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November 29, 2012

Grand Design company a hit at RV show

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Grand Design, a 7-week-old RV company, has been well-received by dealers at the National RV Trade Show.

Grand Design was created by Don Clark and Bill and Ron Fenech, RV industry veterans who created Keystone RV and rocketed to the top of the RV industry with that company before selling it to Thor Industries. The three then held leadership positions with Thor, before leaving those behind in the past year.

“I think it’s great,” said Jim “Dandy” Cooley, president of Dandy RV Superstore in Anniston, Ala.

Cooley and a couple hundred other dealers and RV industry people attended a breakfast Wednesday morning sponsored by Grand Design. At the breakfast the three founders outlined their plans for the new company, and Cooley liked what he heard and from whom he heard it.

“The Fenech boys and Clark are the same kind of human beings,” Cooley said. “They are incredibly high-quality people who separate themselves from the crowd. I am going to be their very first dealer.”

What the trio said was that Grand Design will be located in the former Four Seasons Housing industrial complex on C.R. 2 north of Middlebury. There the company is building a prototype extended-stay fifth-wheel. They expect to begin producing and delivering one unit per day in January.

Prior to the breakfast, the Grand Design team, which includes the founders and Marc Houser, general manager, and Jerry McCarthy, vice president of service operations, spent Monday and Tuesday at a small table on the trade show floor meeting and greeting dealers and old friends in the industry. They drew a constant crowd.

“The whole industry is abuzz about what we are doing,” Clark said during a short break from his meet-and-greet duties. “Everyone is rooting for us.”

At the breakfast the founders outlined how their creative business plan used to move Keystone to the top tier of RV companies will be discarded in this new venture. At Keystone they created “competitive cells” within the company, where one trailer line was competing against others in the company. When Thor purchased Keystone, that model was adopted by other Thor companies, according to Clark, and those companies also grew.

“In a blink of an eye we were a very large, huge corporation,” Clark said of Thor.

But the Keystone founders didn’t want to be in a large company and one by one decided to leave.

Now the model for their new company will be to create products for six segments of the RV market, starting with the “Solitude” fifth-wheel. From there, they will add a mid-size travel trailer and fifth-wheel later in 2013 and then maybe a toy hauler late in the year. But each segment will have just one product under the same Grand Design name.

“We are not going to have sisters or clones,” Clark said.

The new fifth-wheel will have a wide, 101-inch body, a 7,000-pound capacity axle, 40-inch slideouts and three 20-pound LP gas bottles that can be changed out for full ones at gas stations.

The company will also try to address one gripe common among RV dealers — cut-rate pricing on the Internet from a few dealers.

Bill Fenech said the company will enforce minimum pricing standards so Internet pricing wars don’t break out. And some Internet RV dealers won’t be asked to sell the company’s products.

“We are not going to do business with them,” Bill Fenech said, which drew loud applause from the dealers present.

He said dealers do have to have a strong Internet presence because consumers are doing research on the Internet before going to a dealer to shop. But, he said, a line has to be drawn for online discounts.

“We are going to stay away from that class of dealer that is causing problems,” Bill said.

The founders also floated an idea about service that causes RV owners to grumble — the lack of a nationwide service policy.

Ron Fenech said they would like to create a nationwide service policy, where a Grand Design owner could get their unit serviced under warranty at any Grand Design dealer nationwide. He said the model would be based on what the automotive industry does, where, for example, a Ford owner can obtain service at any Ford dealer in the country.

“I think we have to get our arms around this,” Ron said.

Asking for a show of support for such a program the response was about 50-50 among the dealers present.

But overall, the dealer response to Grand Design was positive.

“They are very credible guys, which is hard to find these days,” said Frank Roberts, owner of Longview RV in Windsor Locks, Conn. He has been selling RVs since 1959 and seen RV people and companies come and go.

“We are interested in selling. I have not even seen the product and I’m a buyer, Roberts said.

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