Forest River Inc. will host its first dealer meeting in a decade Oct. 22-23, showcasing 200,000-square-feet of product displays adjacent to its westside Elkhart, Ind., corporate headquarters.
Officials said that one of the main reasons for holding the meeting was to reinforce for its dealers the long-term financial health of the Berkshire Hathaway-owned company.
“Dealers have been thinking, ‘Who’s going to be around next year after the smoke clears?’ ” Jeff Babcock, director of sales and marketing, told RVBusiness. “Obviously, Forest River has the deepest pockets in the industry and we aren’t scaling back here. We want to be more visible to our partners and potential partners.”
Indeed, the dealer meeting’s theme is “Pick Your Partner” and invitations highlighted eight companies that have gone out of business or have reported financial losses in the last year.
“One thing you can count on – this little manufacturer owned by Berkshire Hathaway will still be here when the dust settles,” the invitation states.
Forest River posted $1.8 billion in 2007 sales in towable and motorized RVs, cargo trailers, commercial buses and pontoon boats. RV sales are split 85%-15% in favor of towables.
Babcock reported that about 700 representatives from more than 350 dealerships that sell Forest River products are expected to attend. Some 200 non-Forest River dealerships also are invited. “We are trying to get the right dealers aligned with Forest River,” Babcock said.
Representatives of Forest River-owned PriorityOne – a retail financing broker – will be at the meeting as will reps from Textron, a wholesale floorplan financing company. Babcock noted that the recent departure of KeyBank from both floorplan and dealership-based retail lending also plays a role in the upcoming Forest River dealer meeting.
“Dealers with flooring with KeyBank will be able to talk to Textron,” he said, adding that insurance giant GEICO, another Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, will also be on hand.
“We’ve been trying to run some synergies with our sister companies,” Babcock said. “GEICO will be looking for dealers around the country to sign up and get listed as one of their repair facilities.”
Forest River builds RVs at more than 60 facilities in five states. In 2007, Omaha, Neb.-based Berkshire Hathaway, led by legendary investor Warren Buffet, had $118 billion in revenue from such diversified subsidiaries as GEICO, Dairy Queen, Helzberg Diamonds and World Book encyclopedia.