When there are just 12 people building trailers in your RV company, ownership is a hands-on activity.
The Goshen (Ind.) News reported that as the large sales staffs of recreational vehicle giants gathered nearby this week to plot their sales strategies for the 49th Annual National RV Trade Show at the Kentucky Exposition Center (KEC) in Louisville, Jason Howard was decked out in blue jeans and a T-shirt and was working hard to rub away the road grime from the front of a new Echo Bandit toyhauler trailer.
“Some of my former colleagues came by and said, ‘gee, we hardly recognized you,” Howard said with a laugh about his work outfit.
Howard and his business partner Mike Scheetz created Echo RV, based in Elkhart, 14 months ago. Since then they have expanded their offerings to three models, the Bandit, the North Bay trailer and the entry-level American Spirit trailer.
This week at the trade show they were seeking out new dealers and working to make sales to their existing dealers, a process that is ongoing year-round but comes to a peak at the end of each year as new RV models are introduced.
“This whole gig cost us $20,000,” Howard said of the outlay needed to display the company’s three products at the show in an effort to expand business.
But cash flows both ways, Howard said in reference to competing with larger companies.
“That’s where it benefits us,” he explained. “As a privately-held company, we don’t have stockholders expecting to get paid on each coach. We can keep our overhead low.”
Howard’s company was competing for dealer dollars against much larger companies at the Louisville Show, including Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC, also of Elkhart.
The Goshen News reported that Joel Richardson of Elkhart had a table full of boxes in front of him at the Heartland display. Normally Richardson sells RVs. Monday (Nov. 28) afternoon he was busy sorting through stacks of “point-of-sale signs.”
“They list the features that make us stand out,” Richards said.
The Heartland display area was outlined with blue flashing L.E.D. strip lights along the carpet of the perimeter. Like many of the larger sales areas, there was a reception counter stacked with plenty of brochures and sales fliers. The company had 39 units on display.
Nearby in Hall 5, Bob Dunn, general manager of Coachmen’s Apex line of lightweight trailers, was showing the company’s line of lightweight towables.
The Apex line has been expanded, literally. The company now offers the trailer in an 8-foot wide unit, 6 inches wider than the 7-1/2 foot units.
Dunn said the lightweight Apex line is meeting the growing consumer trend of downsizing to lighter-weight trailers. He said that trend is being driven by drivers using more “crossover” type vehicles with limited towing capacity.
In addition to the 67 manufacturers, 250 supporting suppliers showed product in Louisville, including John Regan of Middlebury. He owns a fabric mill in North Carolina that supplies material to his former company, Fabric Services in Bristol.
Regan is on the board of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), which sponsors the show. He started Fabric Services in 1988 and has been to every show since. A few years ago he sold the company to the employees and moved on to ownership of Abercrombie Textiles.
“We are big fans of what the industry does,” he said.