Elkhart Fiver Maker Heartland Heats Up With Growth, New Lines
For a startup company that introduced itself – without product – at the 2003 Louisville Show, fifth-wheel manufacturer Heartland Recreational Vehicle LLC, Elkhart, Ind., has come a long way in a short period of time.
With two fifth-wheel brands in production – the high-end Landmark and mid-priced Bighorn – Heartland intends to flesh out its lineup for the 2006 model year with the entry-level Sundance fiver and Cyclone sport utility fifth-wheel (SURV).
"We are focusing on what customers want and controlling our growth," said Tim Hoffman, vice president of sales, one of a quintet of RV veterans who founded Heartland in 2003. "Our philosophy is lower numbers mean a better market and better dealers. That's one of the reasons all of us left the companies that we worked for. We wanted more control over growth, and we wanted to do it right."
With the addition of Sundance and Cyclone, Heartland plans to step up its work force by 50% to 300 employees and add nearly 66,000 square feet of production capacity after acquiring two buildings in Elkhart that formerly housed Potomac RV LLC. The fact that the Landmark, aimed at extended-stay RVers who spend a lot of time in their coaches at one location, was Heartland’s first product was not a coincidence. "We purposely picked the hardest unit to build," Hoffman said. "We wanted to show that we could do it right. Our success with the Landmark allowed us to do the Bighorn." With the debut of the Bighorn at the 2004 Louisville Show, Heartland doubled its dealer base, which now totals 130, and expects to add more with the introduction of the two new coaches. Production, however, will continue to be controlled, company executives say.
"We are not a high volume company," Hoffman said. "We don’t want to be. We want to create demand from our dealers and for our dealers, and keep innovations going."
Among Heartland's notable technological accomplishments is a front cap designed to accommodate a 30% tighter turning radius for extended-cab or short-bed pickup trucks. "From a marketing perspective, the short-bed turning radius has been huge for us," said Scott Tuttle, vice president of marketing and dealer services. "We modified the frame in the upper deck and redesigned the front cap. It doesn't impede the usability of the coach inside whatsoever."
A universal docking center also centralizes water, waste tank, electrical, TV, telephone and high-speed computer controls and access points.
John Rhymer, vice president of engineering, said the new Cyclone SURV will emphasize high-tech design and material. The fiver features a carbon fiber control panel, and incorporates a "carbon-fiber" look in the trailer’s graphics. "The Cyclone will appeal to the sports enthusiasts – the gear-head guys who are going to know exactly what they are looking at when they see it," Rhymer said. "It's going to look like it's going 200 mph while it’s standing still."
The Cyclone also will feature a frame mounted on a heavy-duty 12-inch I-beam for added strength. "Consumers are not engineers," Rhymer said. "They want to go out and have fun. We want to guard them against themselves. People have a tendency to load things however it fits them, not how they should be loaded."
To date, Heartland has done no widespread magazine advertising, relying instead on word-of-mouth in campgrounds and favorable reviews of the Landmark and Bighorn in RV club publications – including the Gypsy Journal newsletter and the bi-monthly Escapees magazine. "Getting the attention of the full-timers was one of the fortunate things that happened to us early," Tuttle said. "Full-timers can help dominate a segment of the high-end market. The Escapees had more than a thousand people at a national rally in Goshen last year, and we did very well. Once you get into that tight-knit group of full-timers, they spread the word."
With Heartland having grown as quickly as it has with the recent introduction of the Sundance and Cyclone, it soon will be time for Heartland to take a virtual deep breath. "We will be covering each segment of the fifth-wheel market, and we may add floorplans," Hoffman said. "But for the most part, we are going to be pretty content with what we have for a while so that we can make sure we are the best that we can be.
"Sometimes you lose sight of what you have started. We want to make sure that we hold our position in the marketplace."