RV wholesale shipments in August surged 15.7% ahead of the same month last year reaching 24,460 units, the strongest August monthly total in five years. Shipments of all towable RVs were up 14.6% but it was motorhomes which grew the most, improving 27.3% over prior year totals. Year-to-date, RV shipments have now improved by 10.5% to 202,305 units and represent an annualized pace of more than 276,600 units. All RV product categories except folding camping trailers have improved this year, with conventional travel trailers growing by the most units while truck campers have grown by the largest percentage gain.
Elkhart County’s 5th Annual RV Open House Week appears to be taking yet another step forward as a legitimate national industry trade event, judging by the number of companies and the expanded array of new model year RVs on display Monday (Sept. 17) prior to the more earnest Open House kickoff on Tuesday morning.
All in all, it was a pretty positive picture in the RV-building center of Elkhart, Ind., offering another vignette of an industry that clearly continues its gradual but consistent comeback from the recent global downturn.
From the RV/MH Hall of Fame, where Thor Industries Inc. was ready to begin hosting dealers with a divisional layout of more than 300 units, to Forest River Inc.’s already busy displays at its Dynamax facility on County Road 6, companies were coordinating sales staffs and fine tuning displays on Monday that, again, were clearly larger, more detailed and, in some cases, more professional than those of previous years.
The industrial park drive into the Hall of Fame has literally exploded with displays. Several companies, including Howe, Ind.-based DRV LLC and its sister division Cruiser RV LLC, Wakarusa, Ind.-based Livin’ Lite Recreational Vehicles LLC and Middlebury, Ind.-based EverGreen Recreational Vehicles LLC and its divisional sibling LIFESTYLE Luxury RV, have set up shop in a big way on land opened up for the week by cooperative developers – all of those virtually paving the way into competitor Thor’s impressive, mulch-covered exhibit area.
Across the street on the northwest corner of County Roads 17 and 6, is a highly visible display set up by new manufacturing entrant Augusta RV, a fledgling towable builder that started up in January in Bristol, Ind.
Down C.R. 6 at KZRV LP’s display, with the company’s senior management in place and the soft drinks already chilled, is an array of new SportTrek towables from KZ’s new Venture RV division founded in July and headquartered in Shipshewana.
Farther to the west on Monday, Open Range RV Inc. unveiled its 10,000th unit to a small gathering of local and industry press while a steady flow of U.S. and Canadian dealers were already showing up at the doors of area supplier like Lexington Corp., Lippert Components Inc. and Coast Distributions Systems Inc., which was serving the area’s popular Nelson’s Golden-Glo chicken and a few libations to a good crowd of dealers at the company’s Husky towing products Technical Center on C.R. 17.
At Gulf Stream Coach Inc.’s opening casino night party, Chef Stanley’s sumptuous shrimp was a hit with an SRO dinner crowd that included an appearance by Olympic gold medalist diver David Boudia and served as yet another example of just how much this industry is on the mend.
As Gulf Stream’s President Dan Shea pointed out during his company’s opening night soiree, life is pretty good right now for the towable RV manufacturing company, just as it is for an array of other companies.
That’s the picture that most of us will probably take away from this year’s Open House.
“Yeah, it’s been very good this year,” Shea told RVBUSINESS.com. “We’ve established relationships with a number of new dealers and introduced a number of new products – particularly here at the Open House – that are going over very well and we’re looking forward to a great year next year.”
The bulk of Elkhart County RV Open House Week in northern Indiana doesn’t start until today (Sept. 18), but Monday’s early events had manufacturers hopeful for a good week as hundreds of RV dealers from around the U.S. and Canada came to the area.
The Elkhart Truth reported that in addition to the tourism boost, increased dealer attendance means increased dealer interest. That, in turn, likely means increased dealer orders, which is good for the local economy.
“This is a good little pump in the arm for the community, no question,” said Paul Campbell of Gulf Stream Coach Inc. as dealers walked by, checking out roughly 50 units on display Monday afternoon at the company’s Nappanee headquarters.
“We’re surprised at the interest and the number of people who are here. We’re gratified there have been hundreds,” Campbell said. Hundreds showed up Monday, and thousands will stop through the displays along County Road 6 in Elkhart through Thursday, according to registrations received by Forest River Inc. and Thor Industries Inc., the biggest manufacturers.
At Gulf Stream, dealers looked at new features like a slide-out that greatly expands bathroom space, or a new cover for slideout sections, one developed by Lippert Components Inc. A group of dealers checked out the new feature, offering critiques and concerns about whether the black color might warm up the interiors for their customers.
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The self-styled “Recreational Vehicle Capital of the World” will have that title showcased this week as thousands of dealers from across the region converge on Elkhart County for the 5th Annual RV Open House.
The Goshen News reported that the Open House, originally begun five years ago by RV manufacturer Forest River Inc. as a smaller, company-only event, has since grown to include nearly every RV builder in the area in what has become one of the biggest centralized RV sales events of its kind.
Beginning Tuesday and running through Thursday, the RV Open House is strictly reserved for dealers in most cases and generally not open to the public. Instead, the event focuses primarily on giving dealers their first real look at all the new and improved offerings from area RV manufacturers that may grace their showroom floors in the coming year.
Among those with plans to participate in the event this year is RV manufacturing giant Thor Industries, whose displays will be located exclusively on the property of Elkhart’s RV Hall of Fame.
“We have over 300 units at the RV Hall of Fame,” said Bob Martin, president and chief operating officer of Thor Industries. “We have products from all of our divisions: Keystone, Dutchmen, CrossRoads, Heartland, Airstream and Thor Motorcoach. So we’ll have separate displays for each of those and then one larger Thor Industries display.”
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Casino nights, hog roasts, live bands, catered meals, golf and new products will accompany acres upon acres upon acres of RVs greeting thousands of dealers at the ever-growing Elkhart County RV Open House Week this week in northern Indiana.
As reported by the Elkhart Truth, RVs will line County Road 6 on Elkhart’s northeast side, but the events will spread beyond that, to Elkhart’s south side, Nappanee, Middlebury and Shipshewana.
Last year an estimated crowd of more than 3,000 dealers attended the informal string of events in Elkhart County, and the biggest exhibitors, Forest River and Thor, expect the crowd to be even larger this year. Forest River has 75 more dealers registered this year, meaning about 500 more registered attendees, and they were still getting last-minute additions Friday, according to a company spokeswoman.
The displays will be larger, with new models coming from nearly everyone, at least one new RV company joining in, and a new RV factory highlighted.
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Heading into election season, Indiana business leaders throughout the state are not upbeat about the coming 12 months. The Indiana Business Council’s most recent study shows the Indiana Business Confidence Index (BCI) has fallen to 58%, the lowest point since the index was established nearly two years ago.
According to a report by Inside INdiana Business, the BCI is a measure of the overall confidence business leaders and employees throughout the state have in their company’s opportunity for growth and success in the coming year. Indiana is the center for the RV industry’s manufacturing sector.
“Indiana business leaders are very concerned about what will happen in the next six to 12 months and that is clearly reflected in the Indiana Business Confidence Index hitting its lowest level ever,” said Gerry Dick, president and founder of Grow INdiana Media Ventures LLC. “This sentiment is also carrying through to employees in their lack of optimism that morale has any hope of improving in the next six months.”
The most recent Indiana Business Council survey focused on job skills. Some of those results include:
• 66% of respondents have been asked to take on additional work without additional compensation.
• 53% believe they have necessary training to effectively do their jobs.
• Loyalty for middle managers dropped from 55% to 41%, and loyalty for supervisors dropped from 45% to 39%.
To receive more information on the study or to apply to participate on the council, visit www.INdianaBusinessCouncil.com.
Members of the Elkhart County Council Saturday (Aug. 11) approved two tax phase-in agreements for Elkhart, Ind.-based Forest River Inc. that promise to bring as many as 160 new jobs to the area.
According to the Goshen News, a tax phase-in is a partial or temporary exemption of a company from having to pay property taxes with the express purpose of stimulating economic development.
First to be approved Saturday was a resolution supporting an eight-year tax phase-in agreement involving Forest River’s Millersburg complex. Dave Ogle, director of business retention and expansion for the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County, helped present the proposal for Forest River.
“I always want to reiterate our appreciation of Forest River being one of our premiere employers in the marketplace, employing well in excess of 3,000 Indiana or Elkhart County employees at their facilities, and certainly one of the higher paying facilities in the county,” Ogle said. “So we appreciate the opportunity to compete for their business.”
According to county attorney Craig Buche, the Millersburg expansion promises approximately $2 million in real estate redevelopment coupled with approximately $150,000 in new manufacturing equipment.
In addition, the company has indicated plans to hire approximately 120 new full-time positions. Such hiring is expected to lead to an annual increase in payroll of nearly $5.5 million.
“We recognize the fact that Forest River could build their plants anywhere,” said Elkhart County Council President John Letherman following the phase-in approval. “We’re thankful that you’re choosing to make significant investments in Elkhart County, which further cement Forest River in the community.”
In order to qualify for the tax phase-in agreement, Forest River has agreed to stay in operation at its Millersburg location for no less than 10 years. Should the company fail to meet its obligations under the phase-in agreement, Forest River would be forced to repay the county a prorated portion of the total real estate and personal property taxes saved as a result of the tax phase-in agreement.
The Goshen News reported that also approved Saturday was a resolution supporting a five-year tax phase-in for Forest River’s Middlebury complex that should bring 40 new full-time positions to the area.
In connection with this expansion, the company has indicated plans to invest approximately $1.25 million in new manufacturing equipment.
As for the 40 new full-time positions expected, Buche indicated that an annual increase in payroll of nearly $1.8 million can be expected.
As part of its tax phase-in agreement, Forest River has agreed that it will stay in operation for no less than seven years at its Middlebury location or face forfeiture of the agreement.
Forest River Inc.’s plans to hire an additional 440 people by the end of 2015 – which hinges on the approval of various local and state tax breaks – includes expansions at five of the builder’s facilities in Indiana’s Elkhart County.
As reported by the South Bend Tribune, the recreational vehicle maker’s expansion plans in Millersburg and Middlebury were presented Saturday (July 14) to the Elkhart County Council. A vote will be taken in a second meeting on Aug. 11 after a public hearing.
A similar presentation regarding two facilities in Goshen will be made to the Goshen City Council today. All told, Forest River’s expansion covers five facilities, including a third site in Goshen for which the company is not seeking any incentives.
“I am glad to see Forest River step up and take this action,” said Dave Ogle, director of business retention and expansion for the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County.
“The market is contracting rapidly to fewer significant players and as a consequence more states want our stuff,” Ogle added, citing Oregon, Michigan, California and Ohio as states seeking RV companies. “I am glad they are giving us a chance to compete for their business here. We do not want that to be diluted in any way. That also impacts the supplier chain integrity as well.”
Forest River is seeking the normal tax phase-in on new properties and improvements to existing facilities, Ogle said, along with phasing in its new investment in equipment for these properties.
“It’s important people understand a tax phase-in does not impact the tax rate of an existing facility,” Ogle said. In other words, Forest River will continue to pay what it has been paying at its facilities.
“The tax abatement impact is just on the new investment that is increasing the assessed value of that property,” Ogle said.
The jobs are good paying jobs, Ogle said. Some are in the $22-per-hour range.
But Ogle said it is his understanding that Forest River is being conservative with those estimates. “In talking with the people at Forest River, it is not uncommon for people to make $25 to $30 an hour,” he said, adding that there are bonuses tied to the amount of work employees complete.
Goshen, Ind.-based Forest River Inc. is seeking state and local tax breaks the company says will allow it to add 445 new jobs through plant expansions.
The Associated Press reported that Forest River is seeking a pair of tax breaks from Elkhart County to expand its operations in Middlebury and Millersburg. The company is one of the county’s biggest employers.
Company spokesman Mike Stump tells The Elkhart Truth the tax breaks would allow Forest River to remain competitive in the RV industry. The company has asked for tax deductions spanning eight years for its property improvements and equipment.
Stump says the company must gain local support to qualify for state assistance, which could add up to between $6 million and $10 million.
Jayco Inc.’s recently completed 2012 Dealer Homecoming in Myrtle Beach, S.C., offered the Middlebury, Ind.-based company a chance to mark its 44th year of operation while giving dealers a broad look at initiatives and programs designed to give them a competitive edge in today’s marketplace.
Topping the list, according to President and COO Derald Bontrager, is a continued emphasis on an aggressive and innovative approach to product development.
“We’re extremely proud of the product lines being unveiled at this meeting – they are a reflection of our resolute commitment to provide our customers with the best value in the marketplace,” Bontrager said to attendees representing 145 dealerships during his keynote address at the Sheraton Resort Hotel and Convention Center. “And, they are a demonstration that the commitment to product engineering that we have promised you is beginning to pay off. We are quicker to market, we are innovative, and we are adding value for our customers.”
Dave Eash, vice president of sales and marketing, reinforced Jayco’s ability to offer product that stood out on dealers’ lots, noting, “For the most recent periods reported this year by Stat Surveys, Jayco’s market share is up in every category. And we are on track to ship more than 27,000 units.”
Newly named Director of Product Development Amy Duthie, taking over for veteran Paul Gardner who moved into a regional sales manager role, added, “In today’s economic and competitive environment, product innovation is more important than ever before. It is a process and a culture that must be continually refueled by Jayco. It is what fundamentally drives economic growth, it increases productivity and, therefore, lowers cost. It adds value to the products and, therefore, increases market share.”
Several all-new lines along with new generations for existing products were unveiled during the June 18-20 meeting. Highlights included:
• Jayco introduced a revamped lineup in its long-standing Eagle towable brand. The Eagle HT fifth-wheel series now features an aerodynamic front cap design, all-new exterior graphics and an exclusive Magnum truss roof system. The interior is set off by decorative wall and ceiling board panel, upgraded carpeting, hard-top valance window treatments and a new slide fascia design. The company’s Eagle line, which replaces the Eagle Super Lite, shares many of the HT’s key features while sporting a chocolate glazed front cap and metal skirting, black extrusion accents and new G20 dark-tint windows. For 2013, Jayco also added the Eagle Premier fifth-wheel, featuring a new deluxe graphics package, accented by chocolate glazed skirting and radius roof metal, and a new clay glazed accent cap. Interiors offer fresh window treatment styling, a slide fascia design that features hardwood, a rear living overhead cabinet design and decorative interior wall and ceiling board panel.
• During the dealer meeting, Jayco unveiled its new Jay Flight DST destination travel trailer to complement its Jay Flight Bungalow line. The new DST is equipped with an atrium-style, gelcoat front cap, 60-inch sliding patio door and a detachable hitch. The full-featured kitchen includes an 18 cubic foot residential-style refrigerator with icemaker, large 60/40 deep-bowl sink with high-rise faucet and glazed Concord Cherry cabinetry. The interior also sports 90-inch interior height, standard ceiling fan, hidden switch command/charging center, Diamondflor vinyl flooring, residential-grade carpeting with padding, and a J-steel jack-knife sofa.
• Jayco’s 2013 Seismic toy hauler “redefines the category,” according to the company, packaged with amenities and styling normally found in traditional fifth-wheels. Interiors include three optional paint schemes, standard frameless windows, curved walls and a full-featured kitchen set off by Washington Glazed Maple stained cabinetry. The Seismic is equipped with extra tall slideouts and extendable dinettes. The garage, accented by charcoal-stained cabinetry, converts into another bedroom, giving the Seismic an additional four-person sleeping capacity. There is also a rear party deck for entertaining.
Management also elaborated on the Jayco Motorhome Group that was formed earlier this year by combining Jayco Class C motorhomes with the Entegra Coach Class A luxury lineup that includes the Aspire, Anthem and Cornerstone brands. Jayco started its Entegra Coach division in 2008 as a result of its acquisition of the assets of the former Travel Supreme Corp.
“We made this move because we believe the time has come to leverage our strengths in the market and to intensify our focus on each product segment,” stated Sid Johnson, director of marketing. “We are convinced this strategic change will enhance both the Jayco towable and the Jayco Class C products, and it will allow the management and staff of each group to focus on the needs of the marketplace for that segment.”
Tadd Jenkins, national sales manager, emphasized that the realignment “affords many opportunities for dealers,” including increased sales training.
“We have increased the frequency of dealer visits, making sure we have the confidence of your sales crew,” he said. “Honestly as we have been out visiting dealerships, and fielding phone calls, responding to both dealer requests and customer questions, I am in awe at the current Jayco sales group and the professional manner in which they have handled all that they have for so many years.”