While attendance was up a moderate 4.5% at this year’s Louisville Show, North American recreational vehicle manufacturers generally reported an upbeat atmosphere and – in some cases – robust sales at the 48th Annual National RV Trade Show, Nov. 30 – Dec. 2 at the Kentucky Exposition Center (KEC) on the south side of Louisville, Ky.
The wares and services of more than 300 manufacturers, suppliers and distributors were displayed across more than 766,000 square feet of show space in the KEC during the industry’s key annual trade-only event, sponsored by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
Now back in his Millersburg, Ind., office, Ed Kinney, vice president of sales for Carriage Inc., says results of the three-day show were decidedly positive and a good omen for 2011. “It was a record show for Carriage,” said Kinney. “Compared to last year, sales have probably tripled.”
Carriage debuted a revamp of its high-end Royals International at Louisville, along with a new “entry level” Cabo line and a new Cameo model — all of which, Kinney predicts, will translate into increased market share in 2011 for Carriage, which currently produces 25 units a week. “We intend to steadily increase production until we are building 37 units a week by the end of August,” he told RVBUSINESS.com.
On the other hand, some felt that show traffic in the KEC corridors was a little thin at times. “From a numbers standpoint, the Louisville Show maybe didn’t have the impact that some have had in the past,” said Sid Johnson, director of marketing for Jayco Inc., Middlebury, Ind.
“Attendance seemed down from last year,” he added. “It seemed to be slower, but it may have been a function of space. Last year’s show was compressed from past years. This year it was more spread out than normal. Yet, I thought it was a very good show.”
Indeed, Johnson said all three of the company’s divisions, Entegra Coach, Jayco and Starcraft, were “pleasantly surprised” by the number of new dealers they were able to sign. And Johnson, for his part, thought that Louisville 2010 was clearly better than last year and was in the “upper half” and perhaps “upper third” of the national RV shows at which he has worked in his esteemed 36-year industry career.
“The overall and almost overwhelming positive aspect of it was the very refreshing enthusiasm and confidence that was evident from almost every dealer for the coming year,” Johnson added. “We were pleased with the whole thing.”
“The show went well for us,” noted Bob Wheeler, president of Jackson Center, Ohio-based Airstream Inc. “Traffic was down a bit, but purchases per attendee were up. We had a separate meeting for dealers and were able to present them with an overview of our products, our business plan and marketing efforts (for 2011). We received very positive feedback.”
According to Wheeler, the launch at the show of Airstream’s new Eddie Bauer co-branded 25-foot travel trailer generated a lot of positive feedback. “There was lots of excitement and strong initial orders,” said Wheeler. “They really seemed to get the collaboration and added functionality of the unit.”
Clearly one of the show’s busier displays was that of EverGreen Recreational Vehicles LLC, which unveiled a distinctive new 24-foot, wood-free Element travel trailer and also hosted an appearance by Terry Bradshaw, a former NFL quarterback, current Fox sports analyst and a new minority owner of Evergreen.
“It’s (the Element) different, unique and drew a lot of traffic,” said Doug Lantz, president and CEO of the Middlebury, Ind., towable manufacturer. “Being as it’s one of the lightest weight full-size trailers (at Louisville), it definitely got people’s attention.”
Motorhome specialist Tiffin Motor Homes Inc. had a solid show, according to Bob Tiffin, president of Red Bay, Ala., -based manufacturer.
“We had a great show, and took a lot of orders,” said Tiffin. “The dealers we had there were all happy with what was going on and they were complaining that we didn’t have hardly enough inventory. You know, they didn’t have enough motorhomes to sell, so they put their money where their mouths were and ordered a lot of units — 240 units altogether.”
That’s pretty decent, most would agree, in an era in which motorhome sales certainly aren’t at their peak. “Well, I can’t speak for the rest of the industry,” said Tiffin. “But we’ve (Tiffin) had a good year so far, and it looks like next year may be even better. So, our plans are to keep running 11 or 12 units a day and keep moving forward.”
Although Tiffin sees a moderate shift to smaller coaches, the company’s best seller at Louisville was a 40-foot Phaeton retailing in the $190,000-$230,000 range.
Bob Olson, chairman, president and CEO of Winnebago Industries Inc., came away with a positive take on the show. “I think it was an improvement over last year,” said Olson, second vice chairman of RVIA and co-chair of the Go RVing Coalition. “Last year, everyone really had a lot of uncertainty as to what the future held in store. I sensed a real feeling of optimism (this year) from dealers, other manufacturers and suppliers. I thought it was a very positive show.
“Having said that, we really don’t gauge success or failure of the show by what we get for orders,” said Olson, whose Forest City, Iowa, company drew a lot of attention with a modernistic redesign of its top-of-the line Winnebago Tour/Itasca Ellipse.
“We don’t go there with the attitude of ‘this is going to be what we have to have in orders to get to the spring market.’ It was a good show. You have to consider the economic times that we’re in. Going forward, we think that we’ll continue to get orders from the dealers that were at the show because it gave them an opportunity to see a lot of our product lineup. And from what we were able to see, they were very excited about it, especially Tuesday (opening day). It was nonstop traffic from the time we opened until we closed.”
Thor’s Goshen, Ind.-based Keystone RV Co. Inc., reports seeing strong traffic all three days of the show and “high dealer enthusiasm.”
“Dealers seemed to be very optimistic about their Keystone business and the industry in general, and very enthusiastic,” said Keystone President Bob Martin. “We could see it in their eyes. Keystone’s focus at this year’s show was to make each of our brands even stronger. So, we did not launch a new product line but chose instead to concentrate on our existing lines.
Traffic, likewise, was “steady” at the expansive Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. display at which dealers were introduced to an array of new models. “Our new products were very well received,” noted Steve Paul, vice president of sales and marketing for the Goshen, Ind.-based Thor division, which debuted an ‘upper-end’ Voltage toy hauler, a redesigned Aerolite Superslide series, an entry-level Aspen Trail towable line and affordable Rubicon toy hauler.
Speaking for both the motorized and towable sides of his company, Pete Liegl, president and CEO of Forest River Inc., based in Elkhart, Ind., had good things to say about the 2010 Louisville Show and the year ahead.
On a scale of “1” to “10,” in fact, he gave it an 8.5, noting that dealer interest was consistent with that of this fall’s Hershey Show and Elkhart County Open House.
“We did very well,” said Liegl. “Obviously, no matter what we do we could do better, but we had a good show. Dealers were enthusiastic about the product we have, and that includes the new Shasta plus Prime Time and our existing Coachmen and Forest River products. Beyond that, I think the whole show was good for everybody, and I think it’s an indication that everybody thinks it’s going to be a good year next year, too.”
“Next year will be better than this year as a generalization,” said Liegl, who expects his company to post about $2.4 billion in 2010 revenues. “If I had to guess, as far as the total number of units sold next year versus this year, I’m anticipating a minimum increase of 5% for the total industry. But I can guarantee you one thing: I’m not going to settle for 5%. All in all, though, I’ve got to say that this year’s been a very acceptable year for everybody in the RV business. And next year I think is going to be more of the same thing – a little better than this year.”