Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC President Chris Hermon acknowledges that despite the company’s multifaceted expansion plans this year, there is still a tendency to look over the shoulder – a holdover from the fallout the industry endured in the face of the country’s economic tsunami. But he also recognizes that the time is right to jump on another wave.
“When you look at the market, there continues to be a consistent influx of customers – and it’s been happening for the past several years,” Hermon said. “There’s momentum, which is the result of sustained demand. And when there’s momentum, it becomes obvious we need to hit the accelerator and capitalize as long as the run lasts. You go when the sun is shining, and it’s shining pretty bright right now.”
In early January, the Thor Industries Inc. division acquired Howe, Ind.-based Cruiser RV and sister company DRV (see related story). The move effectively expands Heartland’s presence in the lightweight trailer and luxury fifth-wheels markets.
Heartland is also in the midst of a revamp of production facilities at its Elkhart, Ind., campus, a twofold process that includes beefing up capacity while improving efficiencies. At the same time, the builder is placing equal emphasis on its back-end operations, initiating several projects designed to further cement relationships with its dealer body and bridge the gap with end users.
“One of the big projects we’re implementing is a state-of-the-art system that will speed up communication between dealer personnel and Heartland’s service people,” Hermon said. “When the communication process moves faster, it makes life easier for both parties and ultimately translates into a happier customer.”
The company has also purchased a building across the street from its current parts and warranty facility that will be transformed into a repair center equipped with 10 to 12 service bays.
“Customers will be able to call in and set up service, or our dealers will be able to send their customers here,” Hermon said. “Right now, that’s unheard of among towable builders. Our goal is to give customers a Lexus-like service experience. There will be some growing pains, but we are committed to being a leader in the industry with regard to customer service.
“Every OEM can build cool product,” he added. “But we’re taking a long-range view. We want to be the company that people want to do business with.”
On the manufacturing side, Heartland is addressing key segments of the marketplace where dealers need quicker turns on product. Projects include:
• Heartland remodeled an existing facility to house production of the company’s lightweight laminated North Trail and Wilderness travel trailer brands. Hermon reported that the plant is up and running, and will increase production capabilities 25% through additional square footage coupled with lean manufacturing concepts to streamline operations.
• The move to relocate operations for its lightweight trailers will allow Heartland to utilize the vacated plant for production of its Edge, Road Warrior, Cyclone and Torque toy haulers. “Over the next two or three months, we will be retrofitting the facility to run our toy haulers,” Hermon said. “This will give us a second line to handle future growth.”
• The plant used for the production of Sundance, Elkridge, Gateway and Oakmont mid-priced luxury fifth-wheels has been expanded to increase production capabilities while also improving overall quality.
• Heartland has renovated a facility in Nappanee, Ind., for the dedicated production of destination trailers. “The plant will give us an edge in the extended-stay trailer market, allowing us to build year-round,” Hermon said.
• Hermon reported that Heartland has plans to expand operations to the West Coast, tentatively targeted for early 2016. “It will allow us to better support dealers in that region,” he said.
• Heartland purchased another building at its Elkhart campus to centralize administrative departments, including sales, marketing, purchasing and finance. Lamination operations have been moved to the front of the building “bringing all our lamination production under one roof,” Hermon said. “Ultimately all these moves will make make us more efficient.”