Editor’s Note: Annually at year-end, RVBusiness magazine combs the archives and selects the “RVB Newsmaker of the Year” along with nine other stories that captured headlines and impacted the industry. The following is an abbreviated version of RVB’s article identifying the top newsmakers in 2011 that will appear in the January-February edition.
Taking all of 2011 into account, considering all that went on during a crazy year for the American economy, there’s really no question that the continued emergence of Elkhart County’s RV Open House Week created the greatest “buzz” in the North American recreational vehicle business and, therefore, is the RVBusiness staff’s hands-down nominee for “RVB Newsmaker of the Year” for 2011.
Nine other Newsmaker contenders:
• The remarkable transformation of Affinity Group Inc., a trade-and-consumer marketing juggernaut renamed Good Sam Enterprises LLC earlier this year after Marcus Lemonis, CEO of parent company Camping World Inc., took over and circled the company’s wagons around its retail business – the Good Sam Club, Camping World dealerships and aftermarket parts and accessories stores.
• Jolting mid-summer news of the departures of brothers Ron and Bill Fenech from the senior management ranks of Thor Industries Inc. Both said they were taking a break from business for the time being, and neither has announced any industry-related future plans at this point.
• The demise of Millersburg, Ind.-based Carriage Inc., a revered, old-school company that specialized in high-end fifth-wheels before the recession, but never seemed to fully regain its footing afterwards. Carriage’s mid-October closure left some 200 people out of work. An asset auction was slated for Feb. 21.
• Navistar International Corp.’s August announcement that it was vacating its Monaco division’s 450-employee headquarters in Coburg, Ore., and consolidating motorized and towable RV operations in Wakarusa, Ind., with some administrative duties going to the company’s new corporate campus in Lisle, Ill.
• Blackstreet Capital’s shutdown of the Somerset, Pa., production facilities of FTCA Inc., a small company that had been manufacturing legendary Coleman folding camping trailers, bringing to a close the long history in Somerset of the licensed Coleman brand name – still utilized in the RV industry on a line of Dutchmen travel trailers.
• The release of Winnebago Industries Inc.’s first towable RVs – Winnebago ONE travel trailers and Winnebago Lite-Five fifth-wheels — since the Iowa-based company’s earliest days. Both follow Winnebago’s late 2010 acquisition of northern Indiana towable RV builder SunnyBrook RV Inc.
• The continuing saga of the RV/MH Heritage Foundation Inc.’s RV/MH Hall of Fame and the financial difficulties that the debt-laden, Elkhart, Ind., industry shrine has been experiencing.
• The October acquisition by Exeter Pa.-based Keystone Automotive Operations Inc. of NTP Distribution Inc., a leading Wilsonville, Ore.-based distributor of aftermarket RV parts and accessories. NTP is a 200-employee firm founded in 1962 by Wallace J. Lewis as Northwest Trailer Parts.
• The purchase by Lazydays RV Supercenter of the assets and real estate of bankrupt Tucson dealership Beaudry RV, a significant growth step for Tampa-based Lazydays, no longer America’s largest single-site dealership.
As most everyone in this industry knows by now, the trade-only Open House was born in 2008 on the leading edge of the recession on the grassy perimeter of Forest River Inc.’s west-side Elkhart, Ind., headquarters. The Berkshire Hathaway Inc. division’s management, led by President and CEO Pete Liegl, felt it was time to bring dealers together to socialize and relax and help take their minds off a global recession that had caused more than a little economic dislocation throughout North America.
The event continued to gain momentum, this year drawing 3,200 retail people that involved more than 20 manufacturers from throughout the country who set up displays at numerous sites throughout the Elkhart County area.
In the process, the Open House has called into question long-held industry traditions with regard to national trade shows and what’s best over the long-haul for various industry factions – dealers, suppliers, distributors and OEMs included.
The question facing the industry is whether it can continue to support three national trade events – RVIA’s Louisville Show, RVDA’s Con/Expo in Las Vegas and the Elkhart County’s burgeoning Open House — all of which are held in a relatively narrow fall window along with the Pennsylvania RV & Campground Association’s (PRVCA) annual Hershey Show? Or is consolidation in order – perhaps to one collective event held earlier in the fall in a mutually agreed upon site like Indianapolis?