Five veterans of the RV industry are ready to introduce their new company and its products to the national market starting next month.
Elkhart County's newest RV companyHeartland Recreational Vehicles, LLCprojects a start-up production date of Feb. 16, climaxing months of planning and fulfilling the dreams of its founders.
They're reviving a processstarting up a new RV companythat has occurred countless times in and around Elkhart County through the years and which has helped make this area the nation's hub of the industry.
These latest in a long line of risk-takers have chosen fifth-wheel trailers as their first product and will be operating from a 45,000-square-foot factory on Paul Drive north of Elkhart.
Brian Brady, former president and CEO of Damon Corp., is the majority owner and chairman of Heartland. Brady, 52, has been out of the industry for six years, since selling his interest in Damon.
"I've had a number of opportunities to get back in and in a variety of capacities and elected not to do that," said Brady. But he heard last spring about his future partners' plans, a financial adviser put Brady in touch with the other four men, and he became interested.
"The principal reason I'm doing this is because of my partners," he said. "This time, the attraction is the quality of these guys and their commitment to excellence. These guys have really earned a terrific reputation in the industry and have put their capital at risk. To risk that speaks volumes."
Brady's partners are: Tim Hoffman, the vice president of sales; Douglas Lantz, vice president of administration; John Rhymer, vice president of operations; and Scott Tuttle, vice president of marketing and dealer services.
The four minority owners shared a common dream: after working for someone else, they wanted to own their own company.
"We were all at the top of our own field," noted Hoffman. "We all left pretty lucrative positions, the safety and security to go after a goal."
The four of them have kicked around the idea for some time, but once Brady joined the mix, their plan took shape quickly.
Heartland announced last month it was forming to produce fifth-wheel trailers. The company attended the Louisville Show but elected not to show product.
"We feel no pressure to rush into production," explained Brady. "We feel pressure to do it right."
Doing it rightproducing a quality product that meets dealers' wishes and doing it all with a work force of people who care what they are doingis the stated goal at Heartland.
"Everything we do must be top notch. The pressure is on us to raise the bar" in the industry, said Hoffman, 36, a 15-year veteran of the industry.
As strange as it may seem, Heartland sold out its early production run of Landmark fifth wheels before a single unit rolled off the line.
"That's what 90 years of combined experience in the industry will do," said Hoffman.
Management proposed several key steps in living up to its promise.
First, every unit produced by Heartland will be inspected by an owner of the company before it ships. Second, every retail customer will be contacted by Heartland 60 days after he or she takes delivery and again after six months.
"Our experience has boosted our confidence," said Tuttle, 37, a 17-year veteran of the industry. "If we do it right, we will have some longevity in the business."
Heartland will be offering six floorplans in its 2005 Landmark lineup. The units will range between 34 and 36 feet long and feature triple or quad slideouts. The products will be made of laminated fiberglass on a full aluminum cage construction.
Heartland sees its market as baby boomers who are experienced RV owners (not first-time buyers). "This segment is quality-driven, not price-driven," Tuttle explained.
"It's an excellent time to get into the market. The fastest-growing segment of the market is fifth wheels. That reflects the huge number of baby boomers who will be coming into the pipeline for the next 10 years," Tuttle said.
The units will retail in the range between $50,000 and $60,000.
Heartland management has been busy in recent weeks setting up production, lining up vendors, signing up a dealer body and hiring workers.
Heartland is looking for workers with at least five years of experience and plans to start production with a work force of about 50 workers, growing to 100 within a year.
Lantz, 37, a 15-year industry veteran, will be responsible for purchasing, customer service, parts and warranty and finances.
Rhymer, 41, a 22-year veteran, will oversee all engineering and production operations.
As of early January, Brady said Heartland was right on target with its financial model. He expects the company will begin to turn a profit in the second quarter of this year "and we expect '04 to be attractively profitable."
Contact Steve Bibler at email@example.com.