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Elkhart OEMs Kick Off Open Houses Tonight

Map of Elkhart County

Map of Elkhart County

There was a time in the 1970s until the mid-‘80s when the RV industry would gather annually each August in the sweltering heat of northern Indiana for what was then known as the South Bend Show. Dealers would come from near and far to be wined and dined by manufacturers and to see some new model year lineups.

New models would also be shown at subsequent private dealer meetings and then at the annual all-industry Louisville Show.

Now, the North American RV industry is headed back to the future to an extent this week as a host of companies — spurred by a budget-minded atmosphere in the wake of The Great Recession and by the success of Forest River Inc.‘s own big Elkhart dealer meetings over the past two years – beckon dealers to the flatlands of

Elkhart County for a series of “dealer open houses.”

Although it’s a bit later than the South Bend Show, which was held outside the Notre Dame Stadium, these new open houses should benefit the region’s hotels, restaurants, lounges and shuttle bus drivers in much the same way.

Forest River, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary that again sets up shop this week next to its corporate headquarters on the west side of Elkhart, is expecting 2,800 people and reportedly had registered more than 700 dealerships by the beginning of this week. Along with a series of dealer displays that will include everything from conventional RV’s to commercial trailers, boats and mobile latrines, dealers can expect lavish buffets and a bustling Wednesday night cocktail party that should rival the best of those good ‘ole days at South Bend.

“I assume it’s going to be as good as last year,” Forest River President and CEO Pete Liegl told RVBUSINESS.com.

Much the same can be expected across town on the east side of Elkhart at the RV/MH Hall of Fame as three Thor Industries Inc. divisions set up shop for the first time this year on the grounds around the RV/MH Heritage Foundation Inc.’s museum, library and hall near the Indiana Toll Road. This is the first year that Thor, another market leader, has hosted dealers for a September open house and, in the process, did not manage to station all of its divisions in one place like Forest River did.

So, Thor Motor Coach, Keystone RV Co. Inc. and Breckenridge will be manning displays – Keystone itself is setting up about 200 units on the hall’s periphery – on Wednesday and Thursday. Also on tap at the hall: Seminars sponsored by Freightliner Custom Chassis Inc., GE Capital, Ally Financial and Statistical Surveys Inc. plus a Wednesday night cocktail party – scheduled, perhaps coincidentally, at the exact same time as chief competitor Forest River’s. Tunes are being provided by the popular John Kirkwood band.

Keystone President Bob Martin, who tells RVBUSINESS.com that he’s expecting somewhere between 700 and a thousand dealer personnel to stop by, says Keystone has always brought dealers in during the fall for a look at new product. And while they’re stepping it up this year, his Goshen, Ind.-based firm is still planning an aggressive display with additional new product at RVIA’s 48th Annual National RV Trade Show, Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in Louisville.

‘It’s a good opportunity to get in front of your dealers in the fall,” says Martin, whose company will also host vendor booths and meetings with customer service representatives and retail and wholesale financing sources.

Just down the street a few minutes to the west at a temporary rented facility at the corner of Marina Drive and County Road 6, Thor’s Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. division will launch an open house of its own tonight (Sept. 27) with cocktails provided by the Thor division and entertainment supplied by a group called Blammo. Displays, complete with continental breakfast, are open all day Tuesday and Thursday, closing out Thursday at noon.

Also kicking off the festivities tonight down in Nappanee – with a tailgate party, casino night and poker tournament — is Gulf Stream Coach Inc., which will be featuring a favorite of the company’s founder, the late Jim Shea Sr.: Daily lunch consisting of Stanley’s famous steak, shrimp and eggroll. Gulf Stream’s event runs through Thursday

“We believe recent developments in the RV industry will create great opportunities for the independent manufacturers,” says Gulf Stream Co-President Dan Shea. “We developed many new dealer relationships this year and we look forward to showing our new innovative, value-packed models.“

Also opening their doors to dealers this week:

Carriage Inc.: Tuesday through Thursday at the towable manufacturer’s Millersburg, Ind., plant.

Dynamax Corp.: Monday through Thursday at the company’s north side Elkhart plant at the corner of Northland Dr. and County Road 6.

Earthbound RV: Monday through Friday at the Spring Meadow Farm Golf Club east of Elkhart in Middlebury, as well as at the firm’s new main plant 70 miles to the south in Marion, Ind.

Evergreen Recreational Vehicles: Monday through Thursday at the company’s plant in Middlebury.

Livin’ Lite Recreational Vehicles: Monday through Thursday at the firm’s Wakarusa facility a few miles south of Elkhart off of Indiana 19.

Monaco RV LLC: Tuesday through Thursday at the Navistar division’s Wakarusa plant.

Open Range RV: Tuesday through Thursday at the company’s facilities east of Elkhart in Shipshewana.

Sunnybrook RV: Tuesday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the company’s plant in Middlebury.

Meanwhile, adding to the week’s industry activities, Jayco Inc. will have about 250 retail personnel on hand for intensive sales training at its complex in Middlebury, Ind. Jayco’s second Master RV Product Training Session runs Monday through Thursday, with a graduation ceremony Wednesday at the Marriott in South Bend.

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#1 Comment By Eric Brophy On September 30, 2010 @ 12:28 am

Well, I have to hand it to the RV industry, it’s consistent; I don’t mean that as a compliment in this case. When one company creates a hot, new floor plan, what do the others do? Copy it. When one company starts using the latest widget, what do the others do? Copy it, but have it knocked off in China to save money. When a company decides to do a Fall open house, what do all of the others do? Well, I guess we know the answer to that, otherwise there wouldn’t be an article to comment on today.
Yes, I get it; I understand WHY others believe they have to at least keep up with what some of the more prominent companies are doing. I guess I would have hoped that after the decimation of the RV industry from late ’07 through late ’09, that there would be some changes in how many RV OEMS bring products to market, or at least how they address competition.
Actually, in all of this, I feel for the sales reps the most. Trying to ship out anything that isn’t ‘retail sold’ with 4 weeks of a show like this is incredibly difficult; the dealer body has been conditioned to wait for the shows to get the best discounts. Of course, I’m sure sales management is very understanding of this, and doesn’t pressure their sales team about getting product out ahead of the shows. ;-) Additionally, I wonder what this does to the buying pattern as it relates to the Louisville Show. By that, if I am a dealer, and I’m told that this ‘Fall Open House’ is a ‘teaser’ to what they’ll be seeing at Louisville, what then is the incentive of buying stock pieces AHEAD of Louisville? Historically, this period is ‘dead’ for retail activity, so whatever I take in, I realize that it will be there well into the following winter….probably even the spring.
Then again, maybe the incentives are worth it; buying stock pieces in late September, and/or early October, that is. However, what’s going to happen when Louisville comes around, and dealers literally have NO room to bring in merchandise? Again, I’m sure upper management is very cogniscent of this, and will not have high expectations for Louisville. :-)
I really do wish the industry well; after how hard hit the communities in Indiana and southern Michigan have been over the past 2 years, they deserve a break. Maybe they also deserve some out-of-the-box-thinking.