Randy Graber says he feels fortunate – perhaps an unexpected outlook for the owner of a company that incorporated in August of last year just as the towable market began turning south.
The president of Open Range RV Co., a small, family-run firm in Shipshewana, Ind., explains that if he had launched a year, or even six months, later, “this never would have happened.”
“The financing wouldn’t have been there,” said Graber, a 25-year industry veteran most recently with Keystone RV Co. “The lending environment really dried up, and there’s no question we couldn’t have found the credit we needed.”
Financing, however, proved to be just one of the challenges as the builder began producing product in September 2007 and marketing to a dealer body that was becoming decidedly frugal on buying.
“When we started, we certainly didn’t predict what was going to happen to the market,” Graber said. “It was looking pretty rough. But we stayed true to our original strategy that product was going to distinguish us in the marketplace.”
Last August, the company came out with its Journeyer line of fifth-wheels and travel trailers to complement its original mid-priced Open Range fiver series. “We needed to get into the mainstream market,” Graber said.
And, according to Graber, September proved to be the company’s “best retail month,” which provided the springboard to a milestone as Open Range marked its 1,000th unit off the production line on Nov. 20.
“It sounds strange in this environment, but we are in a growth mode,” Graber said prior to the dedication ceremony that included the company’s 100 employees along with Mark Primeaux, president of Primeaux RV in Carenco, La., who accepted the landmark unit. “Our units are selling at retail, and I can’t say enough about our dealers. They have really been supportive.”
Randy’s wife, Pam, who serves as vice president of operations, added that being a startup in a down market actually offered some advantages.
“Other OEMs have so much inventory on dealers’ lots that they can’t sell any more product,” she said. “They are also having to worry about all the costs associated with downsizing. We’re already lean and mean, so we don’t have to recreate the company. It’s allowed us to really concentrate on the product.”
Randy Graber said the company is preparing for its first National RV Trade Show slated for Dec. 2-4 in Louisville, Ky. Last year Open Range held an after-hours event to network with dealers.
“We’ll be showing our full product line,” Graber said. “It’s a real opportunity for us to get into other markets. Right now, we have around 80 dealers and we’re hoping to add to that.”