Bob Martin

A decade ago, the recreational-vehicle industry was sipping fumes, its factories and salesrooms devastated by the double whammy of $4-a-gallon gasoline and the Great Recession. But, according to a Chief Executive magazine report, today RV makers are enjoying a robust multi-year recovery in their industry, and last year sold more than 500,000 units for the first time.

Even more important, during its comeback the industry learned some lessons that will keep such a calamity from occurring again, says Bob Martin, CEO of the largest RV maker, Thor Industries Inc. — lessons from which chiefs in other industries could learn as well.

Two of the main learnings for CEOs: diversify your product line and customer base, and reduce your vulnerabilities to important external factors.

A decade ago, the recreational vehicle industry was sipping fumes, its factories and salesrooms devastated by the double whammy of $4-a-gallon gasoline and the Great Recession. But today, RV makers are enjoying a robust multiyear recovery in their industry.

Elkhart, Ind.-based Thor is the world’s largest RV maker. Sales surged to $7.2 billion in fiscal 2017 from $4.6 billion a year earlier and rose by 12% in the third quarter of fiscal 2018. Thor’s consolidated RV backlog is $2 billion.

Baby Boomers were the main target for Thor and its competitors when the recession began in 2008, and today that generation still represents a huge cohort of RV buyers. But the industry’s focus has shifted to the Millennial generation and to providing those coming-of-age buyers with a proliferation of vehicle types and price points that can find a fit with nearly any of the huge variety of lifestyles experienced by Generation Y.

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