Industry Leaders Calling for United Front During COVID-19 Crisis

By: | RV Business

LCI President and CEO Jason Lippert

While their respective companies are taking the necessary precautions to mitigate the spread of the disease, spokesmen for leading U.S. RV component suppliers said the RV industry should stay united in its response to the COVID-19 crisis.

They’re urging the industry to stay calm and work together to maneuver through supply chain shortages and, at the end of the day, to emerge from the crisis ready to return to the positive market conditions that marked the first two and a half months of the year.

Jason Lippert, president and CEO of Lippert Components Inc. (LCI), told that while some of the company’s 10,600 employees are working from home and LCI has been flexible regarding child care needs, production employees have continued to come into work.

“Absenteeism this week has been very, very low. We actually had some record attendance at some of our plants this week,” he said, adding that even its plants in Italy — currently the hardest hit country in the world — reported about 95% of its workforce still showing up for work.

“From our standpoint – and I’ve spoken to a lot of other industry leaders; I think everybody’s on the same page – we just need to return to a state of ‘let’s be calm,’” Lippert continued. “Team members are nervous because they’re listening to the news, so our No. 1 focus is to keep people calm and give them reassurance that there are no plans on shutting down the business. Those are the rumors out there. So, we’re trying to dispel all that and let people know that we’re going to work unless the government absolutely comes in and shuts us down or customers shut down. Those would be the only two reasons I could perceive us having to shutter for any point in time.”

Again, Lippert stressed the need for everyone to remain calm, practice good hygiene, maintain social distancing, and stay home if they are sick or even feel like they might be getting sick.

“That’s about as proactive as you can be in this environment,” he added. “And, again, Elkhart County has comparatively few cases in the entire state. So, we just need to make sure we don’t overreact. We can’t shut the economy down. We can’t shut business down over something that amounts to a global scare. But at the same time, we’ve had this happen before and haven’t overreacted like some people are overreacting now. We need to be positive and we’ll get through this together.”

Dometic President Scott Nelson

Likewise, Scott Nelson, president of Elkhart, Ind.-based Dometic Americas, told that the coronavirus thus far has had minimal impact on his company’s business. However, he acknowledged, some changes could be coming.

“At this moment, we have not had any reductions in our production and/or supply planning. In fact, we are trying to catch up to increasing demand for our products,” Nelson said. ”In a few product categories we have been impacted by supply coming from China, but currently this is the exception and not the rule. So, in total, we are running at full capacity for the foreseeable future. Of course, we are not naïve and will adjust production schedules to match our customer’s demand in the coming months.”

Like other companies worldwide, Dometic has enacted several preventive measures across its global operations to ensure the health and safety of employees, including adopting CDC instructions in its North American facilities to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

“Secondly, we are virtually eliminating all travel for our employees,” he added. “And, finally, we’re limiting the people who are accessing our facilities. We have set up a daily crisis management team to deal with this rapidly evolving situation to protect our employees and customers.”

Stressing that the industry is “dependent upon one another,” Nelson said Dometic has “committed ourselves to supporting our OEMs, dealers and customers 100% during this challenging crisis.”

WAY Interglobal Wayne Kaylor

Wayne Kaylor, CEO of WAY Interglobal Network LLC, an international importer/distributor to the RV, marine and housing markets, said his company has instituted similar precautions. Office employees who can work from home are doing so, while warehouse workers and others who must come in are to maintain a six-foot distance from each other and wash their hands and equipment regularly. Those working from home are on-call if a customer requests an on-site visit, Kaylor added, but pointed out that most clients have also banned outside employees from entering their facilities.

While Elkhart-based WAY maintains offices in both northern and southern China. Kaylor said both are a considerable distance from Wuhan, where experts say COVID-19 originated. Kaylor said none of his employees have contracted the virus, which, he added, has lessened considerably in China as a whole.

In fact, Kaylor said his China-based facilities are close to full production, much like the rest of China’s manufacturing facilities. The real problem now, Kaylor said, is getting those goods to North America.

“The real holdup for everybody — and when I say everybody I’m talking Walmart, Target, everybody — is being able to get enough space on ships and airplanes for all that freight,” Kaylor said, pointing out that the bottleneck was in large part due to China’s additional 60-day shut-down following its Jan. 25 New Year national holiday.

“What’s going to happen is the rest of March and first week of April are going to be the telltale (discovery process) of what freight truly did get on the water and is getting shipped over here. That’s kind of how it’s playing out,” he said. “And then, quite honestly, right now there are delays in the U.S. rail and trucking system because they’re making them go through different cleaning methods than they did a week ago. So that’s another delay in freight — another two, three days — that nobody expected.”

Kaylor, like others, said the industry must stick together to emerge from this crisis with minimal negative effect.

“Everybody just needs to work together to get through this so the industry comes out on top,” he said. “The rest will feather itself out, right? I mean, if we all help each other out on shortages the industry would be stronger because of it. If not … well, you’re going to take product from one guy and then that guy can’t produce. And then that guy might get product next week, but then that leaves the other guy unable to produce.

“As a whole,” he continued, “everything was on a great path for the first three months of the year, or at least the first two and a half months. It should be able to ramp back up to that after this is over. There’s still going to be a big demand in the marketplace. We’re only looking at a blip on the screen. I know it looks devastating today, but I don’t think that’s the case long term at all.”

Source: RV Business, March 19, 2020