Based on customer sentiment and buying patterns, it looks to be a very good year for the RV industry, according to KZ RV LP dealers who saw encouraging activity during this winter’s RV shows.

In a press release from Shipshewana, Ind.-based KZ, dealers reported that show attendance was up and sales were “very pleasantly way up,” said John Gajewski, sales manager of King’s Campers in Wausau, Wis. “We almost doubled our record attendance at our open house, which we’ve had on the same weekend for the last 16 years,” he said. “We got maybe 6,000 people coming through over four days.”

John Petrie, president of Niagara Trailers in St. Davids, Ontario, had similar experiences. “Our first show, we had an 87% rise in unit sales over last year,” he said, noting that the Sportsmen Classic, Spree Escape and Coyote travel trailers by KZ did very well at his dealership’s three shows. But what surprised him was how well the bigger fifth-wheels were received.

“Fifth-wheels are definitely popular right now, particularly the Durango and StoneRidge, and there was lots more toy hauler activity,” Petrie said. “This season what’s doing really well is KZ’s 40th anniversary units.”

The release stated that the anniversary units “bring back some classic features of KZ’s historically successful RVs with contemporary presentation and technology.”

In addition, the “show stopper” models, fashioned and priced specifically for dealers to use at winter shows, found success at Niagara Trailers.

“The big thing that hit the market for us was the KZ show stoppers. Before, we only sold four the whole season. This year, we sold nine just during the first show. They seemed to really take off,” said Petrie. “KZ has lots more awareness in Ontario now. They’re a family owned company so they can make decisions about how to make what sells based on feedback from the dealers, and that really helps.”

Both dealers found an overall increase this winter in buyers new to RVing. “Maybe 30% of our customers were new buyers, which is a very nice number,” Gajewski said. “These shows definitely show us getting a good chunk of new customers.”

“There was an increase in purchases by people who are all new to RVing, but ironically we also had more trade-ins than before,” said Petrie. “These are people who used to be into RVing and are now coming back in, which is the opposite of the last two years.”

Whatever features and floorplans customers seek out, the recession-era shift to offering more for less in order to keep business flowing has made an impression on customer expectations. “What people really want is more amenities for less money, to be frank,” Gajewski said, and Petrie agreed: “As far as features, most RVs come with so many features in the package anymore, it’s almost the expected now.”

According to KZ, gas prices don’t seem to be dampening enthusiasm. “Customer attitude this year is surprisingly good. You don’t hear gas comments as much any more. It hasn’t been a focus,” Gajewski reported.

Petrie added, “There’s been no negativity about gas prices, interest rates, job loss, any of that. This year the weather in Ontario has been phenomenal. Traffic is higher at our shows and our dealership. Everything at this point looks like 2012 will be a very good year.”