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The venerable Coleman brand will once again be emblazoned on a line of folding camping trailers.
As part of a buyout of the former Fleetwood Folding Camper Trailer division based in Somerset, Pa., new owner FTCA Inc. announced in early August that it had reached an agreement with The Coleman Co., Wichita, Kan., for use of the brand name.
Blackstreet Capital Partners LLC, a private equity firm based in Bethesda, Md., bought the nation’s leading folding camping trailer business from Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. on May 12 for an undisclosed sum. The purchase included the 430,000-square-foot plant in Somerset.
Under the buy/sell agreement, FTCA is allowed to continue to sell camping trailers under the Fleetwood name until later this month, after which all products will carry the Coleman name, Jim Sylvester, FTCA president and CEO, explained.
Originally a division of Coleman, FTCA produced folding camping trailers under the Destiny, Americana, Highlander and Evolution model lines. Fleetwood purchased the company in 1989.
Sylvester said the transition has been seamless, with virtually no production time lost and a carryover of nearly 200 factory workers and some 80 administrative staff. The top managers reporting to Sylvester are Allan Reeping, national sales manager; Joe Pacifico, operations manager; and Dana Gehman, product development and marketing manager.
Immediately following the agreement, FTCA kicked off the new era, holding its first national dealer meeting Aug. 4 in Pittsburgh that attracted around 100 retailers.
“We told them that we are confident that we have a plan to sustain our market share,” said Sylvester, noting that FTCA would initially be giving up to a 10% wholesale price cut on half of its products. “We also told them that the Coleman brand will fortify our premier status in the industry and the camping trailers we manufacture.”
Sylvester said he told the dealers that FTCA wants to develop new products “that would appeal to a broader demographic than we presently are.”
“We are focused on folding camping trailers,” he said. “We told the dealers one of the things that will give us an advantage in the marketplace is that this is a 100% focus with no distractions. We have the luxury of doing that, given we are a stand-alone company.”
Since 1979, the plant in Somerset has helped its owners rank No. 1 in the folding camping trailer business, although market share has slowly eroded through the years and stood at 36.5% in May, according to Statistical Surveys Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich. Retail sales for 2008 through May were off 21% from a year ago, reflecting a declining market for camping trailers in general.
Sylvester has an extensive background in manufacturing and for the last 10 years worked for a tier 1 automotive supplier. He has no experience in the RV industry.
“I think to run a manufacturing business, you have to have a broad set of business skills,” he said. “If you bring those skills to any manufacturing business, you can identify the things that have to be done, develop a plan and see improved business results.
“There is a very strong group of people already in place at FTCA that are very, very knowledgeable about the RV industry. Any knowledge I lack, they more than compensate for. In the short time I have been here, we’ve seen a high degree of esprit de corps among my direct reports and the management team and the factory work force.”
Sylvester said he hopes to institute some lean manufacturing activities over time. The company did shed some 70 blue-collar workers earlier in the summer, as it adjusted staff to meet production needs.
The company will unveil its entire 2009 line in November at the National RV Show in Louisville, Ky., where it has reserved a 5,000-square-foot exhibit space.
Tom Ripley, an operating partner and vice chairman of FTCA, likened the relinking of FTCA with the Coleman name after a five-year hiatus to a “family reunion of sorts. Two great companies that have been around for a long time reuniting.”
“My job is to help Jim (Sylvester) solve problems,” he added. “This is a great company that for one reason or another hasn’t gotten the vigor or energy or support it needed. Our goals are to make it a great company again and rebuild this company to where it was 20 years ago. We have a clear vision to rebuild this company and put some energy behind it. We have some phenomenal people who have been through a tough time.”
Given that folding camping trailers in general are “the lightest, greenest and most fuel-efficient (RV) product in the marketplace, this should be a great opportunity for our business to reignite the excitement around camping trailers,” Ripley said.