Fort Wayne RV Show logoAfter two punishing years of downturn, many in the RV industry say a rebound has started.

“There’s a saying in the RV industry – we lead the country into and out of recessions,” said Mark Bowersox, executive director of the Indiana Manufactured Housing Association-Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council (IMHA-RVIC).

As the economy improves, Bowersox and the manufacturers and dealers he represents are seeing more signs of hope for the industry that sagged deeply in 2008 and 2009, according to the Fort Wayne (Ind.) News-Sentinel.

Beginning today (Jan. 28), campers and recreational vehicle owners can peruse the latest that area businesses have to offer at the Fort Wayne RV & Camping Show at Memorial Coliseum. Exhibitors say there’s reason for optimism, despite the well-publicized rollbacks in manufacturing and employment in RV businesses in the last two years.

For one thing, attendance at shows like the RV & Camping Show are up dramatically in recent months. Ron Sleeper, owner of the RV Center in Columbia City, said attendance is typically up 25-30% at recent annual shows over the preceding year.

In fact, Sleeper said his store saw the beginnings of rebound in 2009. “In service, parts and accessories, we finished up for the year” compared with 2008, Sleeper said. His store does more of its business in smaller, towable rigs rather than the top-end motorized RVs with price tags that reach into the six figures. But he is seeing strong interest in used “Class A” RVs, and his service department is scheduled into February.

Bowersox said the sharp decline in the number of used RVs – and new RVs liquidated from defunct dealers’ lots – bodes well for the strength of the market in the vehicles this year. Improving economic conditions have led to more RVs being drained off the pool of used or repossessed units. Given demand that exceeds supply, factories are likely to continue ramping up to produce more RVs.

There is a new wrinkle in the market that’s emerged to complicate the recovery, Bowersox said. While final stage RV assembly businesses generally have large pools of skilled, experienced workers they can call back to work, a recession drove some component suppliers out of business. If demand increases the way Bowersox and Sleeper anticipate, it could mean that RV builders will have to find alternatives to bridge gaps left in their supply chains. The impact for buyers, Bowersox said, may be more limited selection on dealers’ lots.