In an era when the U.S. RV industry has exhibited consistent growth and resilience, consolidation continued to reshape the North American RV
marketplace in a big way in 2015 just as it has in an array of other U.S. business sectors.
On the manufacturing side, Thor Industries Inc. acquired key vendor Postle Aluminum Inc., Cavco Industries Inc. bought Fairmont Homes Inc. and
Chariot Eagle Inc. and California-based Pacific Coachworks Inc. purchased Northland Industries in Nampa, Idaho.
Supplier Patrick Industries Inc. made headlines with the acquisition of North American Forest Products Inc. and Structural Composites of Indiana
Inc., while Elkhart, lnd.-based Dexter Axle completed the late-year purchases of AL-KO Vehicle Technology and Titan lnternational's brake and actuator
business. Lippert Components Inc. and Valterra Products LLC also finalized significant acquisitions.
On the retail front, Camping World Inc., Lazydays RV, Campers Inn RV, Pete's RV Center and Woody's RV World were among the retailers buying existing
But it was consolidation in the RV aftermarket parts and accessories end of the business that arguably generated the most "buzz" in the trade press
over the past year and ultimately made LKQ Corp:s Exeter, PA-based Keystone Automotive Operations Inc. and NTPStag RV distribution unit a slam-dunk
choice as the "2015 RVBusiness Newsmaker of the Year:
"It wasn't a tough choice for the staff of RVBusiness, given the sheer volume of news stories on this topic in the competitive trade press; reported RVBusiness Publisher Sherm Goldenberg. "The fact of the matter is that LKQ in two years has amalgamated a substantial share of the U.S. RV
aftermarket by purchasing the nation's top three RV aftermarket distributors, including Keystone Automotive itself and its Oregon-based NTP
Distribution Inc. division plus Atlanta-based Stag-Parkway Inc. and, in August, The Coast Distribution System Inc. out of Morgan Hill, California.
"And when you look at the general ongoing wave of consolidation and the attention Keystone's acquisitions spawned among dealers, suppliers and
competitive distributors, there's really no question in our minds that Keystone Automotive was the most newsworthy singular news story in the RV
arena over the past year:"
Of course, there were plenty of other buzz-worthy headlines in 2015, among them:
"Winnebago's Potts Retires; Olson is Interim CEO" - The abrupt August exit of Winnebago Industries Inc. Chairman, President and CEO Randy Potts
after 32 years with the Iowa manufacturer was a complete surprise to the rest of the industry, as was the temporary appointment of retired chairman
Bob Olson and, subsequently, the interim tenure of Board Chairman Larry Erickson as the search for Pottts' replacement continued.
"Huge/meyer Succeeds Coon as RV/A's President" - Change at the top of the manufacturer-led Recreation Vehicle Industry Association doesn't occur all
that often. Richard Coon, a former Cummins/Onan sales execu· tive, served 1 0 years before his October retirement. So, people are watching closely the
transition to a new era at the Reston, VA-based trade association during which ex-Outdoor Industry Association President Frank Hugelmeyer should bring
plenty of energy and new ideas.
"GE Sells Commercial Finance Arm to Wells Fargo" - Less than a month after GE CEO and Chairman Jeffrey lmmelt visited the RV industry's leadership
in February in Elkhart, Ind., he informed General Electric Co. share· holders that the returns from its massive banking operations had fallen below the
company's cost of capital, adding urgency to its consideration of an exit from the business. Sure enough, in mid-October, GE Capital, a major RV
floorplan lender, was sold to Wells Fargo & Co.
All things considered, though, Keystone's NTP-STAG rollup clearly was the story of the year, even though Keystone Vice President and General
Manager Bill Rogers wasn't altogether flattered by all of the press coverage and the attention it involved. On the contrary, Rogers said in an early
December inter· view during RVIA's 53rd Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., that his top priority right now has little to do with
publicity and everything to do with the integration of all three companies under the corporate umbrella of 2,000-employee Keystone.
As part of that effort, Rogers and his RV team at Keystone - already one of the world's leading distributors of specialty automotive parts and
accessories - are methodically working their way through the ranks of North American dealers and suppliers to further assure them that they will like
doing business with Keystone and NTP-STAG over the long haul, given a chance to do so.
"I guess I don't see it (a "Newsmaker of the Year" designation) as all that significant in itself," said Rogers, as his company prepared for its
first combined NTP·STAG 2016 Expo trade show Jan. 19-20 in New Orleans. "I think what we've done has made good logic in terms of helping build a supply
chain for dealerships that is efficient, that is able to offer high service levels, that is economically helpful. And the more volume that goes
through that supply chain, the more runs (delivery cycles) we can have to the customers."
Although Keystone will continue doing business in the RV sector as "NTP-STAG" for the time being, Rogers says that name could change once Keystone
gets its arms around the Coast acquisition. NTP-STAG has already consolidated three of Coast's warehouses into Keystone's overall network - which
today includes seven warehouses, 47 stand-alone shipping cross-docks and $200 million in field inventory.
"So, we're 'NTP-STAG' for now, and since Coast isn't integrated yet, it still stands alone - and that's the way it's staying for awhile," said
Rogers, seated next to NTP-STAG Director of Marketing John Spaulding in the South Wing of the Kentucky Exposition Center during the Louisville Show.
"I think we'll always do a different branding for the RV side versus the Keystone (automotive) side. Whether it changes over time remains to be
Reflecting on his experiences over the past two years and some of the misunderstanding that sometimes surfaced, Rogers feels that he and his RV
team could have done a better job of communicating at times with both suppliers and dealers in presenting their overall game plan. That said, he
thinks that Keystone's management has been making progress lately in conveying one essential message: That Keystone and its NTP·STAG division have no
interest in doing anything but bringing improved service and better products to its customer base.
"Yes, we are making progress," said Rogers. "We are getting a good response from dealerships and the overall customer base. I think there was some
early concern about it and I think we've tried to address those concerns - probably not quick enough. If there was anxiety in the supply chain, it
wasn't, I don't think, anything that we did to create it other than a lack of communication or a lack of getting in front of the communication around
that. But the more time goes by and the more we're consistent and the more we're doing what we say we'll do, our channel partners are responding well.
I am optimistic about our ability to stay connected with our customers and deliver an improved customer experience."
"And now that I've had the opportunity to visit with customers, I think there's a couple of things that we can do to help the industry in addition
to just the normal stuff we do," added Rogers, whose company brought a staff of 40 people to the Louisville Show. "I think there's an area around
training and helping to get more technicians into the industry that we can take a leadership role on. So, John (Spaulding) and I have talked about
doing much more on that in 2016. Where we have training theaters at our facilities, we can provide space to hold meetings and help coordinate supplier
engagement. We can help coordinate with suppliers to do training and really work with RVIA and the other industry associations to come up with
programs that support the certification requirements that help get techs into the industry.
"And if we do that, it will help the dealers; I think they'll be appreciative. It's a win for them, but I think it's a big win for us, too, because
the more business they do, the more business we'll do."
For his part, Spaulding, a former front-line Stag-Parkway executive, says he's looking forward to 2016 and to letting his company's veteran staff -
representing all three formerly independent distribution firms - do what it does best at the New Orleans "Expo" show and beyond.
"Yes," Spaulding told RVB, "2016 will be an exciting year for us. We'll have all three entities operating in concert at the Expo and our goal is to
prove ourselves and earn the business that customers are good enough to give us. Our priority is to provide what they need when they need it, very
consistently, and to earn the right to be their first choice for aftermarket parts." RVB