Over the past three years, Joerg Reithmeier has overseen a succession of key acquisitions for LCI, including initiatives which brought Polyplastic and Schaudt GmbH Elektrotechnik & Apparatebau under the Lippert corporate umbrella. He recently spoke with AboutCamp BtoB about acquisitions, business strategies and an ever-evolving product portfolio to capture the next generation of buyers
Words Antonio Mazzucchelli with Craig Ritchie Photo Enrico Bona
Joerg Reithmeier joined Lippert Components Inc (LCI) in April 2019 as Senior Advisor, Business Development, tasked with growing the company’s share in the European caravanning market through strategic acquisitions, such as the onboarding of Polyplastic B.V. and its affiliates in early 2020.
The complexity associated with managing the integration of new business units subsequently led to an organizational shuffle within the firm, and Reithmeier was named Managing Director, Caravanning, EMEA on August 1, 2022. Reithmeier brings 10 years of automotive industry experience to the new role, plus an additional 11 years in the caravan industry, including tenure as a member of the executive board of the Erwin Hymer Group.
Aboutcamp BtoB: You embarked on your new role this summer, but you have already been working with Lippert for three years. What are the main activities you have implemented in this new role, and what do you see as primary objectives over the medium and longer term?
Joerg Reithmeier: Since moving into the new position I’ve met major customers, visited the various Lippert plants in different markets and discussed with the management teams in order to put together the strategy for the next five years. We analyzed the market trends in light of today’s challenging times, with a view to learning the main expectations of customers and where we need to position ourselves in order to meet those needs. The result was a detailed strategy – not just for the company, but for each individual plant.
We further defined the necessary actions and put the respective persons in charge. It is complex, as we still have quite challenging situations in daily business related to the supply chain. But this approach will ensure we can manage the situation in order to best support our customers.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What are Lippert’s strategic priorities for a successful future?
Joerg Reithmeier: The priority is to be very close to our customers and to understand their needs. The whole approach from Lippert is a new comprehensive strategy introduced during summer 2022 based on four pillars to which all BU’s will need to adhere and align their individual plans.
One is innovation, so we want to be the market leader in terms of innovation. The second pillar is customer experience, we want to support our customers well by being closer to them than our competitors are. The third pillar is quality, we want to continually improve the quality of our products. And the final pillar is leadership and culture. We want to have strong team leaders and highly engaged team members, to put them in the focus, and to support them. Our corporate culture is to not only focus on people, but also on the communities we live and work in, where we feel we can make a positive impact.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Lippert supplies both OEM and aftermarket customers in Europe. What is the proportional contribution of each business right now, and is it anticipated to change moving forward?
Joerg Reithmeier: Our main focus is on the OEMs, and that represents the significant majority of our sales.
Our aftermarket business is growing, but it has a different focus than our OEM business and includes product lines we don’t sell in the OEM sector. So it’s much more accessories than spare parts, representing product like bike racks, for example. We want to offer products which have outstanding USPs, which are new on the market. With the acquisition of Furrion, we can significantly extend our product portfolio and offerings, especially in the aftermarket segment of electronics, camera systems, cooling systems, energy management and so on.
Aboutcamp BtoB: That neatly brings us to our next question – are your objectives for the Furrion brand in Europe?
Joerg Reithmeier: We need to adapt some of the Furrion products to meet European specifications, which is easier than to produce these products here. That includes even complex products like for example the new camera system, which has a lot of features which you currently don’t find on existing systems on the market.
Aboutcamp BtoB: And what about the Schaudt business? Is the acquisition of Schaudt the first step towards Lippert increasing its portfolio of electronic technologies?
Joerg Reithmeier: With Schaudt we are able to offer our customers a full line of electronics, connectivity and energy management capabilities. Energy management in particular is an area we see as of key strategic importance for the future.
Schaudt is the basis, with considerable input from our colleagues at Lippert Technology in the US who have considerable strength in a number of key competencies. We want to further grow and develop new products in that area, especially with the goal to provide end-users with more independence and autarky. There is a new term in US: ‘boondocking’ referring to camping off-grid. We see this as an emerging trend in both markets.
We also analyzed what it will mean when numbers of electric caravannings enter our market. We are already supplying between 200,000 to 300,000 connectivity solutions per year in the US. Schaudt will be the front end for these solutions that we will develop in cooperation with our colleagues in the US.
Aboutcamp BtoB: We know that you have extensive experience in electric mobility. Is this a sector in which Lippert is also engaging?
Joerg Reithmeier: Yes, we presented the e-trailer in US because chassis represent a strategic segment, and we want to be well positioned. Lippert is known for being very strong in chassis development, and we’ve been busy developing our competencies in energy management, so it is natural for us to take the lead in developing solutions around electric drives.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Can you share details on other fields in which Lippert’s R&D departments are currently focused? What might we see coming to market in the near future?
Joerg Reithmeier: You understand that I cannot share everything but at least I want to give you some indication for some areas: we have set a five-year approach around the areas of connectivity and autarky, by producing better energy management systems.
But it’s our innovation strategy is not only about additional functionality, we will also do developments to offer more cost-focused solutions in the near future, because prices for caravannings have significantly increased. We see an obligation to ensure that we as an industry can continue to offer motorhomes and caravans in the entry and mainstream segments, and not just the luxury and premium category. In the present direction, we risk losing customers because motorhomes and caravans are becoming too expensive. So we are convinced we need to develop cost-focused solutions in the next future to prevent that scenario.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Lippert has invested several resources to develop a slide-out system in Europe. Yet the technology doesn’t appear to have gained the popularity it has in North America. Why is this?
Joerg Reithmeier: Motorhomes in Europe are in general smaller than they are in North America, especially with that limitation of 3.5 tons. Having a slide-out adds space when in camping mode, but you lose space internally when the vehicle is in driving mode.
We will further continue to focus on space extensions, but we will slightly modify the approach. We collected a lot of additional experience when we developed pop ups, where we are quite successful in the meantime.
Pop ups are also space extensions. The learning is, that we need to have specific solutions that reflect the realities of the European market, which extend the space, but don’t result in a space loss when the unit is closed.
A horizontal slide-out with such features is for sure interesting when you consider the weight for the additional space is lower than the weight you would have if you just made a longer motorhome. There are real benefits.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Lippert is closely involved in the development of camper vans and urban campers offering products such as pop-up roofs or dedicated panoramic windows. Do you have a specific strategy for this sector in the medium and long term?
Joerg Reithmeier: In general the percentage of camper vans is growing and for both OEMs and suppliers, the consequence is the additional content that we can supply is decreasing. Obviously, our goal is to supply as much of that content as possible. We earlier talked about our successful pop up developments. Additionally accessories are getting even more relevant for such vans. That’s one of the product families where we think a lot about how we also can develop accessories around the vehicle to provide customers camping experiences like with bigger motorhomes.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Are there Lippert products developed in Europe which are adopted by American manufacturers, and vice versa?
Joerg Reithmeier: When Lippert entered the European market, the goal was to supply products from the US to Europe. And, we are importing some products from the US into Europe, such as Furrion products.
What is interesting is that we have a roughly three-times higher volume of product which we ship from Europe to the US. That is driven by the trend towards camper vans in US. In the US market European design is interesting for major customer groups and light weight is getting more important; this makes our products more appealing and it has significantly boosterd our shipments to the US.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Is Lippert Caravan in Europe planning any investments for production sites or product lines?
Joerg Reithmeier: Yes, we are continuously growing. At the moment we are investing in a new logistics center at Polyplastic, and we are investing in new machinery that will allow us to become more productive and cost-efficient in some areas.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Does the concentration of caravanning builders in large groups represent an opportunity for Lippert? Or is it more of a risk?
Joerg Reithmeier: I think in general, it’s an opportunity because we as an industry can fulfill more automotive standards which are expected from our end-user customers. Since it’s important to put more efforts and expensive investments into innovation and product development,It’s easier in terms of getting the necessary basic volumes if there are big players dealing with each other.
Nevertheless, it’s also important to focus on smaller customers and to be extremely customer-focused and make sure that these players who might address specific end customer needs or have specific products see Lippert as a competent and performing partner.
Aboutcamp BtoB: The caravanning markets in most economies have experienced strong growth until this year. How do you see the markets continuing over the next few years?
Joerg Reithmeier: We anticipate this as stable market over the next year – we don’t see significant growth, but we don’t see a decrease either, especially in terms of production because there’s still a lot of end-customer orders on hand, and the stock limits of the dealers are very low. So as a supplier, for the next year we see constant, strong demand.
Looking further ahead, caravanning is trendier than ever, especially in the trend towards urban vehicles. The rise of camper vans means that customers are replacing their cars with motor homes. So we see a further growth in units, but we are also convinced it will be smaller units, more automotive units, and that’s something what we need to keep in mind in order to have the right product portfolio.