An interview with chairman Lyle Reed.
By Lazelle Jones
The past five years have presented unprecedented challenges for motorhome manufacturers, with each coach builder facing a similar yet different landscape and having to respond accordingly. During my recent review of the new Foretravel IH-45 luxury motor coach, I spent time with Lyle Reed, chairman of privately held Foretravel Inc. He talked candidly about the economic cards the company was dealt immediately following his acquisition of Foretravel in 2005, the actions his team took to survive the downturn, and their current business strategy.
Early in the decade, Lyle and his wife, Nell, had come to depend on their Foretravel coach to crisscross the country and attend to new interests and opportunities following Lyle’s 30-year career as a railroad industry executive. Upon learning that Foretravel was for sale, and being personally familiar with the value and potential of the company, Lyle assembled a team of investors with whom he had worked. Together they purchased the company from the Fore family, who established Foretravel in 1967, and also assumed all liabilities.
Lyle explained that several events had occurred prior to the company changing hands that would work to the new owners’ benefit as the RV industry entered the recession. Foretravel had closed all of its retail stores and had terminated its dealer agreements. Motorhomes had been brought back to the company’s headquarters in Nacogdoches, Texas, and inventory was being aggressively reduced. Production was nearly nonexistent, which meant that materials, partially completed coaches, and finished units were not in the pipeline, so costs could be contained. Thus, when Foretravel Inc. changed hands in 2005, its new owners had the necessary capital to take the company forward.
The brain trust now at the helm knew that two important actions had to be taken. One, the equity in the Foretravel name needed to be leveraged right away. Within six months of the acquisition, Foretravel had launched two new models: the Phenix and the Nimbus. Working day and night to design, engineer, and build these next-generation luxury motorhomes, Foretravel unveiled them to coach enthusiasts who had been eagerly awaiting their arrival. The introduction of these models also would set the stage for a subsequent effort: the all-new 2012 Foretravel IH motor coach series.
While research and development of the Phenix and Nimbus were taking place, Lyle and his associates worked to identify skills and specialties that Foretravel could nurture to create new sources of income. As Lyle noted, cash flow, regardless of where it came from, was extremely important in 2007 and beyond as the motorhome market continued to contract.
Foretravel began to market its ability to rehab and retrofit existing coaches for owners who wanted to update their lifestyle but who were unwilling to purchase a new motorhome. It launched a similar effort with its high-tech paint facilities, seeking non-motorhome paint contracts to supplement cash generation. It increased the capacity of its service department and began cultivating a clientele for all makes and models. The company also entered the high-end horse trailer market, bringing its experience with quality fit and finish to trailer living quarters conversions and exterior paint.
Today Foretravel is divided into two separate operations at its Nacogdoches headquarters. One is a production facility that builds custom orders and also spec coaches for those who want a Foretravel motorhome right now but don’t have four or five months to wait while it is being completed. The other operation encompasses parts, service, and the Foretravel of Texas sales dealership. This is where new, used, and consignment coaches are offered for sale; clients are hosted; and their unique requirements for a coach are assessed and addressed.
Today Foretravel remains poised with new products and talented leaders who are committed to ensuring that the company serves the luxury RV market for years to come.