As reports of the devastation delivered by Hurricane Katrina continue to mount, the recreational vehicle industry is ramping up to provide temporary housing for storm victims.
Several manufacturers, including Nappanee, Ind.-based Gulf Stream Coach Inc. and Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., Riverside, Calif., apparently are poised to enter into contracts with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to build specialized trailers.
The Press Enterprise, Riverside, reported that Fleetwood, which routinely sells trailers and manufactured housing to FEMA after disasters, says it can increase production to meet an anticipated call for victims of Katrina.
Gulf Stream announced it is hiring an additional 200 employees to handle the anticipated influx of orders while Jeff Tryka, director of investor relations for Coachmen Industries Inc., Elkhart, Ind., told a local newspaper that it will “be doing some work to help” storm victims.
But before any formalized arrangement can be negotiated with builders, FEMA is tapping into manufacturers’ and dealers’ on-hand stock for immediate assistance.
“Some of our southern dealers are calling and saying they will buy whatever we have,” said Joe Hosinski, marketing manager for Goshen Ind.-based Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., a subsidiary of Thor Industries Inc. “We have sold our open inventory from our normal production run and we are putting in additional orders for our plants in Goshen and Middlebury. At this point we are looking at adding staff and increasing production to help with efforts.”
Larger dealerships in proximity to Katrina’s destructive path are setting up supply chains to help feed product to FEMA. The Emerald Coast RV outlet in Gulf Breeze, Fla., a FreedomRoads dealer, is serving as a hub of sorts for the national retail network.
“We are receiving units from all the FreedomRoads stores,” said David Randall, general manager at the Gulf Breeze store. “We’re probably going to ship a 1,000 units in the first wave.”
Randall said he is teaming with Dusty’s Camper World in Bartow, Fla., to organize efforts, which include setting up satellite lots in Gulfport, Miss., Robertsdale, Ala., and Louisiana.
“I’ll be handling the retail end, meaning dealing with insurance companies and people who don’t qualify for FEMA units,” Randall said. “Frank Crum at Dusty’s is handling the FEMA operation. The satellite lot in Gulfport will serve as a staging area for FEMA.”
FreedomRoads, with 4,000 units in stock, is also shipping a thousand units out of its inventories to its Southwest RV store in Katy, Texas, just west of the Houston Astrodome, where large numbers of hurricane refugees are being sent, according to FreedomRoads President Marcus Lemonis.
“They’re for retail, wholesale, whatever we can do with them,” said Lemonis. “And we’ve also placed significant orders with various manufacturers to replenish our dealership inventory, which we’ve just depleted, and to provide a pipeline for our distribution in the Gulf Coast area. As long as gas prices don’t go to $40 a gallon, we’ll be OK.”