Positive is the word that best describes the mood at the 48th Annual acNational RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.
More than 300 manufacturers, suppliers and support companies have gathered here for the annual exchange of commerce. Deals are made, sales goals are either met or lowered and new business relationships are formed. In a nutshell, this is where the RV industry’s heartbeat is, The Goshen (Ind.) News reported.
After a depressing, recession-wracked show in 2008 and a so-so show last year, dealers and manufacturers are all positive this year as sales and interest in RVs are rebounding.
“So far it is going very well. I have seen some interesting new products,” said Scott Vande Kieft, a dealer for Wholesale Trailer Sales in Lynden, Wash.
He said his customers “are very cautious,” but he sells the fun that RVs bring to a family
“Even in a down economy, it is still very dificult to take away their vacation time,” he said. “They still like to have their fun.”
Vande Kieft was studying the floorplans offered for a Keystone RV Co. trailer made in Goshen. A few feet away Bob Martin, president of the company, was greeting dealers.
“It has been going very well, very busy. The traffic has been strong,” Martin said. At the time most all the Keystone sales staff were paired up with potential buyers.
Martin said the increase in dealer interest, coupled with an increase in financiing available to dealers, is encouraging.
“All these signs are great indicators of better days to come,” Martin said.
RV sales are 43% higher nationwide, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), which is hosting the show. That sales increase has eased the unemployment rate in Elkhart County, which jumped to about 17% percent during the recession. Martin said that in the past year Keystone RV has hired back about 1,000 workers.
“We are gearing up for a great year (2011),” Martin said.
Keystone is a big player in the towables market, and at the show the company has 50 units on display over 35,000 square feet of floorspace. The staff at the show numbers about 80.
Keystone’s Montana fifth-wheel, which is made in Goshen, has been the No. 1 selling fifth-wheel for 10 years running.
“Orders received have ben very strong for the Montana line,” Martin said. A few changes have been made in Keystones lineup, both in architecture and interiors. “Dealers always want to see some changes because that gives customers a reason to buy,” Martin said.
Keystone is investing $2 million in a new building at its Goshen complex to manufacture its Laredo line. That factory should be finished in February, Martin said.
Altogether, Keystone has 3,000 employees (2,700 in Goshen) and 16 production facilities.
Just down the aisle from Keystone’s massive display was Riverside RV’s display. The small company had four trailers on display and one pickup camper. Angled to get the corner view of passing dealers was the company’s new White River Retro trailer. And it was drawing in most every dealer who passed by.
The Retro is designed to look like a 1960s towable. The interior has a bed, a convertible dinnette, a stove, sink and portable toilet hidden in a cabinet.
“We are very happy with it. Very happy,” said Bob Taulbee, a Riverside salesman.
And the show is going well for the LaGrange, Ind., company.
“Because of the Retro, it has been busier than in the past. The Retro is drawing a lot of people over here,” he said.
The Retro was introduced at the show. It weighs 1,700 pounds and is 14.5 feet long and because of its lightness, can be pulled by smaller cars and sport utility vehicles.
“I got the feedback from the dealers as what they wanted and our people put it together,” Taulbee said. “The bulk of what we do comes from dealer feedback.”
Another LaGrange County company, KZ RV LLP, was also offering new products. Andy Baer, vice president of sales and marketing, was busy showing off the new, elaborate outside kitchen offered on the Stoneridge fifth-wheel. The stainless steel kitchen features an infrared grill, work area and sink, all covered with an awning in case it rains during tailgating.
KZ also was offering a new lightweight trailer, the Spree Escape. It weighs 2,200 pounds and is designed to be towed by smaller vehicles, according to Baer.
Baer said KZ has had a good year and he is expecting the trend to continue. “The outlook is very positive,” Baer said.
Part of maintaining good sales is staying in touch with consumer trends. And Baer, like other sales people at the show, knows consumers are doing more research on products before they spend money.
“You don’t have to buy the cheapest necessarily, but you want to do your homework and get value for your dollar,” he said.
Taking a break near the KZ booth to study his map of the massive exhibit area, Steven Minghenelli of Sewell, N.J., was looking for diesel RV manufacturers.
“It’s a great show, very informative and there is a lot of product being displayed here. And it seems like it is busy,” Minghenelli said. As for his dealership’s businesss, Minghenelli said sales are improving.
“We are a diesel dealer and there is a lot of diesel displayed here, which is great for us,” he said. “And the diesel market is coming back strong, which is great for us.”
The National RV Trade Show runs through today.