In 2008, a group of four Pilgrim International executives had been planning a new model that the recreational vehicle maker would market as more environmentally friendly.
They would incorporate more man-made composite materials rather than the commonly used luan, a wood that comes from trees in the rainforests of Malaysia and Indonesia. Because the composite weighs less than wood, the vehicle would also get better gas mileage, reducing fuel emissions, reports elkharttruth.com.
The group was excited about carving a new niche in the highly competitive industry. Because they wanted to use materials and processes that were new to the industry, it took them about three years to find and secure them. They had built two prototype fifth-wheels and were ready to launch in the fall of 2008.
But then came the recession, causing Pilgrim, like many others in the area, to close its doors. Not only was their new idea suddenly grounded, but they were jobless.
“Obviously it was difficult to find employment,” said Doug Lantz, one of the former Pilgrim executives and now EverGreen’s vice president of sales and marketing.
“As factories were going out of business and laying off management, and the wheels were coming off, we were all right in the middle of all that.”
As they pondered their own futures, the men still felt confident in their idea, Lantz told elkharttruth.com. But how could they possibly get their concept off the ground without a company?
They cleared a major hurdle when they won the support of influential investors Kelly Rose and Mike Schoeffler, longtime industry veterans whose buy-in soon attracted other investors. In late 2008, EverGreen RV was born.
More than five years later, EverGreen last year was the fastest-growing RV maker among the 15 largest companies in the industry, according to Statistical Surveys Inc., an independent Grand Rapids, Michigan-based firm that tracks the RV industry.
From January 2013 through November, the most recent data available, the company saw the number of RVs it sold grow 82.5 percent compared to the year prior, and its market share rose 58 percent, a Statistical Surveys spokesman confirmed.
In December 2008 the founders leased a building on C.R. 2 recently vacated by Coachmen.
In early 2009, the first 42 employees were all unemployed when EverGreen hired them.
“It boded well for us because some of the top management that’s still here today were high-level top managers at companies that were let loose because of downsizing,” Lantz told elkharttruth.com.
“We were able to pick them up and employ them, and get that value of those years of experience, people we probably normally wouldn’t have been able to attract as a start-up company.”
While recently giving a reporter a tour of EverGreen’s Middlebury plant, Lantz proudly points out how the company differs from many of its competitors. For one thing, EverGreen builds the walls and floors of its RVs with more aluminum, steel and foam — a combination Lantz says is stronger and lighter than wood.
When making the aluminum framing for walls and floors, the company double-welds instead of tack-welds because it backs the craftsmanship with a three-year structural warranty.
Its 101-point quality inspection before each unit leaves the assembly line includes a rain test to check for leaks. Lantz said EverGreen’s competitors also water test, but only randomly selected vehicles.
Cabinetry is built like furniture, meaning joints are screwed and glued together instead of being stapled. Stapling doesn’t hold up as well over time because of the temperature fluctuations that RVs see when they are stored outside.
With the success of its first brand, Ever-Lite, EverGreen decided it was time to offer a full range of models across all price points, reports elkharttruth.com.
“With adding more management and cast members to the company, we all got together and said it’s time to break out within the lineup,” said Mark Boessler, president and chief operations officer.
In 2010 they launched Element, their second brand. In 2011 came I-Go. Over the past two years, the others have come out, for a total of 10 brands under the EverGreen umbrella.
“We’re not trying to be the largest manufacturer in North America, we just want to be the best and the best in each segment. We’re trying very hard to be innovative. When you buy our product and put it on your lot, Mr. Dealer, you’re not going to have a clone product five or eight minutes down the road. That’s really our hallmark.”
You don’t drown by falling in water; you only drown if you stay there.