Opinion: If nothing changes, nothing changes

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By Greg Gerber
Editor, RV Daily Report

Pundits declare the RV industry is changing all the time, but is it really?

Rarely do we see new blood coming into the industry. People change jobs by moving from one RV-related company to another.

Why isn’t the industry growing or innovating? Because nothing is really changing.

That’s why I liked seeing an influx of new companies, many from overseas or the west coast, participating in the RVX show earlier this month in Salt Lake City.

New people and new companies bring innovative new ideas.

In the American RV industry, people move from one company to another, or get fired from one firm and wind up working at another a few weeks or months later.

Consolidation contributes further to the undiluted gene pool of new faces and new ideas. One company’s failed attempt or bad hiring decision becomes another firm’s hope for the future.

To read how the banana market is facing serious problems due to a bad gene pool, check out this story in The Guardian. Bad genes aren’t just organic.

The incestuous nature of the RV industry often results in the same old products being produced and marketed by the same old “visionaries” year after year.

Winnebago starting thinking outside the box when it brought in Mike Happe as its CEO in 2016. Happe came from Toro, a landscaping equipment company, and then moved Winnebago’s corporate office from small town Forest City, Iowa, to the Minneapolis metropolitan area.

That infused some fresh blood into the company, and look where Winnebago is today compared to three years ago. It was strong then, but even stronger now.

Yet, rumors are flying that the RV industry is about to make another colossal mistake by moving Roadtrek from Canada to Elkhart.

The company thrived in Ontario with a unique labor pool of skilled people building Class B motorhomes. The leadership may have been inbred, which helped account for the disaster that befell on the company. But the line workers and office staff certainly were originals.

Now it appears likely that a big player in the RV industry is about to acquire Roadtrek and move its manufacturing operation to Elkhart – where the same people have been building the same RVs for years.

The unemployment rate in the Elkhart area, especially in manufacturing, is already well below the 4% level which is often considered the rate of full employment, so why would a firm seek ways to hire another 400 people from that area to build RVs.

Forget drug screening. If the applicant can fog a mirror, he’s hired!

If this rumor is true, it could go down as the dumbest decision of 2019 – at least it will be a top contender for this judge’s choice award.

The absolute best thing that could happen to the RV industry would be for more companies to expand out of the Elkhart County geographic area – even if it is only by a few hundred miles.

It would open the door to a different pool of skilled craftsmen and professionals instead of relying upon those who bounce from one RV company to another in search of a quarter-an-hour raise.

It also ensures that the vast majority of the RV industry wouldn’t be impacted should a disaster wipe out Elkhart. The city is, after all, in Tornado Alley, and many manufacturing and supplier firms are located in the floodplain along the St. Joseph River and its tributaries.

Speaking of rumors, I understand that chefs in Jandelsbrunn, Germany, are experimenting with new recipes for pork chop Weiner schnitzel.

But is another consolidation really the change the RV industry is truly seeking, and desperately needs?

Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber

A journalist who has covered the recreation vehicle industry since January 2000, Greg Gerber founded RV Daily Report on April Fool's Day in 2009. He also serves as the editor of the publication and website. As an Eagle Scout, he has enjoyed camping for decades and has visited every state except Hawaii. A DODO -- Dad of Daughters Only -- to three young women, he has two grandchildren as well. He currently splits his time between Wisconsin, Texas and Arizona. Greg can be reached at editor@rvdailyreport.com.

Leave a Comment

  • acesfull says:

    What exactly do you do in the Industry Greg? Besides deliver outsider “insight”? I’ve worked for companies in and out of elkhart and I would rather own a unit built in elkhart with the years of experience in how to do it than one from a company who is just learning or, in many instances in my experience, too stubborn to do it like anyone else. Typically there’s a reason behind the why. Ive seen that first hand. You should get warranty figures and facts and write an article you know about. Maybe about the failed ventures from outsider companies trying to change the landscape. There’s been plenty. I’m all for new ways and out of box thinking, but there are reasons for certain things and it’s not just stupid people doing what they know. I’ve seen first hand many people and companies who think they’re going to turn the industry on its head. Vendors, timelines, and cost are all significantly affected by location. Sorry, but to me you sound like you have no real idea.

  • C.S. says:

    Mr. Gerber- I suppose we ‘readers’ have come to expect a partisan viewpoint from many ‘news’ sources in today’s climate, however I am still surprised to see such a polarizing viewpoint from a ‘so-called’ RV industry journalist.

    Just a few Examples of innovation in the RV Industry over the last handful of years:
    Lithium Ion Batteries
    Affordable Solar Power
    Implementing Composite Materials in high volume
    Lighter Weight units designed for smaller tow vehicles
    Versatile Storage Solutions that have not been utilized in the past
    Utilizing Green Manufacturing Standards
    Maximization of ‘Camper Friendly’ Necessities

    Greg, I would dare you to compare an average unit 20,15, even 10 years old to today and not identify some large advancements in both product design, affordability, and tow-ability.

    Not to mention, the fabrication capabilities in this town to design tools, widgets, and new items for many industries across the nation.

    The repetition of products in some segments of this business is purely driven by the consumer. Our consumers demand an affordable product, and its important to us to be able to deliver an affordable quality product to them year after year.

    Please enlighten us on what ‘advancements’ these overseas manufacturers are implementing that are of benefit to the end consumer that maintain both durability and affordability?

    I can assure you it would not take much ‘investigative journalism’ to find innovative, passionate, and determined people, both on the production floor, and in the offices around this great community.

    The majority of folks in and around this business and community wake up each day with a sense of pride and purpose for what they do, and that shows through in many of the products produced out of this region.

    To say I am offended by the above article would be giving your short-sighted viewpoint too much credit. However, if the guidelines for a successful ‘piece’ in this instance was to “Fog a Mirror” as you put it, I would say you have succeeded.

    If you did not find it too risky this spring to come into “Tornado Alley”, (Very dangerous place to live and work) I would welcome you to come spend some time with us. Unlike your viewpoint above, most of us industry folks welcome a fresh perspective, new ideas, and new smiles.
    At the very least, a few hours here actually participating ‘on the court’ might give you a new perspective as a ‘sideline expert.’

    -The Innovative, Passionate, and Dedicated RV Industry Employees

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