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Dealers enjoy dinner at the Elkhart Open House Dealers sit down to dinner at the Elkhart Open House

From the on-stage C&W performances at Forest River Inc.’s mammoth exhibit to the crowd-pleasing Mercedes-Benz giveaway at Thor Industries Inc.’s expansive display, the 2016 Elkhart RV Open House will likely be remembered as one of the best so far in the nine-year history of the Open House – a growing trade exposition that takes place each September along the boulevards of Elkhart, Ind., where the vast majority of North America’s recreational vehicles are manufactured.

The best ever?

That’s not just because of the window dressing, the lavish free meals and the cocktail parties at which entertainers like Trace Adkins, Daughtry and Foghat appeared.

On the contrary, the central mission for thousands of dealer personnel from coast to coast at the Elkhart RV Open House is to secure inventory for 2017 at volume buying discounts. And from all we can tell at RVBUSINESS.com, there was – without exaggeration – plenty of that going on.

Consider the comments culled from manufacturers today (Sept. 22) as the OEMs were preparing to pack up their displays and return to their varied home offices:

“¢ “It was a very positive, upbeat week,” said Derald Bontrager, president and CEO of Jayco Inc., a subsidiary since June 30 of Thor Industries Inc. “All indications are that 2017’s going to be another great year for the industry. Dealers are positive, stocking up on inventory. And traffic was good. It’s such an expansive area, so it’s hard to compare it year over year, but it felt as good or better than last year with very good attendance. So, I would say it was, overall, a very positive week for our company.”

“¢ The 2016 Elkhart RV Open House also buoyed the 2017 prospects for REV Recreation Group, a Decatur, Ind.-based motorhome builder. “Actually, we’re extremely excited,” reported Lenny Razo, vice president of sales. “This year, we launched a bunch of new floorplans and we had great traffic through the first three days, probably very similar traffic to what we had last year. But I think the big difference this year is that we were able to sign up 10 or 12 new dealers in certain markets that we had open.

“So, it was just another successful week for us, coming off of Hershey (PRVCA’s America’s Largest RV Show) and prior to Louisville (RVIA’s National RV Trade Show). Obviously, today’s slow, but the first three days were fantastic.”

“¢ Don Clark, president and co-owner of Grand Design RV Co., reported “record-setting sales” for the Middlebury, Ind.-based towable builder while also touting a “very positive attitude” among its growing dealer body.

“We had a great turnout and our product was well received by dealers,” Clark said. “It was the best Open House in our brief four-year history. But the thing that was most impressive was the full-speed ahead attitude from our dealers. They were enthusiastic about the market and were getting ready for the selling season. It was great to see because that says a lot about where the industry is headed.”

“¢ “It’s the best Open House that we’ve ever had,” noted Phil Savari, executive vice president of Gulf Stream Coach Inc., Nappanee, Ind. “And what I’m excited about is how positive the dealers are. Dealer attitudes have been fantastic. Every dealer said they had their best year ever. They’re all looking forward to 2017 as being the same as this year or even better.

“Our motorhomes have been absolutely phenomenal, as has our Vintage Cruiser (travel trailer), our new GEO travel trailer that we introduced here at the Open House and our upgraded stick-and-tin trailers. And while we had wondered how things would go coming into the Open House, I would say that 95% of the people who came in ordered product and they want it right away as they position themselves so they have the right brands on their lots.”

“¢ John Stringer, who oversees Forest River Inc.‘s Rockwood and Flagstaff towable lines, said this year’s Open House has “probably been the most steady three days ever.”

“What I mean by that is, usually there’s an ebb and flow to this event. We’ll have 80% of the dealers one day and Thor will have the other 20%, and then the next day it’ll be switched and we’ll have 20% and they’ll have 80%. This year, we were hell bent for leather the entire time,” he said. “It will be real interesting to know how many people were here in Elkhart, and how long they were here. The entire industry had to have been busy this show,” Stringer said, adding that dealer sentiment regarding their fall retail outlook was “staggering.”

Dealers enjoy evening entertainment at Open House Dealers enjoy evening entertainment at Open House

“¢ “The Open House has gone quite well,” offered Jon Krider, director of marketing for Thor Motor Coach. “One of the real positives is that we have been seeing a lot of new dealer action – companies that are taking on Thor Motor Coach for the first time. There was a lot of interest in our new Aria Class A diesel pusher, which is a good sign for that segment. But dealers were also moving to the higher-end, slightly more expensive gas Class A’s during Open House. That’s really encouraging because for the past few months that market has been relatively flat.”

Krider also pointed to an emerging market segment that is driving sales for the company’s lineup of Recreational Utility Vehicles (RUV) which includes the Axis and Vega Class A’s and Gemini and Compass Class C’s. “Our RUVs continue to be big sellers,” Krider noted. “We’re attracting younger buyers to the motorhome market and our dealers are stocking up to meet that demand.”

“¢ “We had a tremendous show,” reported Coley Brady, vice president of sales and marketing for Thor Industries Inc. subsidiary Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC. “We saw very steady traffic flow throughout the show – our display was packed from start to close. This was the first year where we had a full day on Monday, so that helped our numbers.

“Heartland really had strong show as far as product mix. Our travel trailer business was great, and our high-end fifth-wheels also experienced good sales. We brought our price point down on the Landmark, which was very well received, and the Bighorn line, including the new Traveler, really resonated with dealers. The overall momentum coming out of the show is very positive for Heartland.”

“¢ Aram Kooltookian, president of Shipshewana, Ind.-based K.Z. Inc. and its Livin’ Lite RV Inc. and Venture RV subsidiaries, reported that the Open House was “absolutely fantastic.”

“K-Z is having its best year ever and the Open House was just icing on the cake. We had more positive dealer response to our total makeover of the K-Z, Venture and Livin’ Lite lines,” he said, adding that the builder wrote more orders than in 2015 by a “double-digit percentage.”

“¢ In addition to doing business on the company’s line of Cirrus truck campers, representatives of Pleasant Valley Teardrop Trailers also had a goal of introducing dealers to nüCamp, the new name for the Sugarcreek, Ohio-based company prompted by its split next April with Little Guy Worldwide.

After the split, nüCamp will continue to manufacture, and seek a dealer body to retail the Cirrus, [email protected] and [email protected] lines as well as other products currently in development.

“I’m not trying to dress it up at all, but we opened on Tuesday and there were half a dozen people already here waiting for us. Just in that day we exceeded everything we wanted to get out of the entire show,” said nüCamp President Scott Hubble. “But the main goal here was just to introduce ourselves to the dealers across the country and displaying the products that we manufacture.”