24 July 2023
24 July 2023, Comments Comments Off on Anthony Wollschlager – Airxcel
Anthony Wollschlager - Airxcel

Change agent

Anthony Wollschlager took the reigns as Airxcel group president in the midst of a global pandemic and a business environment defined by supply chain chaos, daily logistics meltdowns and global economic uncertainty.
Fast forward 18 months and Airxcel hasn’t just survived, but has thrived under his lead.

Words Craig Ritchie

Talk about a guy with a unique sense of timing. Following a seven-year stint at Wesco Distribution that culminated in the role of director and general manager of manufactured structures, Anthony Wollschlager joined Elkhart, Indiana-based Dicor Corporation in February 2016 to assume the role of chief operating officer, with responsibility for its Dicor Products, Seal-Tite, United Shade and Vixen brands. Named division president the following October, Wollschlager was subsequently appointed Airxcel Inc group president in 2021 as the world clawed its way through a global pandemic, catastrophic international supply chain upheavals and the most severe logistics disruptions in recorded history.
Not one to back away from challenge, Wollschlager made the most of the opportunity afforded by his newly created role. Under his leadership, the company’s Dicor Products, United Shade, Vixen Composites, MCD, ECI, Cleer Vision Windows and Cleer Vision Tempered Glass business units didn’t just survive the pandemic, but managed to grow both OEM and aftermarket revenues despite incessant operational headwinds.
The company has also expanded its market footprint under Wollschlager’s watch, with Velarium awnings and Cleer Vision doors launching in late 2022. Airxcel is also on schedule to launch two new brands by Q3 2023.
AboutCamp BtoB recently traveled to Elkhart, Indiana, to speak with Wollschlager about the unique opportunities presented in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the normalization of the RV industry and the growth potential of the aftermarket.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Airxcel has recently entered into a number of product categories the company hasn’t offered in the past. Can you tell us about the thought behind that and how they complement the existing portfolio?
Anthony Wollschlager: There have been a number of exciting changes in the past 18 months, starting with our entry into the awning business. A number of people on our leadership team have considerable experience with awnings, and with that incredible knowledge base at our disposal, it just made sense for us to enter that product category. Certainly from a skillset and product experience standpoint, it wasn’t a stretch for us to enter this space.
The same can be said for Suburban launching an entrance doorstep. Suburban is well known for its water heaters, furnaces, and cooking appliances. But ultimately at the simplest of levels, they’re a metal fabrication company. And leveraging that skillset to fabricate other products, like entrance doorsteps, was something that makes sense. There was a clear opportunity, and we had the means to take it on.
Baggage doors was yet another opportunity for us to leverage skill sets. There are a lot of synergies between how a window is manufactured at our Cleer Vision business, and how a baggage door is manufactured. The processes are very, very similar so again, it just made sense for us to be there.
As we saw the decline in the RV sector begin to approach last year, we challenged our teams to leverage their core competencies and see where we could increase our share of product placement. These were some of the opportunities that we identified.
Those are the three major product categories that we launched at the end of last year, and they’re now coming to commercialization through the OEM space. Airxcel has always been focused on growth and expansion, so that approach is going to continue.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Are these new categories primarily focused on the US market, or are these product categories that Airxcel might bring into Europe?
Anthony Wollschlager: Our goal is always to be a global leader and there are opportunities for some products that we’re producing to go to Europe and other international markets. It doesn’t apply to everything, but where there’s an opportunity, we will always look to expand our footprint. If it makes sense, we’ll do it.

Aboutcamp BtoB: How does adding these new categories impact production capacity overall?
Anthony Wollschlager: To accommodate the baggage doors and awnings we have invested in facility expansions. We’re in the process of significantly increasing the output capacity of our Coleman-Mach air conditioning plant in Wichita, Kansas, with that scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.
Here in Elkhart, we have acquired a new building for Vixen to have their own distribution center. In the past that function was spread across different facilities, and now they have their own dedicated facility to receive and ship from, so that was a nice addition.
At Elkhart Composites we’re in the process of setting up all of our new equipment arriving from Europe in order for us to scale that business as a Luan and Azdel replacement. We recently acquired yet another building locally that we moved all of our distribution business into, which is larger in scale and allows us to reclaim manufacturing space elsewhere for awnings and baggage doors. We’re adding a secondary tempering oven for our glass fabrication business and, in Colorado, we just acquired a new building for our Aqua Hot business. We’ve been busy.

Aboutcamp BtoB: When we last spoke in August of 2021 you talked about the pandemic having brought challenges, in addition to unique opportunities. Were these the types of opportunities you hinted at?
Anthony Wollschlager: Yes and no. I don’t think anyone foresaw the industry rebounding as quickly as it did after Covid, nor do I think anyone foresaw the ensuing supply chain, inflation and labour challenges that followed. But I really do believe that challenge brings opportunity.
The opportunity was to grow rapidly on the tailwind that the pandemic brought. That was very tactical, especially when compounded by the supply, logistics and labour challenges.
Now that things have stabilized, the industry can shift to address new opportunities built on adopting a more strategic approach that’s focused on sustainable, long-term growth.

Aboutcamp BtoB: I don’t think anybody anticipated the great number of first-time buyers entering into the market either. Now that these new buyers have been in-market for 18 months or so, are your customers indicating any changes in the equipment they need to equip units to appeal to these younger tastes?
Anthony Wollschlager: The goal has always been to make sure a customer’s first camping experience is a positive one. But because younger buyers have different expectations, what it means to satisfy those expectations has changed. And it ranges from simply having charging ports for phones and tablets, to modern décor items, light weight options, easy to service options and overall greater comfort.
The result is that a lot of content has been added to units, yet there are still price points that need to be met. There’s a delicate balance between feature content and affordability that needs to be maintained, and both OEMs and consumers alike are navigating through that right now. Our focus is to make sure that the products that we provide are bringing real value and I think we’ve been successful in that.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What does this normalization of the RV industry mean to Airxcel in terms of its OEM and aftermarket balance?
Anthony Wollschlager: Aftermarket has always been a significant element of our business. We’ve seen strong aftermarket sales in calendar Q4 and calendar Q1, which is typical for the segment and it’s been helpful to us as sales of new units have slowed from the frantic pace of last year.
History has shown us that when OEM sales slow, the aftermarket often becomes more robust as consumers put off buying a new unit and, instead, renovate or upgrade the one they already have, much like the residential housing market.
I think it’s also worth considering that at least some of those first-time buyers may now be looking to make upgrades. They may have a standard air conditioner, for example, but want to upgrade that to a quiet series from Coleman-Mach. As new RVers spend more time using their units, it’s likely they will want to make some changes to personalize to suit their own unique tastes and requirements.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Airxcel has been active in the M&A space for the past few years. How has the post-Covid normalization of the RV business impacted M&A opportunities? Has it brought about an increase in opportunities?
Anthony Wollschlager: I like acquisition because it gives you the fastest path to driving revenues and margins, compared with doing it organically. And there are always opportunities to acquire different business interests, but they have to be good opportunities, and they have to fit with our long-term strategy before they really interest us.
Seeing through the upheavals of the last few years to gain a proper perspective on values is probably the bigger challenge right now.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Have the technological changes that we’ve seen over the past few years made RV component manufacturing less of a continental and more of a global business?
Anthony Wollschlager: That really depends on the specific product and application. If we’re talking about structural products that aren’t really visible to the consumer, then yes there is greater opportunity to utilize common components in multiple geographic markets. But it’s a bit different with equipment that’s visible to the consumer. European OEMs and consumers more often want a bespoke finish, for example, and that’s particularly true in categories like galley equipment. So in some ways the business has become less continental, while in others, it really hasn’t.

Aboutcamp BtoB: How has technology impacted manufacturing itself? Before the pandemic we were hearing all about new fabrication technologies that promised to significantly reduce production costs. Is that factoring into the business today?
Anthony Wollschlager: Absolutely, and it’s not just manufacturing technology – there have been great advances in warehousing and distribution technology as well, and that is a very important part of any supply business.
We all know that skilled labour is critical and we have always placed a huge priority on worker safety. There are some processes which we want to automate that can protect workers from potential problems like repetitive stress injuries, for example. People think of automation mainly in terms of operational paybacks, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Creating a safer work environment and improving product quality are harder to quantify, but they’re extremely important in the big picture. Technology is allowing this to happen.

Aboutcamp BtoB: How are you finding supply and logistics these days? Has that situation stabilized or are there still challenges?
Anthony Wollschlager: Things have artificially settled down in the eyes of our customers, but global supply challenges are still prevalent. When the RV OEM space softened, it softened rapidly. The supply base likely found themselves in a high inventory position. I believe that inventory position has ultimately shielded OEMs from some of the logistical supply chain challenges that are still out there.
There are still supply challenges today, but the impacts of supply shortfalls are less. Our customers are not feeling the impact the same way that they were. Moving forward, as supply hiccups ease further we should be in good shape to make the most of the momentum we’ve all been able to build.