Despite the same type of weather problems that have seemingly plagued RV shows all year, the Pennsylvania Recreation Vehicle and Camping Show drew more people Sept. 13-17 at Hersheypark/Giant Center in Hershey, Pa., than it did last year during its inaugural show at the sprawling entertainment complex.
Rain fell steadily the first two retail days at Hershey, the nation’s premier East Coast RV show.
“Actually, we couldn’t have accommodated many more attendees,” reported Rebecca A. Lennington, executive vice president of the host Pennsylvania Recreation Vehicle and Camping Association (PRVCA). “It was terrible weather, but people really came to buy. The manufacturers I talked to were pleased.
“Were there dynamite sales? I don’t think so, but a couple of companies had record sales. For the most part, manufacturers and dealers alike were pleased to find that the market is opening up a little bit.”
PRVCA reported 31,416 attendees at this year’s show – including a record number people through the turnstiles on Saturday – versus 31,325 last year.
The 2005 numbers, however, were skewed by the fact that last year on Saturday untold numbers of show-goers walked in without paying or being counted because security didn’t show up to monitor the show’s perimeter. This year, PRVCA spent $22,000 to surround the complex with a chain-link fence.
Situated on grounds that include a 60-ride amusement park, Hershey’s Chocolate World experience and the Giant Center, home to the minor-league Hershey Bears hockey team, the Hershey Show featured the debut of Workhorse Customer Chassis Corp.’s rear-engine, gas-fueled UFO chassis on a Forest River Inc. Georgetown Class A motorhome.
“The UFO gives you a lot of attributes that have only been available on a rear-engine diesel chassis,” said Craig Fawcett, national sales manager for Forest River’s motorized division.
Dealers attending the Sept. 11-12 trade-only portion of the show, as predicted, generally were reporting mixed success for the year, which has seen trailer sales holding steady while motorized sales have been down by double digits compared to 2005. However, several dealers reported a sudden sales surge in August after a rather dismal summer.
“The last two weeks in August and the first week in September were substantially better than all of the rest of the summer,” said Kevin Dufour, owner of Dufour’s RV Center, Fitchburg, Mass. “I’m not sure what is happening. Perhaps it’s pent up demand.”
In fact, some retailers were reporting record sales.
“Interest rates stabilized in August and gas prices started falling. Maybe it was the combination of the two,” said former Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) Chairman Rick Horsey of Parkview RV Center, Smyrna, Del., now chairman of the Recreation Vehicle Dealer Association Foundation Inc.
Stopping for a moment in front of the Giant Center, David Simso Sr., owner of Dave’s RV Center, a motorized-only store in Danbury, Conn., said he has been surprised at how well the dealership has done during what many consider a soft market.
“I’m having a good year, and I can’t believe it,” said Simso. “I know motorized sales are down, but you couldn’t prove it by me. Everything that comes on the lot is gone.”
Spencer Hudson, owner of River Bend RV and Trailer Sales, Johnsbury, Vt., said his customers are buying large towables for seasonal use. “Expandables and things like that are going away,” Hudson said. “People are buying larger units to put on seasonal lots, and we can’t keep bunkhouse models.”
First-time buyers continue to be a substantial factor for Dallas Ainsley, sales manager for Bradford RV Centers, Brockton, Mass. “For at least three or four years, first-time buyers have been 25% of our market,” he said. “The thing is, though, that they want to buy the high-end stuff. Middle- to high-end product is what’s selling.”
Canadian Christine Andrews, owner with her husband, David, of Kingston Outdoor, Kingston, Ontario, has experienced similar demand. “Products that we couldn’t keep on our lot last year – entry-level and mid-priced – are just sitting,” she said. “High-end is what we are having a problem keeping in stock – particularly on the towable end.”
Manufacturers have responded accordingly, she said. “Manufacturers are offering a lot of upgrades that are standard now where they used to be options,” she added. “The higher-end stuff, particularly, is becoming a little more luxurious, a little more appointed.”
Experiencing an opposite trend is Ray Deschenes, of Deschenes Auto and RV, Jaffrey, N.H., who said that with increasing gasoline prices during the summer, his customers were looking for something less.
“My customers are looking for lightweight, inexpensive towable stuff,” said Deschenes, who characterized his dealership as “not having a good year.”
Then there’s Barry Raye, owner of 84 RV, a towable dealer in Port Jervis, N.Y., whose strength right now is mid-priced product. “Mid-range products are doing well,” Raye said. “The high-end isn’t doing well at all and the low-end is going away.”