SYRACUSE — Production could resume in about a month at Travel Lite RV as the company emerges from a restructuring, down several dozen employees and with a renewed focus on its core specialties.
Dustin Johns, owner and president of the now Syracuse-based Travel Lite, said a hard look was needed to re-evaluate plans and make cuts while the recreational vehicle industry faces a downturn.
“We needed to take a step back from our growth plan and business model and say, “OK, what’s the realistic expectations moving forward,’” Johns said.
Following the restructuring that apparently started earlier in the summer, Johns estimated production could re-start Oct. 21. Plans include centering more on Travel Lite’s lines of truck campers and ultralight travel trailers.
However, the company will get back to work with an overall loss of about 70 jobs.
“We’re definitely going to have less employees than we did before at our peak, but we’re still going to have more employees than we did a year ago,” Johns said.
A report by RVBusiness.com last week indicated Travel Lite’s employment height had reached 163 people. Johns said the company hired 95 new workers in about three-and-a-half months last spring amid rapid growth from the past five years.
AMID EXPANSION, DOWNTURN
Travel Lite recently completed an expansion, moving its headquarters to Syracuse from New Paris, where the company still has a factory. A new plant was built at the Syracuse 6 & 13 Technology and Industrial Park, as well as three other buildings to handle tasks like service and warranty, and research and development.
Johns committed to the $5.2 million project in the spring of 2017 while the RV industry was peaking, he said. But by around January, when the company was able to start producing its first units from the new location, the industry was showing signs of slowing.
Total wholesale RV shipments in January was down about 40 percent from January 2018, data from the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association shows. July, meanwhile, saw 28,044 total wholesale shipments, down about 23 percent from July 2018.
Johns described his business plan from the past five years as “working like a top,” and even exceeding expectations. But he said while facing a downturn, he needed to re-tool the plan to meet the next few years.
“I’m kind of the type of CEO that likes to continue to push for growth and have big multiples. And that’s what keeps me interested, that’s what keeps me excited and waking up and just jumping out of bed,” Johns said. “Things have slowed down in RVs, and that’s one of those things, it’s just the truth. There’s no reason to sugarcoat it. You just got to take a hard look in the mirror as a company and just re-evaluate to make sure you’re lean in the places you can be, and that you put your finances in the place that you need to put them for the future.”
Amid the restructuring, Johns took a leave of absence around mid-August, saying he used some of the time to focus on the planning.
In addition, Johns was involved in a traffic crash for which he is now charged in a drinking-and-driving case.
A report by Syracuse police shows Johns crashed an SUV in a yard in the 900 block of South Harkless Drive in the early morning of Aug. 10. Johns was taken to Kosciusko Community Hospital, where he was treated and had blood taken for testing. Results showed he had a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit.
A misdemeanor charge of operating a vehicle while intoxicated was filed in Kosciusko County Superior Court 2 on Sept. 6 and a warrant was issued, court information shows.
Johns said when he learned of the charge, he addressed the warrant with police, went through the booking process, paid his bond and was out in about a half hour. Court information shows the warrant was served and the bond paid Monday.
Johns wasn’t injured in the crash, and he said the incident was not related to the restructuring.
“That’s just a personal issue outside of work completely,” Johns said. “That’s all been handled.”
BACK TO BASICS
When work resumes, he said Travel Lite will emphasize producing truck campers — built for half-ton pickup trucks —and ultralight travel trailers over newer ventures.
The company’s expansion included production of larger travel trailers like 30– and 35–foot towable RVs. But the market for those vehicles was tough, saturated with competition, John said.
Campers and ultralights helped initially define Travel Lite and remain solid performers.
“We know that in our niche markets, we do a great job,” Johns said. “We know we can do that and do that well. So, that’s something we’re definitely going to be doing.”
Johns also said the company plans to release information about new products in the works soon.
Johns’ father, Larry Johns, founded Travel Lite RV in 1968. Dustin and Lindsey Johns took over the business in January 2015.