Maybe it was the blue skies and gentle breeze that pushed aside the endless dark rumblings of a bad economy and the clouds of concern that seem stuck over Indiana’s Elkhart County.
Or, as reported by the Goshen News, maybe it was the fresh and distant outlook from nearly 3,200 visitors to Thor Industries Inc.’s Open House, a three-day event that concluded Thursday (Sept. 22) at the RV Hall of Fame on the north side of Elkhart. Thor was just one of the dozens of manufacturers that displayed product during Elkhart County’s 4th Annual Open House Week.
Regardless, the outlook for the RV industry from the perspective of manufacturing executives and dealers seems to be a resilient sense of conservative confidence.
Numerous issues looming in Washington and abroad have the potential to drag down the economy and push it toward a double-dip recession. The jobless rate, fears of another Congressional impasse over the budget, a looming debate over a mandated debt plan, the debate over possibly another stimulus package and even the financial crisis involving the Euro Zone all seem to dominate the news.
And while consumer confidence can be a key factor, dealers and company representatives say they do not feel a sense of gloom.
One dealer from Texas was discussing a deal even as he caught wind that the New York Stock Exchange had suddenly dipped 400 points Thursday.
“They read the news and understand there is some concern in the marketplace, but overall they feel pretty good,” said Andy Cripe, general manager for Keystone RV Co., Goshen.
Customers are still flowing into the showrooms, Cripe said.
“It’s not the record breaking days, but it’s steady,” he explained. “There’s certainly not a doom-and-gloom mentality out there.”
Playing it safe
The Goshen News reported that most manufacturers and dealers are playing it safe in terms of inventories.
“Luckily, most of the dealers and dealer inventories are in a pretty good place,” said Bob Wheeler, president and CEO of Airstream Inc., Jackson Center, Ohio. “It’s not like what we were seeing in 2007 where there was a lot of inventory out there.
“Dealers have kept things fairly lean, so even if things continue to limp along and grow slowly, most dealers are positioned to be profitable and not get buried by the inventory they have on-hand.”
Wheeler said he believes most industry executives are more optimistic than recent projections suggesting a 2% growth rate for 2012.
“Even the dealers are talking about growth,” he said. “Maybe not double-digit growth, but they are more optimistic.”
He added Airstream is forecasting strong single-digit growth.
The economy is not a concern for Rick Barecky, a dealer from Corpus Christi, Texas.
“It’s been great for us down there,” Barecky said. “We’re in the middle of a huge oil boom. It seems everybody who’s going out to drill needs a travel trailer to stay in.”
He credits the strong economy on the recent discovery of natural gas.
“People have money and they’re spending it.”
Paul and Berta Pereira, Ontario, Canada, offered a similar sentiment for business north of the border.
“RVs are booming up there,” Paul Pereira said. “The economy’s pretty good.”
He and his wife visited manufacturers in Elkhart in June and returned for the open house to finalize deals for nine models that will be part of their new dealership, Hitch N’ Go RV, which opens in about eight weeks in Delhi, east of London, Ontario.
They signed up models from Heartland RV LLC and Forest River Inc.. The lack of manufacturers in Canada necessitates them to shop in the United States and Paul Pereira said they like the convenient cluster of RV manufacturers in Elkhart County.
This year’s event really was bigger than previous years. This was the first time all of Thor’s RV companies were spotlighted. Those include Airstream, Breckenridge, CrossRoads RV Inc., Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., Heartland, Keystone RV Co., Redwood RV and Thor Motor Coach.
The centerpiece of the open house spread was a bright, white 22,000-square-foot tent used for breakfast, lunch and dinner over the three days. On Wednesday night, the tent hosted a casino and a live band. Guests had their choice of prime rib and steamed shrimp.
The tent had a seating capacity of about 890 and was packed Wednesday night, according to several people.
And during the day, if a manufacturer was busy talking shop with a dealer in one of their coaches, caterers for Matterhorn Conference Center Banquets Catering, Elkhart, could be seen taking lunches out into the sprawling display area.
For Kurt Janowsky, owner of Matterhorn, the event might be a high point for his company this year. Providing food and drink required about 40 workers and nine vendors, he said.
“This is a fantastic boon for the economy, Janowsky said. “It’s great for everybody.”
The casual atmosphere and perfect weather set the scene for solid networking opportunities. Many of the guests lingered well after dark.
“It’s been like a campground here in the evening,” said Bob Martin, president of Keystone. “Dealers like the casual atmosphere here. It gives us a lot of time to talk and build relationships. That’s what our industry is all about — building relationships.”
The open house also included vendors and wholesale financing companies, including General Electric. Banks seem more willing to assist dealers than during the recession, Martin said.
“A few years ago that’s what really slowed down our industry — banks quit loaning money for a period of time,” he said. “It made it almost impossible for people to build. Right now, it’s very good. They’re aggressively signing new dealers.”