Winnebago’s Happe: Industry Will Have to ‘Work for Sales’

Mike Happe

Even amid today’s current economic uncertainty, Winnebago Industries Inc. President and CEO Mike Happe said Wednesday (Jan. 18) that RV sales are still on the table, but the industry will have to work harder to close deals.

“I just think everybody is going to have to work for the sales,” Happe told RVBusiness, shortly before attending Winnebago’s press event during which an all-new, all-electric prototype Class B van – the eRV2 – was unveiled.

“Consumers are going to be exercising a little bit more discipline regarding how they buy and what they buy and when they buy,” Happe said. “I mean, listen, we are happy with our business, but the market conditions are certainly a little tougher than they were a year ago at the show.”

Supply chain issues that restrained production, even during the past two selling seasons when demand was at record levels, are starting to ease, but still post barriers which vary depending on the manufacturer.

“I would say it varies by business. Right, Adam, wouldn’t you agree?” Happe asked Adam Christofferson, Senior Product Manager at Winnebago Towables, who responded in the affirmative.

“I mean, what Winnebago towables faces on supply chain is probably similar, but even a little bit different than Grand Design up the street in Middlebury” Happe noted. “Or Newmar in Nappanee and certainly the Iowa-based Winnebago motorhome business. It just varies by business in the supply base.”

Not all the businesses have the same suppliers, he said, and they all have a different mosaic of suppliers with different challenges and shortcomings.

“Is it net better than it was a year ago? Yes,” he said. “But it still doesn’t mean that everything shows up at the same time for all of the businesses every day, even when demand is a little bit more than it was on the wholesale side.”

He said suppliers have worked hard to get back into good shape.

“You know, some of the motorized chassis suppliers still have their hands tied with semi-conductor chips and other factors. It just varies,” he said. “I would have no idea what the count would be, but I would imagine there is more product here today (at the Tampa Show) than there was a year ago.”

Two factors are at play: Dealers have more inventory to bring to the show and OEMs have yard inventory to add to the show, he said.

“The good news for consumers at all of the shows this year is they should see mostly good assortments of products. I was at dinner last night with another dealer and we were talking about in 2021, how some consumers probably bought a unit that wasn’t exactly what they were looking for,” Happe said.

Consumers bought because it was the only one on the lot at the time, or the one that could get to the dealer in the shortest amount of time.

“Look, we don’t want consumers to be in the wrong unit,” he said. “But we imagine over time – especially those first-time buyers that got into the lifestyle and want to stay in the lifestyle – they may need to change a floor plan or upgrade, or change into something else because of what they got into in 2021. And now they can.”

Happe also noted that today there is a lot of product available in the market.

“The Hike 100. This is a new product in the last couple of years – the RV of the Year,” said.

Christofferson added, “We had three (Hike travel trailers) in the show last year, but two of them were first-build prototypes. Because of capacity, we didn’t go into production until late summer or early fall. Now we have all five models on display, and we’ve got availability, so consumers are shopping. We have them in inventory.”