RV Industry Prepares for Two Major Shows
Two major RV shows unfold in September – one is “America’s Largest RV Show” and runs Sept. 10-16 at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa., the other has become known as the “Elkhart Open House” and follows on Hershey’s coattails the following week at multiple sites in the RV building hub of Elkhart County in Northern Indiana.
Combined, these two shows give consumers, dealers and campground owners a thorough look at new products for 2013.
At last count, 45 manufacturers had signed on to display some 1,000 new models at Hershey show and the combination dealer and retail show is still growing.
“I expect to sell out shortly, as I am working with five manufacturers currently,” said Rebecca Lenington, executive vice president of the Pennsylvania RV and Camping Association (PRVCA), the show sponsor. “Manufacturer space is currently 5.59 percent over 2011 and booth vendor space is 8.7 percent over 2011 for a total of 5.75 percent over 2011.”
The vendor count is 165 companies and space was virtually sold out.
Elkhart Open House
Meanwhile, the Elkhart Open House, spawned by Forest River Inc. five years ago at the start of the Great Recession and then buoyed in subsequent years by Thor Industries Inc., features a look at new products made in the Elkhart/LaGrange County area of Northern Indiana by these and many other leading OEMs. The Open House, open only to dealers, extends over much of the week, although Tuesday through Thursday (Sept. 18-20) will be the key days among the industry’s major exhibitors.
Both Forest River and Thor are planning to locate their product displays in the same locations as last year’s Open House, which drew more than 3,000 U.S. and Canadian dealer personnel to the streets, factories and open roadside lots of area Hoosier communities like Elkhart, Middlebury, Wakarusa and Shipshewana, RVBUSINESS.COM reported.
Thor’s six RV-building divisions are to be located on the grounds of the RV/MH Hall of Fame, while Forest River’s varied business units will be positioned in and around the grounds of Forest River’s Dynamax facility on C.R. 6 – about three miles apart from each other. Again this year, shuttle buses will ferry dealers back and forth between the two larger displays.
Having said that, the management teams of both companies apparently are looking for another good year of Open House festivities, a rare combination of serious business and social time that tends to cultivate sales as well as build relationships between dealers and manufacturers for the year ahead.
“For this year, we’re looking for more of the same – if not bigger,” says Bob Martin, president of Thor’s RV Group, headquartered in Jackson Center, Ohio. “Based on dealer reaction at Louisville, dealers that weren’t able to make the Open House last year had commented that this year they definitely would make it to the Open House. For us, it’s a great opportunity. We can simply show more product (versus a typical convention) and it’s a little bit more laid back atmosphere.”
Jeff Babcock, a general manager for Elkhart-based Forest River, also sees some changes in the works with regard to a “tighter” layout for this year’s exhibitors that should make it easier for some of Forest River’s and Thor’s competitors to “set up camp” in more amenable locations. This would answer one of the chief drawbacks to the Open House for some of the exhibiting companies who want better and more accessible locations.
“I think that this year is going to be even better than last year,” adds Babcock. “This thing’s taken on a life of its own. I think we’re going to have more participation from other manufacturers outside Indiana and Michigan”
“I mean, I think this thing is going to be bigger than it ever has been before, but that just follows suit from the last four years,” he noted. “Every year this goes on, it just gets bigger and bigger, and we’re expecting this year’s Open House to be our best year yet.”
The Elkhart Open House has gained traction among RV dealers since Forest River President and CEO Pete Liegl created the event in 2008. As other manufacturers have piled on, it has grown into a major showcase.
Elkhart, Ind.-based real estate firm Northland Corp. is leasing prime location sites during the Open House to several other RV manufacturers.
Most of the lots – ranging from one to two acres – will occupy pockets along C.R. 6, a busy east-west artery on the north side of Elkhart. Importantly, the sites will run between the focal points for the event. Other RV firms have arranged to show their 2013 product at locations along the C.R. 6 corridor.