Jim Sheldon, RVIA chairman

Jim Sheldon, RVIA chairman

A veteran of 35 National RV Trade Shows, Jim Sheldon felt at times this week that he was experiencing a time warp.

As the 47th Annual National RV Trade Show staged by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) wound down Thursday afternoon (Dec. 3), the RVIA chairman paused to reflect what had transpired the previous three days.

“It feels a lot like the shows in the early ’80s, coming out of the crunch,” he told RVBUSINESS.COM, “like the ’81 and ’82 shows. Dealers, manufacturers and suppliers were just beginning to experience improvements in the  marketplace. There was cautious optimism conditions were going to improve albeit at a slower incline than we hoped they would be.” 

Flash forward to 2009.

“Every segment of our industry has had to take almost Draconian steps to make sure they were operating to the best of their abilities. What I observed at the show (this week) was almost a feeling,’We got through this, let’s focus on 2010. Let’s make sure we have the necessary inventory on our lots and respond to what we think will be renewed consumer interest,”‘ he said.

Sheldon said he detected “a definite increase in the level of optimism from the dealers coming through compared to last year. The attitude is 180 degrees from what it was a year ago. As a result of this optimism, a number of manufacturers have written a large number or orders, which will bode well for our industry as we go into 2010.”

That reason alone would make the 2009 show a success, he said. But there’s more.

Based in part on anecdotal evidence this week, Sheldon said the industry forecast provided by Richard Curtin and released on the eve of show week may prove to be too conservative. Curtin, who prepares quarterly forecasts for RVIA, projected 2010 wholesale shipments to reach 203,500 units in 2010, of which 6,100 would be Class A motorhomes.

“I have great respect for Dr. Curtin,” said Sheldon. “He’s not prone to blow sunshine. At the same time, relative to his motorhome forecast, I do believe it is too conservative. I feel the Class A motorhome market will be at least 10,000 units in 2010.”

This week’s show was approximately 30% smaller than last year, but Sheldon looked at the bright side of the cozier show. 

“It was easier to see the product,” he said. “Each major and minor participant occupied a smaller space. Frequent comments were made that the smaller size show enabled  the dealers to get through the displays and this made it more manageable than in past shows.”

“In addition to that, the number of attendees for the first two days was very close to what it was last year,” he added. Indeed, opening day attendance was up slightly from last year’s show.

Sheldon also said he sensed healing between dealers and manufacturers.

“I think tremendous progress was made in that area,” he said. “I get a sense dealers are coming to the conclusion going forward they will be able to do business with manufacturers they wish to represent. I did not observe any animosity. In fact, just the opposite. I was pleased to see the number of dealers who have chosen to get back into a business relationship with manufacturers that struggled last year.”

He said he was intrigued by the dialog between U.S. manufacturers and the representatives of the Chinese RV industry, who attended this week’s show.

Any disappointments?

“None.” But he added, “The only dark cloud that continues to concern us is the reluctance of finance institutions to step up and provide adequate financing both at the  wholesale and retail level. It’s a subject that needs to be addressed by the banking community. The sooner the banking community can relax the inordinate stress they have created, the better off it will be for our entire industry.”