Is the future of Tiffin as we know it in jeopardy? When Thor bought Tiffin, Bob Tiffin, owner and founder, wrote an elegant article on how all the decisions and operations would remain in Tiffin’s hands. I even met with Bob at a Tiffin rally and he, once again, assured me and the rest of the rather skittish rallygoers that everything would remain the same.
A matter of time
We are in Red Bay, Alabama, right now—home of Tiffin. The headlines on the Red Bay newspaper announced the closing of Vanleigh RV, a trailer manufacturing subsidiary of Tiffin. Employees were notified recently that the facility would close on March 10. Inflation, rising interest rates, high fuel prices and the weakening stock market are given as the main reasons.
My friends, who had a beautiful Vanleigh 5th wheel, responded to the headline, “Thanks, Thor. They (Thor) build a lot of towable and lower-quality motorhomes. With all the companies they own it was only a matter of time.”
Tiffin also laid off 25 percent of its employees
Tiffin itself has been doing some downsizing too. The official announcement in December quoted president Leigh Tiffin saying that they made the decision to “realign” the organization to navigate the “challenging” market conditions.
I have been through enough corporate realignments to know that it is never good for laid-off employees and those left behind. The “left behinds” end up with double the work and less time to do it in. I talked to our RV park neighbor that went to the Service Bay yesterday and he only has one tech assigned to his coach. The first time we went in for service we had three techs.
Almost a ghost town
We have been to Red Bay numerous times for repair work or upgrades on our Tiffin and it has always been a bustling community. It is the town that Tiffin built. Today the lots that are usually lined up with motorhomes ready to paint are virtually empty. The roads that have been swamped with new Tiffins on a test drive are clear.
What was once a two- to three-week wait for service is down to four days or less and vendors are sitting by the phone ready to work. The once-bustling Allegro Campground is practically empty. The Allegro Club is closed.
Is it Tiffin, Thor, or the economy?
There is a lot of finger-pointing going on. Workers blame Tiffin, then they blame Thor. Tiffin blames the economy.
It is true that the economy is hitting a lot of RV manufacturers. For example, Forest River cut their employees’ work down to three days a week. Keystone went down to three days, too, then two. Gas prices are through the roof. High-interest rates affect more than the housing market. It seems the RV industry is heading from boom toward near-bust.
Talking to Tiffin employees, we learned that there has not been such a dramatic layoff since 2008. And that was in the midst of a recession! We bought a motorhome in 2008. It was a great year for buying but not for selling. Other layoffs have been minor and some believe it was just a way to get rid of “dead wood”—those too slow, careless, or not as dedicated.
Whether it is Tiffin, Thor, or the economy, the saddest part of it all is the impact on a town that depends on the production of dog food and Tiffin motorhomes.
Tiffin owners and workers have always considered themselves family, and when we are here, they treat us like family too.
Tiffin has been in the toilet for years now. No surprise here
Tiffin’s problems started a long time ago. I moved from a 1996 Itasca to a 2013 Tiffin and the Tiffin build quality is lacking compared to my old Itasca. I’m over 2K miles from Red Bay so that’s not an option. Tech’s here will not sit on hold forever with Tiffin for the warranty issues. In the case of ours it’s the walls flexing and moving.
In our FMCA club there are newer Tiffin Bus owners that have long lists of issues; one has to go back to Red Bay to get items fixed. I’ve heard their horror stories of problems. It’s not components, it’s build. On a Bus not an Open Road…
I question why people love Tiffin so much and don’t question the need for the massive service center AND the need to return every few years. Acceptance of service over build quality is never considered, It’s like we are to accept the poor build as a fact. At the price paid for these RV’s – people should not accept it – they don’t for a new car or house.
Before I retired, I sold product to the RV market, which I consider to be the “canary in the coal mine” of our economy. RV’s are predominately an expendable income purchase. I announced in a staff meeting that bad things were on the way for the economy leading into the ‘08 recession. No matter how some people want to spin it, mince words, or try to change the definition of a recession, we are in that process and will have to get through it. The hourly workers and the towns that depend on the RV industry for their lifeblood always suffer during these times. It is the same as unemployed construction workers do when the economy falters and building slows, or as the hourly manufacturing workers suffered when the production of many things moved offshore. I believe Tiffin will be fine and ramp back up as the economy does the same, but they must have believed VanLeigh wasn’t a good, long term strategic line to continue building.
Good Comment. Agreed.
As Thor continues to become the equivalency of a “Made in China” RV manufacturer with moderately priced low quality products, a gap in the market emerges for a Quality Centric, (like the Tiffin of old) to rise and offer a product at a price point that is acceptable.
Some people prefer to purchase a brand new new but disposable product every 5 years while many want a higher quality product that they can enjoy for decades without dropping 7 figures of cash on it.
It’s the free market working as it does. I miss my ’06 Phaeton. I am satisfied with my current unit but would choose something that falls between a Newell and any Thor for a little more of an investment.
If parks require 10 years or newer it is hard to justify a high priced RV with the depreciation clock ticking.
I’ve never seen a campground enforce such a rule. If your camper is in nice looking condition, they dont care, the rule is there to keep out ratty riff-raff campers.
Quite a few do enforce that rule. Saw it just recently. My brother-in-law has a Winnebago older than 10 years. He had to send photos to a large Florida campground for ‘approval’ (it was approved) before he could book a few day stay.
Then it sounds like they didn’t enforce the rule — your brother’s RV passed the “looks nice” test so they let him stay even though his RV was older than 10 years old.
Lol! You just made the point they do not enforce the rule. It’s just to keep out the riff Raff
“ vendors are sitting by the phone ready to work.” This has not been my experience. I spoke with four off site vendors and all of them are scheduling appointments in May and June.
When I first heard that Thor bought Tiffin I knew it was only a matter of time. Guess that time has come.
Tiffin’s crap quality started way before that. Looks like they never heard of final inspection?
Wow…why so bitter about Tiffin Mr. T? While Tiffin is far from perfect, please show me another manufacturer at same price point that has such a loyal following.
I said the same thing. We don’t own a Tiffin, but we have a 2017 Montana. Look what Thor has done to Montana, or anything else they get their hands on.
My guess just about anything Thor touches will eventually turn into mid to bottom-grade junk. Just take a look at Entergra today. At one time the King of assembly line DP’s before you get into rigs such as American Coach, Newell, and the like.
They have copped the Entegra name and put it on Jayco class C’s and A’s thinking they’re worth more because of the Entegra name and the look and feel of the definition of “Cheesy”!
I think Nancy Dixon should clarify her comments about the Allegro Club being closed and the fewer number of service techs available and whether her time in Red Bay was during a Tiffin Rally or a large RV show; both of which would include the Allegro Club, service techs, and the company (family) leaders.
I was wondering the same thing. Most of Tiffin team was at the Tampa RV Supershow in January, which would explain why some of these things were closed
This is the normal path of healthy competition in our economy. The strong survive, the week fail. Not necessarily due to product quality…more often, oversupply shakeout economics.
Like Oldsmobile, plymouth, Pontiac, Saturn, etc, etc, etc.
Olds and Pontiac were folded to save the Chevy and Buick name plates, as Korean and Japanese competition were undercutting the need for four flavors of the same body (i.e. the G-Body of the 1980’s, the Cutlass, Monte Carlo, Grand Prix and Regal). The reasoning for these cuts by GM were to allow them to introduce ‘mid priced’ vehicles from their higher profit name plates – just another way of using the ‘cachet’ of a brand to extract more profits from every transaction. That’s what business is all about.
It is also why so many RVs have been absolute trash for the past few years. Maximize profits, and planned obsolescence. If an RV has a defined shelf-life of seven to ten years, then it can be traded in for a much more expensive model on an upgrade. This is just another example of unchecked Capitalism, income inequality and why so many Americans are forced to live in dilapidated RVs on the streets of temperate cities.
I wonder why big companies buy little companies just to destroy their product. Remember the Egg camper bought out by thor/airstream to create the Nest ? I have never seen one at an Airstream Rally. Soon, the high quality Tiffins will be a memory.
Ive seen a couple Egg campers, and a few Nests. very few. But I’m a fiberglass aficionado, went from a Casita to an Escape, and was/am quite happy with both. The Egg’s problem was all electric, so they were not suitable for boondocking, and the Nest was just too gimmicky and expensive. and also mostly all electric… There’s no substitute for Propane for portable heat, more BTU’s per bottle than anything else.
I think this is much deeper than what the article says. My banker buddy tells me that they have revisited their RV and boat loan policies. They have shortened their repayment schedules, raised the minimum credit scores to qualify by a substantial amount, and require 25% down, all due to an industry wide concern about the growth of delinquent RV and boat loans. I think the manufacturers are preparing for a situation that they created, an onslaught of used, cheaply made RVs flooding the market at discounted prices and they do not want to get caught with their lots packed full of unsold units.
If the same had happened before ’08 in the housing market the whole recession could have been avoided- or been less devastating. Yes, your banker buddy and his bank are right….verify a customer’s ability to pay off the loan before the loan is written. Sorry this is a little off topic.
I agree with every point you made. They crapped on their own shoes when it was expedient to do so and now it’s time to cleanup the mess, only to do it again and again. A roller coaster of a business model if ever I saw one.
As Tiffin owners we are sad to see the decline of Tiffin. Since the Thor buy out I have not been able to get the support we once had. I have one request for assistance that has never been returned. I should not be surprised as many times one sees the decline, reduction in quality of products and eventual destruction of a company once considered the best after taken over by a larger company. The layoffs combined with the Vanleigh closure seem to confirm the collapse of a once great company.
The writing for Tiffin was on the wall. Workmanship on the 2017, we used to own, was miserable, We had just gotten out of a 2015 THOR product before we purchased the Tiffin. When I heard of the THOR involvement, I was highly skeptical of the accolades that Tiffin was promoting. But Tiffin had already started on the road to its current destination. Often when these buyouts happen there are many clauses in the contract. Bob Tiffins continued involvement, and length of that involvement, were all likely part of the deal. As were the funds to keep the family nest well stocked.
The current downturn may have created the perfect storm. I’m not sure that every brand, in the RV industry, is facing the same pressures. But it may likely create conditions where the poor performers can be eliminated. Tiffin was always thought of as being a quality marquee brand. Maybe, THOR didn’t get what it thought it had purchased?
Several factors in play here. I feel for the folks losing their job.
Agree with Bob M – fed chair. They were 100% wrong at beginning of pandemic with “transitory” comments and not raising rates earlier. Now they are 100% wrong because “transitory” just meant it would take 2 years. Inflation already back to good long term rates yet they keep hiking and staying hawkish. And the administration gives no push back. They should be in congressional meetings every week explaining how they know better than the bond market, which they don’t.
Then there’s the combination of excess demand that was never going to last. Volume will return to pre-pandemic with small increases. So you need to return to that level of staff, unfortunately.
These things will normalize into 2024 and we’ll get through it. Prices will improve.
Sorry, inflation is NOT “back to good long term rates”
Correct. 2x to 3x long term target…and that on top of the massive increases from the past year.
People have become used to interest rates that were incredibly low by historic standards. This fed needs to have the courage of former Fed President Paul Volcker who conquered tremendous inflation in the 70’s. It will be a painful transition back to normalcy.
Another issue is mfg have been price gouging equipment and materials that the price are so high for RV’s. many cannot afford them with the high interest. Then the words that come out of the fed chair that Americans will feel pain with the high interest. Then he said it best for the economy if America’s loose their job and be unemployed. Never heard something so ridiculous. Then the present administration sits there and says/ does nothing about his comments.
You can thank the greedy business which received the largest tax giveaway ever in 2016.
Businesses don’t pay taxes Ron. Never have, never never will. They collect taxes and send them on their way.
Hypothetical: If you raise tax on a business by $2, they raise the price they charge you for the product $3. Not only are you paying the $2, you get to pay the mark up on that tax after it is marked up.
Bob, employment is still at a level economically considered “full employment” which is a level that assumes a normal amount of churn and unemployed. The current 3.5% is in no way high unemployment. In the January 2023 report the BLS reported 10.5 Million job openings available. The Fed weighs all those things in making its decisions.
Unfortunately they seriously underestimated inflation…a horrible mistake on their part…and now their job is harder and there will have to be a bigger economic shock to correct it.
IMHO it’s Thor, they can’t stand having a product that makes their products look like crap, so they eliminate it. Many moons ago I was in a Good Sam chapter and we had a couple who owned an Allegro, he said even though his name was on the title every time he took it in for service Bob Tiffin acted like that was his baby and personally made sure everything was fixed to perfection before it left the service bay. Now I call that quality, I’ll bet you a dollar to a donut you won’t find any Thor dealer acting that way. Personally I wouldn’t consider a Thor product.
“If you buy a Thor; You will be sore”. Sounds horrible, but true. Thor always takes a great company and ruins the quality behind the name. My 2006 40QSH Phaeton still looks and runs great and the value of the coach just went up. Pre DEF and pre Thor.
From everything I have read, Tiffin’s decline began when Bob Tiffin “retired” the first time and turned the business over to his son’s that didn’t quite have Bob’s intense desire for quality and customer service. Thor is just the nail in the coffin. A real shame for such an iconic family owned RV company.
Well thought, indeed Bob’s retirement, well deserved, began the slow downhill spiral that was somewhat obvious to many long time RV’ers.
Money talks, and another one “ bites the dust!” Bad days are here and overproduction sold to new owners will create a huge “used” market. Add us boomers aging and dropping out. We sold our big DP, loved it, and downsized to a single axel TT. Lot less comfort, lot less, but we can stand by and watch good RV’s at reduced pricing hurt OEM production. Gonna happen fast, watch!