Thursday (Aug. 29) was an exceptional day at Keystone RV Co.’s headquarters on the southeast side of Goshen, Ind., as Thor Industries Inc.’s largest division marked a “significant and rare milestone” with the shipment of its 1 millionth unit.
Keystone, with a few hundred employees and partners on hand, celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony after which a 2020 Keystone Montana 3761FL fifth-wheel was towed away by a 2020 Sierra 2500 HD Denali from the corporate complex for delivery to Walnut Ridge Family RV Center in New Castle, Ind.
“We can’t understate how honored we are to have had the support of hundreds of dealers, thousands of employees, and soon to be one million Keystone RV owners over the past 23 years,” said Keystone RV CEO and President Jeff Runels.
In May 1996, industry veteran Cole Davis became the president and major shareholder of Aristocrat Industries Inc., which he rechristened Keystone RV Co., the company reports. Keystone’s original 60,000-square-foot plant in Goshen’s Maple City Industrial Park remains a part of Keystone’s sprawling 320-acre campus, now home to more than 25 manufacturing plants and the company’s corporate office.
Sprinter, Keystone’s original brand is still in production and has been joined by 17 other nameplates, making Keystone in itself the largest manufacturer of towable RV’s in North America.
“The company was founded on the philosophy that customers are at the center of our decision making, and the people closest to our customers – dealers, our sales team, customer service, are all empowered to make decisions that deliver the best possible ownership experience,” added Runels. “That was true when Cole started the company and it remains true today.”
Thor RV Group Manager Matt Zimmerman, former president of Keystone, an employer today of about 5,500 people including Keystone’s CrossRoads and Dutchmen business units, fielded questions after the ribbon-cutting ceremony from RVBusiness and WSBT57 in a press conference as well as the Goshen News and South Bend Tribune in which he was prompted to address an array of topics beyond the general news of the day.
The Press: A million units is a pretty significant moment, isn’t it?
Zimmerman: “Yeah, it’s a great question, you know there’s a lot of significance to building a million units. You look back and you recognize all the hard work that had to be put into it, from all the employees. But then you take it another layer down to all the suppliers that supported us over the years. And then our two ultimate customers – the dealers and the retail customer. And I think a million units is really significant because it just shows the true faith and trust of our products, our companies and our ability to back what we say we’re going to do.”
The Press: So, what has enabled Keystone to flourish over the years, despite the economic downturns that have challenged the industry, especially the recession of 2008? Does it mean something special to reach this milestone at this point?
Zimmerman: “You know, we’ve always had a motto here: Just be fair and responsible and do what people expect us to do. So, really in 2008/2009 we didn’t stray from that. We just followed the same path that we follow when things are going really well. When you do that, you earn a lot of trust and respect among all of your stakeholders. I think that history has helped us manufacture a million units — a threshold that very few companies have reached.”
So, you put that all in context and we’re just honored that people have trusted us for 24 years to get us to this point, and because it comes today versus a different year, it’s still the same amount of respect and honor to have achieved that.”
The Press: There are reports of concerns regarding the RV industry’s market right now. What are your thoughts on that?
Zimmerman: The industry is really, really good right now. We’ve been on an impressive path for many years, and while it’s slowed a little bit, we’ll still end this year in the top five all-time in terms of retail sales. It’s really, really good.
I think it feels a little bit different because we’ve experienced that accelerated growth since 2008/2009 — almost double-digit increases year after year. So, we get to a certain point in the industry where we had to expand infrastructure. We had to invest in our facilities and we were planning for that same continued double-digit growth, and then it slows and it’s a little bit unsettling.
But, again, the reality is it’s still really strong. There’s more people that are driven to our lifestyle every day. We have new demographic data about Millennials showing that the outdoors is their escape or their zen, and they’re using RV’s to do that.
And that’s really exciting. So, short term, we just went through a little bit of a correction relative to dealer inventories, but it’s still going to be a top five year, so that’s all good.
The Press: So, do you have a goal for when you want to make the 2 millionth unit?
Zimmerman: Yeah, one year less than the time it took us to churn out the first million. But, seriously, the economic water level will dictate when we actually hit it. The goal is to be around and make sure that we hit it.
The Press: Inasmuch as we’re on the doorstep of September’s Elkhart RV Open House, do you expect good things out of that national show, now the industry’s largest?
Zimmerman: Yeah, we do. There’s a lot of excitement in our industry from our dealer body. Actually, this week we’ve had numerous dealers come in already doing kind of a preshow. A lot of them like to come in and take a look at some products ahead of time so they can go back, formulate plans and come to the Open House in a much more relaxed environment and set those plans in motion.
And all the dealers we’ve been talking to are extremely optimistic about next year. Again, they recognized that this year was a little bit slower, and that next year will probably be somewhat similar in terms of volume and size — maybe up, maybe down a little bit. But they’re all very optimistic about that because they recognize how good that is from the context of our industry’s entire history, so there’s a lot of optimism and we plan on a really exciting time at this year’s Open House.