Ryan’s story is one of grit, determination and a deep passion for the great Australian outdoors. Born into a working-class family in the state of Victoria, he started his first business at the age of just 24 – a small camper trailer manufacturer that eventually grew into a thriving dealership network.
He had the opportunity to meet Lloyd Bontrager, the founder of Jayco USA, who had a passion for Jayco and for Australia. Ryan decided to start his own business and spent time studying both marketing and supply, and doing repairs to get some cash flow to build his first prototype. He started producing one camper-trailer a day, and in the first year, built 560 units. Today, over 200,000 have been built.
Over the past four decades, Ryan has overseen Jayco’s evolution from a tiny startup to a major player in the Australian RV sector. Today, the company employs around 1,100 people and produces over 10,000 vehicles per year across a range of models and price points.
But Ryan’s interests extend far beyond the world of business. He is also a passionate philanthropist, donating to various causes through his Gerry Ryan Foundation. Among his many endeavors, he has supported medical research, education, and environmental conservation – a reflection, perhaps, of his deep reverence for the natural beauty of Australia. Throughout his career, Ryan has exemplified the values of hard work, innovation and community spirit that have made Australia a dynamic and prosperous nation. And with his sights set on expanding Jayco’s presence in a rapidly growing RV market, there’s no doubt that he will continue to leave his mark on the Australian business landscape for years to come.
One of the key factors behind Jayco’s success, as Ryan explained to Aboutcamp BtoB, has been the company’s commitment to quality and customer service. Every Jayco product is rigorously tested and backed by a comprehensive warranty, while the company’s nationwide dealer network ensures that customers can access support and repairs no matter where they are in Australia.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Mr. Ryan, we last met back in 2019. Can you tell us how the market has changed in the past four years, and how Jayco Australia has adapted?
Gerry Ryan: COVID-19 presented a unique opportunity for the caravan industry to experience growth, but this growth was not sustainable due to the restrictions on international travel. As a result, people were limited to travelling within their own countries. However, the pandemic also allowed us to reach a wider audience of potential customers who may not have previously considered purchasing our products.
Regarding caravan sales, the growth we experienced in the last two years is not sustainable. We need to look back to 2019 to truly understand the market growth, which was around 10%. We are currently seeing an oversupply of caravan products in Australia, with many new brands and smaller dealerships opening up and importing Chinese products. However, this is not sustainable in the long term as some insurance companies may not provide coverage, and breakdowns can be costly when travelling across long distances in a large country like Australia. It is important to back up our products with quality services and spare parts to ensure that our customers are satisfied and we are able to maintain a long-term presence in the market.
In the second half of this year, we anticipate a significant fall out in the industry as we rationalize and bring the market back to normal trading levels. Our goal is to stabilize at around 10%-15% above 2019 levels.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Can you tell us about any changes that have occurred within Jayco in the past four years?
Gerry Ryan: In terms of product offerings, we have expanded our range to become one of the largest manufacturers in the world. In the American market, we have identified cross-section markets that we are actively pursuing. We are also putting significant efforts into continuous improvement, investing in our manufacturing processes to become more competitive and improve quality. Moving forward, our focus will be on new product innovation. We plan to bring more innovative products to the market over the next 12 months and beyond.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What sets Jayco apart from its competitors?
Gerry Ryan: Jayco has always been at the forefront of innovation, boasting the best dealer network and providing exceptional service to its customers. We offer great value for money, ensuring that we are highly competitive in the market. Our products have gained appreciation, especially in recent years, and our national service network is unparalleled. It’s not enough to just sell a product, we believe in providing top-notch service to our customers to ensure their satisfaction.
Aboutcamp BtoB: In Europe, the market is influenced by several factors such as inflation, the war in Ukraine, high RV prices, long waiting times, and uncertain final prices. What is the situation in Australia?
Gerry Ryan: We have faced similar challenges in terms of fixed prices and waiting times. For motorized vehicles, the waiting time is currently at 12 months, while for caravans and campers it is around seven months.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Your prices are fixed, so customers know the exact price when they purchase?
Gerry Ryan: Yes, that’s correct.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What is your vision for the market in the next five years?
Gerry Ryan: We aim to return to the market’s pre-pandemic state of 2019, with a projected growth of around 20%. However, we don’t expect to reach the levels of the current boom as the market is already starting to slow down. Nonetheless, we anticipate growth in the industry as more people have started caravanning due to the travel restrictions that were introduced.
Two icons of the RV industry together at CARAVAN SALON Düsseldorf 2022: Harald Striewski owner and founder of the German Hobby-Wohnwagenwerk, Ing. Harald Striewski GmbH and Gerry Ryan, founder and owner of Jayco Corporation Pty Ltd (Australia)
Aboutcamp BtoB: What do you like and dislike about the European RV industry? And what about USA?
Gerry Ryan: I appreciate the innovation and design in the European market, and we closely monitor the trends there. As for dislikes, I am not heavily involved in the European RV industry to pinpoint specific aspects that I dislike. I haven’t been to America in years, so I am not familiar with the market there. The American market tends to have greater fluctuations in volume and can quickly decline, and the products they use are different from what we use here in Australia. Due to their size, we tend to look more towards European products.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What steps does Jayco take to ensure long-term collaboration with suppliers?
Gerry Ryan: At Jayco, we understand that building strong relationships with suppliers is crucial for our success. It’s not just about purchasing components, it’s about working together towards a common goal. We rely heavily on our suppliers’ engineering department to assist us when developing new products, and we value their input and expertise. For us, it’s all about the relationship, not just the price.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Is it wise for Jayco to bring previously outsourced production processes in-house, given the potential risks of hiring new staff and buying machinery in a volatile market?
Gerry Ryan: There’s no easy answer to this question. We always consider the cost of producing components in-house versus outsourcing them. Recently, we evaluated the cost of producing a component in-house versus outsourcing it to a supplier. After a careful analysis, we found that the external cost was 25% higher than in-house production. However, we also realized that making it in-house would cost us an additional $150,000 due to our fixed high base. Therefore, we decided to outsource it. We constantly review our production processes and make decisions based on what is most efficient and cost-effective for the company.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How does Jayco prepare for a potential downturn in the market?
Gerry Ryan: As a responsible business, we always have to be prepared for a potential downturn in the market. We regularly evaluate our breakeven point, which is currently at 45% of production. By understanding our break-even point, we can make better-informed decisions and be better equipped to weather any economic challenges.
Aboutcamp BtoB: European RV manufacturing groups also own other businesses and have acquired suppliers and brands that distribute accessories to dealers. However, there is now someone in Europe who is buying RV dealerships and creating their own network. What are your thoughts on this?
Gerry Ryan: We have no intention of buying dealerships. It is an individual business and can operate better under local management rather than from a head office. Therefore, we will not be getting into buying dealerships.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How did Jayco manage production problems caused by supply chain issues over the past two years?
Gerry Ryan: We faced 300 days of lockdown in Victoria, and a 550-day period was difficult due to people contracting COVID-19, resulting in a lot of absenteeism. We also faced supply chain issues as we import around 40% of our components. We increased our raw stock by 60%. Although lead times increased, we were fortunate to have excess stock due to good management of supply departments.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What are you most proud of in your career?
Gerry Ryan: I am most proud of seeing people develop in their careers. Many employees started on the factory floor and worked their way up to management positions. We invest a lot of money in developing and training our employees and it’s gratifying to see them achieve their goals and personal development. Additionally, I am proud to see gender equality in our workplace, which is an important focus today.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Have you ever made mistakes?
Gerry Ryan: Yes, I make mistakes all the time. In fact, I probably made a mistake just five minutes ago.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How do you like to spend your money?
Gerry Ryan: I enjoy spending my money on my family and friends and my interests, such as my race horses and cycling team. But I also believe in giving back to the community, supporting Jayco-sponsored charities and other charities that help those in need.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What do you value most in life?
Gerry Ryan: Family and friends are what I value most in life, as well as people in general. It’s important to surround yourself with people who inspire you, support you, and bring joy to your life.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What comes after Gerry Ryan? You have three children – are any of them as passionate about caravanning as you are?
Gerry Ryan: My daughter has recently started assisting in the business with areas such as people and design. Additionally, my other son is on the board. We have recently appointed a new CEO, Andrew Hadjikakou, ex MD of PACCAR Australia Pty Ltd (truck manufacturer), so that I can take a back seat. However, it is a great industry, and I have had experience in other industries, through sporting organizations. Caravanning is my passion, and I do not see myself retiring for a while, although I will take a step back.
Gerry Ryan with our editor-in-chief