A high-profile spotlight on Elkhart County Ind.’s economic growth in Slate.com accelerates the momentum the county has enjoyed since the depths of the recession, says Dorinda Heiden-Guss, president of the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County.
The South Bend Tribune reported that in addition to its own package of features in the online magazine, Elkhart County is home base for the GE Capital and Slate “Roadshow for Growth” national tour aimed at highlighting often-overlooked middle market businesses that play a vital role in the national economy.
The bus/RV for the trip that will visit dozens of cities by October is housed at Forest River Inc., where it was made, and the tour included visits to Forest River, Bennington Pontoon Boats and the RV/MH Hall of Fame.
The package at roadshow.slate.com/tag/elkhart includes an infographic “Meet the RV Capital of the World”; “RV Industry Keeps Elkhart Rolling”; and an interview with Bennington Pontoon Boats CEO Steve Vogel, “How Do You Sell Pontoon Boats During a Recession?”
That national exposure adds another wave of good news in the county, called the “white-hot center of the economic meltdown” in 2008. Last year, Elkhart County led the nation in job growth, with a jump of 7.4% in employment compared with a national average of 1.9%.
“I would say that the significant robust activity has really positioned Elkhart County for continued growth for quite some time,” Heiden-Guss says. “It’s the RV industry that has saved us through these challenging economic hurdles by their speedy recovery.
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The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) 2012 Industry Profile, which provides a statistical portrait of RV production and sales from last year, has been published and is now available to the industry.
According to a press release, the publication offers a detailed look at RV production and shipment statistics, including historical comparisons of shipment figures and dollar volume as well as production breakdowns by product type and shipment destination.
Key findings from the 2012 Industry Profile include:
• Wholesale RV shipments reached their highest annual level since 2007 at 285,700 units, a 13.2% increase over the previous year.
• The total retail value of those shipments neared $11 billion ($10.8 billion), a 20% increase over the $9.03 billion total in 2011.
• Indiana continues to lead the country in RV production, manufacturing 83% off all RVs in the U.S.
• Texas is the top destination for RV shipments, receiving 8% of the total. California (5.87%), Michigan (4.98%), Florida (3.52%) and New York (3.19%) round out the top five.
• An analysis of the production highlights and a demographic profile of the RV consumer are also included in the publication.
A copy of the 2012 Industry Profile was sent to all RVIA members. Additional copies for members as well as industry contacts are available through the publications store at www.rvia.org.
RVs have enjoyed the media spotlight in recent weeks with several appearances in the national media, culminating in two live segments on the popular FOX & Friends morning show on June 17.
As a result of RVIA’s ongoing public relations campaign, RVs have been featured on NBC News, ABC News, CNBC, FOX and the Hallmark Channel, as well as in Bloomberg Businessweek, according to a press release.
Media hits include:
• On June 17, RVs were the focus of two live interview segments on the highly rated FOX & Friends morning show. The first segment showcased an Airstream trailer and offered the chance to discuss the recovering RV market, the popularity of trailers and the option of renting RVs with Dicky Riegel, former Thor Industries Inc. and founder of Airstream 2 Go. The second segment included former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and took place inside a Winnebago motorhome.
• On June 12, “Marie” — a Hallmark Channel talk show hosted by Marie Osmond — aired a segment that included Go RVing spokesman Brad Herzog. Herzog and Osmond showed three different RVs representing the most popular types of towable and motorized RVs.
• On June 6, Bloomberg Businessweek published an article focusing on the industry’s recovery from the recession. The article noted that the $14 billion RV industry is on course for its best year since 2007, and included RVIA’s projected shipment total.
• On June 3, “ABC World News” aired a story about the RV industry that included a visit to Winnebago’s Iowa headquarters, reasons for the industry’s turnaround, and information on the burgeoning rental market.
• On May 31, CNBC aired a “Behind The Wheel” segment focused on the industry recovery and Winnebago’s growing sales. Also on May 31, several national magazines published reports about the RV industry. Sunset Magazine published a guide to RV trailers; Midwest Living released a report about the best places to camp in the Midwest; and U.S. News and World Report published a story about how RV sales are booming again.
• On May 23, “NBC Nightly News” broadcasted a report that the industry’s recovery is driving a hiring boom in Elkhart, Ind.
Registration hasn’t started and the invitations haven’t gone out yet, but the RV industry expects this year’s RV Open House Week in mid-September to be bigger than ever.
“We still expect a helluva turnout. We expect a bigger and bigger turnout,” said Jeff Babcock, one of the general managers at Forest River Inc. “As every year comes and our business grows, we expect it to keep getting bigger and bigger.”
The Elkhart Truth reported that at Keystone RV Co., the biggest brand of the other RV giant, Thor, company officials are hearing lots of buzz about the open house, though Jim Mac, Keystone spokesman, said, “attendance is pure speculation. We are optimistic that it will be as large or larger than last year.”
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The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) board wrapped up Committee Week, held June 2-6 at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C., by approving a host of committee recommendations at their meeting on Thursday.
In addition, RVIA named two new members to its board. Mike Farmer, vice president of sales and marketing for Carefree of Colorado, will fulfill the term of the company seat being vacated by Jeff Rutherford, who is leaving Carefree of Colorado to join Airxcel. Jim Hammill, president of Roadtrek Motorhomes, will assume that company’s seat which had been filled by Jeff Hanemaayer who is resigning.
In the area of industry education, the board gave approval to a new pilot program designed to help increase awareness of and participation in industry technician training and certification programs. Kicking off in July, the six-month pilot effort will utilize in-field representatives visiting RV dealerships in the northwest (Idaho, Oregon and Washington) and south central (Louisiana and Texas) United States to test the new approach. The effectiveness of the pilot program will be reviewed at the end of the six-month period.
The field reps will work to establish relationships with service managers and technicians to identify those involved in service areas at the dealership and gather contact information. They will also examine what service training has been received at the dealership and what training may be needed. If training in a specific area is needed, the field rep would work to facilitate making that training available to the dealership and others within the region.
In other actions, the RVIA Board approved:
• Using the term “park model RVs” for public relations and marketing purposes while using either of the terms “recreational park trailers” or “park model RVs” for regulatory and standards purposes.
• Adopting the 2014 editions of the NFPA 1192, NFPA 70 (NEC) and ANSI 12V Standard effective May 1, 2014, with a mandatory enforcement date of Sept. 1, 2014.
• Investigating the feasibility of participating in the development of a global RV standard (ISO) to identify the potential benefits of such an endeavor.
• Adding Class B motorhomes to the “Retail Sales Activity” (12-month Rate of Change) section of the Monthly Marketing Report beginning with the July report.
• Raising the spare/demo unit fee at the California RV Show from $300 to $400 for 2013.
• Increasing the registration fees at the show for nonexhibiting attendees from $60 to $100 for members and from $120 to $200 for non-members for 2013.
The RVIA board actions were the result of recommendations from many of the association’s standing committees that met from June 2-4. Programs with specific budgets for FY2014 are pending until final approval by the RVIA Executive Committee at its August budget meeting and the RVIA Board at its September meeting.
The recent acceleration in car sales is impressive, but there’s an even better sign the U.S. economy is getting back on track: surging sales of recreational vehicles. Bloomberg Business Week reported that makers of RVs shipped 32,054 machines in the U.S. in April, a 19% increase from a year earlier, according to data compiled by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
RVs are a notable niche because it takes no small amount of consumer confidence to buy a gas-guzzling home on wheels. Between 2007 and 2009, more than half of the RV market disappeared. Light-vehicle sales, by contrast, dropped by 36%. “No one needs an RV,” said Jeff Tryka, a spokesman for Thor Industries Inc., one of the biggest U.S. RV makers. “It’s a purely discretionary purchase, while there’s always going to be a base-level demand for cars.”
The motorhome and towable RV business, a $14 billion market in the U.S., is on track for its best performance since 2007. For the year to date, shipments are up 13% and RVIA expects more than 307,000 vehicles to roll by January. The sales boost doesn’t matter much to Detroit, but it’s big news about 200 miles away in Indiana, where roughly half of the country’s RVs are made. It’s also great for companies like privately held Jayco Inc., the Forest River Inc. unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, and Thor, which cranks out some of the most popular RV brands.
When the RV market bottomed out in 2009, Thor’s payroll dropped to 5,400 workers; today it employs 8,800. And in anticipation of higher demand, it just bought a factory in Wakarusa, Ind., equipped with 35 booths for painting giant campers. The company will give a progress report when it announces earnings later today. Last quarter, Thor posted income of $19.9 million—a 45% increase from a year earlier.
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Ron Spike purchased a Rockwood Windjammer travel trailer at Ruff’s RV Center in Euclid, Ohio, two months ago.
According to a report by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, in the months since he joined the 8.9 million U.S. households — or 8.5% of all American households that now own RVs — Spike is part of a growing community of people who see upscale camping or traveling as a great way to relax.
“I parked mine at a campground in Geneva. Even though it’s about 40 minutes from our home in Lyndhurst, it’s still like going on vacation,” said the 62-year-old recently retired truck driver whose wife Marlene will join the retirement ranks this month. “There’s no stress out there. It’s so relaxing.”
Across town, Ron Revelt of Olmsted Township stopped by Moore’s RV in North Ridgeville to pick up a part for his decked-out fifth-wheel, his third and last purchase made in 2008. But he couldn’t help but check out an even more luxurious recreational vehicle during his visit.
“They keep coming up with more new neat things,” said Revelt, 73, a retired teacher and pilot who talked of new safety features and luxuries in the kitchen and bedrooms. “There’s always something I want.”
Nationwide, sales are rebounding because of new destination campers like Spike and repeat customers like Revelt who travel the country. They represent renewed hope for an industry that has suffered blows since the recession but is now attracting more younger people and families.
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The first quarter was kind to the recreational vehicle industry. Building on three years of continuous growth, the RV industry experienced an 11.2 percent gain in units shipped in the quarter compared to the first quarter in 2012. And that growth is expected to accelerate.
As reported by the Goshen News, the industry’s forecast issued earlier this year by Richard Curtin of the University of Michigan predicted a 7.5% gain in units shipped for 2013. That gain would mean 307,300 RVs would be sent by manufacturers to dealers. Such a gain would be a significant jump over the low year of 2009, when 165,700 units were shipped during the height of the recession. But a much larger gain would be needed to reach the record year of 2006 when 390,500 RVs went out the doors of local RV factories.
“Every year has been an up year since 2009 if you graph it out,” said Doug Gaeddert, Forrest River’s general manager and chairman of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), which compiled the quarterly totals.
“One thing,” Gaeddert said of the reason for the continual gain, “is the economy is in much better shape than the media would lead you to believe.”
He said the bank industry has solved its credit crunch, which resulted in RV dealers being unable to finance inventory during the recession and consumers who wanted to buy RVs having to have the best of credit and lots of collateral.
Another factor in the resurgence of the industry is that more people in North America are reaching the ages where they want to travel and camp in RVs.
“The demographics are in the right place,” Gaeddert said. “So the sun and the moon and the stars are lined up real well.”
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Pacific Coachworks Inc. (PCW), Southern California’s luxury recreational vehicles manufacturer, is launching new 2014 models for its Econ, Tango and Panther travel trailers, as well as its Sandsport and Powerlite toy haulers and fifth-wheels.
The launch, in collaboration with Johnnie Walker RV in Las Vegas, will appear on Animal Planet’s TV series “Tanked” starting at 6 p.m. PST Friday (May 31).
The episode highlights a custom fish tank built into PCW’s Econ trailer. “Tanked” follows brothers-in-law, business partners, best friends and rivals Wayde King and Brett Raymer as they travel the country building show-stopping custom aquariums.
“We strive to continuously enhance the RVs our company manufactures and dealers and customers have become partial to our quality products,” said Jeff Daily, general manager of Riverside, Calif.-based Pacific Coachworks. “We pay close attention to the comments and requests received and our team works diligently to apply any changes necessary to continually offer the best RV product.”
For details regarding “Tanked,” visit www.animalplanet.com/tanked.
For other Pacific Coachworks news, visit www.pacificcoachworks.com. You can also email the company at email@example.com or call (951) 686-7294.
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Today’s Video #1 features a news story broadcast on Thursday (May 23) on “NBC Nightly News” about the RV industry. Focusing to an extent on Keystone RV Co. Inc., it was taped in part in Goshen, Ind., prior to the bombing at the Boston Marathon in April and news priorities prompted the network to hold the report until Thursday.
Keystone RV officials told RVBusiness they were pleased with NBC’s treatment of their company and the RV industry, timed as it was in advance of the Memorial Day weekend and the official kickoff of the summer travel season. “NBC did a story way back in the RV ‘dark days’ about people losing their jobs and how tough it was on Elkhart,” said Keystone Marketing Director Jim Mac. “They interviewed some Keystone workers in the Montana plant and decided to come back now for a ‘then and now’ report. Keystone was honored to represent the comeback of the RV industry in the national media.”
So, for the moment, RVBUSINESS.COM’s interview with Fleetwood RV Inc. President & CEO John Draheim is on Video #2 and the segment with Airstream Inc. President & CEO Bob Wheeler is in the Video 3 slot.