By: Dave Barbulesco
Friday, June 29, 2007
<span class="ev_code_RED">Georgie Boy's rear gas-powered Cruise Master Class A
Espousing a renewed focus on dealer relationships and a more streamlined approach to doing business, officials for Coachmen Industries Inc. outlined the "culture change" adopted by the 43-year-old Elkhart, Ind.-based company during its dealer seminar June 18-20 in Savannah, Ga.
"We have made a 180-degree turn," said Mike Terlep, president of Coachmen RV Co. in Middlebury, Ind., while addressing around 400 people representing 140 dealerships at a breakfast meeting in the Savannah International Convention and Trade Center. "During the last nine to 12 months we have been going through an introspective analysis of our company. We visited with our dealers and listened to our customers. In some respects, the process has been humbling. But, as a result, we have set out on a course to institute changes meaningful changes that are essential to our business."
During the meeting, the RV and modular home builder introduced a slate of newly developed and refined programs designed to "reconnect" with its dealer body, including a revised dealer service agreement, training for dealership salespeople, along with several financing services and a private label extended warranty contract through GE Money. Coachmen also unveiled its 2008 product lineup that featured 16 new floorplans, highlighted by an expanded Wyoming fifth-wheel line and a Georgie Boy Cruise Master Class A built on a rear-engine gas UFO chassis from Workhorse Custom Chassis LLC.
"We're excited about our new products," Terlep said, emphasizing that Coachmen was refocusing on the entry- and mid-level sectors of the towable and motorized markets while reducing its floorplan selection by 45% over the past year. "We have done away with the cram and jam' mentality' that is prevalent in the industry. We are building what you want to buy, not what we think you want to buy."
Coachmen's new direction stems from of a top-level management shift last August with the retirement of Claire Skinner daughter of co-founder Tom Corson and the installment of Rick Lavers as president and CEO. Lavers noted that despite the laundry list of corporatewide moves many relating to across-the-board brand segmentation on the RV side and an aggressive cost-cutting campaign Coachmen's legacy as a quality- and service-oriented company remained the cornerstone in its plan for the future.
"The bedrock principles of this company will never change," he said. "We will continue to do what's right,' and do it with a sense of integrity. Quality is the first priority. During the last year, we have significantly improved quality in all aspects of the company." Terlep related that Coachmen had implemented a $4 million program to improve overall quality, and was showing a 30% reduction in defects per unit since February.
Lavers said that a key part of the turnaround process was "empowering" workers with a sense of ownership and giving them the ability to "exercise their creativity." Terlep underscored the point by noting that he and Lavers had never seen many of the company's new product introductions until Savannah.
Lee Pickard, owner of Georgia-based Mid-State RV Center and a Coachmen dealer for 23 years, confirmed that the builder had "stripped away a few layers" in the decision-making process.
"Before, we had three or four people presenting products who were three to four layers down in management," he said. "Everything flowed up the ladder to be approved and then back down. Now, we're dealing with one person who has the authority to make decisions."
Lavers also addressed the company's strategic plan to return to profitability as Coachmen finished in the red for fiscal 2005 and 2006. "We are on our way to recovery," he said. "We are turning the corner, but we haven't turned the corner. Everything that we have been doing is not yet evident in the bottom line."
Lavers said that Coachmen is responding with several initiatives to meet a "megatrend" among consumers regarding fuel efficiency. He revealed that the company is coming out with a patented construction technique for enhanced fuel performance. And last March, Coachmen entered into a partnership to research the use of solar power and biodiesel fuel in RVs.
Setting the tone for the gathering, Coachmen's opening-night product rollout was carried out against a backdrop of smoke machines and spotlights showcasing the 75 units on display.
Mike Scheetz, motorized group vice president, said Coachmen had reaffirmed its focus on the Class C market. "The Class C has always been our flagship," he said. "We're aggressively producing product to hit key price points with more features than our competitors."
In line with the company's overall commitment to "thinking green," Scheetz related that Coachmen had designed a Class C built on the higher-mileage Sprinter platform.
"We are locked and loaded with a Sprinter-based product," he said. "We're just waiting for chassis availability."
Motorized offerings debuted in Savannah included:
"’ Georgie Boy's 40-foot Cruise Master coach is built on the 26,000-pound GVWR Workhorse UFO chassis powered by GM's Vortec 8.1L V8 rear gasoline engine. The company maintained that the rear-engine configuration reduced engine noise and cabin heat while increasing available pass-through storage space. The 3740FWS
features a full-wall driver-side slideout along with 22 1/2-inch wheels and cockpit door entrance that gives the coach the look of a diesel pusher.
Other features include a one-piece windshield, residential-style furniture, 95 cubic feet of pass-through basement storage, a flip-down 32-inch LCD television, large double door refrigerator with a freezer shelf and fully automatic hydraulic leveling jacks. MSRP was not yet available.
"’ Coachmen introduced a rear lounge floorplan in its Leprechaun Class C lineup, which the company said is an industry exclusive. Built on 14,050 GVWR Ford E-450 Super Duty cutaway chassis, the coach's rear living area offers a 32-inch LCD TV and a sofa/hide-a-bed with a premium air mattress. Other amenities include a Euro-style island peninsula kitchen, optional dual recliners, cedar-lined wardrobe closets and a storage compartment built into the floor. Base MSRP For the 319DL Leprechaun is $95,893.
On the towable side, Coachmen pared the number of floorplans while adding features that "distinguish our products in the marketplace."
"This year has been one of the weirdest sales years in my 23-year history," said Mike Bear, towable group vice president. "With the market up and down, it's imperative that you build product that has eye appeal. It's the five-second sale. That's how long it takes for customers to decide if they want to step into a unit."
Bear said that Coachmen had become "much more agile" in product changes. "During the past year, we instituted five generation changes in our Spirit of America line. If a change needs to be made, we can implement it immediately instead of waiting for the traditional model-year introductions."
Towable highlights included:
"’ For 2008, Coachmen added a 38-foot quad-slide floorplan to its mid-priced, laminated Wyoming fifth-wheel lineup, bringing the total to six. All other models offer triple-slide layouts. Marketed as a "big living" fiver, the Wyoming features an 80-inch sofa/hide-a-bed and up to 92 cubic feet of pass-through storage space.
Features throughout the line include an optional high-gloss sidewall option, a notched front cap allowing for 90-degree turning radius on most shorter bed pickups, and residential-style interiors with upscale cabinetry and oil-rubbed bronze hardware and fixtures. New standard features for 2008 include a 32-inch LCD TV, upgraded suspension system and a king-size bed. Lengths run 37-40 feet with base MSRPs from $43,827-$50,386.
"’ Coachmen RV extended its line of Blast lightweight sport utility recreational vehicles (SURV) with the Blast MPH 210 and 210 Power Plus. Coachmen touts the line, which is part of the company's Adrenaline division built in Fitzgerald, Ga., as one of the lightest and most affordable "multi-purpose" toy haulers in the marketplace with units ranging from 15-21 feet in length (A-frame not included) and base weights from 3,400-5,000 pounds.
The two new 21-footers introduced in Savannah offer optional dual electric queen beds, a fully equipped kitchen with black appliances and furniture that folds against the walls while the 210 Power Plus adds a 13,500 BTU air conditioner and standard fiberglass sidewalls versus wood-and-aluminum construction. Base MSRPs range from $12,782 to $15,113 with the 210 Power Plus starting at $20,293.