As the 58th Annual California RV Show turns toward the home stretch of its 10-day run at Pomona’s Fairplex, the weather appeared to be clearing on Friday (Oct. 22) for the finale weekend.
And that’s a good thing, because six days of on-and-off rain have tested the nerves of participating dealers and the 43 RV manufacturers who have stepped up to show some 800 units at the Fairplex show, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) only sponsored retail event.
On the other hand, there were encouraging signs at the 460,000-square-foot exposition — versus 420,000 square feet of exhibit space last year — that the Southern California marketplace is gradually coming back to life.
As Marsha McGinnis, RVIA’s western show director, pointed out: “The shoppers have been here. They’ve come out with their rain gear.”
Statistically speaking, attendance by Friday was probably running a bit ahead of last year’s show, which ultimately registered 18,200 attendees, according to McGinnis.
And the weekend weather forecast was looking rather good, as were some of the visitors’ buying habits. “Everybody has the notion that we save our best prices for the weekend,” said McGinnis. “The banks are here and the credit companies are here and the sales have been up. The buyers have been coming out in the inclement weather and buying in a greater percentage over 2009. That’s reflected on the move-out lists.”
The dealers with whom we spoke came down on both sides of the fence with regard to Pomona.
Of course, given the weather, show reports were mixed at week’s end.
Bob Barouti, of Montclair, Calif.-based Giant RV, which had several displays incorporating about 125 to 150 Fleetwood, Thor, Heartland, Forest River and MVP lines, didn’t sound all that enthused.
“We are not totally happy, but are thankful for what we are doing,” said Barouti, who had sold about 75 units by Friday. “Of course, we are not doing what we did several years ago. We used to do 300 to 400 units at the show. This year, we’re doing much better than last year, but the economy is still sluggish here in Southern California, which has put a damper on sales.”
“You would think we’re in the Pacific Northwest,” noted Mike Lankford, general sales manager at McMahon’s RV, with stores Colton, Irvine and Palm Desert. “It’s been damp, cool and misty. People in California are fair weather fans, but the buyers do come out. This separates the buyers from the shoppers, which isn’t necessarily a bad deal at all,”
Despite the rain, Lankford says he’s meeting his goals for the Pomona Show. “We’ve had an even selection of interest,” said Langford, who was showing everything from entry-level towables to Monaco Class As. “Nothing has dominated. Our target was (to sell) 300 units, and we’re tracking about 250. We’ve sold about 15 diesels, 20 Class A’s and 30 C’s. The weather has circumvented some of our business we had targeted, but we are up significantly from last year. For example, on Thursday, we sold five diesels in the rain.”
“Before the rain, we were substantially ahead of last year,” added Frank DeGelas, president of Mike Thompson’s RV Super Stores, Santa Fe Springs, Calif. “And, frankly, we’re ahead of last year, despite the rain. It’s a pretty positive show, but it would have been a very good show if it hadn’t been for the rain. The buyer interest is high. The credit quality is good. I think we’re seeing all the indications of a pent-up buying demand. It will be real interesting to find out what happens this final weekend if, in fact, we get good weather.”
DeGelas, for his part, can’t ever remember rain like this, keeping in mind that there were times when torrential rains washed out the show back when it was located at Dodger Stadium. But no one can remember sustained rain like this. “This is unprecedented for California,” he noted, “and I think that if this thing were happening in Washington State, where rain is commonplace, I don’t think the rain would have hurt it so badly. Around here, we just don’t go out in the rain.”
Weather aside, DeGelas sees the cup half-full in a business sense because he sees a turnaround in Southern California. “This year is a whole different ballgame than it was a couple of years ago,” says DeGelas. What I’m trying to say is that the volume is up, but the margins are up more significantly.
“Now, I’m not saying that it’s unleashing vigorously,” he told RVBUSINESS.com. “I’m convinced it will. What will trigger it? I don’t know. You know, the local politics and economic situation are pretty tough. But, that said, we see things coming back. Our dealership is significantly ahead of last year.
“But what’s the old saying? ‘It’s hard to fall out of bed when you’re laying on the floor. So, we have no way to go but up, and we are up.”
Barring the unforseen, DeGelas says 2011 looks to be a decent year.
“For Mike Thompson, next year will be decent,” he said. “We’re now well-positioned with our product and we’re profitable — certainly not much, but profitable — and going into next year, not competing with the new and used distressed merchandise like last year, it’ll be better. The question is how much.
“One of my concerns is whether we’re in a position as an industry to ramp up next year quickly enough. You know, I’ve been doing this a number of years and I see the back end of recessions generate pretty good sales when the pent-up demand unleashes. Granted, this downturn seems different because there’s such high unemployment. But we don’t want to endure all this pain and not be positioned for the upswing when it does occur, as it will sometime. The question is when.”