Historically, RV dealerships and service shops have appreciated the personalized service of regional distributors while valuing the size, scope and purchasing power of national distributors.
With its recent entry into the RV parts distribution business, Jasper, Ind.- based Meyer Distributing hopes to make the most of its status as a family-owned business with an existing national reach resulting from its lengthy track record of serving the automotive aftermarket. While Meyer doesn’t disclose company financials, it makes no secret of its size and reach: The company has 750 employees and 54 total locations touching nearly every state in the nation (including 10 stocking facilities).
Meyer already serves more than 5,000 customers in the towing, trailer and RV segment. While that’s a far cry from the more than 25,000 customers it serves in the automotive restyling and performance aftermarket — where the distributor’s name and history looms large — the running start and quick acceleration is representative of Meyer company executives’ big plans in the RV industry.
According to company CFO Jeffrey M. Braun, the distributor currently stocks RV parts and accessories in its warehouses in Dallas; Ontario, Calif.; Orlando, Fla.; and East Hanover, N.J., but will ultimately stock RV parts in its regional warehouses across the country in response to customer demand. That will provide connectivity to essentially every RV dealership in the country.
Recent consolidation in the RV distribution business resulting from Keystone Automotive’s successive acquisitions of NTP Distribution, Stag-Parkway and Coast Distribution has resulted in existing customers encouraging Meyer’s expansion, according to Braun.
“RV dealers that provide truck and auto accessories as add-on sales to their RV customers are quite familiar with our service levels and approach,” he adds. “We started receiving calls from existing customers asking us to pick up more products specific to RVs and not just towing related. Each subsequent announcement of RV distribution consolidation strengthened the call for Meyer to make a real move to be an alternate option with both current and new RV dealers alike.”
In the context of those customer calls, when the opportunity arose to acquire Portland, Ore.-based 5Seasons Distribution — which was already providing parts and accessories to RV dealers — Meyer jumped at the opportunity, finalizing the deal in July. (A purchase price was not disclosed).
That 5Seasons had a particularly strong reach — and distribution infrastructure — in the Pacific Northwest, where Meyer lacked a strong presence, was icing on the cake, according to Braun.
“(The acquisition of ) 5Seasons was an additional catalyst and shows our commitment to the RV industry,” he says.
Deep Roots, Family Leadership
While Meyer and its history of reinvention are well-known in the automotive aftermarket business, the Meyer legacy is likely new to many in the RV business.
Meyer the company was founded in 1937 by Leo Meyer, initially manufacturing truck bodies. The business entered the early 1980s — after a series of iterations — as a farm and truck equipment parts distributor, at which time it was acquired by Mike Braun, the patriarch of the current Braun ownership family.
Mike Braun, who remains the company president today, stewarded the business through the interest rate crisis of the early 1980s, which may have sunk the company had it not expanded to selling bumpers for additional revenue. As OEMs made bumpers stock equipment, the company shifted again, bringing on accessory lines to take advantage of the growing light truck market, according to Jeffrey Braun, Mike Braun’s son.
“Jason Braun, our chief technology officer, and myself as chief operations/financial officer, came onboard in the early 2000s and our expansion through a combination of organic growth and acquisition went into full gear,” says Jeffrey Braun, recalling that as kids he and his brother, Jason, grew up spending time in the company’s facilities, using magnets to pull nails out of rock piles so they wouldn’t damage forklift tires.
Meyer made its name in the modern automotive aftermarket as a go-to source for truck accessories. During the economic downturn of 2008, the company diversified greatly to maintain momentum, selling products “ranging from scooters to snowplows,” Braun says.
Since 2008, Meyer has grown in a variety of distribution niches including 12-volt/tint, commercial, fleet, snow/ice equipment, towing/trailer/RV, 4x4/Jeep/offroad, tire/wheel, diesel performance, exhaust/undercar, industrial supply, high performance, collision center, powersports and outdoor power equipment.
“From a few employees operating from a trailer on the rock lot to now having 750 employees in 54 locations and millions of square feet of inventory, it’s just really been amazing,” Braun says.
“The credit definitely goes to the Meyer team and the dedicated employees who wake up each day focused on simply being better than the day before. They have flexibility to determine what that means to their day, and we couldn’t be more proud of their efforts and dedication.”
Consolidation, Competition in RV Distribution
Braun adds that the family-owned nature of the RV business is one of the key similarities he sees between the automotive and RV markets.
“Most businesses in both industries are family-owned,” he says. “These are individuals waking up each day motivated to be the best at what they do. We know these customers and their needs, given 5Seasons/Meyer is family-owned, too.”
What’s different, however, is the existing dynamic within the distribution chains in the respective markets. Recent consolidation among RV parts distributors caused growing concern among some about the lack of competition negatively impacting dealers, according to Braun.
“Every RV customer and vendor knows that fewer options leads to more long-term risk, waning customer service, and more contentious relationships,” he says. “There are a few good regional RV distributors, but in many markets that demand a high logistical service level, RV dealers are essentially left with one option. We already have the infrastructure in place nationwide to immediately hold this limited distribution accountable and suppliers, customers, and ultimately the health of the industry will be better off for it.
“Competition in the marketplace is a healthy component of any successful industry, and we focus on being the best partner to suppliers and customers alike for mutual long-term success,” he adds. “Our RV customers need strong and constantly improving distributors to support their business needs. A mix of regional and national WDs (warehouse distributors) ensures the industry is giving the customer base the best products at the best prices with the best service. Our competitors make us better, and we make them better. Who wins? Our customers and suppliers.”
Braun says Meyer will utilize its company-owned truck eet to move parts long distances and to keep ll rates high while using a combination of warehouses to efficiently and sustainably meet demand.
The acquisition of 5Seasons and its truck eet in the Northwest expands that capacity.
“Meyer previously did not deliver in the Northwest, but we had been interested in setting up the trucking lane to be able to move freight to the region and reduce shipping costs,” Braun says. “The 5Seasons acquisition gave us an expanded customer base, an established warehouse facility, and some great starting employees.”
Braun notes that all employees from the 5Seasons acquisition have stayed onboard through the transition and that Meyer has added employees in the months since then. The distributor anticipates adding additional space in Portland soon.
Targeting Sustainable Growth
Sustained growth has been a hallmark of Meyer Distributing in the past half-decade or so in the automotive aftermarket. In order to create and maintain that pace in the RV business, Braun understands there will be a learning curve.
That process, he says, is already underway.
“We are gathering expertise in two ways,” he says. “First, we are expanding the knowledge of our RV, hitch, and towing sales team to include RV manufacturer training sessions every morning. They are making tremendous progress and are highly capable of selling across the RV parts spectrum.
“In addition to training our current sales team, we have had a huge amount of resumes come in to us over the last eight to 12 months from highly qualified people working in the RV industry,” he adds. “Many of these individuals are highly trained experts and are on our team as well, so dealers can be con dent that they can rely on us as their knowledge base.”
Braun notes that the economics of expanding a truck lane, or delivery capacity, to a new region is nearly risk-free, as it pays for itself by allowing for shipping of Meyer’s and other manufacturers’ products near instantly. Establishing and growing a base of new accounts, however, takes a bit of time.
“We are not trying to be everyone’s first call in the Northwest,” he notes. “There are good, regional WDs in the area, and we expect to earn customer trust through great performance over time. There is enough business for all of us, and we historically have partnered well with regional WDs, as they often provide a local service level near a stocking facility that is sufficient to serve the customers. We do not seek to replace those distribution options as much as augment them.
“In regard to the RV push (related to) the 5Seasons acquisition, by far the biggest challenge will be supplier relationships,” he says. “Many suppliers in a short time now nd themselves in a tricky situation where one customer is a huge percentage of their sales and doesn’t want any competition — particularly competition with a track record of competing at a high level.
“We look forward to working with suppliers to tailor programs that meet their needs as well as the customers’ needs. We are very flexible and are sympathetic to the difficult decisions they have to make between distributors they know too well and those they don’t know well enough,” he adds. “But we are confident we and other regional distributors will be a nice pillow for them to land on in the event a relationship becomes too one-sided.”
Excitement for the Future
Having seen a great deal of interest from new customers in just a few months since the 5Seasons acquisition, Braun and others at Meyer are beginning to feel a great deal of excitement regarding the distributor’s opportunities in the RV market heading forward.
“In all of our years in distribution, we have never received so many calls from suppliers and customers asking us to do something and quickly,” he says. “Excitement breeds excitement. We have the experience, the logistics, the technology, the flexibility, and the capital to serve the industry. Many of our employees that own RVs and those that rent them for family vacations are, of course, excited — when business matches your lifestyle, work is definitely more enjoyable.”
Ultimately, if and how fast Meyer Distributing is able to become a major player in the RV business will be determined by both customer and supplier support, but early indicators are positive for the company, according to Braun.
“We will move as fast as the suppliers allow us to move,” he says. “We’re already selling stock in parts we never had 30 days ago.”
Beyond just expansion into the RV parts market as a new vertical, the distributor may have a few other notable developments to share in coming years.
“We definitely have our eye on Canada, but simply put: We’ve been so busy domestically we’ve just not yet gotten to it,” Braun says. “It is possible in later 2016 we will make the push into Canada. We are currently looking for partners/acquisition opportunities in the Toronto area to get us a start, so stay tuned.”