By Bob Zagami
If Cinderella were rewritten to reflect the story as it relates to RVs, then we would see Thor Industries as the prince at the ball and the newly formed Thor Motor Coach division as the beautiful princess everyone wanted to take to the dance. When the late Wade Thompson and Peter Orthwein combined the first two letters of their last names to form Thor Industries in 1980 and purchased the iconic Airstream company, few people in the RV industry thought they could ever turn this company around so quickly and so profitably. Yet, one year later, Airstream was once again profitable, and the Cinderella story of this RV company was born. The management team has never looked back. This is an RV company literally built from scratch, and one that has been profitable every year since its inception, even through the challenging years of the recession from which the industry is now emerging. The company has zero debt and saw sales increase from $1.52 billion to $2.3 billion in the fiscal year ending July 31, 2010.
To celebrate its 30th anniversary, Thor Industries has repositioned its motorized products by combining Damon Motor Coach and Four Winds International into a new division called Thor Motor Coach. Recently, I interviewed Bill Fenech, president of Thor Motor Coach, to get his view on the exciting new developments at this well-respected company.
Q: (Zagami) When Thor management began considering this major change in motorized products, what were some of the concerns and outcomes you were looking for?
A: (Fenech) We felt that Damon and Four Winds were not strong names when you consider that we are the number-one manufacturer of motorhomes when you put these companies under their new corporate branding. We can share best practices, support our dealers better, and change the way our motorized products are viewed by RV consumers. Many people just didn’t associate these brands with Thor Industries, and we were not capitalizing on our strengths in the marketplace.
Q: Were other names considered for this new division?
A: Oh, yes, there were many names written on the back of napkins or the whiteboards in the office. Dozens of names were considered, and we were leaning toward something else, but when we reached the point of no return and had to finalize the naming process, we didn’t want to put an entirely new name out there that we would have to refocus consumers on. Any name that didn’t have Thor in the title was not going to take advantage of our strong management team, corporate ethics, and strong balance sheet. In the end, Thor Motor Coach felt right, and I know we made the right choice.
Q: Will any new brands be added to the product lineup?
A: We will be adding a unique lower-cost motorhome that we think the market is ready for. It will be a Type A/Type C crossover motorhome that will be called the A.C.E., and it stands for Type A, Type C Evolution. It will be introduced at the [Recreation Vehicle Industry Association] trade show in Louisville [Kentucky] late this year, and consumers will see it at the spring shows in 2011. We are really excited about this product, and it will be our first new introduction after rebranding our motorized products as Thor Motor Coach.
Q: Where do you see the growth of this new division coming from: a particular brand, a particular type of product, adding new dealers, etc?
A: All of those areas, as we build a stronger company with more national exposure. . . . Our growth needs to come from our dealers. We must, and will, improve our diesel market share. Our diesels are the best-kept secret in the RV industry today, and we are going to change that. The Tuscany motorhome is one of the best values in the marketplace and competes with similar products from [other manufacturers]. The Tuscany is consistently one of the top-selling diesel motorhomes, but nobody knows it. They will now!
Q: Has the demographic of your motorized buyer changed much the past two years since the recession hit our industry?
A: Consumers have obviously shifted to lower-priced, more fuel-efficient motorhomes, and we have several of those in our product lineup to satisfy that need. Although financing still presents some challenges, our diesel sales at the [Pennsylvania RV & Camping Association] show in Hershey were terrific. We have a focused strategy to be the industry leader in all motorhome segments under $300,000, and that makes us a major player in the bulk of the market, especially when you consider the value of our lower-priced units.
Q: The Damon and Four Winds brands have always been excellent investments for the price points they target for RV consumers. These brands show “more expensive” than competitive products at similar price points and deliver more value and quality for the money. How do you get this message out to the consumer, and how will it be incorporated into the new messaging of Thor Motor Coach?
A: That is really the essence of what this reorganization is all about. . . . We don’t want to be a secret anymore. . . . We intend to change the perception and take advantage of the strong name and presence Thor has in the industry.
Q: What will the suggested MSRP be on the motorized products offered by Thor Motor Coach?
A: They will range from $62,000 to $280,000.
Q: Any closing comments?
A: We are excited. We have great people, great dealers, great products, and great customers. For all those who don’t know about us yet, let me say it one more time: we will no longer be the best-kept secret in the RV industry — I guarantee it!