Editor’s Note: The following story by Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) Director of Industry Relations Jeff Kurowski tracks reported strong sales across the U.S. during the early round of RV shows. The article appears in the February issue of RV Executive Today.
The 2018 RV show season is off to a strong start, with the Florida RV SuperShow reporting record-high attendance and dealers reporting strong sales at shows from Milwaukee to Washington, D.C.
“The shows we’ve seen so far have been very positive, with good turnout and dealers reporting good activity,” said Tim Hyland, president of the Wells Fargo CDF RV Group.
Although the unit volume in 2018 probably won’t grow by the 15% range that it did in 2016 and 2017, Hyland said, “we’re seeing moderate growth in the economy, and absent any hiccups, I think 2018 will be a good growth year.”
The University of Michigan’s Consumer Research Center is forecasting that shipment growth across all product categories will increase 3% compared with 2017, while University of Maryland economist and professor Peter Morici is forecasting growth of almost 7%.
The record attendance at the Florida RV Trade Association’s (FRVTA) SuperShow in Tampa last month certainly bolsters the forecasts. FRVTA Executive Director Lance Wilson said more than 73,000 people bought tickets.
“Everything we heard from dealers and manufacturers were comments like ‘best show ever,’” said Dave Kelly, FRVTA’s director of marketing. “Customers are coming ready to buy. The economy is incredible, the stock market is up. Gas prices are pretty stable. It’s just like the perfect storm, in a positive way. All of these things are coming together at one time for the industry.”
The SuperShow draws attendees from many regions of the country, so it’s “more than just an indicator of the Southeastern market,” Kelly says. “The enthusiasm and buying confidence we are seeing here may be nationwide.”
GS Media & Events, which sponsored 10 regional consumers shows during the first half of January, reported attendance increases from 17% to 39%. Its shows in Atlanta and Lexington were new this year, and both ended up “ahead of budget,” said Vilma Fraguada, president of consumer shows for the Camping World subsidiary. The Greater Atlanta Show at College Park, Ga., was particularly successful, and as a result, GS Media is looking to add additional events, including a summer series leveraging off the success of its Colorado Springs show last September, she said.
Bitterly cold temperatures may have kept some people away from the GS Media-sponsored Wisconsin RV Show in Milwaukee in early January. But though traffic “wasn’t as good as we had hoped, it was decent,” said Rick Sorensen, general manager of the Scenic RV Centers location in Slinger, Wis.
Sorensen said leads that originated during the Milwaukee show had already turned into sales. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand,” he said. “I think we’ll have a good year.”
Attendance at the Indy RV Expo in Indianapolis was up 6% to more than 15,000 people, according to Matt Rose, director of recreation vehicles at the Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council (RVIC), which sponsored the event. And they were enthusiastic: “People did their homework, and they arrived prepared to buy.”
In suburban Washington, D.C., traffic was “incredibly heavy” at the GS Media-sponsored Washington Camping RV Expo, according to Ed McNamara, general manager of the General RV location in Ashland, VA. “In cold weather, people were lined up out the door” of the facility in Chantilly, VA.
Attendance at the Chantilly show was up 50% from three years ago, McNamara estimated. He was especially pleased to see strong demand for Class A motorhomes 32 feet and longer. The larger full-size Class A market has been slower to recover from the recession than towables, but now, McNamara said, “the rising tide is lifting all boats.”
Inexpensive travel trailers such as Forest River’s Grey Wolf sold particularly well at the GS Media-sponsored Greater Chicago RV Show, said Ed Collier, owner of Collier RV and i94 RV, an exhibitor at the show. “It was really busy. We didn’t have great sales, but we got a lot of leads and deals worked. I think it’ll turn out to [have been] successful.”
The Grand Rapids Camper, Travel and RV Show was a success for the General RV location in Wayland, Mich., said general manager Bruce Ter Veen. “It started in the fall with the trend toward smaller motorhomes and smaller – 26-foot and shorter – travel trailers,” Ter Veen said.
Other notable trends at the Grand Rapids show: Millennials were attracted to lower-priced units that could be towed by an SUV, and experienced motorhome owners in their 70s and 80s were interested in downsizing to smaller coaches, Ter Veen said.
Among the hot-selling towables at Grand Rapids were Coachmen’s Apex, Clipper, and Freedom Express, Grand Design’s Imagine, and Prime Time’s Avenger, Ter Veen said. In motorized, Winnebago’s Travato Class B and Four Winds’ Class Cs were the units most in demand.