Show attendees check out the General RV accessories display

Editor’s Note: The following story, written by Rick Kessler for RVBusiness, offers a look at the recently completed Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles and Campgrounds (MARVAC) show in Novi. Kessler is managing editor for Heritage Media, a chain of 11 newspapers in southeast Michigan, and author of the Gr8LakesCamper blog.

Howell, Mich., residents Glenn and Becky Pietila stepped down out of a Rockwood Roo, an affordable Forest River towable, and turned to give the hybrid camper an extra long second look. The young couple, spending their afternoon at the 48th Annual Detroit Camper & RV Show, were definitely interested in the Roo.

“We have a popup now and we’re ready to upgrade,” said Glenn.

“Ours is pretty old so we’re looking for something a little more convenient, a little more comfortable and a little more reliable,” agreed Becky, who, with four kids ranging in age from 3 months to 5 years old, especially favored the towable RV’s three foldout beds and generally spacious layout.

So, whether the Pietilas buy their dream trailer or not, the only conclusion one could draw from the traffic and sales activity at the Feb. 5-9 Detroit Camper & RV Show in the Suburban Financial Showplace in Novi — and at other retail shows around the country right now — is that the RV industry’s rebound is continuing in early 2014.

More than 20,000 people braved two snow storms to attend the five-day show in suburban Detroit, a significant venue for the industry’s annual retail show tour located about 30 minutes northwest of the Motor City. And while the weather kept the sponsoring Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles and Campgrounds (MARVAC), from breaking last year’s records, participating dealers generally seemed pleased.

“It was the most we ever sold at the February show, and it was all products from low-end travel trailers all the way up to our high-end diesel pushers,” said Larry Andree, president of A&S RV Center in Auburn Hills, Mich. “The buyers were across all ranges, too, from young people looking to get their first camper to older people looking to upgrade. It was a great crowd and great attitude.”

Vicky Rokas of Vicar’s Trailer Sales in Taylor, Mich. said her family’s RV dealership also enjoyed record sales during the show and across all product line, too.

MARVAC's Bill Sheffer

“You could tell the people had confidence in the economy again,” she said. “We had a lot of cash buyers and we had a lot of nice trade-ins come in, so obviously people held on to their RVs for an extra year or two and are now ready to upgrade.”

Steve Gubics of National RV Detroit, located in Belleville, Mich. said the Detroit RV show was “the best ever” for his dealership.

“The crowds were great; everybody was looking to move into a new RV,” Gubics said.

All of this, of course, is good news not only for participating dealers but for dealers nationwide, and the RV industry as a whole.

As recently reported, RV wholesale shipments finished 2013 on a four-year high note with a total of 321,127 units shipped, a gain of 12.4% over the 2012 year-end total of 285,749 units, according to the Recreation Vehicle industry Association’s (RVIA) December survey of RV manufacturers.

This was nearly twice the annual total of 2009 (165,700 units) and marked the fourth consecutive annual increase since the end of the last recession for the RV industry.

Bill Sheffer, director of MARVAC, is predicting a terrific year for both RVers and RV dealerships.

“Dealers who participated in this year’s show noted a strong enthusiasm regarding the economy and the high desire among shoppers to buy the latest in RV offerings,” he said, adding nearly 10,000 visitors on the Saturday of the show. “All indications are that dealers will be busy this spring and campgrounds will be full this summer.”

So, given this evidence, is it safe to say the RV industry is back?

“That’s definitely the case,” said Gubics. “People have gotten over their fear of the economy. And people are realizing life goes on; they can’t postpone things for so long. They’re ready to buy the RV of their dreams. People always say they’ve been wanting to do this so we’re going to do it.”

Andree of A&S RV Center agreed, saying last year was his dealership’s “best year in terms of units sold. In dollar sales, it was our second best year ever because last year we sold more towables than motorized RVs.”

Steve Rochette, a “fun consultant” for Westland Camping Center in Westland, who also reported a strong show in the Detroit RV show, said in the last couple of years, people have started buying RVs again, and not always fitting into the buyer category stereotypes.

“Basically, it’s run the gamut — we’ve had older folks buying pop-ups because they’re looking to simplify to younger families skipping right ahead to the big bunkhouses,” Rochette said.