Looking to bolster sales in the growing Pacific Northwest market, Forest River Inc. has named former Weekend Warrior Trailers Inc. executive Gary Denton to head up operations at its 11-year-old Dallas, Ore., facility.
Stepping in as general manager, Denton will oversee product development, marketing and sales for six key travel trailer and fifth-wheel brands – the stick-and-tin Wildwood, Salem and Cherokee Grey Wolf along with the hard-wall, fully laminated Wildcat, Sierra and Sandpiper lines, according to a news release.
Operating out of a 130,000-square-foot production facility and an accompanying lamination plant with a work force of around 200 people, Denton is charged with capturing market share and rejuvenating sales in a territory that encompasses the western seaboard and parts of Canada.
“This is a tremendous opportunity,” said Denton, 52, who joined Elkhart, Ind.-based Forest River in July 2008 to spearhead the launch of the Stealth SURV brand. “With the Stealth we were able to ramrod our way to the top of the Statistical Surveys Inc. charts for toy haulers in just two years. Through the efforts of a tremendous team and, most importantly, the support of our dealer network, we’re aiming to have the same type of results in these very high volume, highly competitive sectors of the marketplace.”
Denton, a former eight-time ATV national racing champion, made his mark in the RV industry as vice president of sales and marketing for Perris, Calif.-based Weekend Warrior. The company, founded by Mark Warmoth, is credited with developing the toy hauler marketplace, riding a meteoric 12-year run before falling victim to the economy and ceasing operations in August 2008.
Still in the transition phase, Denton has been commuting from his hometown in Chino, Calif., while mobilizing his sales force in Dallas. “I have been meeting regularly with our 10 salespeople, setting goals and forming strategies,” Denton noted. “Initially, we want to step up relations with dealers so we can create a healthy order backlog and stabilize our production levels. In my first week, we were able to secure 700 orders from our dealer base.”
On the production side, Denton said that improving quality tops the list of objectives while also manufacturing trailers that are built to handle the demanding Pacific Northwest climate. “The prototypes are built in Indiana, but we will be tweaking designs with ‘polar packages’ that address the harsher weather conditions and features that are designed specifically for the rougher terrain,” Denton noted.
Denton said the division is on a brisk timetable, first delivering new product for Forest River’s national dealer meeting at the end of September, then “making some noise” at the National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 29 to Dec.2 with “all the changes for our 2011 product lines.”
“The mission is pretty straight-forward,” he added. “Our success will hinge on enlisting the support of our dealers by offering top-quality product at a great price with sizzling hot interiors.”
As many as 2,000 people lined up Saturday (Aug. 28) at a factory that used to be one of Inland Southern California’s manufacturing hubs, hoping for a job with a company trying to revive what has become a moribund Southern California industry, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported.
MVP RV LLC, which recently bought two Riverside facilities once part of Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.’s operation, held a job fair Saturday, looking to hire 80 people to start work next month. MVP RV will probably add 150 more people in October and continue to hire incrementally into next spring, the peak season for RV sales, officials have said.
Earlier in the week, the company’s officers anticipated 1,500 people would line up to fill out applications. That threshold was reached by 11 a.m., two hours before the job fair was scheduled to end. Also, about 1,000 had submitted résumés before the event started, said Pablo Carmona, the company’s vice president of manufacturing.
They had also asked that only people who know the recreational vehicle industry apply, and there is no shortage of them in Inland Southern California. As many as 3,000 people once worked for Fleetwood, which also made manufactured homes, in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Fleetwood filed for bankruptcy in March 2009.
Many others made RVs for Thor of California in Moreno Valley and National RV Holdings Inc. and Weekend Warrior Trailers Inc., both of which were in Perris. All of those companies have closed in the last three years, victims of a poor economy.
Saturday’s event had elements of a reunion for former Fleetwood employees, but Joe Rivera, who had been an engineering technician for 23 years at Fleetwood, saw the size of the crowd and knew he was facing a numbers game.
“My chances are not good, but it depends on what their needs are,” said Rivera, 49. “I’m not sure if they need an engineering department, but maybe there’s something for me.”
Another person looking for work had even more experience. Robby Crean is the grandson of John Crean, the legendary founder of Fleetwood who died in 2007. The younger Crean had worked for his father, Johnnie, who started his own company, Alfa Leisure Inc., in the 1970s. At 39, Robby Crean has essentially been in the RV business all his life.
Alfa Leisure, which had been based in Chino, went out of business in 2008. Robby Crean held several management positions with the firm and said the industry can make a comeback.
“If you start with the lower-end products and build up from there, that’s the way to come back,” Crean said.
The industry started to slide about four years ago because consumers became wary of high gas prices, but the bottom fell out when housing prices stopped rising and homeowners no longer had the equity to spend on RVs.
MVP, which makes towable trailers, was started in Moreno Valley in 2008 by three industry veterans and, after finding a new financial backer, was able to buy Fleetwood’s old plants for $18.6 million in cash in a bankruptcy sale. The company is eyeing overseas markets, especially Asia, for its RVs.
Brad Williams, the CEO, said MVP’s models are designed to be shipped in containers, making them easier to export.
“I’m not sure what the others in the industry are doing,” Williams said. “But we think there are great opportunities in Asia.”
Not all the applicants were veterans of the RV industry. Inland Southern California’s unemployment rate was 15.1% in July, one of the highest of any metropolitan area in the country, and people looking for work say they’re willing to be creative.
Cheryl Garcia-Wood, 52, of Riverside, has been unemployed for almost 18 months and came out early Saturday hoping for anything.
“Jobs are hard to find, but we’re out here doing our best,” Garcia-Wood said. “I see a long line of people, but it’s like playing the Lotto. If you don’t play, you can’t win.”
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.”