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Tampa Show Gives Benchmark for Economy

January 16, 2008 by   - () Leave a Comment

There may be more to the annual Florida RV SuperShow, running Jan. 16-20 in Tampa, than just than deals on travel trailers and motorhomes.
The Tampa Tribune reported that the 23rd annual show at the state fairgrounds might just offer a sign of where the U.S. economy is heading.
That’s heady stuff for a humble gathering of dealers of vehicles intended to provide the good life. But last year, the recreational vehicle industry recorded lower year-to-year sales for the first time since 2001, and a prolonged slump doesn’t bode well for the big picture.
As Lance Wilson, executive director of the host Florida RV Trade Association (FRVTA) points out, because sales are largely based on disposable income, RV figures are considered a leading-edge economic indicator.
“The industry really looks to this show as a benchmark for the rest of the year,” Wilson said. “If sales are good, if attitudes are good, that suggests what’s going to happen for the rest of the year.”
And it’s not just RV dealers paying attention, according to Bruce Hertzke, chairman and CEO of motorhome builder Winnebago Industries Inc. “We are an indicator, and when things start getting tough for us, you can kind of expect it to be a little tougher for the economy as well.”
In fact, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), for the past three decades, every decline in the RV industry has been followed by a decline in the U.S. economy as a whole. And industry economists are expecting another slide, with last year’s 10% sales decline expected to be followed by a 5% drop this year.
But don’t expect gloom and doom at the Tampa show. The Tribune reported that the show is breaking records for both manufacturers’ space and suppliers’ booth space, according to show officials, and 1,300 vehicles will be on display from every major manufacturer.
“The good news for our industry is that you can never take leisure time away from people,” Wilson said.
He said high gas prices have been offset by lower interest rates for RV loans. A big bogeyman, though: The housing slump, specifically lower resale rates for those intending to pull up stakes in retirement and hit the road.
“Certainly, there’s that trickle-down from all of that. There are guys that thought they might have had a bigger retirement than what they ended up with,” Wilson said.
From shorter trips and longer stays to shopping for more economically friendly vehicles, RVers are adjusting, he said.
“They still do what they want to do; they just change what they do to make it more economical,” Wilson said.
A couple of noticeable trends from the Tampa show:

  • The growing popularity of “toy haulers,” vehicles with living space whose spacious rear-ends open up to stow everything from motorcycles to all-terrain vehicles to watercraft.
  • Continued advancement of the slideout concept, with roomy sections of vehicles – entire walls of some of the huge Gulfstream Tourmasters at the show – extending outward after the vehicle is parked to provide additional living space. The novelty of a decade ago is now common to RVs, and some high-end models have as many as six slideout sections.
    On the economical side, shoppers can enjoy a working kitchen with mini-fridge, dinette, bathroom, queen bed, flat-screen TV, and iPod-based music system all in the 70-square-foot iCamp Elite, imported from China. The single-axle trailer towable by a six-cylinder vehicle goes for $19,975.
    But what would an RV show be without the rolling palaces? Inside the Expo Hall, browsers might want to check out the bus conversions, including a $2.2 million Marathon Coach appropriate for the most discerning rock star.

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