Get Hitched With GEN-Y

GEN-Y Hitch capitalizes on popularity of RVing and looks to open 80,000-square-foot facility in Indiana this month.

When Carl Burkholder needed an adjustable drop hitch for his tree service trailers back in 2008, he made one. Fifteen years later, he’s building a factory to make even more.

“I had no intention of starting a business at the time. It kind of evolved…over a period of time because there were others who wanted a hitch like that,” says Burkholder, founder and co-owner of GEN-Y Hitch. The Napanee, Indiana, company was created in 2012 to market his creation, the Mega-Duty, and that hitch has become the foundation for a range of premium towing products offered today.

In 2008, GEN-Y was still a distant dream as Burkholder and a partner spent their days keeping limbs and brush off the powerlines of several municipal utilities.

“I didn’t necessarily enjoy the work that much. At the time, I was in my mid-20s when we originally bought the company. I just wanted to do something, so that was kind of in front of me then,” he says. “I always thought I would create a product that would sell around the world. That’s what I’ve always had in my mind.”

An adjustable hitch was just the start, as it turned out; only a few years later, GEN-Y debuted Torsion-Flex, a technology that uses rubber to absorb the shocks that occur between trailers and tow vehicles when they’re in transit.

the boss hitch
The Boxx

“First, we did the bumper Torsion-Flex model for bumper-pull trailers and that evolved into gooseneck and fifth wheel models two years later,” he says, noting GEN-Y now holds more than two dozen patents for its innovations.

That’s the year Burkholder, who had been putting everything he had into the business, decided to make some big changes. He started with the hiring of former RV industry veteran and Patrick Industries executive Dan Miller as president in January.

“We got to the point where we had to do something as far as manufacturing. We were outsourcing almost 100% of our products and the people we were outsourcing to also reached a point where they really weren’t comfortable growing with us anymore or growing any bigger,” he says. “We had to make a decision to bring production in-house, and that’s where Dan came into the picture. From that point forward, we created our own manufacturing facility and started doing some of our products. Today, we pretty much manufacture everything ourselves.”

The duo’s plan began with a baby step, according to Miller, so GEN-Y set up a modest plant in Bremen, Indiana, about 8 miles due west of Napanee, home of the sales office and warehouse.

“On April 1, 2019, we fully started our manufacturing operation and within about 18 months, we had vertically integrated the majority of our products into our own control and our own manufacturing facility,” he says.

The next step should come this month when GEN-Y’s new 80,000-square-foot building, where all departments finally will be housed together, is due to be completed.

“Part of it was to consolidate and get the teams together and have more space, but also start with a fresh, clean slate,” Miller says. “We can paint the picture the way we want it to look.”

The capital investments are going beyond the building, too, as GEN-Y is all in on automation. Thankfully for the company’s 40-member production team, Miller is confident headcount won’t be affected in a significant way.

the mega duty hitch
The Mega-Duty

“The machines can do a lot of things faster and more efficiently and far more consistently than humans can, however, what we’ve noticed is, while our workforce doesn’t have to grow exponentially, it also doesn’t have to shrink much from where we’re at,” he says. “With the increased demand we have, we can certainly keep most of our team members in play, train them up to operate those automated machines and equipment. So really, instead of growing the team exponentially, we can grow our equipment footprint and produce much more product with virtually the same team members.”

When GEN-Y examined its manufacturing processes, leadership considered where automation best fit now and in the future.

“We don’t have a mature 25-year-old or 30-year-old business that has all the old equipment in place and now we have to replace everything with automation. We’re pretty new and we’re growing so fast that we can bring in automation as it makes sense in each department,” Miller says.

According to Miller, GEN-Y stands to improve output considerably without needing a lot of new employees.

“We can increase production from where we’re at by probably 30% without adding more than two people. To double production, we’ll probably have to add seven people,” he says. “We’re in a really unique spot and a great position.”

To get its products to customers, GEN-Y depends on both direct-to-consumer and two-step distribution, but it didn’t begin that way.

“It started out more heavily laden toward the retail and brick-and-mortar stores, shifted over toward online, still retail brick and mortar and then we gradually layered in distribution,” Miller says. “Distribution is going to reach more resellers more efficiently than we can directly, so it’s just a natural transition. We still do retail direct and we still have a heavy focus on that. We love our customers and we want to be in touch with them. We absolutely don’t want to get away from that as they provide us with a ton of valuable feedback.”

Still, GEN-Y intends to move more product via distribution and dealers as demand allows, according to Miller, both in the U.S. and internationally.

That’s a good thing for RVers, as the benefits to using GEN-Y’s Torsion-Flex hitches are appealing. In addition to reducing shocks between towables, whether bumper-pull models or fifth wheels and tow vehicles, the technology also can lengthen tire life and increase fuel mileage.

The capacities of its Mega-Duty and Boss (Torsion-Flex equipped) hitches are generous; both lines can tackle up to 32,000 pounds of weight behind the bumper. The fifth wheel line, known as the Executive, also has Torsion-Flex technology and offers a capacity of 25,000 pounds.

In addition, GEN-Y has always used raw materials and components sourced and made in the U.S. and even offers lifetime warranties on Torsion-Flex rubber components in addition to the standard five-year warranty for an additional fee.

Because trailer hitches are such a large market – one recent study even forecasts global sales to near $1 billion by 2026 – it shouldn’t come as a surprise only 10% of GEN-Y’s direct sales are to RV owners; retail numbers aren’t much higher. Still, part of the reason Miller was brought aboard was to capitalize on the RV industry’s tremendous growth.

“It’s a piece of our business where we see one of the largest opportunities to grow in,” he says.

The adage about quality decreasing as production increases is well known, but Miller maintains that won’t be the case with GEN-Y products.

“For us, we’ve grown exponentially in the last five years, and I feel that based on our returns and warranty, 2022 was probably one of the best years ever in quality,” he says. “In our minds, the more product you build, the more strict you have to be.”

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