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Attendees at the NTP=STAG show pack the turnstiles at the Anaheim

Attendees at the NTP-STAG show pack the turnstiles at the Anaheim Convention Center

More good news for the North American RV industry emerged from the 2017 NTP-STAG Expo held this week (Jan. 30-31) at the Anaheim Convention Center where some 200 supplier-exhibitors and 2,500 attendees pursued a busy schedule.

A series of educational “RV University” sessions opened the agenda on Monday before the late afternoon kickoff of a day-and-a-half buying show that most participants described as one of the best on record – an event reminiscent in many ways of the old Coast Distribution shows held annually in the 1990’s in Las Vegas at which big U.S. and Canadian crowds converged.

In fact, this week’s NTP-STAG show, coming as it did on the heels of the Florida RV Trade Association’s (FRVTA) record-busting Tampa SuperShow earlier in the month, provided yet another signal that the momentum gained during the past seven resurgent, post-recessionary years in the RV marketplace could well continue through 2017.

“One of the best shows we’ve been to in years,” said Tom Manning, president of Tom Manning & Associates, a manufacturers’ rep firm based in Coldwater, Mich., that represented 10 to 12 different supplier firms during the Southern California show, the nation’s largest for RV aftermarket suppliers and the dealers that buy from NTP-STAG. “Dealers had fantastic attitudes, all coming here to buy, looking for new products, and the crowds were phenomenal. Having been around for awhile, it was reminiscent of the old days of the Coast Show – just busy all day long — wear-you-out busy. We had no time for social events. By the time we got done, we just wanted to go put our feet up and rest.”

Bob Brammer, president of Stromberg Carlson, the Traverse City, Mich.-based manufacturer of electric tongue jacks and a variety of other products, told RVBUSINESS.com that the Expo exuded high energy from the moment the doors opened as dealers were welcomed onto the vendor floor by the applause of the NTP staff lined up on either side of the entrance.

“Dealers were ordering new products they’d never seen before,” said Brammer. “That’s the sign of a good economy. Because back in ‘09 and ‘10, dealers were only buying what they needed. ‘Don’t even show me new product,’ they’d say, ‘because I don’t have money and inventory for that.’ Now, they come in and see new product and it’s ‘give me 30 of those and 10 of that.’ It’s all real positive.”

The Anaheim show, America’s largest RV aftermarket exposition and one of the last distributor buying events of the season, no doubt sent yet another message to the industry as a whole and the staff of NTP-STAG, a division of Exeter, Pa.-based LKQ Corp.’s Keystone Automotive Operations. It was apparent that the North American dealer body’s natural concerns of a year ago about increasing aftermarket consolidation appear to be dissipating after a spate of acquisitions Keystone completed since 2014.

“I think a lot of the anxiety that we had last year at this time has subsided,” Bill Rogers, vice president and general manager of Keystone Automotive, told RVBUSINESS.com near the close of this year’s show. “And I have heard very positive comments from all of the customers. The independent dealers that are attending the show and the supply base as well has been very positive. And the mood of the attendees was amazingly upbeat. While there’s a lot of stuff going on in the world, I think this has been the most upbeat I’ve seen the attendees at our shows since I’ve been here. So, I think a lot of the things that we’ve been trying to do to improve are paying off and the customers are seeing the benefit of that.”

Although final tallies weren’t available, Rogers indicated that registrations were up 10% from the prior year and it appeared at the show’s close that they wound up exceeding that in total headcount, putting total onsite attendance at about 2,500 “and easily more than last year,” he said.

“One of the things that we were really pleased about was the enrollment in RVU (RV University) this year,” added John Spaulding, NTP-STAG’s director of marketing. “You know, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and this was the largest RVU registration that we’ve ever had. So, we had great attendance in the supplier meetings and the (supplier-led) PRO webinars that we put on. We think that really did set things up for a really positive experience in what we were seeing on the show floor.”

Education remains a significant commitment for NTP-STAG in Spaulding’s view. “As Bill has said on a number of occasions, we continue to support education,” noted Spaulding. “We see it as a very important part of dealers being able to compete in the changing market. We are trying to identify the tools and the training that we think that they need to have to be successful, and there’s a lack of those tools on a national scale. And when we offer it up, it seems like they’re (dealers) eager to participate.”