A vigorous spring selling season appears to be placing a strain on RV delivery firms.
As manufacturers continue to pump up production, transport companies are scrambling to maintain a steady flow of product from RV builders to retail dealerships.
One major Midwest transporter, who asked that his company not be named, reports that there have been, at times, four- to five-week backlogs.
Rob Jackson, operations manager, driveaway division, for Horizon Transport Inc. of Wakarusa, Ind., offered a similar scenario, stating, “We’re about 10 days out on motorized and a month on towables.”
Manufacturers pointed to a variety of reasons for the delays.
“The RV industry is very strong right now and we’re also at our peak shipping time of the year,” said Ron Fenech, president of Keystone RV Co., a high-volume towable manufacturer based in Goshen Ind. “So when we’re delayed by a couple of weeks, it’s a big problem. It’s just frustrating because it seems like we don’t have a lot of options.”
The main obstacle, however, appears to be a lack of manpower on the part of the unit haulers.
“Demand of RV product has simply outpaced the supply of qualified drivers,” Jackson said, noting that 2004 may be unusual because sales could remain strong on into the summer. “We pride ourselves on having the highest qualification process for our contractors, which compounds our challenges in meeting manufacturers’ demands right now.
“The sustained outlook for this year has put us in a position where we have to attract more qualified drivers. One of the creative things we’re doing (to attract more drivers) is holding a raffle that is open to all our contractors for a 2004 Dodge extended-cab truck.”
Hunting for qualified personnel is nothing new for transport providers – their operations are seasonal – particularly during the peak shipment season each spring. But that process may be more intensive this year because the pool of qualified drivers, which is predominantly retirees, may be shrinking because of increasing costs to operate as independent contractors.
“In the past few years it’s become more difficult for the drivers because of rising costs for insurance, fuel and their rigs,” stated Joe Hosinski, marketing director for Dutchmen Manufacturing. Inc. of Goshen. “And while those costs have continued to go up, we haven’t seen any change in our freight charge.”
Both Hosinski and Fenech reported that recently they had accepted a freight rate increase, which they were told “will be going directly to the drivers.”
Added Fenech: “We felt we had no choice but to take the recent increase, which will help the drivers cover their overall costs for operation, in particular gasoline.”
Both Keystone and Dutchmen are units of Thor Industries Inc., the largest towables manufacturer in the nation.