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CEO Michael Happe maps new route for Winnebago

Patrick Kennedy, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Automotive News

The company almost exclusively started concentrating on motor homes. As recently as fiscal 2015, Winnebago's product mix was 89 percent motor homes and 7 percent towables.

Yet the industry had shifted to towables. Towable units now make up 87 percent of RVs sold and 65 to 75 percent of revenue in the industry.

That means that Winnebago has been nearly absent from the largest and fastest-growing segment of the RV industry. So as Happe was coming into the company, Winnebago had less than 1 percent of the towables market share.

Key acquisition

A year ago, Winnebago paid $500 million for Grand Design, based in Middlebury, Ind. Grand Design, which was founded only five years ago, had become one of the fastest-growing companies in the RV industry.

The Grand Design acquisition increases the towables portion of Winnebago's portfolio to more than one-third and improves the company's profit margins.

The Grand Design acquisition also put Winnebago in the heart of the RV industry, which revolves around Elkhart, Ind. Manufacturers clustered in and around Elkhart account for nearly 85 percent of the total RV production in the U.S.

In September, at the Open House trade show in Elkhart, Winnebago introduced several new products, including the Revel, a four-by-four RV designed to take outdoors enthusiasts deeper into the wilderness. Also displayed were the Horizon, a class A diesel motor home that brings new deluxe finishings to the class, and the Minnie Plus fifth-wheel, a new towable model. The Grand Design unit showed its latest Reflection unit, the 320 MKS, featuring a rear kitchen and large office area.

Geographical moves

With the Grand Design acquisition and Happe's appointment, Winnebago has quickly stretched beyond Iowa in the past few years, adding manufacturing and service centers in Oregon and Indiana as well as the executive offices in Eden Prairie.

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