Indiana’s Elkhart County has been the RV manufacturing capital of the world 52 weeks a year, according to a report by WNDU TV, South Bend.
And now, for one week a year, it’s the home of an open house for RV dealers that has become so big, some feel the event rivals what has traditionally been the industry’s premier trade show in Louisville.
“It’s getting more and more comparable to Louisville,” said Joe Murray of Canada-based Roadtrek Motorhomes Inc. “I think we’re going to, we may see some transition where dealers are going to stop going to Louisville and come here in place.”
Today, for the first time ever, Roadtrek was taking part in Elkhart’s Open House for dealers despite the fact that all of the units are made in Kitchener, Ontario.
“I think if you’re a major entity in the RV business it’s to the point now where you need to be here,” said Murray. “It’s like our Louisville show, you know, if you’re not there, it’s like you’re not in business.”
That’s high praise for an Elkhart event that had humble beginnings. “Well, the first show, we were the only ones,” said Doug Gaeddert, of Forest River Inc.
WNDU reported that four years ago, Forest River held its first open house for dealers. It came at a time when many RV companies were going out of business or bankrupt, and Forest River wanted to show dealers that it was still solid and here to stay.
“You know, expectations at that time is that we would certainly do business, because we’re in business to do business, but we far surprised I think anybody’s expectations as the amount of volume that was written,” said Gaeddert.
During this year’s dealer open house week, Forest River is one of 25 companies taking part. “And today, you know this industry, there’s not a lot of pioneering that goes on after something has been pioneered, a good idea gets jumped on and built upon,” said Gaeddert.
Gaeddert said that he welcomed the out-of-towners, and welcomed the competition.
One Elkhart open house ‘first timer’ with a big name leased the former Fastec plant, hoping the trip would be a win-win for Winnebago Industries Inc.
“The event has continued to grow, but we were outside of the footprint of Elkhart, based in Iowa as we are,” said Chad Reece of Forest City, Iowa-based Winnebago.
The problem was solved when Winnebago bought Middlebury based manufacturer SunnyBrook RV. To make up for lost time, the two companies brought a larger number of units to display.
“This is a great venue because the manufacturers have the ability to showcase as much product as they can possibly bring,” said SunnyBrook’s Fred Hershberger. RV makers apparently don’t have the same luxury at the Louisville show. “At Louisville, some of these product lines where I’ve brought 13 different models in a single product line (to Elkhart), at Louisville, I might be able to show three or four.”
At Forest River, where it all began, there was enough room for an elephant ear booth while buses shuttled dealers to and from their hotels.
Forest River expects about 3,000 dealer representatives to visit the plant during open house week.
“Louisville may see some decline, it may not, at this point there hasn’t been an attrition,” said Gaeddert. “The dealer is going to decide, dealers want to come here, we’ll be here. Dealers want to do Louisville in addition to the open house week, we’ll be in Louisville. The dealers will determine the fate of both.”
Gaeddert says that a survey was taken after last year’s show in Louisville and that it showed dealers overwhelmingly wanted to keep the Louisville show going at its regularly scheduled time.
RVNN-TV offers video footage of Monday’s setup by Elkhart County’s manufacturers as they prepare for the influx of dealers during this week’s 4th Annual RV Open House.
Attendance is looking strong for Elkhart County’s 4th Annual Open House Week, Sept. 19-23 in northern Indiana’s RV-building center, according to Forest River Inc. President and CEO Pete Liegl, who expects his own Elkhart, Ind., company to exceed last year’s estimated total attendance of approximately 3,000 dealer personnel.
Forest River’s signups as of late this week (Sept. 2) were approaching 2,500 for Open House Week, a relatively new industry phenomenon hosted by manufacturers in various locations in and around the city of Elkhart, Ind. (See the RVBusiness Open House Week map posted on the right side of the RVBUSINESS.com homepage, which details all of the announced locations at which RV builders will be hosting dealer personnel. This map will be updated should any other manufacturers or suppliers announce their participation in Open House Week.)
“We’re ahead of last year; I’ll tell you that,” says Liegl. “Now I don’t have the exact numbers right here in front of me, but people in our offices track it every week leading up to the Open House, and, as of today, the numbers are considerably bigger. We were right about 3,000 last year, and I know we’re going to beat that.”
Although a lot of people in the industry today might not realize it, Open House Week actually incorporates elements of older fall industry trade events that were once part of the industry’s traditional trade show cycle, including private manufacturer open houses and the old South Bend Show.
Today’s Open House Week, much like the defunct South Bend Show held for years around the University of Notre Dame’s football stadium, benefits from a drive to provide a cost-effective venue for both exhibitors and attendees that is reflective of relatively austere economic times.
Asked what effect the general economic trends might have on this year’s Open House Week, Liegl was quick to point out that the first Open House in 2008 was spawned amid a lot more dire economic circumstances than today’s. On the contrary, Liegl thinks all this talk of a double-dip recession might actually help the Open House Week.
“I don’t think it will hurt it at all,” said Liegl, who appears as an unofficial open house co-host on the cover of the latest (September/October) issue of RVBusiness magazine with one of his chief competitors, Peter Orthwein, chairman and CEO of Jackson Center, Ohio-based Thor Industries Inc.
“In fact, I think it (the economy) will actually help it,” he added. “Let’s say we do get our double dip recession. It’s all the more important that dealers are with the right manufacturer, OK? So, they have to do their due diligence to make sure they are with the right manufacturer. And that’s something we can help them do here at the Open House.”
Dealers gave motorhome makers high marks on five of eight subjects in the latest Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) Dealer Satisfaction Index (DSI) survey.
The motorhome average rating on vehicle design has steadily increased from 3.86 in 2008 to 4.25 in 2011, out of a top score of 5. Motorhome makers also shine in the categories of sales territory (4.17), vehicle quality/reliability (4.16), sales support (4.09), and overall dealer communications (4.07).
Towable makers received their highest score for vehicle design at 4.09. The next highest ratings were 3.96 for vehicle reliability/quality and 3.92 for sales territory. Towable RV builders have received the same score on vehicle design for the past two years – 4.09. This score is a considerable improvement from how they were rated on design from 2007 through 2009, when scores ranged from 3.90 to 3.99.
Towable RV builders have also shown marked improvement in competitive price/value, where their ratings have steadily climbed from 3.69 in 2008 to 3.87 in 2011.
Look for more survey results and charts in the September issue of RV Executive Today.
Partners in Progress Brand Committees will review results from the 2011 DSI during meetings held at the RV Dealers International Convention/Expo on Oct. 3-4 . Only dealers who carry the specific manufacturer/brand may attend.
Jayco Inc. has been awarded the prestigious Quality Circle DSI Award for the fifth consecutive year by the national Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA). The awards were received for the company’s motorhomes, folding camping trailers and the Eagle, Jay Feather, Jay Flight, and Pinnacle towable brands.
The annual RVDA Quality Circle award is presented each year to RV manufacturers who achieve top scores in dealer surveys in the areas of product design and quality, sales support, warranty/parts support and communication. The awards will be presented to Jayco on Oct. 5 at a Gala Awards Dinner during the RVDA’s National Convention and Expo in Las Vegas.
“Over the years, our partnership with our dealers has played a major role in our overall mission and strategy,” said Derald Bontrager, Jayco’s president. “They are our ambassadors in the marketplace. For them to honor us in this way is a source of pride and confidence in our future success.”
The Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) has prepared a special evening of dancing, dining and recognition to honor this year’s top-performing manufacturers in the association’s annual Dealer Satisfaction Index (DSI) survey.
“Celebrate Excellence: An All-Industry Gala” will include a reception, dinner, awards ceremony, and dancing. It will be held Oct. 5 from 6:30-10 p.m. at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino as part of the RV Dealers National Convention and Expo.
Convention registrants can purchase tickets for $75 per person until Sept. 2. After that, the price will be $99 at the door. Non-convention registrants can purchase tickets for $150 per person until Sept. 2 and for $199 at the door.
RVDA will honor 32 RV brands built by 16 manufacturers with its Quality Circle Award during the RV Dealers International Convention/Expo on Oct. 5 in Las Vegas. The awards will be presented during “Celebrate Excellence: An All-Industry Gala” at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino.
To qualify for the Quality Circle Award, brands/manufacturers must receive at least 15 dealer responses and score 80% or above in overall dealer satisfaction in the association’s 18th Annual Dealer Satisfaction Index (DSI) survey.
“The DSI Quality Circle Award recognizes the high level of commitment these manufacturers show toward their dealer business partners,” said RVDA Chairman Tim O’Brien of Circle K RVs in Lapeer, Mich. “Their commitment to continuously improving products and processes ultimately helps dealers serve customers better. We look forward to honoring these outstanding manufacturers at the convention this year.”
The towable RV brands/manufacturers receiving awards are (in alphabetical order): Coachmen Freedom Express/Freedom Express LTZ; Dutchmen Aspen Trail, Coleman, Dutchmen Kodiak and Dutchmen Voltage; EverGreen RV; Jayco Eagle/folding campers/Jay Feather/Jay Flight/Pinnacle; Keystone Cougar/Montana/Mountaineer/Laredo/Alpine/Avalanche/Bullet/Fuzion; KZ Coyote/Durango/Inferno/MXT/ Sportsmen/Sportsmen Classic/Spree/Spree Escape; Lance travel trailers/truck campers; Palomino travel trailers/fifth-wheels; Prime Time LaCrosse/Tracer/Crusader; and Skyline travel trailers.
The motorized RV brands/manufacturers receiving awards are (in alphabetical order): Forest River Inc.; Jayco Inc./Entegra; Newmar Corp.; Pleasure-Way Industries Ltd.; Roadtrek Motorhomes Inc.; Tiffin Motorhomes Inc.; and Winnebago Industries Inc./Winnebago/Itasca/ERA.
Five towable brands will receive DSI Honorable Mention awards for receiving scores of 80% or above in overall dealer satisfaction from 10 to 14 responding dealers. They are (in alphabetical order): Airstream, Dutchmen Rubicon; Jayco Skylark; Skyline Ultra-lites; and Starcraft Autumn Ridge.
RVDA asks dealers to express, confidentially, their level of satisfaction with their brands/manufacturers on eight core issues:
· Sales support
· Sales territory
· Vehicle design
· Vehicle reliability/quality
· Competitive price/value
· Parts support
· Dealership warranty support
· Overall dealer communications
The 18th Annual DSI survey was conducted between April and July 2011. RVDA said 484 dealers responded this year and provided 2,509 brand ratings.
“Celebrate Excellence: An All-Industry Gala” on October 5 will include a reception, dinner, awards ceremony, and dancing/networking and will start at 6:30 p.m. It is a separately ticketed event. For more information on the DSI and to register for the RV Dealers International Convention/Expo and the Gala, visit www.rvda.org.
Minnesota-based RV industry supplier 3M is hosting a “3M Transportation Manufacturers Summit” in September at the RV/MH Heritage Foundation Inc.’s RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind.
“Today, the bright spark of innovation that helped build this country is being rekindled in countless ways across the American industrial heartland, fueling the confidence needed to go head-to-head with the best the world has to offer,” says Mark D. Gehlsen, U.S. Technology Solutions manager for the 3M Industrial Adhesives & Tapes Division in St. Paul, Minn. “In line with these efforts, 3M is pleased to announce the 3M Transportation Manufacturers Summit that is scheduled for Sept. 14, at the RV Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Indiana.
“The 3M Transportation Manufacturers Summit is a one-day summit featuring keynote speakers, 3M technical seminars, product demonstrations and an ‘Innovation Fair,’ added Gehlsen. “The 3M Transportation Manufacturers Summit will provide a unique opportunity to have exclusive access to new 3M solutions, future 3M technology and 3M’s Existing Product Portfolios.
“A few of the selected topics include ‘Green’ transportation of the future, new composites material technology, improved paint shop productivity and advances in 3M LED lighting technology to name a few,” added Gehlsen. “This event is open to transportation manufacturers personnel who are actively engineering, building, fabricating, designing, and repairing all varieties of transportation vehicles including recreational vehicles, trucks, buses, trailers, and emergency vehicles. The 3M Transportation Manufacturers Summit will enable the transportation market to leverage 3M technologies to design and build new-to-the-world vehicles.”
The registration deadline for the free day-long series of technical seminars and product demonstrations featuring a variety of advanced 3M technologies is August 15, and the first 50 registrants are to receive special 3M gifts: www.3M.com/SpecialtyVehicle.
Livin’ Lite Recreational Vehicles recently announced it will host a dealer open house at its Wakarusa, Ind., facility Sept. 19-23, scheduled to run from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day of the event.
According to a press release, Livin’ Lite will be showing updated models of its all-aluminum and composite RVs, including the Quicksilver automotive tent campers, Camplite ultra-light travel trailers and truck campers, and VRV toy haulers.
“We will be debuting new models, including a new all-aluminum tent camper with full LP systems, the Quicksilver XLP, as well as two new Camplite travel trailer floorplans,” said Scott Tuttle, president. “We will also introduce two new truck camper models, including what is sure to be the lightest, fully self-contained model ever built for a short-bed, light-duty pickup truck.”
For more information, call Tuttle at 574.862.2228 or visit www.livinlite.com.
Phil Sarvari, executive vice president of Gulf Stream Coach Inc., announced today (July 25) the appointment of Paul Campbell as director of marketing.
According to a press release, Campbell has an extensive career in marketing, advertising, communications and public relations, having worked for a number of industry leaders in the RV, marine, automotive and aftermarket industries.
“We’re excited to have someone with Paul’s breadth of experience and strategic insight on our team, as we expand the products and services we provide to our valuable dealers and retail customers,” Sarvari said. “We’re convinced we have the RV industry’s leading combination of innovation, value, features, floorplans and quality. Paul’s job is to help us communicate that leadership to our dealers and the RV buying public.”
Campbell noted, “I’m proud to be in a position to help a company with the heritage, strength and enthusiasm of Gulf Stream as we enhance its leadership position and take advantage of growth opportunities in the RV industry.
Gulf Stream Coach, established in 1983 and based in Nappanee, Ind., produces a complete line of towable travel trailers and fifth-wheels that are sold throughout the U.S. and Canada. Brands include AmeriLite, Canyon Trail, Capri, Conquest, Enduramax, Gulf Breeze, Innsbruck, Kingsport, Sky, Streamlite, Track & Trail, Trailmaster, Visa By Gulf Stream and Yellowstone.
For more information, call (800) 298-8787, or visit www.gulfstreamrvtrailers.com.