For 54 years, dealers and manufacturers in Elkhart County, the RV Capital of the World, have gathered their motorhomes and towables in a central location and opened the gates to consumers from the serious buyer to the merely curious.
Whether the Midwest RV Super Show and Rally will happen for the 55th year, however, remains in doubt, according to The Elkhart Truth.
Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council (RVIC) has canceled the August dates — the time the dealer show has been typically held — but is still considering holding the event in mid-September. Problems with wholesale lending, consumer credit and consumer confidence are dampening the market for recreational vehicle and have put the show in limbo, said Mark Bowersox, director of RVIC.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that the industry has hit bottom and we’re recovering,” he said. But the council will have to determine if the level of growth can sustain a show in the fall.
As an indication of the upheavals in the industry, Michiana RV, the former Coachmen factory store in Elkhart, and DiMartini RV, the former Monaco Coach Corp. sales lot in Wakarusa, have closed since the two dealerships participated in the 2008 Midwest show at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds.
Dealerships that are struggling would probably not be helped by the event, said Gary Miller, owner of Wana RV Center in Shipshewana.
Although sales are made, RV shows usually provide dealers will long-term leads that eventually turn into sales, he said, noting customers have walked into his showroom and bought a unit two years after they attended the Midwest show. Consequently, a dealer worried about next week’s bills will not care about delayed returns.
Hank Schrock, owner of Total Value RV in Elkhart, said having the show is “absolutely important.” Along with bringing people to town who want to buy RVs, the show injects some competition among the local dealers which, Schrock said, is healthy.
Within the next couple of weeks, RVIC hopes to make a decision about having the show in September.
Skipping the event would not tarnish the RV Capital’s image, said Diana Lawson, executive director of the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau, explaining that in today’s economy, consumers are very forgiving. In fact, having a show with few dealers and poor attendance could do more damage.
“If we can’t do at least as well as we did last year, probably the best thing to do is let it rest,” Lawson said. “Then try it when we can do a good job and do the industry proud.”
Recent local RV shows did not unveil new models as they once did but, Bowersox said, the annual event gave the customers the opportunity to see many of the latest RVs side by side from multiple manufacturers without having to drive from one dealership to another.
Since the Midwest show may not happen, Miller and Schrock are planning their own shows to lure customers and spark sales. Miller has targeted Aug. 14 and 15 while Schrock is waiting to see what the Midwest RV Super Show does before solidifying the dates for his Fall Foliage Festival.
“I don’t believe you can sit here and do nothing,” Miller said. “You have to keep moving forward and that’s what I’m doing.”