Tue May 16, 2017
They called him crazy. Why would he ramp up production of high-end RVs when the economy was quickly diving into the rabbit hole? There was no way to know when the economy or the industry itself would rebound.
But Phil Brokenicky was stubborn and determined to make it work. In fact, he held to the belief that the height of the recession was the time to get into the business, when costs were low and they could set up the business and develop a niche.
“The recession hit and Teton Homes closed,” Phil’s son Cole Brokenicky says. “My dad said ‘Let’s take aim at the void in the high-end market that they’re going to leave. We redesigned our unit and while everyone else was scaling back, we invested in our product and made it that much better. That kept us afloat through the slow times.”
In 2002, Brokenicky bought New Horizons from Harold Johnson, who started the company in Junction City, Kansas in 1989. The motorhome manufacturer was already a well-established name among consumers – a company that had received five star ratings from the RV Consumers Group and established a reputation as a quality manufacturer.
But Brokenicky wanted to make the RVs look even nicer. At the time of the purchase, Cole Brokenicky says the RVs manufactured by the company were essentially just “redneck box(es) on wheels.” So the new company redesigned the coaches and introduced new models, continuing to build to a very high quality.
Phil’s son Drew started with the company from day one, while Cole worked at the plant during summers, while he attended nearby Kansas State University, where he was the punter for the Wildcat football team. He then joined the company as a salesman during the recession.
New Horizons has always built its own chassis in-house. Each floorplan is custom built and the engineers do the lamination process of the unit, while the flooring and sidewalls are aluminum. The roof is fiberglass and the base cabinetry is all built in-house as well, as well as the plumbing and electrical wiring. The painting is done in Forest City, Iowa by CDI. In total, it will take New Horizons about three months to finish one unit.
When Phil Brokenicky bought the company, the first decision he made was to make sure that the customers felt those at the company were more than just a business – but friends and family.
“I learned from my dad that we need to listen to what the customers’ needs are and come up with a solution to address them and take care of them everywhere we can,” Cole says. “We understand that these people are spending good money with us and we’ve got to give them a product that delivers on the value of what they’re buying. We get to know these people well. I consider many of them real friends.”
With the focus on high-end coaches, the company had pigeonholed itself into the higher end market. For example, the Majestic line costs about $208,000 for one of its type A coaches. That focus was OK for a while after the recession when the Type A coaches were in hot demand. But over the last several years, the trend has gone toward smaller and more economic vehicles such as the type Bs and Cs, while the demand for Type As continue to decline.
“After our internal looking in the mirror, we decided to rethink our Summit (line) and scale it back even more,” Cole says. “We’ve spent a lot of time building a prototype, which is a 37-foot rig with three slides and a very safe floor plan that will appeal to a lot of people. We’re in the $136,000 price range, which we know is still a lot of money, but we’re a lot closer to our two competitors. Our cabinets and frames will wipe the floor with them. Even though it’s not as fancy as our higher end models, no one would ever know that unless I told them.”
The new model is planned to be complete by the middle of July and will debut at the Hershey, Pennsylvania show. Even though type A’s have declined a little bit over the years in the customers’ demand, Cole says he and the company feels encouraged by the response they’ve got so far.
“If we can entice people to spend a little more – not a lot more – but a little more – like we have, and if we can add a dozen or 15 more units on top of our custom clientele and get it back to the upper 30s and lower 40s, that’s where, as a business, we will always have a full factory. We’re excited about that and we feel we can steal some business from our competitors because the differences in our products are worth it.”
As the family was talking about the revamped Summit line and carving out a larger niche in the marketplace, tragedy struck quickly. Phil Brokenicky was diagnosed with cancer and battled the sickness through much of the previous year. His sickness put a weight on the family and understandably made it harder for the company to focus on the business at hand. Phil passed away on New Year’s Eve, 2016, at his home.
“Last year was a slow year to be honest,” Cole says. “We only built 23 last year. The combination of an election year, which is always tough, and my dad’s quick cancer journey, I did my best to stay concentrated. We weren’t on our ‘A’ game. But we’re off to a good start this year and I feel strongly right now that we’re catching up on the gap we created for ourselves.”
Don Kelly, who owns and operates Fat Socks Motorsports in California, was a friend of Phil Brokenicky and says the vision and determination of his friend should be recognized in the industry.
“A lot of people looked at Phil and said he’ll never make it in the industry and that he was crazy to buy into the market when the market was in the toilet,” Kelly says. “But Phil was a wonderful person and his company is thriving today based on the vision of its founder.”
Being located in the heart of America in the middle of Kansas has its benefits and drawbacks. On the negative side, the city is in the middle of nowhere, about two miles west of Kansas City. But, its location also allows the company to grab the attention of a lot of people throughout the United States.
“We get people from all over the country,” Cole says. “Today, I’m working with a Canadian couple that winters in Florida. We have folks from Washington state, California, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas. Actually, Kansas couples are pretty rare.”
As the company re-finds its footing after the passing of its creator, the guiding principles and vision that he set are continually being used. As other companies continue to invest in resources and technology, the Brokenicky’s have kept their focus on the customers and finding lasting friends in the marketplace, Cole says.
But the vision remains.
“With dad gone and lots of question marks, this would be a very high stress environment to stay a part of if we didn’t feel the market was in a really good direction,” Cole says. “I’m excited about it. It will be bittersweet, though. Dad won’t be here to see the successes of his hard work.”