Look for the debut of an Evoke toy hauler travel trailer at an Elkhart RV Open House exhibit manned by Travel Lite RV, a towable RV builder located in New Paris and Syracuse, Ind., that had posted impressive growth over the past five years until facing some serious headwinds and production layoffs over the past couple of months, confirms Travel Lite President Dustin Johns.
In addition, Johns told RVBUSINESS.com on Monday (Sept. 9) that he is returning to his active role at the travel trailer and truck camper manufacturer this week “after a four-week restructuring” hiatus, a move that had fueled plenty of speculation around the industry lately regarding Travel Lite — a company that in 2018 unveiled an impressive expansion project at a Syracuse industrial park.
“Basically, when we started the expansion from our New Paris facility into the Syracuse complex, we had a business plan laid out with certain kinds of guidelines and things that we wanted to accomplish, including the expansion in to full-size towables with the Evoke line (introduced in the fall of 2018) and the addition of an Evoke fifth-wheel, something that we haven’t released yet,” said Johns, whose late father, Larry Johns, launched Travel Lite in 1968.
“But the construction process took longer than I was told, which happens much of the time, and our deadlines kept getting put off later and later while the RV economy and RV landscape completely shifted from the time I first signed off on the expansion project early in the spring of 2017,” he added. “So, the whole point of the last four weeks’ (hiatus) was to reimagine and restructure our business model and our plan for the new RV environment.”
That new environment to which Travel Lite is adjusting involves a substantial “shift downward” in terms of industry volume and dealer inventories, according to Johns, who says his company had worked primarily over the years with smaller dealerships that specialized more in niche product lines such as truck campers and small ultra-lite truck campers.
As Travel Lite has gotten more into the mainstream towables with the Evoke, however, it has created business relationships with some of the “best dealer chains in the country,” Johns said.
“So, basically over the last month, I needed to step away to meet with some consultants and some of my good friends and partners, to get away from the day-to-day operations so I could plan for the next two or three years of what are the new strategies to be as successful as possible in this new RV economy and landscape for the dealers in an environment where volume and total sales have shifted significantly since 2017,” said Johns.
So, does this mean that Travel Lite will reduce its physical footprint, assuming that its total employment in the foreseeable future will be somewhat less than its modern high of 163? “Yes, that’s what we’re moving toward,” said Johns, adding that more information will be released in the next few weeks.
But bottom line, in case anyone had heard otherwise, Travel Lite’s doors remain open for business for the long haul, maintained Johns.
“Absolutely,” he told RVBUSINESS.com. “All we’ve done is we’ve laid off production until we have the game plan set in place. The tentative plan at this point is to resume production on Oct. 21 to keep an eye, moving forward, on how much money we’re spending because I spent a lot – and hired a lot of people – in the anticipation that growth would continue at the impressive pace that we’ve had as an industry.
“So, the reality of it now is that that’s not going to be able to continue to happen every single year for us,” he concluded. “I mean, at some point it becomes almost impossible to grow that quickly and we’re just trying to remain the most profitable and sustainable as we can.”