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Is there an atmospheric change afoot in the embattled RV industry?
It’s too early to determine. But it’s fair to say that there’s a pulse in the marketplace based on early retail show results from Oregon Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina and elsewhere.
“The dealers did well – they moved quite a few units,” said Bill O’Loughlin, president of O’Loughlin Trade Shows, sponsor of the Tacoma (Wash.) RV Show Jan. 7-11 which drew about 5,000 people to the Tacoma Dome. “From our perspective, with the way the economy is, our dealers did pretty well.”
Early reports from the Florida RV Supershow – America’s largest annual retail show – at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa were that attendance was strong and people were standing in line Wednesday and Thursday to get in the gate.
Lance Wilson, executive director of the sponsoring Florida RV Trade Association (FRVTA) anticipated “taking a hit” in terms of overall Tampa attendance (figures for which were not yet available), total show space (estimated to have been off 10% to 15%) and display coaches (down from 1,250 last year to 1,085 this week.)
But he’s bullish on the industry’s general prospects right now. “There’s definitely a pulse out there (in the marketplace) right now,” Wilson said. “We had three show here in November – Fort Myers, West Palm Beach and Tampa. They were all successful in terms of coaches sold. The public was ready to buy.
“I think there is tremendous pent-up demand among the RV enthusiasts out there. And, hopefully, the retail shows that are taking place right now will be the start of some consistency for our dealer body.”
Farther west, about 16,000 people attended the 19th Annual Colorado RV Adventure Travel Show Jan. 7-10 at the Denver Coliseum that represented a drop in the record crowds in 2008.
“It was surprising,” said Tom Gaither, senior vice president of Affinity Events, sponsor of the Denver show that drew a dozen retailers. “The dealers said they sold more than they had expected. (One) sold 30 units and a lot of dealers sold in the 15- to 20-unit range.
“It seems like we may be turning the corner,” said Gaither, whose company is a division of Affinity Group Inc., publisher of RVBusiness and RVBUSINESS.com.
Randy Ketelsen, president of Ketelsen Campers of Colorado, Wheat Ridge, Colo., said he senses that consumers want to burst through the economic malaise that has settled over the economy.
“I had a good feeling coming out of the show,” Ketelsen said. “The most important thing is there is a definite undertow of consumer interest and pent-up demand. It’s almost like they are waiting for someone to tell them that it’s OK to buy an RV and enjoy the lifestyle.”
Traffic was off a bit from last year, but the eight retailers at the Jan. 7-11 Wichita RV Show at the Kansas Coliseum reported that sales exceeded expectations and consumers generally displayed a positive attitude.
“I’d say the best thing about the show was that people didn’t show the negativity that I was expecting,” said Bill Lutes, owner of B&B Traveland in Wichita. “They weren’t just kicking tires. The main thing I saw is they weren’t scared to death because of the economy.”
Lutes said that his sales at the show were down from last year, noting, “As far as people pulling the lever, we probably sold less units. I’d say it was about average for us. But one of the other area dealers, Trailers and Hitches, said they had a great show.”
Snow and a depressed local economy resulted in a 30% drop in attendance at the Jan. 9-11 Valley RV Show at the Century Center in South Bend, Ind.
“The northern Indiana market is about the worst in the state right now because of all the layoffs,” said Mark Bowersox, recreational vehicle director for the Indiana Manufactured Housing Association/Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council (IMHA/RVIC). “Plus the weather didn’t cooperate with some snow advisories. But I do think that everyone was mildly surprised with the traffic we did get and at the very least were optimistic about the spring. It’s obvious there is a lot of pent-up demand.”
One incentive for shoppers was the pricing offered by dealers. “For the first time we allowed the dealers bring new, untitled product going back two model years,” said Bowersox, noting that seven dealers participated in the event. “There was definitely some heavy discounting. It’s definitely a buyers’ market, but that holds true for any discretionary purchase right now.”
In Greensboro, N.C., at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex, all 14 dealers displaying units at the 20th Annual North Carolina RV & Camping Show, reported sales from among the 7,500 people who attended.
“Buying activity was strong,” said Jeff Hutton, Affinity Events vice president of the eastern region. “One dealer said that he sold 18 units and another dealer, 11. Comments from the dealers were that the quality of the crowd was superior.”
Hutton said the industry may be seeing the hint of a recovery from the more than year-long down cycle. “These consumer shows have lead us out of down cycles before,” he said.