The recession wasn’t much fun for leisure companies serving cash-starved consumers. According to AOL Money, companies like RV manufacturer Thor Industries Inc. had to make do with more than a 50% drop in demand in 2009. The combination of near-retirees working longer and existing retirees ratcheting belts knocked industrywide RV shipments from a peak of 385,000 RVs in 2005 to just 165,000 in 2009.
Lucky for Thor, retirees are feeling more financially fit thanks to a 176% increase in the stock market since March, 2009. As a result of rising confidence, the appetite for the home-away-from-home industry is marching back. July marked the 19th straight month of year-over-year growth for industry RV shipments, with 15% more RV’s being shipped from makers to dealers than a year ago.
July’s improvement brought year-to-date shipments to 201,000 units, up 13% versus 2012. And, that has industry watchers estimating total shipments will eclipse 300,000 this year for the first time since 2007.
So far, this year, the priciest are the best sellers. Sales of motorhomes, which cost more than towables, have climbed 35% year to date through July. Sales of Class A motorhomes, like those sold by Thor’s Motor Coach brand — the largest brand of Class A RVs with 21.9% market share — are up 30% this year.
The more cost conscious towable RVs are selling more quickly too, growing 13.1% to 201,000 units.
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Sales of recreational vehicles are up. As reported by Investors Business Daily (IBD), RV shipments for the year through July improved 13% from the same period last year, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
The industry continues to recover from the Great Recession, having suffered some of the same meltdown as the housing market. Motorhomes are considered second homes for tax purposes, and many buyers take out mortgages.
So with growth returning and earnings rising, it’s no surprise that the Building-Mobile/Manufactured Home industry group is ranked 19th out of 197 industry groups tracked by IBD. It has seven members, but only three have significant ratings.
• Thor Industries (THO) is the No. 1 company in the business, with a composite rating of 96. It makes RVs under the Airstream and other brand names. It has an EPS rating of 96. Earnings grew 24% in the April-ended quarter, and analysts are forecasting a 13% increase in the next report. They’re expecting a 26% growth rate for the full year and a 17% increase next year.
The stock has recently carved out a flat base that has corrected 12%. All the companies in the group are thinly traded. Thor is the most active, trading 362,000 shares a day.
• Winnebago Industries (WGO) is the second-strongest stock in the group, with a composite rating of 95. It lost money in 2008 and 2009, but is recovering. Earnings last quarter rose 108% and are expected to rise 93% to 27 cents a share in the current August-ended quarter. It also is building the right side of a base. The stock’s average daily volume is 229,000 shares.
• A third company in the group, Drew Industries (DW), has strong earnings growth over the past three years. It trades a mere 89,000 shares a day. Drew is parent to suppliers Lippert Components Inc. and Kinro Inc.
Thor Industries Inc.’s senior managers were issuing upbeat reports on Friday (Sept. 20) regarding the 2013 Elkhart Open House, which closed out Thursday amid heavy rains that apparently didn’t succeed in dampening the industry’s growing appreciation for this dynamic northern Indiana trade show at which an array of U.S. manufacturers set up shop for a few days to meet and greet an impressive influx of U.S. and Canadian dealers.
“Overall, it all went very well,” Thor President and CEO Bob Martin told RVBUSINESS.com, noting that Thor’s display this year featured more than 300 units representing all of its varied divisions. “Dealers were incredibly optimistic as they look at this year coming up, and very enthused with virtually all of the Thor brands coming into the show with all-new product lines.”
Martin said that Thor Motor Coach’s introduction of its Axis and Vegas motorhomes represented one of the highlights for the Elkhart, Ind.-based company. “Dealers seemed very intrigued by what was truly almost a new category – a new twist – in the Class A market. It offers a new size, new price points and new chassis,” Martin said, adding, “I’m definitely seeing the motorized category starting to get legs and come back stronger every month.”
Martin confirmed that despite the rain on Thursday, dealers still turned out to investigate – and buy – product.
“Dealer traffic was very strong on Tuesday and Wednesday,” he said. “Thursday, we had some rain, but just as dealers see on their retail lots, qualified buyers were out there to look at product and, you know, kind of plan their year. So, we still had some action on a rainy day. But, overall, we were very happy with the increased attendance on Tuesday and Wednesday — Thursday fell off a bit – and our big Wednesday casino night was very well attended.
“And once again, dealers loved the atmosphere of the Open House. They appreciate it and enjoyed it and thanked all of us for putting it on and just bringing everybody together.”
Martin, like most others consulted late this week, considered the 2013 Open House another step forward for the wildcat trade show, now in its fifth year, and a good signal for the future in an industry that now seems to have settled on two key sales-oriented conventions – the Open House and the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) National RV Trade Show, this year’s rendition of which is slated for Dec. 1-3 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville.
“Yeah, I mean truly, dealers really seem to enjoy the (Open House) venue,” added Martin. “It’s laid back. Dealers are able to break bread and have a cocktail with other dealers and the manufacturers. They just enjoy the laid-back feel that we have here with the campground setting we created in our display. And our display keeps getting a little bit larger every year – a few more units added every year and dealers like the opportunity to see more floorplans, more decors, just overall more units. As I’ve said, we’re going to continue to do what the dealers want, but they truly seem to enjoy this event.”
Martin said Thor is still very much focused on Louisville. “Definitely,” said Martin. “Louisville’s still an important show for us and, you know, we always hold a few surprises for Louisville and encourage everybody to come. It’s another opportunity for us to spend time with the dealers and be under one roof and it’s a good venue for dealers to go competitive shop. So, after many of us head to RVDA for a few weeks and then right after that down to Louisville, it’s a pretty quick turnaround. But we’re prepared, and this year we have all the Thor companies at one nice location in the South Wing (of the Kentucky Exposition Center). So, we’re excited about having everybody there together for the first time.”
Over at Thor Motor Coach, Vice President of Sales & Marketing Dana Simon was reviewing what for Thor’s motorized subsidiary was a solid Open House performance across the board. “Very successful, a very good show,” said Simon on Friday morning. “Our product was received really well – from our Class C’s to our diesel pushers. And, of course, our results on the Axis and the Vegas were incredible.”
Indeed, Simon noted, the Axis/Vegas certainly had the buzz this year as far as new 2014 Open House products on display because of the perception among many attendees that this newly termed “Recreational Utility Vehicle” (RUV) – a short, 24-foot Class A on a 12,500-pound GVWR, Ford E-Series strip chassis powered by a V-10 Triton engine retailing for as little as $69,999 – could be a real game changer for the motorized marketplace.
“The driveability of this new coach is better than any motorhome I’ve ever driven,” said Simon.
Matt Zimmerman, president of Keystone RV Co. and Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., issued a similar upbeat report on behalf of his division(s), Thor’s largest.
“It went fantastic,” said Zimmerman. “I think it exceeded our expectations in every way. We don’t only measure a show’s success strictly on the orders received – and the orders were nothing short of phenomenal for us not only on the Keystone side of the fence but also the Dutchmen organization. But we also measure it on just the overall attitude of the dealer body towards our great company and our product and our people. And all three of those categories were very solid this week. Attendance was great. The display’s never looked better, and at the end of the day the results far exceeded our expectations and, in terms of sales, represented an increase over last year.”
“It was absolutely a great show,” added Dutchmen Executive Vice President Aram Koltookian. “We were a little bit ahead of last year, as far as total sales, and the dealers seemed real receptive to the change over the past year at Dutchmen. They understand all the new processes and the construction going on, and a lot of dealers decided to stick with the Dutchmen brand and our company. And we signed a lot of new dealers.”
Robert W. Baird & Co. met with Thor Industries Inc. management and dealers during this week’s Elkhart County RV Open House. The following offers excerpts from Baird’s note to investors.
Notes from Elkhart show. We met with management and dealers at the dealer open house in Elkhart, Ind. The meetings showcased important extensions to the product portfolio. Dealers showed substantial interest in a new Class A product. Dealer inventory remains lean (motorhomes) to balanced (towables), according to our checks.
New products and positioning. Thor introduced a host of new products, most notably the new Vegas and Axis Class A models. Class A chassis have been in limited supply, with most manufacturers on allocation through early next year. To work around the supply constraint, and meet an attractive low price point near $70,000, Thor is building these new Class A models on Class C chassis – an apparent first in the industry.
Dealer inventory lean to balanced. Management characterized dealer inventory as lean to balanced, according to Thor – largely consistent with our checks. Expect strong motorhome backlogs as Thor and other manufacturers struggle to keep pace with demand while chassis supply remains limited.
Less discounting than last year. Promotional activity has become the norm in the RV industry, especially in towables, but Thor is discounting less than it did last year. Management indicated the pricing environment has improved substantially versus last year, likely the result of better management incentives and improved discipline under the leadership of new CEO Bob Martin.
Expanding into new markets. We gained a better appreciation for the upside associated with the recent Livin’ Lite RV LLC acquisition. The brand allows Thor to enter two new markets:
• Camping trailers: Thor will enter the high-end portion of the camping trailer segment, a market Thor had not addressed in the past.
• China: Thor is exporting American-made Livin’ Lite RVs to China – a remarkable development. Volume is small, but the opportunity holds promise as the Chinese middle class expands.
Thor Industries Inc. today (Sept. 11) announced it has named Colleen Zuhl as CFO, effective Oct. 1. According to a press release, Zuhl replaces Dominic Romeo, who will continue to work with Thor on a consulting basis for a variety of projects.
“We would like to thank Dom Romeo for coming out of retirement to assist us in taking significant transformative steps in a condensed time frame that set the foundation for our future growth,” said Bob Martin, Thor president and CEO. “Dom’s time with us was marked by significant successes of our company’s management team on which Dom played a key role. I personally appreciated his counsel on our strategic objectives. I also appreciate that we will have the ability to continue to work with him.”
Romeo noted, “I truly enjoyed my time as CFO of Thor and am very pleased with what our management team has accomplished. I leave the position knowing that Colleen will maintain the high standards established at Thor and that the company’s experienced finance team will continue its outstanding performance.”
Zuhl, 47, joined Thor in June 2011 and has served in a variety of roles, including vice president and corporate controller as well as interim CFO from October 2012 through February 2013. The entire finance, accounting and internal audit functions will report to Zuhl.
“We are pleased that Colleen has agreed to become our new CFO, as she has shown that her years of experience in the RV industry, her technical expertise and leadership skills make her the ideal candidate to maintain our positive momentum within the finance function,” Martin said. “I am confident in Colleen’s ability to shape the future of our finance group and provide valuable insights to our board and senior management team.”
Prior to her experience at Thor, Zuhl served as CFO for All American Group Inc. (formerly known as Coachmen Industries Inc.), which was a publicly traded company. Prior to her tenure at All American Group, Zuhl spent more than 15 years at Ernst & Young LLP, most recently as an audit senior manager. Zuhl is a graduate of Hillsdale College with a bachelor’s in accounting and mathematics.
As Thor prepares to file its fiscal 2013 financial statements, Romeo and Zuhl will share responsibility for the filing, and both will certify the report on behalf of the company.
In addition to Zuhl’s appointment as CFO, Thor named Jeff Tryka to the newly created position of director of corporate development and investor relations. In this role, Tryka will be responsible for all interactions with the investment community, including meetings with existing shareholders and potential investors, presentations at investor conferences and incoming inquiries from institutional and individual investors. Tryka will report directly to Martin.
Tryka, 43, has been involved in the RV industry for more than a decade, first as an equity analyst in the late 1990s and later as director of investor relations at Coachmen. He has been serving in the investor relations function at Thor on a consulting basis since October 2012. Tryka holds the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation and earned an MBA in Finance from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University and a bachelor’s in accounting from Bucknell University.
Thor Industries Inc. today (Aug. 28) announced that Crossroads RV, a wholly-owned subsidiary, has named Andy Cripe as president, effective Aug. 26.
“We are pleased to have Andy take a strong leadership role at Crossroads RV,” said Bob Martin, Thor president and CEO, in a press release. “Andy has a strong track record of performance at Keystone RV that should enable him to make an immediate impact on the operations of Crossroads. The ability to fill such an important position internally illustrates the strength and depth of Thor’s management bench.”
Cripe has been with Keystone RV for 10 years in a variety of roles including district manager and product manager of the Raptor brand as well as being the general manager responsible for brands including Hideout/Retreat, Passport and Cougar. Prior to his experience in the RV industry, Cripe spent time in the financial management program at General Electric, followed by a position with the accounting and consulting firm Ernst & Young. Cripe is a graduate of Indiana University with a bachelor’s in accounting, finance and marketing.
In addition to the appointment of Cripe as president, Crossroads RV named Matt Thompson to the newly created position of vice president of sales for Crossroads. The entire sales function at the subsidiary will report to Thompson in his new role.
Thompson is a 20-year veteran of the RV industry and has been with the Thor family of companies for more than a decade. He was previously a general manager at Crossroads RV, following several vice president positions at Thor Motor Coach, including two years as vice president of sales for the diesel business at Thor Motor Coach.
Scott Tuttle needed a partner. The founder of Livin’ Lite Recreational Vehicles LLC had always anticipated expansion, but Tuttle’s business plan didn’t account for the type of “explosive growth” that the Wakarusa, Ind.-based company has experienced since its founding in 2002.
“We were to the point where we had grown so quickly that taking that next step was going to be a challenge,” said Tuttle, also a former co-founder of Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC. “I was going to have to personally finance that next growth stage, so I started thinking about a partner that could help us.”
Tuesday (Aug. 27), Tuttle’s “next step” took shape as Thor Industries Inc. announced the acquisition of Livin’ Lite, adding the company to its stable of towable manufacturers (see previous story by clicking here).
“It’s really a perfect fit,” Tuttle told RVBUSINESS.com. “I considered private equity firms, but that’s just a cash infusion. With Thor, we gain a huge dealer network, plus all their experience, expertise and resources. It made perfect sense. It’s one thing to grow, it’s another to grow right.”
Livin’ Lite also fits into Thor’s growth plan. Offering a product mix featuring a unique aluminum-and-composite construction that Tuttle said “has created a new weight class,” Livin’ Lite fills a gap in Thor’s portfolio.
“Adding such a creative RV maker to Thor’s strong stable of brands will enable us to expand our industry-leading position in new product development into camping trailers and truck campers,” said Thor President and CEO Bob Martin in Tuesday’s press release, adding that Livin’ Lite is expected to generate sales of approximately $24 million for calendar year 2013. “We see many opportunities for expanding Livin’ Lite’s market presence through the Thor dealer network, and the ability to leverage their lightweight aluminum and composite construction technology in other Thor products. This transaction represents a solid example of executing our strategic plan to grow our RV presence through the acquisition of brands and technologies that complement our existing business.”
Also a factor was Thor’s recent acquisition of the former Navistar Inc. facilities in Wakarusa. The vast complex was left vacant when Allied Specialty Vehicles purchased Navistar’s RV assets then moved operations to its campus in Decatur, Ind.
“Livin’ Lite has four buildings in Wakarusa – two that are just four years old – and we’re not going to abandon those facilities,” said Tuttle, noting the company employs around 120 workers. “But we are looking forward to possibly expanding our production into some of Thor’s buildings.”
Particularly with the pending launch of several new product lines. Adding to its lineup of travel trailers, toy haulers, camping trailers and truck campers, Livin’ Lite will be introducing a new fifth-wheel at next month’s Elkhart County RV Open House along with the Bearcat brand of off-road campers.
“We will be bringing to market fifth-wheels that hit three different segments,” Tuttle said. “At Open House we will show fifth-wheels in our Camplite ultralight series and our Quicksilver VRV line, which will be a bigger unit. Then, at Louisville, we’ll debut a ‘micro’ fifth-wheel” – a super light fifth-wheel that nobody else is making.”
Tuttle said the Bearcat would extend its camper lines, offering more rugged, durable construction.
“We have always had off-road packages for our campers,” he said. “But the Bearcat will be built to haul ATVs and motorcycles that people normally tow with a trailer. They’ll have all-terrain tires and come in all shapes and sizes while still hitting an affordable price point.”
Beyond that, Tuttle said Livin’ Lite is poised to accommodate the new trend toward lighter-weight trucks and even all-electric vehicles that are in the planning stages.
“Because of new emission regulations, truck manufacturers, and the auto industry in general, are building units with better gas mileage,” he said. “But that means they will have less power, especially an all-electric truck. When that hits the market, we will have a vehicle that will work.”
Elkhart, Ind.-based Thor Industries Inc. has named Debi Reigsecker to head its corporate travel operations as it seeks to source travel services internally to improve speed and efficiency while controlling costs.
“We are pleased to welcome Debi to Thor as our corporate travel manager,” said Bob Martin, Thor president and CEO. “Debi has worked with Thor and its subsidiaries extensively in managing our travel and accommodations and will help to make travel planning more efficient and cost effective for all of Thor.”
Riegsecker is a Certified Travel Consultant (CTC) and has spent more than 30 years as a corporate travel agent, most recently with Menno Travel in Goshen, Ind. She is a native of Elkhart County and a graduate of Northridge High School in Middlebury. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and telecommunication from Indiana University in Bloomington.
Thor Industries Inc. today (Aug. 27) announced that it acquired the assets of innovative recreational vehicle maker Livin’ Lite Recreational Vehicles LLC through a wholly-owned subsidiary. According to a press release, the purchase is subject to customary closing conditions and is expected to be completed by Aug. 30.
“We are pleased to welcome Livin’ Lite to the Thor family of RV brands. Adding such a creative RV maker to Thor’s strong stable of brands will enable us to expand our industry-leading position in new product development into camping trailers and truck campers,” said Bob Martin, president and CEO for Elkhart, Ind.-based Thor. “We see many opportunities for expanding Livin’ Lite’s market presence through the Thor dealer network, and the ability to leverage their lightweight aluminum and composite construction technology in other Thor products. This transaction represents a solid example of executing our strategic plan to grow our RV presence through the acquisition of brands and technologies that complement our existing business.”
Founded by former Heartland RV LLC co-founder and executive Scott Tuttle, Wakarusa, Ind.-based Livin’ Lite is known for its advanced lightweight aluminum construction applied to a variety of smaller RVs, including travel trailers, toy haulers, camping trailers and truck campers. Livin’ Lite also markets its products in partnership with a number of leading consumer brands including Jeep. Having recently been named to Inc. Magazine’s list of fastest growing companies for the third consecutive year, Livin’ Lite is expected to generate sales of approximately $24 million for calendar year 2013.
“We are excited to join forces with Thor, the leading company in the RV industry, and we are looking forward to the new growth opportunities we should see as a result,” said Tuttle, president, CEO and founder of Livin’ Lite. “We have worked diligently to grow Livin’ Lite over the past five years and expect to extend that growth as we bring the distribution, operational and financial strengths of Thor to bear on our business. As the newest company to join Thor, we also expect to add to our combined development efforts as we apply our proprietary technology to a broader array of existing product lines and bring our combined market strength to camping trailers and truck campers.”
Thor expects to offer Livin’ Lite’s current 35 models to its current dealer network upon closing of the transaction. The company also expects Livin’ Lite will continue to operate out of its existing Wakarusa facilities with minimal disruption to its current business resulting from the acquisition.
For the first time in memory, the industry’s two RV-building volume leaders, Thor Industries Inc. and Forest River Inc., are in a dead heat for retail market share in both towable and motorized RVs, according to Statistical Surveys Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich.
At least they were at mid-year, with the two Elkhart, Ind.-based manufacturers each occupying exactly 35.4% of the “all towable” market. In fact, they were only nine units apart through June – Thor at 39,803 units vs. Forest River at 39,794. At the same time, Thor’s towable RV unit sales were up 8.8% and its market share was down slightly to 1.7%, while Forest River’s unit sales were up 19.5% and its market share grew 8% for the six-month period.
The picture is much the same on the motorized side of the ledger because Forest River through June was accounting for 25.2% of the retail market based on sales of 3,769 units vs. Thor with a 25% market share on 3,747 retails — a margin of only 22 units.
The rather respectable — yet heated — competition between these two hard-hitting industry leaders, occupying together more than 70% of the U.S. towable marketplace, has been going on for a good while. But the numbers haven’t been quite this close, keeping in mind that, as Stat Surveys President Tom Walworth points out, “you still have to take into account the fact that Forest River’s towable RV product lines include some lower-priced folding camping trailers, a market in which Thor isn’t involved.”
But the real news here is to what extent Forest River is pressing its case in both towable and motorized RVs, even while both companies continue to post impressive growth during the current economic recovery. Thor, for its part, recently posted its first $2 billion quarter, and revenues for Forest River, a Berkshire Hathaway Inc. subsidiary, were running at least 22% ahead of last year through June, Forest River President and CEO Pete Liegl confirms.
“I think that Forest River has been narrowing the gap,” said Walworth. “Both Forest River and Thor have aggressively gone after the market and they’ve put out a bunch of new product that has allowed them both to maintain their leadership in the market.”
Behind Forest River and Thor on the motorized side is Winnebago Industries Inc., with an 18.1% share of the market. In third place in tow-type RV retail sales is Middlebury, Ind.-based Jayco Inc., which occupied 11.2% of the market through June.
“Think about that,” said Walworth. “The top two (towable builders) are 70% of the market. Jayco brings it up to 81% of the market and the next five players take it up to 90% of the market. I mean, it’s a very top-heavy industry and more so all the time. The two big players have gained market share in an up market. The only thing to consider is that if the market becomes really hot, that usually opens the doors for the smaller startups to come in.
He added, “You know, through this, we’ll probably introduce one or two new manufacturers here who could someday end up being major ones. That’s usually because the majors and the other competitors can’t meet the dealers’ supply times, opening the door for some of the startups to get involved.”