Most RV companies aren’t born with a sterling reputation, but Hank Schrock wants to change that by rolling out a new incarnation of the long-gone Sterling motorhome brand.
The Elkhart Truth reported that Schrock, the owner of the Total Value RV dealership just north of Elkhart, is going back to earlier days as he starts to make the only Class A motorhome on the market that will fit in nearly any American driveway and through a 10-foot garage door, and it will be significantly more fuel efficient than most other class A motorhomes. “You can drive it into a regular parking spot at Menard’s or anywhere,” though the length will take up a little more space, Schrock said.
“I used to work for this company back in 1990. I was the national sales manager, and this was built out in California. The era of people that were in that era of time are gone. The people that enjoyed that motorhome were more elderly people. They didn’t want big motorhomes, they wanted something they could go to football games in, go up to an island for a week or a couple of days. This is not a live-in coach. The Sterling is designed to travel in, go stay in a motel and do what you want to do,” Schrock said.
“Everybody’s forgotten about this unit. I didn’t. I wanted to bring it back to life in a new age,” Schrock said.
He bought several of the old units, stripped them back down to the chassis, and “we built a new box on it, redesigned the front and the back cap.”
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U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., is hopeful the newly signed Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010 will spur RV dealer wholesale floorplan lending through the Small Business Administration (SBA), even though the previous SBA approach fell short of expectations for many in the industry.
Donnelly was a key supporter of the act, which encompassed many of the suggestions he garnered from RV dealers, manufacturers and lenders at a forum he sponsored Feb. 5 in Elkhart, Ind. The new law extends the SBA’s Dealer Floor Plan Program, which Donnelly first called for through bipartisan legislation he introduced in July 2010.
Donnelly held a news conference today (Oct. 1) at Total Value RV on the north side of Elkhart to comment on the new law, which had bipartisan support.
The new law increases the limits on SBA guaranteed 7(a) loans from $2 million to as much as $5 million and for manufacturers in the 504 loan program, loans are increased up to $5.5 million.
“In effect what we saw passed was written and put together by the folks in Elkhart, from the RV and marine industries,” Donnelly told RVBUSINESS.com following his news conference. “It was dealers, manufacturers and the lenders saying, ‘Here’s what we need.’”
Donnelly said that lenders had told him that they were not interested in the original SBA program because of its Sept. 30 expiration date. The new law extends it for three years, which should now make it attractive, he said, and will make it easier for banks to track dealer inventory and reduce recordkeeping costs. He anticipates that more large banks, as well as smaller community banks, will now step forward to participate in the SBA program.
“I’m very happy that some of these fresh ideas have now become law and our government will work better for these businesses so important to growing the Hoosier economy,” Donnelly said at the conference
The new law, however, does not raise the SBA guarantee in floorplan loans from the current 75% to 90%, as had been requested by lenders at the Feb. 5 conference.
“We tried to get done, but there was not a willingness (by Congress) to increase it any higher,” he told RVBUSINESS.com.
“This bill provides an important option to RV dealers that will help make the wholesale purchase of RVs easier,” said BJ Thompson, president of BJ Thompson Associates and a board member and long-time Public Relations Committee Chairman for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
“Anytime we can remove hurdles and help fulfill the demand for RVs, that’s good for the economy,” said Thompson in the press release. “And by supporting this bill, Congressman Donnelly has again stepped up and continued to be a friend of the RV industry.“
The SBA’s Dealer Floor Plan (DFP) Financing Pilot Program was created in July 2009 to provide loan guarantees through SBA lenders for titleable assets such as autos, RVs, boats, and trailers through the SBA’s 7(a) loan program.
But the program fell short of its goal, and less than 50 auto dealers and just two RV dealers had taken part as of February.
Based on the feedback Donnelly received from dealers and lenders, he and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., introduced H.R. 5734, The Dealer Floor Plan Program Extension and Improvement Act, in July that would extend the DFP program for five years.
Donnelly had written to congressional leaders strongly urging them to do more to help meet the needs of small business owners by expanding the lending limits to $5 million.
The new law additionally invests in current and future small business owners by providing grants to Small Business Development Centers. Dan Jones, president of the Business Development Corp., joined Donnelly at Total RV today to talk about the increased opportunities for small businesses.
“Many more companies are now eligible for SBA 504 loans,” said Jones. “The size of small businesses that qualify was increased. Those businesses having a tangible net worth of $15 million and 2-year average net income after federal income tax of $5 million are now eligible.
“Of special importance to small businesses that are struggling with existing high-interest loans or up-coming loan balloon payoffs, the SBA 504 loan program can now be used to refinance existing debt at lower rates for longer terms. There was also $505 million included in the legislation to continue fee relief on SBA 504 loans through the end of 2010. This fee waiver was first enacted in February 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Recovery Act (ARRA), and the new funds will allow borrowers who applied for SBA 504 loans under the ARRA program to save thousands of dollars in loan fees.”
“Access to credit is one of the most critical issues for small businesses right now,” said Donnelly. “With increased loan limits and increased training funding for current and future small business owners, we’re giving Hoosier small business owners the tools they need to succeed.”
The Midwest RV Super Show used to be a huge event for the RV industry at the Elkhart County (Ind.) Fairgrounds every summer, but last year it was canceled due to the economy. Now it looks like it is making a comeback — of sorts — this year, according to television station WSBT, South Bend, Ind.
Organizers are hoping to hold a smaller show in August at the downtown Elkhart Civic Plaza. The city of Elkhart is working with a statewide RV organization to make it happen.
Some RV dealers in the Elkhart area say they are noticing a turnaround in business, and that sales are beginning to pick up compared to a year ago. There are not as many RV dealers now as there were two years ago, but the existing dealers want to get the word out about their product lines.
That’s what the city and the Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council (RVIC) want to do, so they’re teaming up for an RV show to accomplish that.
“It’s not news to anybody that the RV industry has been in a bit of a downturn recently, but things are coming back, especially at the manufacturing level,” said RVIC Executive Director Mark Bowersox. “We want to get the message out there that Elkhart is still the RV capital, and so there will be dealers from the city of Elkhart as well as the surrounding county, and really a lot of product that is made here locally.”
“I can feel the good times coming back,” said Hank Schrock, president of Total Value RV, Elkhart. “It’s starting to come back this spring, and we are looking forward to doing some more shows.”
Plans call for the show to be held for three days, Aug. 13-15. The city says it has the potential to attract 8,000 people to the downtown area.
For 54 years, dealers and manufacturers in Elkhart County, the RV Capital of the World, have gathered their motorhomes and towables in a central location and opened the gates to consumers from the serious buyer to the merely curious.
Whether the Midwest RV Super Show and Rally will happen for the 55th year, however, remains in doubt, according to The Elkhart Truth.
Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council (RVIC) has canceled the August dates — the time the dealer show has been typically held — but is still considering holding the event in mid-September. Problems with wholesale lending, consumer credit and consumer confidence are dampening the market for recreational vehicle and have put the show in limbo, said Mark Bowersox, director of RVIC.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that the industry has hit bottom and we’re recovering,” he said. But the council will have to determine if the level of growth can sustain a show in the fall.
As an indication of the upheavals in the industry, Michiana RV, the former Coachmen factory store in Elkhart, and DiMartini RV, the former Monaco Coach Corp. sales lot in Wakarusa, have closed since the two dealerships participated in the 2008 Midwest show at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds.
Dealerships that are struggling would probably not be helped by the event, said Gary Miller, owner of Wana RV Center in Shipshewana.
Although sales are made, RV shows usually provide dealers will long-term leads that eventually turn into sales, he said, noting customers have walked into his showroom and bought a unit two years after they attended the Midwest show. Consequently, a dealer worried about next week’s bills will not care about delayed returns.
Hank Schrock, owner of Total Value RV in Elkhart, said having the show is “absolutely important.” Along with bringing people to town who want to buy RVs, the show injects some competition among the local dealers which, Schrock said, is healthy.
Within the next couple of weeks, RVIC hopes to make a decision about having the show in September.
Skipping the event would not tarnish the RV Capital’s image, said Diana Lawson, executive director of the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau, explaining that in today’s economy, consumers are very forgiving. In fact, having a show with few dealers and poor attendance could do more damage.
“If we can’t do at least as well as we did last year, probably the best thing to do is let it rest,” Lawson said. “Then try it when we can do a good job and do the industry proud.”
Recent local RV shows did not unveil new models as they once did but, Bowersox said, the annual event gave the customers the opportunity to see many of the latest RVs side by side from multiple manufacturers without having to drive from one dealership to another.
Since the Midwest show may not happen, Miller and Schrock are planning their own shows to lure customers and spark sales. Miller has targeted Aug. 14 and 15 while Schrock is waiting to see what the Midwest RV Super Show does before solidifying the dates for his Fall Foliage Festival.
“I don’t believe you can sit here and do nothing,” Miller said. “You have to keep moving forward and that’s what I’m doing.”
The recreational vehicle industry appears to have another problem: Thieves swiping big-screen TVs from RVs in storage areas across Elkhart County.
From the end of April to this past weekend, police say, there have been six such incidents of theft across Elkhart County and dozens of TVs stolen. Most of the TVs have been larger, flat panels, with some as large as 52 inches, according to WSBT-TV, South Bend.
Police believe five of the six incidents are related. Five of them occurred at various Forest River Inc. locations across the area, while the other was at Total Value RV, an Elkhart RV dealership.
During most thefts, several TVs were taken, including 11 at one time.
The thefts have been an ongoing problem since last summer, said Trevor Wendzonka, Elkhart County police spokesman.
Elkhart County Detective Brian Holloman, a crime statistics analyst who has been studying the recent thefts, believes indications point to three people being involved.
“From my perspective, they all appear related,” Holloman said. “It looks like the same people involved.”
One of those was a man arrested Saturday morning following a burglary at the Forest River Inc. plant on the city’s west side. Police said they interrupted the burglary in progress after a security guard at the business called for help shortly after midnight.
When they arrived, they discovered TVs had been taken from the RVs. The case remains under investigation and police said other people may be involved. The suspect, 27, who also had three outstanding warrants, was taken to the Elkhart County Jail.
Holloman said police will continue to investigate the string of thefts.
Police, meanwhile, have increased patrols around storage areas for RVs.