Ed Caudill, Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.’s president and CEO since August, believes the problems at the company’s RV business arose because of “de-contenting” its products to compete with other manufacturers at the lowest price points.
“Somewhere around the mid-’90s the company lost its way,” Caudill said during an interview with RVBUSINESS.COM at the National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky. earlier this month. “I wasn’t there, but from what I’ve been told, there was just a change in philosophy. They went to looking at a lot of large, exclusive dealers and de-contenting the product to compete, at that time, with new entrants like Forest River and the Thor roll-up.
“But it was the wrong approach,” said Caudill, an executive at truck manufacturer PACCAR before joining Fleetwood. “Customers were used to Fleetwood providing value and they didn’t like the de-contented product. And they showed us by voting with their dollars.
“Also, we were late with innovation,” he continued. “Monaco did diesels. Fleetwood had diesels first, but never did anything with them. So, Monaco took the market and now Fleetwood’s had to fight its way back in.
“Now, we’ve got outstanding product and we’re winning (market) share in large chunks,” Caudill said. “But it’s going to be an expensive proposition to get it back to where it was.”
By providing value, Caudill said, he means positioning the company’s products “above the low price point but not at the high point, and with a lot more value in the content of the unit in terms of materials and features and capabilities.”
That was reflected in Fleetwood’s products at the Louisville show, about which, Caudill said, “As you walk through our units and look at price points, and look at other peoples’ units, you’ll generally see more content, the use of more and finer woods, the use of a lot of high-end components, a lot of things like that that you don’t see from a lot of other manufacturers.”
Regarding Fleetwood’s attitude towards developing a network of exclusive dealers, Caudill said the company has not discarded the idea, but he added, “We’re going to earn whatever we get from dealers. It’s not going to be something we’re going to direct or dictate, or try to offer them something in terms of price or rewards to get them to be exclusive. If we can’t earn the right for them to put our product up over someone else’s, we don’t deserve that.
“We have some very good exclusive dealers that stayed with us all though the bad times,” Caudill added. “We will get more dealers (to be exclusive dealers) as this industry, like all industries, settles out over time. But as far as driving exclusivity just for the sake of exclusivity, we won’t do that.”