With the RV industry starting to pick up a little momentum, some 140 dealers gathered in Middlebury, Ind., this week (June 22-24) for Jayco Inc.’s ”Homecoming” to be followed Thursday and Friday by dealers handling Starcraft towables and Entegra Class A motorhomes.
”Dealer attitudes have been extremely positive,” Jayco President Derald Bontrager told RVBusiness during a break in the action at Jayco’s main complex on Ind. 15. ”The biggest negative we are facing this week is the availability of product. Our lead times have grown with the orders we’ve taken in the last 30 to 45 days, which is a good problem to have.”
Jayco, operating its Jayco, Starcraft and Entegra divisions with a 1,200-person workforce that is about 45% smaller than a year ago, is offering new 2010 Jayco products that include the Precept Class C motorhome, the newly redesigned Baja folding camping trailer and Recon ZX sport utility RV.
New Starcraft products include a redesigned Lexicon fifth-wheel and the redesigned Starcraft 36RT folding camping trailer.
The dealer gathering included factory tours and a ”meet-and-greet” Amish-style awards dinner Monday night at Das Dutchmen Essehnaus restaurant in Middlebury. ”The dealers really enjoy being here in Middlebury,” Jayco Chairman Wilbur Bontrager said.
Jayco’s management, at the same time, is convinced that the RV industry is beginning to slowly emerge from the nation’s deep recession, but still faces wholesale and retail lending challenges.
”Retail lending from national lending sources has eased considerably from where it was,” reported Jim Jacobs, vice president of sales and marketing. ”But I think most dealers have simply found another alternative if that’s what they needed to do. We hear a lot of credit union talk out there, and in fact, some of the credit unions are being very aggressive with their retail lending.”
An uptick in retail traffic is equally evident, Derald Bontrager said. ”Six months ago, they (dealers) couldn’t get anybody to walk though the door hardly,” he said ”Today, some dealers are seeing record days on their lots in terms of the number of customers coming through the door. Pent-up demand is real.”
On the wholesale side of the equation, Jayco continues to take a wait-and-see attitude. ”Our immediate sense is that it’s certainly gotten better, but it’s not back to the atmosphere that it was 18 months ago,” Jacobs said. ”Lenders have eased a little bit and they’ve given us more availability with dealers.
”But I think the flooring companies are going to play a critical role in the fall and winter markets,” he added ”How willing they are to allow dealers to inventory product is going to be a key component of what goes on this fall.”
Despite media reports that have tended to make the RV industry appear ”irrelevant” during the global recession, Wilbur Bontrager contended the RV lifestyle is not going to go away.
”I maintain that as long as people take vacations, our industry will not be irrelevant,” he said. ”The long term outlook is very good. (The industry) may come back at a slower pace than it has in the past. It will gradually recover. I don’t want to put percentages on increases, but we should see increasing strength and recovery over the next two or three years.”
Nonetheless, there may be more industry fallout due to the economy. ”There could be more of a contraction, not only manufacturers, but suppliers also,” Wilbur Bontrager said.
Given the bankruptcy of Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. and the purchase of bankrupt Monaco Coach Corp.’s assets by Warrenville, Ill.-based Navistar International Corp., Jayco’s luxury Entegra motorhome division is well positioned for a recovery, according to Jacobs.
”Frankly, with the two largest Class A manufacturers out there in complete disarray, we actually feel good about our position with that product,” Jacobs said. ”The next six to nine months probably will be a very slow ramp up for us with (Entegra). But long term, we know we can position ourselves as a very viable, very strong player in that market.”
”On the retail side, (dealers) are very concerned about aligning themselves with manufacturers that they believe are going to be here long term,” Derald Bontrager said. ”We talked about it in our opening remarks. We will be here.”
With regard to the Starcraft brand, Jacobs said Jayco wants to make it ”an all-inclusive” brand.
”We want to create a brand that dealers can look at and say, ‘I do not have any holes in this offering and it is something that I can build my entire dealership around.’ We have made huge strides in that arena in the last several months.”