Allied Recreation Group relies on “lean” methodology and key leadership as it revives the Monaco and Holiday Rambler RV brands.
By Ty Adams
In 2013 Allied Specialty Vehicles (ASV) announced the purchase of the Monaco, Holiday Rambler, Beaver, and Safari brands from Navistar Inc. For Mike Snell, RV industry veteran and current Monaco and Holiday Rambler president, starting anew with a redesigned 2015 Dynasty and a supportive parent company has provided refreshing clarity.
“It’s surreal to start from scratch after more than 20 years in the industry,” he said, “but I really am in it for our owners. We have such a great owner body. We used to be 32 percent of the market, and there are a lot of owners who put their trust in the Monaco brand, and I want to get it back.”
Snell added that he is very pleased ASV retained a core group of about 70 former Monaco employees based in Indiana, mostly in the design and engineering departments, and saw this as a crucial ingredient for success.
Like Monaco, Fleetwood faced major downsizing and was purchased out of bankruptcy in 2009. Fleetwood was acquired by American Industrial Partners (AIP), a private equity firm that specializes in industrial engineering expertise. AIP formed Allied Specialty Vehicles (ASV) to house Fleetwood and more than a dozen other specialty vehicle brands. More recently, ASV formed Allied Recreation Group (ARG) to focus solely on the RV brands.
While downsizing and corporate mergers are often intimidating, it’s clear that management hopes to reassure retained Monaco employees and owners that AIP has already established a solid track record with Fleetwood and plans to do the same with the Monaco brands.
In light of the current economy, where massive manufacturing facilities and a glut of materials may no longer be desirable, one of the first decisions ASV management made after acquiring Monaco was to move production from its Wakarusa, Indiana, facility to ASV’s Decatur, Indiana, facility where Fleetwood and American Coach RVs are built.
Another major strategy was to develop a long-term plan to go back to the roots of the Monaco and Holiday Rambler RV brands, taking a cue from what they were doing at the height of their success. Newly formed ARG plans to focus on Monaco as primarily a diesel luxury brand.
While the 2015 Monaco Dynasty is the first offering, the next ARG-manufactured model to make a comeback will be the 2015 Holiday Rambler Vacationer. Snell noted that the Vacationer and several other products will be released in the summer of 2014. After that, they’ll evaluate market performance before making future decisions.
“Lean” is one factor the ARG leadership attributes to their success with Fleetwood, and that will be employed with the newly acquired Monaco brands. Four years ago, at AIP’s direction, the company implemented the lean management and manufacturing system, based on the Toyota production model.
“The primary focus of lean is to not produce any waste,” Steven Hileman, marketing manager for ARG, explained. “Ultimately efficiency is better for the company and the customer, because the end result is better quality. That change has substantially altered this facility. It looks nothing like it did five years ago.” That said, the RVs are still built by hand, because of the level of craftsmanship that’s necessary.
Hileman recommended that, to truly appreciate the change, owners take a plant tour at the facility in Decatur, which can be arranged by contacting ARG (260-728-2121). Drop-in tours also are offered at 9:00 a.m. Monday through Friday at company headquarters (1031 U.S. 224 E., Decatur, IN 46733).
During my factory tour, sales coordinator Tom Liechty explained that the company builds to order. The plant contains three separate production lines: one for Type C motorhomes, one for Type A gas and entry-level diesel units, and one for high-line diesels. Whereas many RV plants use a rail system to push chassis down the assembly line broadside, at this facility the chassis are driven down the line, windshield first. At the beginning, the high-line diesels are crane-lifted offline momentarily, where they are unbolted from their modular chassis and fitted with their custom bridge chassis, such as the Roadmaster-B series in the case of the 2015 Monaco Dynasty. The bridges are fabricated off-site and utilize a coating process known as electroplating, where they are fully immersed in an anticorrosion paint.
Another distinct feature of the ARG-built motorhomes is the method of attaching the sidewalls to the chassis. While many manufacturers sit the sidewalls on the chassis and run bolts up through the bottom, in ARG coaches, a metal rail runs the full length of the chassis. Teeth on the rail interlock with a similar rail mounted on the edge of the sidewall. Screws are then run through the sidewall into the chassis frame every 12 inches. A similar interlocking rail is used to attach the roof to the sidewalls. This results in a stronger unit, Liechty said.
In addition, the exterior paint process stood out, as it includes three separate clear-coat applications, plus hand sanding with a 1,500-grit and then 3,000-grit sandpaper in between. The end result, Liechty said, is an extremely smooth exterior finish.
Other tour highlights include the consumable tool system; the regional materials supermarkets; and the right-sized, waste-free materials distribution system.
Instead of using a tool crib to provide workers with consumable accessories such as saw blades and drill bits, the ARG plant partners with the tool company Fastenal. Liechty pointed out a vending machine filled with tools. Called a point-of-use machine, it dispenses materials on demand when an employee scans his or her company badge. The materials are not “bought” until they are removed from the machine. Approximately 300 point-of-use machines are located around the shop floor, each housing the particular materials needed in its area.
Regional Materials Supermarkets
Regional supermarkets represent another lean concept used to reduce waste. In traditional RV manufacturing, each production line has its own supply of materials necessary for building various models. Here, each supermarket’s “proprietor” is equipped with a tablet computer. He or she inputs the serial number of the model that’s about to be built and the location, or cell, of the manufacturing space; this provides access to a shopping list of all the parts in their supermarket that fellow supermarket workers need to prepare and deliver. This arrangement reduces inventory and space for stored parts and opens up more area for manufacturing. The ARG plant includes six regional supermarkets.
The method of delivering the materials to the RV models to be produced is also unique. Rather than individually packed cardboard boxes, the materials are sent from the supermarket in reusable plastic bins. The bins are stacked in a delivery cart and brought to the location along the line where they are needed. The materials are prepared for each RV model individually and arrive just 30 minutes before the RV model itself. Once the materials are put to use by the builders, the empty bins are picked up and returned to the supermarket, where they’ll be refilled for the next production model.
Snell said he was glad to see such innovative systems being used. He added that it’s not just the systems that inspire his hope for the future of the Monaco brand, but the people behind the systems.
“We had a great manufacturing team in Coburg and Wakarusa, and it was very refreshing to see that we have a great team in Decatur. If I didn’t believe we could once again build the best products in the industry, then I wouldn’t be here.”