The bad news: Attendance was down 18%, or about 5,000 people, from a year ago.
The good news: Sales were mostly up.
Dan Merkowsky, executive vice president of the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) of Alberta which sponsored the show, told RVBUSINESS.com the drop in attendance is most likely attributed to “every news article being doom and gloom” about the region’s economic climate.
“Calgary is our oil headquarters and the price of a barrel of oil has dropped from $100 down to $46. So all the news reports are saying housing values are dropping and there’s going to be cutbacks and layoffs. Naturally that has people worried. But what they aren’t reporting is those job losses are going to be to due to attrition when people retire,” Merkowsky explained.
To counteract those reports, Merkowsky and staff were touting all the familiar benefits of RVing, including affordability and the family-friendly aspects, while also keying on the price of gas being half of what it was a year ago. “The problem is those news reports got a head start on us,” he said.
Regardless, those who did attend the RV show were there to buy RVs.
“We eliminated the tire kickers and the people just looking for something to do for the day,” Merkowsky said. “In fact, the dealers were surprised to hear we were down. They all told me they were plenty busy.”
Neil Friedenberg, general manager of ArrKann Trailer & RV Centre, a towables retailer in Calgary and anRVBusiness Top 50 Blue Ribbon dealership, agreed the news reports had an effect on attendance. He added that a weekend snowstorm didn’t help, not to mention the NFL Super Bowl on Sunday and a couple of Calgary Flames games.
“I guess Alberta is bullet-proof because the people who did show up were buyers and we had a great show. Sales were up compared to last year,” Friedenberg said.
After having purchased the former RV Lifestyles dealership in December of 2012, this was ArrKann of Calgary’s third time at the RV show. Each year they’ve been able to increase square footage, bringing 25 units to display in 15,000 square feet of space this year.
Friedenberg said the Calgary market is somewhat different than in Edmonton, where his family has two longtime locations.
“The RV industry has trained consumers to buy at the RV show because that’s where you get the best prices, and that’s the case in Edmonton,” he said. “But it seems like the Calgary people were more interested in doing their research, which is probably why we had so many qualified leads to follow up on. That just shows the importance of having a good sales staff, too. You need people who can read the customer, help them make the right decision and then close the sale.”
Jeff Redmond, general manager of Bucars RV Centre, a towables and motorized dealership in Balzac, said the show was “excellent, all things considered.”
“Given the current state of economy here in Calgary, we were very pleased with the show,” Redmond said, adding they brought 22 units to the show ranging from $20,000 travel trailers to $300,000 diesel pushers.
Redmond said sales totals were similar to last year, but one “unique thing” was many of the trades they accepted were 2013 and 2014 model units. Although some customers were either downsizing or upgrading to a larger unit, he said many of the people were “moving sideways,” meaning they were either looking for a different floorplan or a higher-quality unit.
Mike Gabba, district sales manager for Highland Ridge RV, a division of Middlebury, Ind.-based Jayco Inc., agreed that despite falling oil prices the Western Canadian RV shows have been solid, with Calgary being no different.
“Our display was busy about 70% of the time, and we were selling our high-end Open Range 3X, along with several Roamers and Mesa Ridge fifth-wheels,” he said while driving to Medicine Hat and Edmonton for two more RV shows.
Other dealers at the show included: Affordable RV in Calgary; Field of RV Dreams in Calgary; Fraserway RV in Airdrie, plus 10 other locations across Canada; Guarantee RV Centre Inc. in Calgary; High River Autoplex & RV in High River; Racetrack RV in Balzac; Sunridge RV in Airdrie; Trailer Town in Calgary; Western R.V. Country with locations in Airdrie, Calgary and Okotoks among its 11 nationwide; and Woody’s RV World in Calgary, with three other locations.