This year’s annual roster of RV Business Newsmakers of the Year, to be released in the December issue of RV Business (RVB) magazine, features an intriguing cross-section of the industry’s most visible players over the past 12 months.
And, for the first time, the RVB staff this year designated an individual Newsmaker of the Year, singling out RVIA President David J. Humphreys as he prepares to step down in early 2006 as the industry’s high-profile point person.
In addition to Humphreys, RVB named eight headline makers:
David J. Humphreys: When all was said and done, there was little doubt that Dave Humphreys qualified as RV Business Newsmaker of the Year for 2004, not only because the subject of his upcoming retirement – and possible successor – was so widespread, but also for the ways in which he has realistically affected the industry’s news pages, directly or indirectly, for more than three decades. An attorney by training, he assumed the RVIA helm on Jan. 1, 1979, and has been instrumental in transforming the industry from a curious niche market into a mainstream industry. His stewardship helped promote unity within the industry while cultivating the affluent Baby Boomer market. Both were key initiatives behind the industry’s success during his 25-year tenure.
Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.: Just as Fleetwood’s decline a few years ago was well documented, so, too, has its path to revival been frequently chronicled by the nation’s media. Most in the industry are well aware of the strides this full-line, Riverside, Calif.-based RV manufacturer has made recently, particularly in the motorized sector. At the heart of Fleetwood’s emerging turnaround is President and CEO Ed Caudill, who instituted policies and programs that emphasized technological leadership, stronger partnerships and a resultant improved financial performance, as well as Chris Braun, executive vice president of the company’s RV Group.
Country Coach’s Bob Lee and Jay Howard: Yet another industry turnaround story emerged over the past couple of years from Junction City, Ore.-based Country Coach Inc., behind the leadership of founder Bob Lee and current President Jay Howard. During the past year, the pages of RV Business tracked the results of Lee and Howard’s efforts in overhauling the company, a campaign that included revamping the firm’s sales format and repositioning its highline motorhomes. As a result, Country Coach has gone from downsizing into an expansion mode.
Winnebago’s Bruce Hertzke: The strong financial numbers generated by Winnebago Industries Inc. throughout the year were punctuated by an announcement that the Forest City, Iowa corporation had eclipsed the billion-dollar mark in revenues. That milestone also stood as a testament to the influence and leadership of Chairman, President and CEO Hertzke, a former production worker who assumed the reins of the Northern Iowa concern in 1998. In addition to guiding Winnebago, Hertzke this fall also took on the role of RVIA chairman, a volunteer position through which he hopes to lead the charge toward improved quality in the industry.
FreedomRoads Leader Stephen Adams: Investor Stephen Adams gained the attention of the industry with the launch of the FreedomRoads LLC RV retail network. Adams, who has served as nonexecutive chairman of Ventura, Calif.-based Affinity Group Inc. since 1988, co-founded the business with current chairman and CEO Marcus Lemonis in 2003. FreedomRoads rapidly acquired some of the industry’s largest and most prominent dealerships from coast to coast, eventually surpassing the billion-dollar mark in annual retail sales revenue. Late this year, the company also announced the launch of a new FreedomExpress chain of independent retail parts and accessories stores to be located in selected RV dealerships outside the chain’s current ranks.
Keystone RV Co.: This Goshen, Ind.-based towable RV manufacturer, the largest divisional component of market leader Thor Industries Inc., maintained its red-hot pace during the past year with an aggressive approach to market expansion and relentless product development, two initiatives that have kept the company in an almost constant state of construction in recent years. Consequently, Keystone should achieve close to a billion dollars in sales for 2004, less than 10 years since its founding in 1996. Operating as a Thor unit since 2001, Keystone has become a company that, in terms of product development, is a leader to many of its competitors.
Weekend Warrior’s Mark Warmoth: The founder of California-based Weekend Warrior Trailers Inc. is widely recognized for having “virtually invented” the toy hauler, or SURV, category of recreational vehicles. A long-time ATV enthusiast, Warmoth parlayed his avocation into a thriving manufacturing business as SURVs took off on the West Coast, catering to those infatuated with the “offroading” lifestyle. During the past year, Weekend Warrior expanded its production base with the acquisition of Extreme RV and the towable interests of National RV. Warmoth looks for solid growth in 2005, both in its core West Coast market and in newfound frontiers east of the Rockies.
Dealer Tom Stinnett: Tom Stinnett consistently made headlines on two fronts during the past year – partly for having helped fuel a national trend toward significantly expanded dealerships throughout the country. At his own Southern Indiana store, Stinnett installed 104,000 square feet of indoor showroom space capable of housing as many as 90 RVs in addition to a 17,400-square-foot Camping World store and 28-bay service department. A former board chairman of RVDA, Stinnett also expanded his involvement in industry affairs, agreeing to become co-chairman of the Go RVing Coalition along with Starcraft RV Inc. President and CEO Don Walter.
Tailgating Guru Joe Cahn: The self-proclaimed “Commissioner of Tailgating,” Cahn increased his media exposure with the announcement that he was throwing his (chef’s) hat into the presidential election ring. Cahn’s faux campaign – developed by RVIA and its PR firm, Barton Gillanelli and Associates – succeeded in capturing the attention of a host of high-profile media outlets. Even though Cahn came up short in garnering any valid electoral support for his “Hail to the Chef” campaign, he succeeded in further promoting the RV industry.