Given the state of the national economy, mid- and late-winter RV shows in many parts of the country continued to do relatively well with better than expected attendance and, in some cases, strong sales. That is pretty much the way things have been throughout the first-quarter retail show season.

“The traffic was excellent. We did better than last year in sales,” said Jeff Nickell, general manager of Tom Raper RV, Richmond, Ind., following the 55th Indianapolis Boat, Sport & Travel Show Feb. 20-March 1 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. “We sold at every price point – from entry-level folddowns to high-end fifth-wheels to everything in between.

“In some ways, the show was stronger than we expected,” agreed Mark Kaley, co-owner of promoter Renfro Productions Inc., Anderson, Ind. “People were out with the intention of buying or at least seriously looking.”

The show with more than 500 outdoor vendors and four towable RV dealers was boosted by the Indiana Deer, Turkey & Waterfowl Expo on the first weekend and the Indiana Motorcycle Expo on the second.

“Our sales were pretty much on par with last year,” said Nathan Hart, co-owner of Walnut Ridge RV Sales, New Castle, Ind. “Our lower-end units did pretty well. We sold a lot of travel trailers and half-ton-type fifth-wheels.”

The news wasn’t quite as good at the Springfield RV, Camping and Outdoors show Feb. 13-16 in Springfield, Mass., where attendance of 32,690 was down by about 1,800 people from last year.

“The people were upbeat, but it was the typical story,” said Marc LaBrecque, owner of Diamond RV Centre, Hatfield, Mass, one of 29 dealers at the show. “Sales were off, but we’re following up with an open house at the dealership. Most people were looking to trade, but they were upside down on their units.”

However, attendance at the Syracuse RV and Camping Show March 5-8 at the Empire Expo Center on the New York State Fairgrounds took a surprising jump. “We were up dramatically,” said Jim Kring, executive secretary of the seven-member RV Dealers Association of Syracuse. Kring estimated the show drew about 16,000 people, up from 13,000 to 15,000 in recent years.

“The camping season in New York is shorter than some other places,” Kring said. “People are going to have their camping experiences come hell or high water. All of my dealers were in a pretty good mood after the show was over.”

Having had to cancel a mid-March show scheduled for Traverse City, Mich., the Michigan Association of Recreational Vehicles and Campgrounds (MARVAC) had mixed experiences at shows it sponsored in Flint and the Detroit suburb of Novi.

Attendance at the Flint Camper and RV Show Feb. 5-8 at the Perani Event Center was about 5,000, up from 4,000 last year, while the Detroit Camper and RV Show at Rock Financial Showplace saw attendance fall 12% to 14,900 people.

“Sales were mixed at both shows,” said MARVAC Director William Sheffer. “In Flint, the dealers were pleasantly surprised at the number of deals they wrote, although it wasn’t a large number.”

Fifteen miles north of New York City in Suffern, N.Y., the Northwest RV Show Feb. 12-15 at the Rockland Community College Field House saw attendance increase a bit over 2008, according to Dave McCarey, president of Rockland Exposition Inc.

“I was surprised, to tell the you truth,” said McCarey, who has promoted the show for 35 years. “Sales were better than expected. We hit a home run in our eyes.”

The 42nd Annual Colorado RV, Sports, Boat & Travel Show March 5-8 at the National Western Complex in Denver saw an increase in attendance to 36,876, up by around 3,300 from last year.

And sales were good for the 15 dealers showing towable and Class B and C motorhomes, according to Dianne Seymour, show manager for Affinity Group Inc.’s Affinity Events division. “My RV dealers told me they sold the same if not more than they did last year,” Seymour said. “One of my dealers sold over 30 units.”

Although attendance was down 19% from last year to 5,189 at the 14th Annual Atlantic City RV and Camping Show March 6-8 at the Atlantic City (N.J.) Convention Center, sales were relatively strong. “Everybody wrote deals,” said James McLaughlin, a partner in MAC Events LLC which staged the show for Affinity Events. “I talked to one dealer who wrote deals on 32 units. The biggest challenge to overcome was financing.”

The biggest challenge at the Valley Forge Recreation Vehicle Show Feb. 5-8 at the Valley Forge (Pa.) Convention Center was overcoming a two-hour power blackout Saturday afternoon that affected much of Pennsylvania’s King of Prussia region.

“It happened right at prime time,” said Heather Leach, marketing and education director for the sponsoring Pennsylvania Recreation Vehicle and Camping Association (PRVCA), adding that attendance at the Valley Forge show was 6,682 – down about 950 from last year. Still, Leach said, the 17 dealers who showed product at the show were pleased with the outcome.

Attendance also dropped from 9,500 in 2008 to 7,500 this year at the 19th Annual N.C. RV & Camping Show Feb. 13-15 at the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center and from 9,300 to 8,800 at the 24th Annual Richmond Camping RV Expo at the Richmond (Va.) Raceway Complex – both sponsored by Affinity Events.

“I’m almost sounding like a broken record,” said Tom Gaither, Affinity Events senior vice president. “Attendance was down, but sales were up a little more than our expectations. But selling anything in this environment is a good thing.”