Horizons Meets Custom, Full-Time Trailer Needs
After an eight-year stint as president of First Bank of Manhattan (Kan.) and a decade as executive vice president and CFO of steel-distributor Joined Steel Pipe and Supply, Phil Brokenicky set out to own his own company.
When a friend told Brokenicky that Horizons Inc., a small Kansas factory-direct towable RV manufacturer was for sale, he was curious.
“One trip through the plant told me that I was looking at a diamond in the rough,” said Brokenicky, 54, who bought Horizons from founder Harold Johnson in June 2002.
“When I came into the company I had no RV experience whatsoever,” he said. “But I looked at the demographics over the next decade. With Baby Boomers getting ready to retire, there’s no question that the RV industry is a growth industry. Horizons needs to be only a flyspeck in the fifth-wheel market to be very successful.”
With son Drew Brokenicky joining Horizons as vice president of sales and daughter Erin Stadel as director of marketing, Phil Brokenicky’s first job was to supervise the design of the New Horizons Summit fifth-wheel with input from Horizons’ veteran production staff, many of whom have been with the company since it was founded.
An upgraded version of the standard New Horizons, the Summit features 7 feet 6 inches of headroom, increased storage and a more modern look with European-style features and amenities. Plans for the 2005 Summit include flush-floor slideouts.
“Summit was designed to give people an alternative to the high-dollar luxury motorhome in a towable coach that will sell for somewhere around $90,000,” Brokenicky said. “Our target market is the full-timer or the heavy snowbirder. We build our coaches to withstand 24 hours use 365 days a year. People are quick to notice that we build a different kind of RV. We are not into glitz. We want our coaches to have understated elegance.”
An average of 800 manhours goes into the construction of each coach, which gives Horizons the ability to monitor production quality closely, and Brokenicky noted the RV Consumer Group last year gave New Horizons its only five star safety and consumer satisfaction rating for fifth-wheels designed to be used by full-timers.
Production has been modest. In 2003, the company produced 33 units – 90% fifth-wheels – and Brokenicky intends to increase volume to 50 this year and 100 by 2008.
“We think we have a definite niche in the market because we are a custom builder” Brokenicky said. “But the one thing that we have learned the hard way over the last two years is that there is a limit to which customization should go.
“We just delivered a $113,000 coach. … The time it took to build that coach, we could have built three coaches that we could have sold for $78,000. We’ve found that there are certain levels of customization that we just don’t want to go into.”
In addition to modernizing the New Horizons line and increasing plant productivity, among Brokenicky’s primary challenges was increasing the visibility of the New Horizons brand in the RV marketplace.
“The former owner advertised very little and didn’t go to RV shows,” Brokenicky said. “We’ve now done some limited national advertising and we’ve been to the Florida RV Supershow in Tampa for the last two years.”
Although trailers built by New Horizons currently are sold factory direct, Brokenicky is considering establishing a small dealership base or a network of factory reps in California, Texas, Arizona and Florida who would attend local and regional RV shows.
“The biggest challenge that we face as a company is making our products accessible to the RV buying public,” Brokenicky said. “Being located in Kansas, we are central to the country. But by the same token, people aren’t anxious to hop into a plane or drive to Kansas.
“In terms of sales, having dealers would be the easy part. The difficulty is that I want to control very closely the sales process. I want the sales process to be at the same level as the quality of the units that we build.”
Brokenicky said he learned a lot quickly, particularly about the buying habits of the RV consumer.
“I am amazed at the time that serious RVers put into deciding what unit they want to buy, and what they want to have in it,” Brokenicky said. “There’s about a two-year process for people to decide what they want when they decide they are going to go full time or if they are going to be serious snowbirds.”
Brokenicky advises a potential customer to buy the coach first and then find the right vehicle to tow it.
“Too many people buy the tow vehicle first and then try to find an RV that they can tow behind it. They end up with a coach that doesn’t have the amenities that they really want.”