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Forest River’s dealers gather for dinner at 2017 Open House

Forest River Inc. CEO Pete Liegl and Thor Industries Inc. President and CEO Bob Martin have agreed to reschedule – by a week – this year’s Elkhart RV Open House in an effort to relax fall show schedules for scores of front-line salespeople from a variety of companies. As a result, the Open House in northern Indiana’s RV-building center of Elkhart, Ind., this year will start on Monday, Sept. 24, instead of Monday, Sept. 17, as previously announced.

Behind this rather surprising move, according to the two manufacturing executives whose Elkhart-based firms account for more than 80% of industry shipments, is a specific effort to provide more time between the Pennsylvania RV & Camping Association’s (PRVCA) popular trade-and-consumer Hershey Show, slated for Sept. 11-16 at Hersheypark in Hershey, Pa., and the 10-year-old, trade-only Open House. The Elkhart Open House draws most major manufacturers, thousands of dealers and accounts, by most estimates, for as much as $2 billion in wholesale sales.

Pete Liegl at Forest River dealer meeting.

In fact, the three-to-four-day Open House is now the industry’s only national-scale selling show in the wake of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) board’s recent decision to terminate late November’s 54-year-old National RV Trade Show – once an industry staple better known as the Louisville Show.

“This gives those working the Hershey Show, like our salespeople, one more week compared to past years to get back here and get ready for the product showing (Open House), along with a number of dealers who go to Hershey,” said Liegl. “It’s too cramped — the way it’s been — for them to get out here and attend the Open House. And a week in between was much more favorable.”

Although there are still plenty of loose ends for Thor to tie up in the aftermath of this week’s decision, Martin said publicly held Thor is on the same page with regard to the Open House rescheduling.

“Yes, we took a look at the timing of all the shows this year with Louisville going away – and we also looked at the stress that it puts on our people who work Hershey,” agreed Martin. “We thought it would be a good thing to give everybody a break and take a little bit of the show stress off the shoulders of those who work the Hershey Show. So, hopefully, some of the dealers who go to Hershey will also have the opportunity to come to Open House now as well.”

Thor President and CEO Bob Martin

Should the industry anticipate additional Open House changes this year, given the industry’s rapidly changing show landscape? It’s too early to say, according to Liegl and Martin, but both executives are clearly anticipating increased Open House dealer attendance.

“Yes, I think it will (mean added attendance),” said Liegl, “just because some people (dealers) in years past went to Louisville and they didn’t go to the Open House. Now, since Louisville is done and gone, I’m sure that it’s going to attract more people to the Open House.”

Otherwise, Liegl is assuming that the newly rescheduled 2018 Open House will be similar in many ways to prior years for Forest River, a unit of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. “It’s been highly successful what we’ve been doing. I mean, we modified it by one week,” he said. “I think that made a little sense, and I don’t think that upsets anybody. We just want to go there (to the Open House), be rested, be prepared to do what we’re supposed to do. And, beyond that, it will be the same thing as last year — good food, good entertainment and friendship.”