there is a new website for the Hall’s commercial facility, doing business as the Northern Indiana Event Center.
Searer recognized staff and volunteers and presented the Hall of Fame Spirit Award to Tom and Charlene McNulty, who have worked at the Hall for the past 25 years.
Dick Jennison, president of the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI), gave the keynote address. He reported that after a prolonged downturn, the manufactured housing industry is on a steady upturn, with shipments growing 16% since 2010.
He said tight mortgage lending and government overregulation continue to hamper the industry, but he cited several victories this past year bode well for the future. He called for industry unity to wage a campaign against the outdated perceptions of the manufactured housing industry.
Forty-six golfers competed in the annual Hall of Fame Golf Classic at Bent Oak Golf Course in Elkhart earlier in the day. Foursomes representing Lippert Components finished first and second.
For the second year in a row, industrial employment in Indiana posted a gain, according to the “2013 Indiana Manufacturers Directory,” an industrial directory published annually by Manufacturers’ News Inc. (MNI) Evanston, Ill. MNI reports Indiana gained 8,020 manufacturing jobs from April 2012 to April 2013 or 1.4%.
Manufacturers’ News reports Indiana is now home to 9,698 manufacturers employing 556,357 workers.
“Indiana’s industrial climate continues to improve,” says Tom Dubin, president of MNI, which has been surveying industry since 1912. “The state’s reasonable labor costs, friendly business environment, and ideal location for the shipment of goods has resulted in many companies reinvesting in its manufacturing sector, particularly those in the automotive and transportation equipment industries.”
According to the industrial directory, transportation equipment, including recreational vehicles, ranks first in the state for manufacturing employment with 81,567 jobs, up 4.7%. Industrial machinery and equipment ranks second with 69,866 manufacturing jobs, up 1%, while fabricated metals accounts for 55,491 jobs, up 1.2%.
Additional industrial sectors in Indiana that posted gains in employment included instruments/related products, up 5.9%, furniture/fixtures, up 4.9%, and lumber/wood, up 2.6%.
Northeast Indiana accounts for the most industrial employment in the state with 144,494 industrial workers, up 2.1%. The East Central region of Indiana accounts for 140,472 jobs, up a half percent over the past 12 months, while the Northwest region accounts for 88,945 jobs, down a half percent. Southwest Indiana saw manufacturing employment increase 3.2% and represents 72,561 of the state’s jobs, while jobs increased 2.4% in Southeast Indiana, with the region currently home to 57,965 industrial workers. West Central Indiana accounts for 51,920 manufacturing jobs, up 2%.
MNI’s city data shows Indianapolis remains the state’s top city for manufacturing employment, home to 73,527 jobs, down a half percent over the survey period. Second-ranked Fort Wayne is home to 25,629 jobs, up 1.7% over the past 12 months. Industrial employment in Elkhart increased 3.2% over the year, with the third-ranked city currently home to 23,259 jobs. Evansville accounts for 16,379 jobs, down 1.6%, while Lafayette is home to 14,274, virtually unchanged over the year.
If you want to put the current RV shipment numbers in perspective, look only to 2009, according to a report in the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune. Yes, 2009 was the worst year for the recreational vehicle industry since 1982, with just 165,700 RVs being shipped.
And yes, RV shipment numbers have gone up each year since 2009 with this June being the 18th straight month that shipments beat the same month of the previous year.
Still, having shipment numbers through six months this year already substantially greater than all of recession-affected 2009 is noteworthy.
Through June 30, 174,871 units have been shipped, according to the latest release by the Reston, Va.-based Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). That mark is also 12.8% higher than the midway point of 2012.
Total monthly wholesale shipments to retailers of all RVs this June were reported at 30,856 units, an increase of 12.1% compared with the same month in 2012.
“I always say that the RV market is a reflection of consumer confidence,” said Mark Bowersox, executive director of the Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council. “Look where the stock market is. Fuel prices have been consistent. It hasn’t jumped over $4 a gallon repeatedly. They’ve been stable.
“By most statistics,” he added, “the economy is getting better.”
The fear of sequestration and the cutting of $85 billion from the federal budget from March through September never even affected the industry –– just as Bowersox accurately predicted –– in early March.
“Americans have become more comfortable at being uncomfortable,” Bowersox said then and again Monday in a phone interview.
The Tribune reported that the industry is not expected to slow down any time soon. Revised predictions for 2013, have the industry shipping just less than 310,000 units. That would mark the first time since 2007 (about 353,400 were shipped that year) that the total has reached 300,000.
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Editor’s Note: The following is a report by WNDU, South Bend., Ind., on the boom in the RV industry and the impact on Elkhart County. To view the entire article and watch an accompanying video click here.
It’s been a great year for the RV industry. According to a report by WNDU, South Bend, Ind., through the midway point of 2013, RV wholesale shipments tracked by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) climbed to 174,871 units — a 12.8% increase from the same point in 2012.
“We approach every year cautiously optimistic,” said Jeff Runels, vice president of sales for Keystone RV Co. “This year has been a really pleasant surprise, we thought coming out of last year — which was, again, a pleasant surprise — we might level off.”
Beyond the numbers themselves is an economic impact that runs deep in Michiana.
Elkhart County produces about 80% of all RVs made in the United States. Dorinda Heiden-Guss, president of the Economic Development Council of Elkhart County, explained that some 30 RV manufacturers have their corporate headquarters based out of Elkhart County, as do more than 100 industry suppliers.
Runels said that as Keystone sees prolonged increases in sales it starts to increase numbers of employees and subsequently its manufacturing output. The Goshen-based builder, like most other RV manufacturers, saw across the board increases in product demand – from smaller, entry-level units, to the larger and more upscale units.
“When you get a year like this, when you do have that uptick in sales it allows you to really analyze where that uptick is and try to take advantage of those new spots, those new buyers.” According to Runels, they actively watch and see what new buyers are interested in so they can accommodate those interests. That’s why in 2012 and the beginning of 2013 Keystone was able to add several new models.
Runels added that the company almost restored its employment to pre-recession levels by the end of 2012, but thanks to the added boom, they’ve reached almost record levels this year.
To view the entire article and view the video click here.