Aerial view of Florida RV SuperShow

Editor’s Note: The following article appearing in the March issue of RV Executive Today by Jeff Kurowski reports on the strong attendance at this year’s round of winter shows. Kurowski is director of industry relations for the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA).

American consumers have flocked to wintertime RV shows, portending another good sales year for dealers.

At the January Washington RV Camping Expo in Chantilly, Va., Bill Herring, general manager of the Campers Inn RV dealership in Fredericksburg, said that traffic was up at least 25% over last year. “It could have been due to the show promoter’s advertising and our local TV commercial,” he said, “but people are in a good mood and ready to buy.”

The Boston RV & Camping Expo also had record attendance and quality attendees. “It just seemed like everything clicked this year,” said Linda Mailhott, co-owner of Seacoast RVs in Saco, Maine. “We (exhibiting dealers) had an incredible array of product there, from a small unit that could be towed by a motorcycle, to a great selection of popups and smaller trailers, to a great selection of fifth-wheels and motorized units with a good representation of Class A, B and C motorhomes, and topping off with a 43-foot diesel pusher that had a ‘sold’ sign on it by the end of the show.”

Mailhott said the New England Dealers Association’s social media campaign — which included live videos with dealers prior to the show — helped boost attendance. Some dealers’ videos had more than 5,000 views on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter, she said.

There also was a 25% attendance increase at the Indy RV Expo in Indianapolis, said Ken Eckstein, CEO of Mount Comfort RV in Greenfield, Ind. “I was really encouraged by the big influx of true first- time buyers – people whose parents were not RVers,” he said.

After years of customer demand for bigger RVs with more and more interior space, Eckstein said, “We’re hearing more of, ‘What can I pull behind my minivan, behind my Subaru?’ More buyers want features, gadgets, and something that looks cool, and cute sells, too.”

The only thing that concerned Eckstein was that almost all of the units that Mount Comfort sold during the show were financed, while at the previous year’s show, a little less than two-thirds of the sold units were financed, and the remainder were cash deals.

At the biggest retail show of all, the Florida RV SuperShow in Tampa, attendance was up more than 11%, totaling 70,528 people. Ron Fleming, vice president and general manager of Tampa-based Lazydays RV, said his dealership’s sales at the event were up 20% over the previous year. “2016 was a really good year – we saw growth that outpaced the industry – and we’re not getting any sense that 2017 is going to be anything less than a great year,” he said.

Cody Loughlin, co-owner of America Choice RV, a four-location central Florida dealership that also participated in the SuperShow, said, “It feels like we finally put the Great Recession behind us. The only warning sign is that we aren’t seeing any warning signs. I’m a banker by nature, so I’m a risk manager. But I have to say, it seems very positive.”

The same could be said about the Pittsburgh RV Show, according to Bill Ansley, owner of Ansley RV in Duncansville, Pa.

“The show was great. We sold everything from ultra-lite trailers to diesel pushers,” Ansley said. “We won’t know how the year will be for us until the end of April, but we’re optimistic. We’re stocking inventory and projecting 10%-plus growth in 2017.”

The only thing that could hold back retail sales, Ansley added, is product shortages due to RV manufacturers and motorhome chassis suppliers not being able to keep pace with demand.