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.
To read the entire article click here.
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.
It’s another positive economic national statistic for Indiana’s Elkhart County.
As reported by the South Bend Tribune, in the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) quarterly census of employment and wages, the Elkhart-Goshen area has the eighth-highest increase in average weekly wages between the fourth quarter of 2011 and the fourth quarter of 2012.
An article in 24/7 Wall St., citing stats from the BLS, said the one-year wage growth in the Elkhart-Goshen area was 9.1% for an average weekly wage of $782, an increase of $65 per week.
“With the actual wages of the jobs, this year has been exceptionally good news after some rocky times,” said Dorinda Heiden-Guss, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County. “We are grateful primarily to the marine and recreational vehicle industries for being responsible for the increase in employment and the wage level.”
Kyle Hannon, president and CEO of the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, put the victories in perspective.
The Elkhart area has led the nation in job growth for at least two years, Hannon said. Salaries naturally were going to increase with it.
To read the entire article click here.
Midway through the summer driving season, signs of the U.S. recovery go by in a blur as vacationers ply the byways either driving or towing proud new recreational vehicles.
Investor’s Business Daily reported that shipments of motorhomes jumped more than 30% this year through May versus the same period in 2012, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). Shipments of comparatively less expensive travel trailers rose 11%. Trailers make up a bigger slice of the RV fleet, with sales of 128,037 through May compared to just over 15,000 motor homes.
Most of the units are being bought by dealers to place in inventory, rather than sales to the final owner. Still, the rise in confidence is a welcome change after the industry rolled over early and hard when the economy tumbled. RV sales fell off nearly 50% from peak to trough.
The industry is particularly sensitive to factors such as consumer discretionary spending and rising fuel prices. It “rolled over” before housing and other sectors, and “was in an all-out free fall” by 2006, said Kathryn Thompson, CEO of Thompson Research Group.
“This industry is about as discretionary as you can get,” Thompson said.
The RV industry started upshifting somewhat in 2010. Sales accelerated in the second half of last year.
“You’re seeing a release of pent-up demand,” said analyst Gerrick Johnson of BMO Capital Markets.
“People who hadn’t bought anything are now replacing (aging RVs),” he said.
Much of that rebound is due to increasing consumer confidence, buoyed by rising home prices and the stock market’s advance to new highs.
To read the entire article click here.
The industry is gearing for the RV/MH Hall of Fame induction ceremony, set to run Aug. 5 at the Hall’s facility on the north side of Elkhart, Ind.
According to a press release, the day begins with the Annual Golf Classic at Bent Oak Golf Club in Elkhart. The golf outing starts at 7 a.m. with a full breakfast at Bent Oak. At 8:30 a.m. the golf begins with a shotgun start, followed immediately after the golf round with an awards luncheon.
That evening, the events surrounding the induction dinner for the Class of 2013 begin at 5:30 p.m. with a cocktail reception in the Grand Hall at the RV/MH Hall of Fame, followed by the dinner and induction ceremonies. This year’s class will include the following RV/MH industries’ pioneers and leaders:
• Kirwan Elmers, Custom Coach
• C.M. Fore (deceased), Foretravel Inc.
• Lawrence C. Lippert, Lippert Components Inc.
• Matthew Perlot (deceased), Safari Motorhomes
• Thomas Walworth, Statistical Surveys, Inc.
• Craig M. Bollman, Mobile Home Communities
• Theresa Desfosses, State Manufactured Homes
• Thomas P. Meyers, Guerdon Industries
• Claude N. Palmer (deceased), Palmer Homes
Dick Jennison, president and CEO of the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI), a national trade association located in Arlington, Va., will deliver the keynote address.
Barry Cole, president of MH Insurance and the Hall’s chairman, noted, “We are honored to have Dick as our induction dinner keynote speaker as he will be able to give attendees new insight into the state of the manufactured housing industry.”
Darryl Searer, Hall president, said he expects about 400 guests from across the country for this year’s induction ceremonies and urges those planning to attend who have not already made their reservations to make their reservations now. “Seating locations at the dinner are on a first-come, first-served basis, so the earlier someone signs up, the better location they’ll receive.”
Regarding the golf fundraiser, Searer said reservations are below what was expected and he hopes more will sign up in the next two weeks. “The golf outing has historically been great fun for those participating – a chance to interact with clients and potential customers in a relaxed forum, a chance to really get to know them and build lifelong friendships and business relationships,” he said. “The golf event is also an important fundraiser for the Hall. Once the cost of the golf outing itself is deducted, all of the remainder of the funds is used to reduce debt and pay operating expenses. So those who participate in the golf event not only get to enjoy a day of golf with friends and colleagues, they are helping the Hall meet its goal of financial stability.”
Cole added, “I hope all RV/MH industry members will set aside Aug. 5 as not only a day to celebrate the induction of the Class of 2013 into the RV/MH Hall of Fame, but also, celebrate and support the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum itself.”
For more information on and to make reservations for the induction dinner and the golf outing, visit www.rvmhhalloffame.org.
Elkhart, Ind., was among the Top 10 U.S. cities that enjoyed marked increases in wages in 2012 compared with the previous year, according to a report in USA Today.
The city was listed at No. 8 in the rankings as the average weekly wage in Elkhart rose $65 between December 2011 and December 2012, when pay climbed to $782 per week.
The Elkhart area was hit hard by the most recent economic downturn as demand for its key industry, RV manufacturing, plummeted. The unemployment rate hit a high of 20.2% in March 2009.
However, the area’s manufacturing base, which comprises nearly half of all the area’s jobs, has been making a significant comeback, growing employment 7.4% from December 2011 to December 2012. Some of the area’s RV plants have announced plans to continue hiring in 2013.
The report showed:
• 1-yr. wage growth: 9.1%.
• Average weekly wage: $782.
• Dec. 2011 unemployment: 10.9%.
• Dec. 2012 unemployment: 9.5%.
• 1-yr. employment change: +5.5%.
If you got trapped on the highway behind any pokey motorhomes or recreational vehicles over the holiday weekend, take solace in this: You were being inconvenienced by an American industry on the rebound.
MarketWatch reported that the most recent sales figures from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) show that RV and motorhome shipments to dealers for the year through May topped 144,000, a 13% increase over the previous year, keeping the industry on track for its best year since the recession started, The mega-camper business all but collapsed during the last recession, thanks to the combination of economic upheaval and high gas prices, with sales falling 58% from 2006 to 2009. Shriveling credit markets played a role, too, with many lenders unwilling to finance RV and motorhome purchases even as they freed up money for car loans in general.
Indeed, some analysts say looser lending policies are a major factor behind the current rebound. A spokesman for Thor Industries Inc., the company that makes Airstream and other popular RV brands, recently told Kyle Stock of Bloomberg BusinessWeek that buyers can now “get financing pretty easily up to about $150,000.”
A quick search online suggests that interest rates on RVs start at around 4.4%, compared with under 3% for the typical auto loan.
RV salespeople say that retiring “snowbird” Boomers are their biggest customers; the trade group doesn’t publish specific age breakdowns, but its literature suggests that ownership rates are highest among those between age 55 and 75.
Speaking of snowbird stereotypes, the archetypal motorhome, in which the driver’s cabin and the living quarters are all on the same chassis — Jack Nicholson’s Winnebago in the movie “About Schmidt,” for example — accounts for only about 12% of RV sales. Travel trailers that get towed behind another vehicle, like the Airstream, make up the majority of the market. Some of those are quite modest, but price tags on the most luxurious models can top $90,000.
So Elkhart County, what do you do for an encore?
The Elkhart Truth reported that after seeing the local economy make headlines nationally three years ago in the midst of the Great Recession, the employment picture in the Indiana RV hotbed has rebounded in near-equal measure over the past two to three years with job growth figures that beat those of any community in the United States.
Statistics released last week by the U.S. Labor Department showed Elkhart County’s percentage of job growth was three times stronger than the national average and a half a percent better than the second closest community.
A year ago, when similar figures were released, showing strong job gain that were among the best in the nation, Dorinda Heiden-Guss, president of Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County, said she was reluctant to put too much credence in the report.
But the newest figures that show a 7.4% rise in job growth is an indication, Heiden-Guss said, that the local recovery has been “phenomenal.” Combined over the past two years, the county has added more than 10,600 jobs to the workforce, according to the labor department.
“The RV industry is booming and surpassing records and essentially put us back on the map,” Heiden-Guss said.
Local officials say the recovery is still a work in progress and that they’re working to make further strides to ensure that those inevitable cyclical bumps in the economic road are less jarring than in the past.
Much of that involves efforts to diversify the county’s industrial base.
To read the entire article click here.