Truck camper manufacturer Travel Lite Inc. has expanded into lightweight towables with the new entry-level ”idea” travel trailer. ”This fits well with our existing production line,” said Dustin Johns, vice president of the 15-year-old New Paris, Ind., company. ”It’s going to be a unique product in its visual appeal.” The ”idea” will be introduced to dealers at the upcoming 49th Annual RV Trade Show Nov. 29-Dec. 1 in Louisville, Ky., where Travel Lite also will display its new 770 Super Lite truck camper. The ”idea” will be available in three 15- to 17-foot ultra-light floorplans — the dry weight of the 15-footer is 2,550 pounds — with gel coat fiberglass sidewalls on lightweight banak wood substrate with a molded front cap to increase aerodynamics. ”For a small trailer ”idea,” is going to be very plush,” Johns said. ”Idea is a small and lightweight towable that will do well with regard to price and gas mileage.” Features include cherry cabinets, molded countertops and two-tone cushioned seats. Base MSRP: $9,995.
Riverside, Calif.-based MVP RV Inc. announced today (June 30) the introduction of the all-new 2012 Sonoma travel trailer line.
“Sonoma was developed with a clear direction and vision – affordability,” said Mark McFadden, Sonoma national sales and product manager. “We wanted to create a travel trailer line that the average working family could afford, without giving up the features these experienced campers demand.
“Southern California is among the strongest markets for affordably-priced travel trailers, and it is a very competitive market as well. Having the ability to build this low-cost trailer locally for our dealers is a tremendous advantage for us, and for them.”
McFadden said that Sonoma is a completely new line designed from the ground up featuring 12 floorplans, including eight SE models.
“There are many specific features and construction requirements needed to build a first-class, affordably-priced travel trailer,” he said. “Plus, shipping costs from areas outside the Southwest make it prohibitive to be truly price-competitive in this segment.”
Sonoma comes standard with such features as full-length drawer guides, 13,500 BTU A/C, ABS tub surround, brushed-nickel, high-rise kitchen faucet, raised-pane overhead cabinets, residential full-size 60”x80” mattress, silverware drawer, diamond plate gravel guard, exterior speakers and tinted safety glass windows.
McFadden said that Southern California’s Giant RV is the first dealer to sign up with Sonoma.
“We could not be happier with this product”, said Frankie Barouti, Giant RV president. “This is a very important segment of the market, and we truly believe that MVP RV has hit the mark with the Sonoma. We are pumped to be selling the newest, most affordable trailer in the market. We retailed our first one within two hours of it landing here.”
MVP RV builds travel trailers under the brand names Coast, Summit and Sonoma, and fifth-wheels under the brand names Jazz and Destiny. The company also manufactures the Class C Tahoe, and toy haulers under the brand names Impact, Vortex and Envy. For more information about MVP RV’s products, please go to www.mvprv.com.
Hard times are hardly new in Pass Christian, Miss., but four years after Hurricane Katrina tore this area apart, Ritamarie Northrop still calls a FEMA travel trailer home. And she’s one of about 2,100 Gulf Coast families suffering the very same fate, as CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reported recently.
“I gave up on FEMA,” Northrop said. “You know, I could have appealed, appealed, appealed. I gave up.”
At the height of the recovery, 143,000 families in Louisiana and Mississippi found refuge from the storm in such trailers. Now two years after FEMA began moving people out of the trailers, case workers tell CBS News the thousands left in the trailers aren’t trying to beat the system; they are victims of a system that’s proved incapable of helping them get out.
Just ask Kendall Deschamp.
“Oh it’s miserable,” he said of living in the trailer. “Bottom line: it’s miserable.”
A disabled state highway worker, Deschamp collects just $1,368 a month in benefits. That’s not enough, he says, to afford the sheetrock and new hot water heater he needs for the permit allowing him to move back into his four-bedroom home, which stands just a few tantalizing feet away.
What would he need to get the job of repairing his old home done, top to bottom?
“Probably a couple thousand and a day’s time,” Deschamp said. That’s it.
Deschamp says he called FEMA countless times for assistance, only to get an endless game of bureaucratic run-around that has beaten him down.
“They give me the same answers: ‘You need to call this person.’ I call this person and they tell me I need to call this person.”
Kandy Moran, a state social worker, says all she needs is a bit more time — and money — to fix her home. FEMA’s answer: A threat of eviction or temporary housing in the next county.
“My grandparents gave us this property,” Moran said. “So when FEMA approaches me and says, ‘Kandy, we can put you in a rental.’ — I can’t leave my home.”
Today the remaining travel trailers serve as a symbol of a recovery gone wrong: A hurricane of empty promises, chaos and coverup; a system that remains in the words of one FEMA worker on the ground in Mississippi, “One big, disgusting mess.”
CSB News wanted to ask FEMA about what’s being done for folks like this. But FEMA told us to call another federal agency, Housing and Urban Development, saying that, as of June, HUD had taken over long-term housing of disaster victims.
“We’re working with the state to remove all the bureaucratic red tape to make sure that those final families can be serviced by those programs as well,” HUD Senior Adviser Fred Tombar told CBS News
Yet so many of those final families say the last thing they want is another program. Rather, they want someone to actually listen, to offer the help they really need, and to close the doors on their trailers once and for all.
Editor’s Note: The East Valley Tribune in the metro Phoenix area has been following an ongoing dispute between an RVer and the community of Gilbert, Ariz., a dispute not unlike many underway across the U.S. This is a recent editorial by that newspaper reviewing the matter.
Gilbert resident David Carrington’s two-year legal battle with his homeowners association over the parking of a recreational vehicle touches on a number of topics related to life in today’s East Valley.
There’s the classic tension over the growth and regulatory powers of modern homeowner associations (HOA). There’s the evolution in cultural tastes that prompt homeowners to buy more vehicles and outdoor devices even as property lots have shrunk and suburban homes have been pushed closer together. And there’s the often-misguided notion that neighborhood disputes can be fixed by asking a judge to decide who is “right” and who is “wrong,” when neither party really can claim the high ground.
As Tribune writer Blake Herzog has reported, Tone Ranch Estates sued Carrington in 2007 for leaving a travel trailer in his driveway too often. A year later, Carrington and the HOA agreed the rules probably weren’t consistent and a committee needed to clarify them. But the HOA expected Carrington to pay its legal fees, and a judge eventually ruled against him with a judgment of $100,000. Still, that judge understood this was a rather harsh outcome, as he mentioned he was issuing the order only to comply with precedent set by a higher court.
The “victory” of Tone Ranch Estates comes with its own price, as Carrington told Herzog he now parks the travel trailer on streets regulated by Gilbert instead of the HOA. While the trailer was in Carrington’s driveway, the HOA’s concern was largely a matter of aesthetics and visual appeal of the subdivision. Now, the travel trailer is taking away potential parking spots from other homeowners and their visitors and could even interfere with the passage of motor vehicles if placed in the wrong location.
The HOA board should be wondering if this result – rather than striking a compromise with Carrington early on – has better served the interests of its members. At the same time, Carrington could have saved himself a lot of money and emotional pain if he hadn’t pushed so hard to prove his rights trumped the HOA that he voluntarily joined.
Unless you were told that David J. Humphreys, the former president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), had ”retired” from the RV industry you’d never know it by listening to him.
Besides maintaining a Washington, D.C.-area law practice, Humphreys has become an advocate for trailer safety with the invention of the Peace of Mind Safety Link, a device that is intended to replace trailer safety chains. He’s also representing Ride-On tire sealant to RV manufacturers as a hedge against flat tires.
”With 10 kids and 19 grandkids and being an egomaniac, you don’t slow down,” said Humphreys who was instrumental in forming RVIA in the late 1970s, retiring from the organization in 2006.
The Peace of Mind Safety Link is a steel oval with support pieces that fits under a tow vehicle’s hitch ball. On the outside chance that a trailer would ever become unhitched, the safety link catches the coupler.
”My gadget is designed so that if the hitch comes off at whatever speed, nothing bad is going to happen,” Humphreys said.
Humphreys has made presentations to three major hitch companies. All have been receptive, he reported, but none has yet agreed to manufacture the device, which Humphreys estimates would retail for $25 to $50 and could be installed by the RV manufacturer or consumer.
”It’s fair to say it’s about the same cost as safety chains, but way more safer,” he told RVBusiness. “Safety chains are not designed to provide any protection over 30 miles per hour. Those little S-hooks will straighten out even if they are installed properly.”
”Humphreys, who has applied for a patent on the Peace of Mind Safety Link, said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that between 1999 and 2007 there were 3,672 accidents involving passenger vehicles with a trailer that resulted in 4,285 deaths and 153,088 crashes that caused injuries.
”Certainly not all of these accidents were caused by separation of the tow vehicle and trailer, but a careful review of the newspapers and TV accounts contained at www.dangeroustrailers.org would indicate that most of them were,” Humphreys notes in the presentation he makes to manufacturers.
Safe towing is also the goal of Ride-On from Inovex Industries Inc., Sterling, Va., a product that guards against flat tires that Humphreys has been promoting to towable manufacturers.
”If you have a blowout in a trailer, you’ve got a problem,” said Humphreys, who reported that 50% of the calls to roadside-assistance company Coach-Net involve flat tires.
Ride-On, which can be injected into an inflated tire through the stem, lines the interior of the tire with a protective layer. Besides protecting against flats, Humphreys said Ride-On “keeps the air in the tire from leaking and inflation up so there is better fuel economy.”
At a cost of about $10 a tire, Humphreys said Ride-On could become a standard travel trailer feature.
”There’s no reason to put up with a flat,” Humphreys maintained.
The former general manager of now-defunct Weekend Warrior Trailers Inc. intends to create a line of private-label travel trailers designed by former Weekend Warrior President Mark Warmoth.
“From a distance, we always had that in mind,” said Larry Broyles, president of Poker Clothing Inc., dba Warrior Lifestyles, Perris, Calif.
Warrior Lifestyles’ new Legend travel trailers will debut Aug. 7-9 at the “Dune Tour” in the Oceana Dunes near Pismo Beach, Calif., an event that should draw tens of thousands of outdoor recreationists to 5 1/2-miles of ocean-front dunes.
“We aren’t doing any RV shows,” Broyles said. “We are going right to the consumers. We are going to give something to a new generation of RVers and campers.”
To advertise the new trailers, Warrior Lifestyles will distribute 60,000 trash bags to people attending the event.
Warrior Lifestyles was founded in September 2008 two months after Warmoth shut down Weekend Warrior’s operation in Perris and returned its inventory of finished trailers and parts and components to its creditors. The company retails accessories and provides parts and service for Weekend Warrior — once a popular West Coast brand — Rage’n and Extreme travel trailers in stores in Perris and Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
Warrior Lifestyles currently stocks about 20 new Weekend Warrior SURVs at the two locations that were acquired from the bank.
“I helped liquidate the company so it was an opportunity to buy stuff during a distress sale,” Broyles said. “Right now, you can buy them back from the bank cheaper than you can build them, unfortunately.”
Warrior Lifestyles also acquired most of Weekend Warrior’s parts inventory and mailing lists. The company employs about 40 people at the two locations, about half of whom perform service on travel trailers.
Weekend Warrior, founded in 1988 and credited with starting the towable sport utility (SURV) trend, at one time employed about 2,000 people in four plants totalling more than 215,000 square feet in Perris.
The new line of trailers will be built in a factory that once housed Weekend Warrior subsidiary Extreme Warrior Manufacturing LLC in Caldwell, Idaho, under the direction of former Extreme President Don Day.
“We are writing a business plan right now,” Day told RVBusiness. “We are going back after that cult-like following that Warrior has. Mark is designing the product for us, but that’s as far as his involvement goes. There isn’t anybody better in the toy hauler market than Mark. He connects with that buyer.”
In addition to towable SURVs, Day said, the company also intends to build conventional travel trailers and fifth-wheels at some point in the future.
With an initial production schedule of five units a week, the first 400 trailers are to be sold at the Warrior Lifestyles stores in Perris and Lake Havasu City.
After that, Warrior Lifestyles dealers will be “factory certified” and need to agree to sell “branded consumables” such as Warrior Lifestyles trailer accessories, clothing and bottled water, much like Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealers who are an extension of the Harley-Davidson brand.
“We are going to start up very slowly and build from there,” Day said. “We’ve been contacting dealers, and we’ve had a lot of interest for obvious reasons — that Warrior name is so strong.”
Editor’s Note: Cherie Ve Ard wrote this story about her experience in ordering a new travel trailer from the Oliver Travel Trailer Co. The story appeared on her website, www.technomadia.com. She and her companion, Chris Dunphy, describe themselves as a “pair of technomads traveling, living, working and playing full-time in a small solar powered RV, embracing nomadic serendipity.”
When we were doing the research selecting our home on wheels, one of the things that most impressed us with the Oliver Travel Trailer Co. was how fabulous the people working there are.
The Oliver family has a long history of invention and entrepreneurship, and their family-owned Oliver Technologies company has for years had a thriving business manufacturing foundations for manufactured homes, as well as sub-contracting out their fiberglass and manufacturing expertise to others.
The Oliver company was headed by two twin brothers – Jim and John Oliver. They also loved to camp, and years ago purchased two Casita travel trailers. Over years of taking their families camping, they came up with a long list of things they’d like to see improved on the classic Casitia design to make a more long lasting high-end trailer. Designing their ideal travel trailer became an obsession, and the two brothers spent several years using their existing workforce and hiring on experts in fiberglass construction to design what they considered the ultimate travel trailer.
Sadly, John Oliver passed away before the first trailer off the line was sold – and thus the official name of the trailer, the Oliver Legacy.
Today, Oliver Travel Trailers is a separate business with a factory down the road from the ongoing Oliver Technologies, and it remains family run with many of of Oliver extended family on staff.
Each Oliver trailer is highly customized and hand built from start to finish, and most customers get to meet the people who worked on their trailer. When they were building ours, they even sent us weekly “baby pictures” showing the construction process on the assembly line. By the time we picked up our trailer last July, we felt like part of an extended family.
We had a chance to catch up with Jim Oliver at his home in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., a couple months ago – and had him tell the story behind the trailer and introduce their newest addition to the travel trailer line – the 22′ model.
The timing of Oliver’s debut into the travel trailer market last year was not ideal however, with the economy taking a nosedive just as the Oliver Travel Trailer company was preparing to ramp up production.
But while many RV companies are folding and going out of business, Oliver has found an innovative way to keep the factory line producing through these lean time – by finding other lines of business.
In addition to the still thriving Oliver Technologies business, the Oliver Travel Trailer factory is now being repurposed to produce high end handicap bathtubs. They have been able to use many of the same techniques, equipment and facilities – and have therefore been able to keep their highly skilled and trained craftsman employed.
Despite the downturn in RV sales, all of the institutional memory and expertise that goes into building the Oliver Legacy is being retained.
On our last visit to the Oliver factory in Hohenwald, Tenn., in late May, Oliver was finishing up a couple of the new 22-foot model travel trailers. After those are done, all of their employees will be put on the bathtub line until such time there are enough orders for travel trailers to open up the lines again.
While we are disappointed that other prospective Oliver owners are being put on hold right now, we are extremely impressed with how Oliver is handling the downturn. By ramping up a new line of business, Oliver is managing to keep their employees trainined and up to date – and employed. Everyone there remains committed to the future of the Legacy, and will be well situated to jump right back into the travel trailer business when the economy perks up.
So what does that mean to someone considering an Oliver?
Be in touch with the factory, and let them know of your interest. They’re batching up their orders with no set delivery date right now. As soon as they have enough orders, they’ll be getting back into production.
We think this is a highly innovative and responsible way of handling the down economy and its effects on the recreational vehicle industry. Oliver has demonstrated their commitment to taking care of both their existing customers and their employees, and we fully expect that they have a bright future once the market picks up again.
We also very much appreciate how open they have been about the tough times they are going through. A lot of other companies would pretend everything was great right up until the doors shut, and we salute Oliver for embracing a more open and honest path.
An iconic symbol of Hurricane Katrina goes up for public auction today (June 17) as the federal government moves to rid itself of dozens of travel trailers that became the home of storm victims – sometimes for years.
Beginning at 5 p.m. today, 117 Katrina-era travel trailers will be auctioned off to the public by the U.S. General Services Administration. The trailers are on display at the state Department of Finance and Administration’s (DFA) surplus property site on Mississippi 468 just south of the Pearl city limits, according to the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion Ledger.
“Some of them don’t look like they have been lived in,” said Missy Elmore, a DFA project officer.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency deployed more than 120,000 travel trailers and mobile homes to Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama in the weeks and months following the August 2005 arrival of Hurricane Katrina. While mobile homes had been used in past recovery efforts, Katrina was the first time such a large number of recreational campers had been used as emergency housing.
FEMA endured harsh criticism over the operation, initially because the trailers arrived late and often in disrepair. Later, FEMA was forced to respond to complaints of persistent respiratory complaints from many people living inside them.
In August 2007, FEMA halted deployment and sale of the travel trailers as temporary housing. Nearly a year later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a final report showing higher-than-normal levels of formaldehyde in many of the trailers.
Bay St. Louis Mayor Eddie Favre said he thinks the travel trailers will be remembered fondly, despite their shortcomings.
“They were a lot better than what we had at the time, which was nothing. They served a purpose. We went from sleeping on the floor or the ground or tents to those,” he said. “Had it not been for (the trailers), I have no idea what we would have done.”
Almost all of the trailers on the Coast have been removed as the fourth anniversary of the storm approaches.
FEMA officially ended its emergency housing program for Katrina last month. Just over 508 travel trailers are still in use on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
The auction for the Mississippi trailers, which will be conducted online at gsaauctions.gov, is not the first and will not be the last of the federal government’s attempts to divest itself of the campers. So far, FEMA has auctioned off 853 travel trailers and sold another 636 as scrap.
Dozens of trailers not in the new lot already are listed on the site for sale in Mississippi, and hundreds are for sale in Maryland with bids ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per trailer. The bidding pages for the trailers bear red-letter warnings that they may not have been tested for formaldehyde.
The trailers going on sale today that have been tested for unsafe levels of formaldehyde will have paperwork stating that.
Regardless, buyers will be presented with a warning from the federal government that the campers should not be used for housing.
Elmore said a number of Katrina trailers already have found new homes around the state.
“A bunch of small-town police departments bought them and used them as mobile command centers,” she said.
Mike Frizsell, a DFA property officer and co-curator of the trailer auction, said some small towns around the state are using them as polling locations for local elections. But there are just too many of them to remain in governmental service.
“We’ve had these for so long that the federal government said we could go ahead and sell them,” Elmore said.
Elmore said she expects a lot of the former disaster shelters will find new life at fishing and hunting camps.
“I’ve already had about 20 calls this morning, she said Tuesday.
Not all of the trailers are fit for resale, Elmore said. One trailer was returned with a large hole cut out of the wall above the tub, prompting federal official to ask the resident what happened, she said.
“He said, ‘I cut the hole in there so I could fill up the tub so my horse could drink,'” she said.
Perhaps one or two could be saved for an eventual Hurricane Katrina museum. Favre said that probably is the best use for them.
For the next hurricane, Favre said he hopes the federal government will deploy housing similar to the modular Mississippi cottages that came in small numbers late in the relief effort.
“The cottages were intended to be a pilot program for the next one to see whether it would be a better solution,” he said. “Even the smallest one is much more comfortable than a travel trailer.”
Thor Industries Inc. has announced results for the third quarter and nine months ended April 30.
Sales for the quarter were $415.5 million, down from $707.9 million last year. Net income for the quarter was $2.1 million, versus $27.85 million last year.
Sales for the nine months were $1.08 billion versus $2.07 billion a year ago. Net loss for the nine months was $7.63 million versus net income of $87.67 million last year.
RV sales in the quarter were $312.04 million, down from $600.96 million last year. RV sales in the nine months were $777.02 million, down from $1.77 billion last year. Bus sales in the quarter were $103.4 million, compared to $106.97 million last year. Bus sales in the nine months were a record $303.96 million, up from $300.4 million last year.
RV income before tax was $6.86 million in the quarter versus $45.4 million last year. RV loss before tax in the nine months was $7.21 million versus $137.12 million income last year. Bus income before tax in the quarter was $1.24 million, down from $5.11 million last year and $10.26 million in the nine months versus $12.8 million last year. Corporate net costs were $3.53 million in the quarter versus $6.17 million last year and $13.18 million in the nine months versus $9.9 million last year.
“We incurred a $9.7 million RV non-cash goodwill impairment charge and a one-time $4.7 million increase in bus self-insurance and other reserves in the quarter,” said Wade F. B. Thompson, Thor chairman. “We continue to substantially increase our market share in both towable and motorized RVs. For the three months ended March, our travel trailer and fifth-wheel share increased to 32.6% from 30.2% last year and our motorhome share increased to 16.7% from 13.3% last year. We also increased our market share in the first quarter in the small and mid-size bus industry to 41% from 37%. Our operating cash flow is positive, we continue to have zero debt, and we believe our cash and working capital is the strongest in our industries.”
Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. reported Tuesday (June 2) that it has signed an asset purchase agreement to sell its motorhome business to American Industrial Partners Capital Fund IV LP (AIP) of New York.
The Riverside, Calif.-based RV and manufactured housing builder is operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy and has been actively looking for buyers of its various business units.
AIP is a middle market private equity firm which makes control investments in leading North American-based industrial businesses. Last week, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court approved sales procedures for an auction to explore whether any higher or more qualified bids could be obtained, according to a news release.
AIP’s $53 million bid is subject to reduction for the assumption of certain liabilities not to exceed $18 million, including warranty obligations on Fleetwood motorized products. The price is also subject to an adjustment for the amount of current assets purchased at the time the transaction closes.
Under the bidding procedures, any competing bidders must submit qualifying bids by June 18, and if the company receives qualifying bids, the court will hold an auction on June 22. The court hearing to finalize the sale is tentatively scheduled for June 24.
The offer from AIP includes two motorhome manufacturing facilities, two motorhome service facilities and Fleetwood’s Gold Shield supply subsidiary, all located in Decatur, Ind. It also includes intellectual property for Fleetwood’s existing motorhome brands and certain machinery and equipment , but does not include the company’s motorhome manufacturing facilities in Riverside and Paxinos, Pa., or its travel trailer plants, brands, and intellectual property.
“We are pleased to have signed an agreement to sell our motor home operation. AIP is a very capable and qualified organization,” said Elden L. Smith, Fleetwood president and CEO. “Since the sale process under Chapter 11 enables other bidders to come forward, we cannot say for certain what the outcome will be. We do expect, however, that the final purchaser will seek to take advantage of the Fleetwood name and legacy, as well as endeavor to preserve as many jobs as possible.”
Fleetwood is also pursuing buyers for its manufactured housing business.
Management believes that it continues to have adequate cash to fund operations until its businesses are sold.
Being in the right place at the right time never has been his forte, small business owner Larry Troutt points out.
The Houston native bought into his father’s travel trailer business in the ’80s, just before the country plunged headfirst into a recession, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Having survived that, Troutt moved Topper’s Camping Center to Jersey Village in 1987, built up sales to almost $8 million annually, and employed up to 24 people. The business stayed there until last year, when Troutt elected to move it to the outskirts of Houston, just as the country slid into another recession.
“There’s one thing I learned from the first recession, and that’s you can’t really increase your revenue, so you have to control your expenses,” Troutt, 59, said. “Everything from inventory to staffing, you cut where you can.”
Another lesson learned, he said, was the need for strong nerves and a stubborn nature.
“You have to be willing to tough it out,” Troutt said. “So many people bail out when things go bad. But I’ve learned I can survive if I just stay with it long enough.”
Evidently, Troutt has done more than survive the current economic downturn.
According to Statistical Surveys Inc., a provider of market data to the marine, manufactured housing and recreational vehicle industries, Topper’s posted the highest volume in lightweight camper trailer sales in Texas last year.
Camper trailer sales are synonymous with popup campers, which expand to anywhere from 24 feet to 26 feet, Troutt said.
“Last year there were 995 camper trailer sales in Texas, and 96 of those were through Topper’s,” said Scott Stropkai, Statistical Survey’s national sales manager for RVs. “You’re talking about 75 dealerships throughout the state and Topper’s ranked No. 1.”
As a category, sales of towable RVs – which include travel trailers, truck campers and folding camping trailers – are down 45.6% as of February, the survey company found.
For Troutt, the challenge has been to attract buyers to a rural setting without much advertising. His biggest draw, comes from Internet shoppers and travelers on U.S. 290 going to Texas A & M University or the University of Texas.
“Families driving down the highway see our inventory and they’ll pull over,” Troutt said. “But what’s really helped us is the Internet. Nowadays, people shop on-line for the features they want, then come here to see it for themselves before they buy.”
Even though the company is now based in Waller, 41 miles northwest of downtown Houston, it managed to post better sales than its big-city rivals. According to Troutt, the key was to specialize in lightweight vehicles, which are less costly and more fuel-efficient than the grand RVs normally seen in the media.
“When fuel got to $4 a gallon last summer, people stopped buying big RVs,” he said. “They’re (lightweight campers) also better for a dealership because you can fit eight lightweights on a transport truck, but one RV needs its own. Which means I can get my vehicles sooner, and I can carry less inventory.”
Normally, Troutt carries between 200 and 250 vehicles on his property, which spans 4.5 acres, and two-thirds of them fall into the lightweight category.
In addition to owning his own camper dealership, Troutt serves as chairman of the national Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), based in Fairfax, Va. He tends to a take a long view of his industry’s future.
“Americans will always have a love affair with RVs,” Troutt said. “It’s a lot cheaper than other vacations. You get to spend time with your family in a different setting. What could be better than that?”
Keystone RV Co.’s Hornet brand outperformed all other brands in its class to post double-digit market share gain with increases of 15.6% through February and 11.1% through March, according to Keystone, citing a recent Statistical Surveys Inc. retail market report. “Hornet’s goal is to give dealers a conventionally constructed travel trailer with an exterior and interior appearance that looks and feels like an expensive laminated trailer, all at an aggressive price,” said Chris Hermon, left, Hornet general manager. In order to deliver a product that excites the retail buyer, he said, Hornet focused on several key areas. The new Hornet is roomier inside with taller ceilings (84 inches), larger windows and 25% larger overhead cabinets. The Mega-Slide system, a Hornet exclusive, expands the dining and living room area and offers many features the retail sales person and customer can get excited about. The exterior of the Hornet has also been completely redesigned. Hornet product manager Jeff Wagner, right, described it as “sharp and cutting edge.” Says Wagner, “Customers love the way it looks because it is sleek and aerodynamic and stands apart from the crowd.”
Wholesale deliveries of RVs to retailers in April remained well off the 2008 pace but showed some improvement over March, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reported today (May 26).
April shipments totaled 13,300 units, compared with 31,400 units in April 2008, or a 57.6% decline, RVIA noted.
Towable shipments totaled 12,300, compared with 27,400 in April 2008, while motorized shipments totaled 1,000 units compared with 4,000 in April 2008.
Meanwhile, wholesale deliveries of towable RVs to retailers did continue their steady climb toward normalcy in April. The April shipment total of 13,300 for towables was slightly better than the 12,800 shipped in March.
Motorized shipments remained flat between March and April.
By segment, April shipments for each vehicle type were off by at least 50% in a year-over-year comparison. The vehicle type, April shipment total and corresponding figure for 2008 was as follows:
- All travel trailers, 7,900, down from 16,600 in 2008.
- Fifth-whele trailers, 2,900, down from 7,100 in 2008.
- Folding camping trailers, 1,300, down from 3,100 un 2008.
- Truck campers, 200, down from 600 in 2008.
- Class A motorhomes, 300, down from 1,800 in 2008.
- Class B motorhomes, 100, down fromn 300 in 2008.
- Class C motorhomes, 600, down from 1,900 in 2008.
For the first four months of 2008, the industry has shipped 43,700 units, down 61.7% from the 114,000 shipped in the corresponding period in 2008.
Towable shipments in the first four months totaled 40,300 units, down 59.3% from the 99,000 shipped a year ago, while motorized shipments totaled 3,400 units, down 77.3% from the 15,000 shipped a year ago.
In the nearly six months since it acquired the company, Forest River Inc. has restructured the former Coachmen RV Co. into six internal divisions under the leadership of former Coachmen President Michael R. Terlep.
Forest River in December purchased the Coachmen RV brand along with its manufacturing facilities in Middlebury, Ind., and Centerville, Mich. — creating its own Coachmen RV division — from Coachmen Industries Inc.
“The integration has gone remarkably well,” Terlep said. “It was a great move for Forest River and it was a great move for our brand and our customers.”
Each of five Coachmen RV divisions has a general manager and its own plant in Coachmen’s Middlebury manufacturing campus: Class A, Dave Miller; Class C, Mike Bear; laminated travel trailer, Bob Dumm; conventional travel trailer, John Babcock; and fifth-wheel, Don Medd. Folding camping trailers are being built in Centerville under General Manager Gar Warlick.
“We just ripped the complexity and cost out of our structure,” Terlep said. “Our overhead is running an absolute fraction of the matrix organization we ran before. Basically, we are getting all of the advantages and benefits of being Forest River and all the reductions in complexity and cost with timeliness of our product to the market.
“We are going to be a high-volume producer in the industry.”
Terlep said the Coachmen RV division is in the process of reintroducing the Mirada Class A motorhome as an entry level coach that will be available at the end of June.
He said the company also has just introduced the Freedom Express lightweight laminated travel trailer, shown at left, in lengths of 20 to 29 feet, and in January introduced the wood-and-aluminum Catalina travel trailer brand with an average price of $17,000.
Also, the Chaparral fifth-wheel has been “totally revamped,” according to Terlep, and a new fifth-wheel line is under development. “They are perfectly positioned for the market,” he said.
“We are signing up a lot of new dealers, and in some cases we are doubling plant rates, depending on orders.
“The big thing is that this is an all-new Coachmen RV and with that comes a tremendous amount of confidence and newness. This team is fired up, despite challenging market conditions.”
In celebration of its 125th anniversary, Victorinox Swiss Army -makers of the Swiss Army Knife – has announced a partnership with Airstream Inc. to produce the first “Victorinox Special Edition Airstream” travel trailer.
These two iconic brands have created a 19-foot trailer, production of which will be limited to 125 units and which embodies their shared qualities and philosophies: precision, functionality, reliability and a classically elegant design, according to a press release.
“When you enter into the trailer, the design cohesion between the two brands is both intuitive and natural – it’s comfortable and truly defines a luxe camping experience,” said Scott Swaebe, director of visual merchandising for Victorinox Swiss Army.
Like the legendary Swiss Army Knife, the details of the trailer are precise and clean, the release stated. And to ensure consumers are fully equipped, a collection of Victorinox Swiss Army timepieces, kitchen cutlery, Swiss Army Knives and accessories are included with each trailer
“It’s rare to find another brand that so closely represents the Airstream values of outdoor adventure in style,” said Bob Wheeler, Airstream president and CEO. “Victorinox is clearly such a company and we were thrilled to collaborate on this very special travel trailer. Whether it’s a Swiss Army knife or an Airstream, it’s something you buy to last a lifetime.”
The specially numbered special edition units are available beginning June 15. The commemorative, serialized plaque bears the famous Swiss Army Knife cross and shield emblem. This special edition Airstream travel trailer will retail starting at $59,000 and will be available at participating Airstream dealerships nationwide. For more information, please visit www.airstream.com