Fleetwood Motorhomes

For almost 60 years, Fleetwood Homes had been a leading manufacturer of motor homes and recreational vehicles. In 2008, Forbes listed them as one of the top 1000 companies, but due to recent economic declines and hardships, Fleetwood Homes filed for bankruptcy in the March of 2009. This article follows the history and business endeavors of the company in an attempt to uncover the trends of the recreational vehicle market and explain why some manufacturers voluntarily file for bankruptcy in the present economy.

Fleetwood Homes was founded by John C. Crean and his wife back in 1950, but back then it was called Coach Specialties Company. Mr. Crean started out making blinds for travel trailers, but his talents went well beyond that and he built his own trailer for personal use, impressing everyone, including his customers. When one of his customers convinced him to build multiple trailers with parts he could purchase from a dealer, business boomed and he began building motor homes as well as recreational campers.

During this time, the trend of motor homes was expanding in Southern California, where Fleetwood Homes was based. Mobile homes provided inexpensive alternatives to many families as they cost about one-third of the price of stationary homes. By 1954, Coach Specialties was operating three production plants, and in 1957 Mr. Crean officially changed the name of his company to Fleetwood Homes. Under this new name, the mobile home manufacturer jumped on the recreational vehicle bandwagon that took off in the 1960s and 1970s. Outdoor camping was renovated by the RV and tow-along campers, causing it to become one of the most popular hobbies during this era. Fleetwood Homes benefited from this boom and absorbed Terry Manufacturing, another RV manufacturer in 1965, generating more clientele in a less competitive market.

By the middle of 1970s, Fleetwood Homes was the leading RV manufacturer in the country. In the mid-1980s, it also became the leading producer of mobile homes. As it dominated the recreational vehicle and motorized home markets, it sales started to exceed into the billions. Mr. Crean sold his shares in 1998, but the company continued to skyrocket, seeing sales of nearly 4 billion dollars at the start of the new millennium. This was the year that Forbes first listed Fleetwood Homes as one of its top companies in the Fortune 500.

But Fleetwood Homes could not protect itself from the failing economy. In March of 2009, the company filed for voluntary chapter 11 bankruptcy. The declining economic conditions took a toll on sales, and the demand for recreational vehicles and motor homes dropped significantly. It is unfortunate to see these trends as once successful businesses succumb to modern economic pressures. With gas prices on the rise, fueling these large campers is a feat many people cannot afford.

This not only deters buyers, but also inspires owners to sell their pre-owned RVS, generating some stiff competition as used campers and trailers cost significantly less than brand new motor homes. The collapsing economy also influences home sales, and many areas have seen stationary homes at more reasonable prices as banks are foreclosing on defaulted mortgages and owners are desperate to sell. All of these factors play into Fleetwood Homes’ choice to declare bankruptcy, but as a respect to loyal customers and interested consumers, they will be manufacturing both RVs and motor homes until they find a buyer.

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