RV dealers across the U.S. saw signs of life at retail trade shows as the 2007 selling season got under way.
Foul weather kept attendance below expectations at some of the nearly 30 retail shows held across the U.S. and Canada during the first 21 days of the new year. But many dealers gathered sufficient impressions to offer an educated guess at how the year could shake out.
In a phone survey conducted by RV Business, most dealers delivered positive reports from the early round of shows. Comments include:
• Wayne Sandy, general sales manager of Southside Motors RV Winnebago of Tacoma, Wash., reported that the Tacoma RV Show held the first week of January was the best show in the 62-year-old dealership’s history. “We had a huge December and it carried right into January,” said Sandy. He said the dealership saw an uptick in both Class A and Class C motorhomes sales while towables in the $15,000 to $30,000 range also were moving.
• Greg Bonter, general manager of Meyers RV Superstores of Hamburg, N.Y., a FreedomRoads dealership, said business is good but notes a hesitancy on the part of shoppers that keeps business from being better. Based on shows in Syracuse and in suburban Buffalo, he said retail traffic is very much alive. “It’s not going into a particular range or particular product,” said Bonter, who carries both motorized and towables. Citing falling fuel prices and more stable interest rates, Bonter said consumers are “coming out of the sleep.”
• The New England RV Dealers Association (NERVDA) produced the Boston Winter Recreation Vehicle and Camping Show for the first time and enjoyed two great weekends, reported Brad Moore, NERVDA president and owner of Bradford RV Centers in Brockton and Raynham, Mass. He saw the most interest in high profile fifth-wheel trailers but said the lightweight, ultralight and expandable business lacked the intensity it had in the past. Moore characterized the motorized segment as “on the mend,” noting dealers were paring down their inventories as a result of early show traffic. Moore said consumer confidence had improved, although higher interest rates may be holding back some shoppers from purchasing.
• Marty Shea, president and owner of Madison RV Supercentre Inc., Huntsville, Ala., said his store is coming off its best January sales period ever. “Towables are on fire across the board,” he said, with peak interest split between fifth-wheels and travel trailers. He also sees an increase in motorized sales, again across the board in terms of size and price, based on traffic at the Nashville RV & Camper SuperShow in Nashville, Tenn., Jan. 19-21. Because the Huntsville economy is in good shape, Shea said there was also interest from “a lot of first-timers who realize it’s a real, good affordable lifestyle.”
• Jeff Agans, general sales manager at Buddy Gregg Motor Homes, Knoxville, Tenn., a Country Coach and Prevost dealer, said it’s too early in the show season for him to draw any conclusions. His staff sold just one motorhome from the Nashville show, which focused more on towables, he said. “There was a lot of activity but in the wrong point for the type of product we had,” he said.
• The conclusion of the 77th Chicago Boat, RV & Outdoors Show in McCormick Place coincided with the NFC championship game virtually across the street in Soldier Field and wiped out the closing day visitation, said Jan Swardson, vice president of Camp-Land RV Inc., Burns Harbor, Ind. “Up until then, the show was good,” she said, with shoppers buying “a little bit of everything.” She added that consumer confidence had improved due to lower gas prices.
• Tim Dunn, sales manager at Steve Casey’s Recreational Sales in Wheat Ridge, Colo., a Denver suburb, reported decent sales at the 17th Annual Colorado RV Adventure Travel Show Jan. 10-13 in the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. His staff sold more Class A motorhomes than it sold at last year’s show, he said, adding that it’s too early to get a barometer on the health of the motorized market. The only down side to the new year is that “it is a little quieter following the show than what we’re used to.”
• Charlie Wolf, sales manager at Beckley’s Camping Center, Thurmont, Md., said sales were down at the show in Chantilly, Va., Jan. 19-2, although traffic was good. He said fifth-wheel, toy hauler and lightweight trailer sales were strong and the motorized business is “holding its own.” He added, “I don’t see it (motorized) coming back much yet but not getting any worse. We’re encouraged but not enough to go out and buy a lot of stuff.”
• Bob Harney, sales manager at Freedom RV Center, O’Fallon, Mo., said traffic was decent at the St. Louis RV Camping & Travel Show Jan. 11-14 in America’s Center, but noted “sales were not what they were a few years ago.” The towables-only dealership did better with high-line product, he said.
Nearly half of the dealers contacted for the survey said they did not attend a nearby retail show in January. Some cited the cost involved, while others said the proliferation of retail shows has saturated the market and diluted their impact. Some dealers prefer to conduct shows on their own sales lots where they have more space to show product at less cost.