Winnebago Industries Inc. today (June 11) announced the closing of its Hampton, Iowa, fiberglass manufacturing facility, which primarily makes fiberglass components for motorhomes.
The majority of the production capabilities for fiberglass components will be shifted to Winnebago’s main Forest City facilities during the company’s fourth fiscal quarter, ending August 29.
The relocation reportedly won’t affect Winnebago’s customers or product offerings.
“Current market conditions continue to be challenging, necessitating further capacity reductions,” the northern Iowa corporation’s management states in a press release. “The company believes these actions will better position it for a business environment that it expects will continue to be challenging in the near future.”
“The decision to close the Hampton facility has been very difficult,” adds chairman, CEO and President Bob Olson. ”Unfortunately, it has become necessary to decrease our manufacturing footprint to reduce overhead expenses for the company. It is particularly difficult to lose valued employees. However, the wholesale and retail market for the company’s motorhomes continues to be very challenging, and it is important to downsize to market demand.”
As a result of the closure, Winnebago expects to incur a non-cash impairment charge of $1.4 to $2.4 million on the facility in its fourth fiscal quarter. In addition, other associated out-of-pocket costs with the idling of the facility are estimated to be approximately $600,000.
Winnebago, according to a press release, will continue to evaluate the need for additional right-sizing measures in accordance with market demand.
Winnebago Industries’ management met with the plant’s 40 employees today and will help coordinate employee support from state, regional and local agencies in an effort to assist with job placement, training and various other services and benefits available to dislocated workers, the release states.
“Although the current economic environment is extremely challenging,” Olson added, “we continue to believe we are in a strong financial position with sufficient cash and investment balances, no long-term debt and with the benefit of a respected brand known for its quality products.”
As summer kicks into high gear, spokespeople for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) are kicking off a busy season promoting RVing to a diverse group of potential customers.
The Herzog family is gearing up to show once again why they are the ideal family to tell the media that RV travel is the best way to see America, according to an RVIA news release. This summer the Herzogs will travel in a Winnebago hybrid RV on a Freightliner chassis powered by a diesel engine and electric motor.
Their trip coincides with the release of Brad’s latest children’s book, “S is for Save the Planet: A How-to-Be-Green Alphabet.” His book details the many environmental issues we face and suggests simple ways to help protect the planet.
Since 1996, the Herzogs, who live in Pacific Grove, Calif., have logged nearly 100,000 RV miles, spending time in all 48 contiguous states. As they travel, their RV is a summer classroom for their sons and an office for Brad as he blogs for GoRVing.com.
The Herzogs have effectively delivered RVIA messaging during countless interviews since they became RVIA spokespeople in 2000. In 2008 alone, these interviews resulted in more than 60 media hits that delivered over 1.3 million impressions. Brad’s blog postings have also received favorable response from RVing followers. The blog, which includes photos and anecdotes about the family’s trip across the country, was so appealing to readers that Brad continued to write for GoRVing.com even after the tour concluded.
RVer, adventurer and RVIA spokesperson Brian Brawdy is making the most of the media’s interest in Americans “going green.” Brawdy outfitted his Lance truck camper with an array of solar panels, a wind turbine and a rainwater collection and filtration unit, making the unit highly environmentally friendly. Brawdy’s RV attracts a lot of media interest, and allows him to talk to the press about what the RV industry and other RVers are doing to be green.
Over the past weeks Brawdy has been interviewed by several local television stations in Phoenix and Albuquerque, N. M., and has been featured in both the Chicago Sun-Times and the Albuquerque Journal. During his many print and broadcast interviews throughout the country, Brawdy delivered RVIA’s message points while putting a green face on the RVing experience.
Rialta Heaven Inc., a small outfit in the northern Indiana community of Milford, is marketing used Winnebago Rialta Class C motorhomes, last built by the Forest City, Iowa, manufacturer in 2005, on a limited national basis as “Earth Friendly RVs” because of their high fuel mileage and wind-cutting aerodynamics.
“Over the last two years, we’ve sold about 200 of them,” said Karen Rowland, co-owner and sales manager. “We find them all over the country”
Built on the 7,275-pound GVWR Volkswagen extended Eurovan cutaway chassis with a 6-cylinder Volkswagen gas engine that in the later years of production were rated at 201-hp, the sleek, low-profile Rialta today would be considered a “B-plus” style motorhome due to the lack of a cabover compartment. Typically, 22-foot Rialtas get 18-21 mpg, Rowland said.
Winnebago built about 8,000 Rialtas from 1994 to 2005; Volkswagen quit building the chassis in 2003.
Like others in the RV industry, however, Rialta Heaven, located in a former used-car lot on Ind. 15, has experienced a downturn since late last year. ”This time last year, we were selling half-a-dozen a month,” Rowland said. ”Since September, times have been tough.”
Depending on mileage — usually with fewer than 50,000 miles on the odometer — prices typically range from $22,000 to $50,000. Currently, the company has five Rialta’s and a Winnebago Vista, a true Class C built on the Eurovan chassis with a cabover sleeping compartment.
“Rialtas are very popular,” Rowland said. “Once people get to know them, they find the Rialta is small and easy to drive. And they are totally self-contained — bigger than a van but smaller than a bus.”
Winnebago Industries Inc., the industry’s top-selling motorhome maker, is scheduled to report fiscal second-quarter results on Thursday (March 19). The following is a summary compiled by the Associated Press of key developments and analyst opinion related to the period.
Overview: Things have gone from bad to worse for the RV industry in recent months. Facing collapsing sales and mounting debts, two of the industry’s top names, Monaco Coach Corp. and Fleetwood Industries Inc., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection within days of each other earlier this month.
RV sales have been in a state of steady decline recently, as the souring economy and deadlocked credit markets drive consumers away from showrooms. While Winnebago has fared better than some of its competitors, the Forest City, Iowa, company has been forced to slash costs to cope.
Last month, Winnebago announced a round of pay cuts for its salaried work force. President, Chairman and CEO Robert Olson took a 20% pay cut, while executive officers faced 10% pay reductions and remaining white-collar workers took 3% cuts.
By the Numbers: Wall Street analysts expect Winnebago to post a second-quarter loss of 30 cents per share, on average, for the quarter ended Feb. 28, according to Thomson Reuters.
Analyst Take: Citi Investment Research analyst Gregory Badishkanian said motorhome sales trends remain ugly. “Dealers continue to struggle as credit remains extremely tight,” he wrote in a note to investors last week.
However, Winnebago might benefit over the next 12 to 24 months following the bankruptcy filings by two rivals as the company picks up lost market share, he said.
As the economy sputters like a car engine running on fumes, no other place in Iowa feels the economic downturn like this community of 4,300.
The Des Moines Register reported that nearly one in 10 people is unemployed in Hancock and Winnebago counties, which Forest City straddles.
Many of those without jobs here once worked at Winnebago Industries Inc., the motorhome manufacturer that just five years ago had 4,220 workers and three buzzing production lines. These days, instead of getting overtime pay, factory employees who still have jobs work 32-hour weeks. One production line that’s eight football fields long is shut down. The company’s employment is down 60%, to 1,700 workers.
The border between Hancock and Winnebago counties has become the fault line where Iowa’s manufacturing economy has cracked.
The state’s most recent unemployment rate showed 4.6% of Iowans were unemployed in December, up from 4.3% the month before. New numbers are expected to be released this week, showing whether Iowa’s economy has worsened.
Nationwide, unemployment rose to 8.1% in February. The economy has shed more than 4 million jobs since the recession began in late 2007. Two states, Michigan and Rhode Island, topped 10% unemployment in December.
Iowa has the country’s sixth-lowest unemployment rate, according to the most recent data. And even though there are 13,200 more unemployed people than a year before in Iowa, the jobless rate is nowhere near a record high. That came in 1982 and 1983, when 8.5 percent of Iowans were unemployed during the farm crisis.
Still, in the counties that most lean on struggling Winnebago Industries, the employment picture seems bleak.
The Register reported that Hancock County, home of Winnebago, has Iowa’s highest unemployment rate at 9.1%. Neighboring Winnebago County is third at 8.5%.
“We don’t have 50 companies up here that are laying off half (of their) employees,” said Teresa Nicholson, executive director of Winn-Worth Betco, an economic development organization for Winnebago and Worth counties. “We have one.”
That one company, however, has shed some 2,500 jobs in five years.
Driving into Forest City, rural charm meets you at the door. The first noticeable building in town is the Forest City Cow Palace, a livestock wholesaler. Forest City is a place where neighbors call if your dog’s loose, the elementary school principal knows every student by name and $4 still buys a movie ticket at the one-screen Forest Theatre.
Residents brag that their small town comes with bigger-town amenities: Two locally owned grocery stores. Other big employers such as 3M and an engine filter manufacturer. A college, Waldorf, still attracts international students despite financial worries. A new aquatic center. And a full-service YMCA.
But it’s a sign of the times that the Forest City YMCA now offers scholarships for families of laid-off Winnebago employees. The food bank served 146 families last month, twice as many as a year ago. Twenty of those families had never visited before.
An outsider might expect ex-employees to be angry. But people here are loyal. They know what Winnebago has meant to this area.
When the travel trailer factory opened in 1958, Forest City’s future wasn’t bright. The farm economy was struggling. Young people were leaving.
In 1970, Winnebago expanded, and the company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock appreciated nearly 500 percent in 1971. Playboy magazine wrote about Forest City in an article titled “Oh, Little Town of Millionaires.”
According to the Register, Winnebago grew the next several decades. Annual sales surpassed $1 billion for the first time in 2004, the good days, when gas was cheap and credit was easy.
Times have changed.
“When the market is down like it is and people aren’t buying large discretionary products like RVs, it’s hard to have a work force standing around, waiting to fill orders,” said Kelli Harms, a Winnebago spokeswoman.
People in this town have faith the RV market will turn around.
“When this market comes back, it’ll come back crazy and it’ll come back fast,” Harms said. “People love traveling, love RVs, love the great outdoors.”
But people also love a surplus of jobs. For now, that’s something Winnebago can’t offer.