The recreational vehicle industry is still in a strong growth mode, based on initial reports from this week’s Hershey Show, officially known as “America’s Largest RV Show.” The event, sponsored by the Pennsylvania RV & Camping Association (PRVCA), is widely viewed as the first of the new model year’s major national industry trade and consumer venues.
Located in and around Hersheypark’s Giant Center, the Hershey Show broke all-time attendance records on Wednesday (Sept. 11), its first public day, despite a stifling heat wave that lifted after a storm front swept through on Thursday.
“Well I can tell you that our Wednesday attendance numbers were 6,629, and in 2012 they were 6,542 this year,” reported Heather Leach, marketing and education director for PRVCA. “So we did break last year’s Wednesday record, which was our biggest opening public day ever.”
And Leach, contacted late Friday afternoon, is looking to post record numbers for the entire week, which started with two trade days Monday and Tuesday followed by public days Wednesday through Sunday night at the show, which this year includes 50 manufacturers and 216 supplier exhibits located both inside and, more than ever, outside the Giant Center
“Our goal (for Wednesday) was hopefully to beat last year’s record because last year was a big milepost for us,” said Leach, noting that manufacturers’ space this year is up about 20% while supplier displays are up about 14% at the 862,000-square-foot exposition. “So we’re hoping that this year even beats out last year. So far, it seems like we’re on the right path.
“And just from talking with the people here, there really does seem to be a lot of first-timers here, which is great to see,” she added. “While we usually have a lot of repeat business, there’s a lot of people coming in and saying it’s their first time here.”
Just as important, according to show chairman Dan Salzgiver, general manager of Camping World of Hanover, Pa., is the fact that the Hershey crowd includes a relatively high ratio of buyers.
“Yes, it’s been very, very busy today,” Saltzgiver said Friday afternoon. “There are lots of folks walking up and down the aisles. It’s not packed like a Saturday, but there’s been traffic – very good traffic — all day long. And there’s a lot of buyers here. Sales have been brisk. I haven’t been receiving any complaints (from exhibitors). You know, if things are slow or anything like that, I typically hear right away.”
Amid “beautiful” balmy weather on Friday afternoon, meanwhile, manufacturers seemed to agree with Leach and Salzgiver’s upbeat assessments.
“From our perspective, the first two days we didn’t see as much traffic as we had hoped, although it seemed like the people who were here were buyers,” said Scott Degnan, vice president of sales and product management for Winnebago Industries Inc., Forest City, Iowa, which is showing a Trend-brand Class C motorhome, the U.S. market’s first C-body on the diminutive Ram ProMaster chassis, an adaptation of Fiat’s popular Ducati platform.
“Maybe it was the weather,” Degnan said on Friday. “But we had a pretty good percentage of buyers. And today feels very strong. Today feels better than the first two days, and it seems like we’re picking up normal Hershey-type momentum.”
Despite Wednesday’s heat spell that tended to fatigue both show attendees and exhibitors, Coley Brady, vice president of sales for towable RV builder Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC, Elkhart, Ind., on Friday said he liked what he was seeing in Hershey with regard to sales.
“The first day was very hot, but our sales were actually up from where they were the year before,” said Brady. “Thursday traffic was OK as well. We had rain early. Then it was great for five or six hours in the middle of the day. Then it kind of tapered off in the afternoon around 4 o’clock when the rain came in. But in the first two days, our sales are slightly above last year’s, even considering the weather. Traffic’s been solid today (Friday), although I don’t know the numbers yet. But all things considered, we’re pretty excited about where we’re going into the weekend.”
Things also looked good late Friday from Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc.’s perspective, according to Nate Goldenberg, general manager for several of the Thor subsidiary’s towable lines. “Things look great, really,” he told RVBUSINESS.com. “We had a false start mostly due to weather and traffic, but today has been phenomenal. The aisles have been packed. Customers are out. I ran out for lunch and, hell, we had to park all the way in the back of the parking lot when we came back because there were so many people. And they’re buying. So, right now things are really looking good.”