With today (Sept. 26) marking the closing of the Elkhart RV Open House, the overall consensus from the host of manufacturers, dealers and suppliers is that sales were brisk throughout the show, offering a precursor for growth in the coming year. The following report, compiled by RVBusiness staff, offers an overview of comments from industry insiders confirming that attendees, and exhibitors, were upbeat and positive about the industry’s prospects.
• Dan Pearson, President, Pleasureland RV Centers, St. Cloud, Minn, — “The rumor of the industry’s demise was greatly overexaggerated. Manufacturers are upbeat and dealers are upbeat. I think everybody was really concerned about inventories coming in. Everybody I’m talking to is in pretty good shape. I think you’re going to see more orders than we expected to see. It’s been a very good Open House.
“There’s some really good innovation. Manufacturing-wise, we’ve seen people go back and to really put in the time to come out with some actual innovation instead of just changing the stripes and changing the colors. For example, some of the things we noticed was that one manufacturer put in some storage underneath the Murphy beds, making them actual closets. That’s innovation.
“The little bit of slowdown — or inventory adjustment or whatever you want to call it — was probably something we needed. It’s given us time to get back to work and really get focused on our products. It’s not about just about chasing numbers, but chasing quality, chasing the right product. So we’re seeing some good things and that has me excited.”
• Matt Zimmerman, RV Group Manager, Thor Industries Inc. — “The reality is the Open House has been electric and full of energy. I think part of it is our display at the new venue — and sure, the entertainment plays a part, too — but I would also say it’s about our products. Just based on these first few days how can you not say there’s some real optimism for the industry. Retail sales remain strong and dealer sentiment is strong, too, so I’d say the outlook for 2020 is very strong.”
• Chris Hermon, RV Group Manager, Thor Industries — “I’d put it this way: Based on how we felt we’d do coming into Open House, we’ve exceeded our expectations. Our dealers are really positive for 2020.”
• Mike Regan, Crestview RV, Buda, Texas, RVDA chairman — “I like Open House because it’s more relaxing atmosphere than other venues that we’ve been to. We come here to see new and improved product and, more than anything, to foster relationships with the manufacturers that we currently have. It was the same thing at Louisville. I’ve always said Louisville and Open House were always about kissing babies and shaking hands.
“Open House is probably a little bit better time than when Louisville was held. Louisville was probably a little too late, timing-wise, to get product to the dealers for the early January shows where the timing of Open House is better. And, certainly, knock on wood, we’ve had good weather the last three or four years here.”
• Pat Terveer, Consultant and Former Vice President and General Manager of REV Recreation Group’s Class A segment — “This year has been an exciting year for us. We’ve got a couple of new products, a lot of redesign product, and our sales here at the Open House are up substantially over a year ago, and we relate that to the fact that a lot of dealers cut inventory and were retailing units and not replacing them. And now some of those dealers are saying, ‘Hey, I need product.’ So we’re starting to get a lot of those reorders to restock inventory. Although we think the foot traffic has been down versus a year ago, our sales are up — and that’s following a very successful Hershey show two weeks ago.”
As far as whether Open House is the premier national RV trade show: “Oh, most definitely. Most definitely. I mean, I think that’s the draw here. We’re not doing anything else to have a big meeting with our dealers, right? It’s not optional. If you don’t come here, as a dealer, I don’t know how you’re going to get your information about a product that you’re carrying in any competition.”
• Tom Manning, AP Products and Tom Manning & Associates, Coldwater, Mich. —“We never participated in Open House in the past, and we could have because we, on our rep agency side, are associated with a lot of people around the area. But we felt that was for the dealers to spend time with the OEMs. However we did tell the Hall of Fame that if they ever did anything in terms of a show, we would support that effort. So our strongest motivation for coming here was to support the Hall of Fame because we believe in the Hall of Fame and everything that they do.
“What were our expectations? We felt that if we talked to a few dealers, we’d be happy. But it far surpassed our expectations. Not only did we have an opportunity to speak with dealers and other suppliers that we do business with, this gave us some opportunities to open up some avenues there as well with OEMs who stopped by. We’ve also had some really good conversations with purchasing agents and engineers who stopped by. It was fantastic.
• Randy Biles, President, Pikes Peak Traveland, Colorado Springs, Colo. — “We have been coming to Open House for probably the last six, seven years, and the new Supplier Showcase in the Hall of Fame is a big step up because that was the one thing that I missed that we had at Louisville. Along with rolling stock product here, we were missing all of the aftermarket and that type of stuff. I’ve also enjoyed being able to meet RV industry suppliers here who we normally don’t get to talk to in our day-to-day business in dealing with the aftermarket distributors.
“To me, the evolution of the Open House has been industry-driven. By that I mean, it’s the manufacturers, the dealers, and everybody involved in the industry — that’s what’s making this thing go. And when dealers show up and they order product, there was an incentive for the manufacturers. This is done by the actual industry. And then you have, for instance, the facility here at the Hall of Fame that has just grown so much and that has now made this possible where we didn’t have that possibility before.
• Jim Jacobs, CEO, Braxton Creek RV — “It’s been a great show for us. We’ve sold a lot of products and signed a lot of new dealers, which sets us up really, really strong going into the winter months. I think we’re going to be in really good shape as we move into the selling season in the spring now.
“I definitely feel like there was an appetite to order here and I feel like dealers came with the attitude that if their inventories aren’t right today they feel like they’re going to be in the right position here fairly quickly. So, dealer attitudes have been really strong. There has not been any negatives that we’ve heard both in the U.S. and Canada. The Canadian dealers have come in ready to buy here at the Open House, too. So it’s been a good show, and dealer attitudes seem to be extremely upbeat.”
• Matt Veurink, General Sales Manager, Veurinks RV, Gand Rapids, Mich. — ” The Open House has been actually pretty good and it seems like I’m seeing a lot of positive outlook from dealers. We’ve been at Thor for the majority of it so far and it was buzzing there. We heard from a few manufacturers that they’re getting a lot of sales. So it seems like the economy’s good and for next year it’s looking really good.
As far as at our dealership, there’s been a lot of activity — especially in towables. The small stuff is really hot right now. Single-axle business is really good and, overall, it’s just been really steady over the last few years. And it’s still a really good period compared to where we were 10 years ago.
“We were really impressed with the new KZ Durango fifth-wheel line. We also took on the Dutchmen Astoria fifth-wheel line. That was really sharp as well. So we saw our brands really take a step up this year, so we’re excited.”