The 2018 Elkhart RV Open House, a trade show first conceived 10 years ago by Forest River Inc. for dealers at its Elkhart, Ind., headquarters, should take an appreciable step forward this year as the recreational vehicle industry’s preeminent selling show.
That seems to be the general consensus among manufacturers consulted by RVBUSINESS.com, assuming the weather, the economy and the burgeoning RV marketplace continue to trend favorably for North America’s RV builders and thousands of U.S. and Canadian dealers who are expected to converge Sept. 24-28 on the north side of Elkhart to see new 2019 model RVs and mingle with industry friends and acquaintances at breakfasts, dinners and receptions around the area.
And why wouldn’t that be the case, considering this year’s Open House will be the first to take place since the cancellation late last year of the industry’s only other major selling show, RVIA’s National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., a traditional late year stop on dealers’ annual calendars?
“For us, we’re still in kind of the preliminary mode of planning displays and activities,” reported Bob Martin, president and CEO of Thor Industries Inc., whose divisions will again converge on the RV/MH Hall of Fame grounds. “We’re kind of in our rhythm, our routine. This is our eighth year (of Open House participation) and a lot of the entertainment and dinners the companies (divisions) do themselves, all that’s being planned as we speak.
“So, right now our biggest concern is that we’re working on some of the drainage issues out at the RV/MH Hall of Fame so the grounds are a little drier,” he added. “Other than that, we’re looking forward to a lot of dealers. From the day we opened up registration, we’ve been ahead of last year just on preregistration. So, dealers are signing up and everyone I’ve talked to is excited and ready for Open House to see all the new models.”
Martin, an executive committee member of the RV Industry Association (RVIA) board of directors, says the impact of the Louisville Show’s demise shouldn’t be overlooked. “For me, when you take into account that Louisville as we know it is not going to happen this year, this is a better event for dealers to see all products from all manufacturers,” he said. “And the fact that it got moved back a week makes it better for the East Coast dealers who are taking part in the Hershey Show and our reps as well. I’m just coming out of the Jayco dealer meeting – and we had the Airstream dealer meeting earlier this year — and dealers are still really excited.
“So, I’m looking forward to seeing it all at the Open House and especially to see dealers who I haven’t visited with in a while,” noted Martin. “It’s always a great time to catch up and sit back and break bread and enjoy time with your partners.”
Forest River CEO Pete Liegl, whose company will again show its wares on the grounds of its Dynamax facility on the northeast side of town, sees things in much the same way.
“Because we no longer have Louisville,” said Liegl. “I anticipate that there will be more dealers at the Open House – not only for us, but for other people as well – than what we had last year because there were always some dealers who only went to Louisville. And now with Louisville gone, I think that some of them will probably come to the Open House.
“Other than that,” Liegl noted, “I think that it will probably be a good product showing. In talking with dealers, most of them have had a very good year so far and they anticipate a good year the rest of 2018. So, I think that the Open House or Expo – whatever you want to call it – will be as good or better than last year with a lot of our dealers coming in earlier in the week.”
Liegl also tends to favor the Open House for its relational aspects as much as its commercial objectives, which is one of the reasons that Forest River will again serve catered dinners to thousands of dealer personnel inside a sprawling Dynamax production facility – this time on three nights, Monday through Wednesday, to accommodate early arrivals.
“I guess we’d rather look at it as time to spend with our dealers to get to know them better, to be better partners so we can be more knowledgeable about what they want, their needs, etc.,” he added. “Obviously, that’s why we serve them dinner every night and, by the same token, entertainment for a couple of nights.”
Liegl said he wasn’t in a position yet to announce those scheduled entertainers.
Nor, for that matter, was Don Clark, president and CEO of Grand Design RV, ready to divulge the identity of entertainers lined up for this year by his Middlebury, Ind., firm, a Winnebago Industries Inc. division that in the past has brought in some blockbuster acts for dealer consumption. But the word is that the party’s being moved from a Mishawaka restaurant/bar to a venue much closer to the Hall of Fame.
Meanwhile, Clark also expects a strong showing of RV retailers at his firm’s Executive Parkway display as Grand Design, one of two towable RV-building Winnebago units, rolls out a wave of new products at the annual Open House.
“Look, everybody knows that our economy, our country and even our industry is facing a slight headwind,” Clark stated. “That’s no secret and it won’t be a shocker to anyone. But our industry is very resilient. People that enjoy the camping and outdoor lifestyle aren’t going to shy away from our business. I do believe that it (tighter times) forces manufacturers to sharpen the point of their design pencil and make sure that they’re designing and building product up to the standards of not only our dealers, but also our retail customers.”