‘Wheeling and Dealing’ is Underway in the KEC
The wheeling and dealing of selling recreational vehicles and everything that goes into them got under way Tuesday (Nov. 27) at the National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.
Manufacturers and their suppliers set up shop and then greeted old friends, reached out to sign up new dealers and watched expectantly as dealers went in and out of the hundreds of RVs on display in the Kentucky Exposition Center, The Goshen (Ind.) News reported.
“You can see everything from a $9,000 travel trailer to a $1 million motorhome,” Winn Sheppard said. He is a salesman with Avalon RV Center in Medina, Ohio, and was trolling the show displays with Avalon manager Mike Makebakken.
“It is great to come to this show and see everything in the RV industry under one roof,” Makebakken said.
But the salesmen were not at the show to buy, they already placed orders at the Elkhart County RV Open House in October.
“We picked up most everything we wanted earlier at the showcase,” Makebakken said. He said they were attending in part to affirm their earlier order decisions.
“As a sales person,” Sheppard said, “you can look at what the competitors have; what are you going to face in the coming year. That is important to a sales person.”
Down the aisle at the Redwood RV show area, which is part of parent-company Crossroads RV’s display, Tom Montague, general manager, was busy helping his sales staff meet with dealers.
Montague was in charge of starting up the Redwood luxury fifth-wheel line in Syracuse a couple of years ago. Since then, the company has grown quickly, producing 480 units so far in 2012 and capturing a 35% share of the luxury fifth-wheel market, according to company information.
“It’s just a big show (for the company),” Montague said of the importance of the Louisville show.
Montague and the sales staff were wearing themed shirts sporting the initials NGV, which stands for New Generation Vehicles.
The reasons for Redwoods’ quick growth? Montague said one reason is that Carriage Inc. in Millersburg, a competitor, went out of business and the company purchased its name and assets. Redwood also hired many people from the Carriage workforce.
But the big reason for the growth has been the company has stuck to its original plan of building quality fifth-wheels, he said.
“The neat thing about Redwood is, we have stuck to the story we started with and the dealers have responded to it. It was a well-thought-out plan,” Montague said.
He said that because Redwood is a Thor company, which is the largest RV company, funds were available to purchase the best technology for the fifth-wheels.
That means that the fifth-wheels have many of the same convenience features, such as full-sized refrigerators, dishwashers and furniture, that used to be found only in motorhomes.
And fifth-wheel owners don’t have to deal with an engine and drivetrain of a motorhome, instead they use a pickup to pull the unit, Montague said.
“They can leave this in their barn and drive their truck every day,” Montague said of the fifth-wheels all around him.
Derby City RV
Terry Haynal, a salesman with Tom Stinnett Derby City RV in Clarksville, Ind., only had to drive across the Ohio River bridge to reach the show. But to him, the drive was necessary.
“I am looking at fifth-wheels that we compete directly with,” Haynal said.
He was comparing what features those competitors offer in their fifth-wheels so when he talks to a customer he’s not surprised by their comparison of products.
“I would rather see it here than on the lot,” he said with a laugh.
Like the industry as a whole, Stinnett Derby City RV had an up year, according to Haynal. “Our sales have been real good this year. We have done real well, motorized and towable.”
The reason for that?
“I think there are a lot of people who have had money for several years and they are feeling more comfortable now, Haynal said.
Mike Sheets, owner of Echo RV in Elkhart, was also feeling comfortable. He poked fun at the industry’s fascination with statistics, saying his company has the largest increase in display floorspace at the show with a 33% gain. That means that Echo has four units on display this year, up from three in 2011.
The 3-year-old company builds stick and tin travel trailers. Sheets said the stick and tin building process, which is simply aluminum siding over a wood frame, is still the largest build style in the industry.
“We are a relatively new company, so we are down here at Louisville trying to grow our company,” Sheets said.
He said he was working in the RV industry and “one day I said, ‘I can do this.’ And you know what they say about getting what you wished for,” he laughed.
Sheets now has partners and stable financing, which means he can concentrate on running the company.
The company’s niche is selling to dealers who are mid- to small-sized and not selling products from the large RV corporations.
“We would like to grow to 800 to 1,000 units a year,” Sheets said. “But the most important thing is to give personal service. If someone calls our company, they talk to me, which is kind of nice.”