Louisville Show Pulse Strong, Traffic Slips 6.2%
Confirming what many attendees had come to assume, preliminary figures from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) showed that overall registrations at the 49th Annual National RV Trade Show were down 6.2% to 8,159 from 8,696 in 2010, including a 9.4% drop in dealer personnel.
Curiously, however, Kevin Broom, RVIA director of media relations, noted that the “key buyers’ categories” posted gains from the previous year.
“Dealer attendance was down,” said Broom, “but the actual number of dealerships represented was up nearly 27% from last year. Another area that is reflective of the number of buyers that were at the show was the Accessory Store, Campground Owner and Warehouse Distributor categories, which were up 43%.”
In the big picture, says Broom, it wasn’t a bad picture – despite the moderate dip in traffic. “In talking with manufacturers,” he said, “there weren’t that many companies that said they were setting records. But a number of OEMs were pleased with the number of units sold. That’s right in line with shipment projections for next year, which are essentially flat, so it’s not surprising to see steady, but not spectacular sales.”
The actual post mortems regarding the Louisville Show, held Nov. 29-Dec. 1 at the Kentucky Exposition Center (KEC), will clearly develop over time as people talk among themselves as to how they see things playing out for the three current national show venues – the Open House, the RVDA Con/Expo and the Louisville Show.
Consistent themes at the moment:
• There seems to be a general agreement, based on the current registration numbers, that the last day of the three-day show – Thursday – is a marginal venture.
• Despite the lower attendance, sales for a number of companies were strong and there seems to be a generally positive outlook within the industry – current newspaper headlines notwithstanding – that 2012 might be a decent year, especially for competitive towable RV manufacturers.
• What effect any of this might have at this point on next year’s shows is, given the current debates within the industry, anyone’s guess.
Here’s what some people were telling RVBUSINESS.com as they emerged from the show:
Coley Brady, vice president of sales, Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC, Elkhart, Ind: “The first two days of the show were excellent – strong traffic throughout and our order counts were very good,” said Brady. “The thing that I was impressed with is we saw success across the board, from the entry-level Trail Runner trailer to our luxury Bighorn and Big Country fifth-wheel brands. It was a nice product mix. Combined with the business we did at the Open House, Heartland RV had a very successful fall. I think it bodes well for the coming year, especially since we picked up some new dealers in Louisville. I know that the forecast is for shipments to be down a bit, which means you’re in a war for market share, but we are expecting our numbers to be slightly up in 2012.”
Dustin Johns, vice president, Travel Lite Inc., New Paris, Ind.: “This was the official launch of our ultra-lightweight ‘idea’ trailer, and we had an amazing show,” Johns said. “Orders far exceeded expectations. We showed three floorplans – there will be two more in the spring – and we were signing dealers throughout the first two days. Our core truck camper lines also did very well. We were showing all-new interiors, and dealers loved the new look. As a result of the show, we will undoubtedly have to increase production on the ‘idea.’ …I couldn’t be happier with the Louisville Show. It was the perfect venue to launch our first travel trailer line.”
Derald Bontrager, president, Jayco Inc., Middlebury, Ind.: “We were very pleased with the amount of activity at the display and the attendance at the show. We’re very encouraged by the positive dealer attitudes for the coming year. We were busy the whole time and did a lot of business at the show. Looking back, Tuesday and Wednesday, start to finish of the show, we were busy and pleased with the flow of dealers through our display. So, again, we were very encouraged. We saw activity in all categories from our popup campers all the way up to our motorhomes.”
Bob Tiffin, president, Tiffin Motorhomes Inc., Red Bay, Ala.: “From our perspective, the show was really good,” Tiffin told RVBUSINESS.com. “We took a lot of orders and all of the dealers were upbeat. They think they’re going to have a real good year, and I was surprised at all of the orders we took. You know, the attendance at the show, as far as I could tell, was off dramatically, but I guess at least 85% of our dealers were there.
“What I think is going on, based on surveys, is that the dealer count nationally is down as much as 50% from what it was back in 2004-06, and I just don’t think that we have the numbers of people that walk through the show anymore. That’s what I can see. You know, we used to have a lot of prospects that would come through and we don’t have those stragglers any more that come through that took up a lot of time and who just came to gaze and look at things. Those folks are not there anymore, and that’s the reason that the show looks a little sparse, I think.
“But I think that the people who have a real keen interest in the show are there. You know, that show could actually be cut down to a two-day show with tear-down the third day. In fact, I don’t know that that’s not what we’re actually doing now. …The show either needs to do that or we need to figure out some way to do more activities to draw more dealerships – maybe have more sales training, maybe have more service training at the show, do something, you know, that would draw more people in.
“Having said that, I think the business is actually on the upswing somewhat. Now I think the Class A motorhomes, the heavy motorhomes that we build, are going to be flat for another year or so. But the towables and the specialty vehicles in the RV business, I think that calendar year 2012 is definitely going to be good for them.”
Mike Snell, vice president of sales, Monaco RV LLC, Wakarusa, Ind.: “The show went really well for Monaco,” said Snell. “It was a lot better show than last year. We sold more product than we did last year – motorized and towable — and our dealers and our prospect dealers were all very excited about our product. We picked up several new dealers. For us, it was a better atmosphere and the dealers seemed to be very happy with the direction we’re going with our product.”
Matt Zimmerman, vice president of sales, Keystone RV Co., Goshen, Ind.: “Keystone was pleasantly surprised by how we did,” noted Zimmerman, who was recently promoted to his current position. “We didn’t know what to expect with the Open House, and obviously we had a huge increase year-over-year in sales at the Open House. …We came out even or a little better over the last Louisville, even though you could tell the traffic was off. Quite honestly, if the two somehow became one (Open House and Louisville), whatever that means, manufacturers would see similar results.”
Jeff Rank, president, Prime Time Manufacturing, Wakarusa, Ind.: “My first impression was that traffic was down a little bit, but the people who were there seemed to be in the mood to buy. Most dealers were optimistic about the spring season, which was extremely encouraging to us.
“We all sort of expected that traffic might be down a little bit because of the Open House, but I was thrilled that dealers were willing to buy. …We had a fantastic show. I couldn’t have been happier. Having said that, there were dealers who did not come to the show who did come to the Open House. The Open House certainly had an effect, but there were lots of dealers who were at both shows.
“There were dealers who told us there was no reason for them to come (to Louisville) because they came to the Open House. What will be interesting is that a lot of dealers who were there said there was not a lot to see that they hadn’t seen at the Open House. It was a realization by some dealers that they didn’t have to come. That’s sort of a red flag concerning who will come to the show next year.”