A few years ago, Forest River Inc. decided to have an open house event for recreational vehicle dealers to come to Elkhart, check out their products and maybe their facilities.
Since then, it turned into Elkhart RV Open House Week, a three-day (or four, for some manufacturers and dealers ) event which results in at least hundreds of millions of dollars worth of orders placed by dealers. As reported by The Elkhart Truth, that event has taken over as the major buying event, even though the annual Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) National RV Trade Show continues to happen in Louisville, Ky.
Several dealers from across North America said they continue to travel to the RVIA Louisville show after Thanksgiving, though the hands-on event in Elkhart is where they get the bulk of their buying done. In Louisville, manufacturers haul down a slice of their offerings. Here, many of them rolled out every floorplan offering of every brand so dealers could see exactly what each looks like.
For manufacturers, they reported anywhere from a tenth to a quarter of the year’s worth of orders were written between Sept. 16 and 19 at this year’s open house.
It takes some of the buying pressure off dealers in Louisville, and they reported enjoying a more social atmosphere at the RVIA trade show. They also get to see the Louisville show entirely indoors, so rains like those that rolled through Elkhart Thursday, Sept. 19, don’t dampen enjoyment at Louisville.
Elkhart holds another major bonus for dealers, though – the major manufacturers pick up a lot of the tab for a trip to Elkhart.
Thor and Forest River put up thousands of dealers in hotel rooms. Most, if not all, the manufacturers offered food for dealers, and Thor and Forest River offered entertainment in the evenings.
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Editor’s Note: The following is a column by RVBusiness Publisher Sherman Goldenberg offering some thoughts on the Elkhart County RV Open House running this week in northern Indiana.
As soon as my stomach lining returns to normal, I’ll do a more thorough assessment of Elkhart’s 2013 Open House. At the time of this writing, in fact, it wasn’t even over, although things were winding down pretty good at midday Thursday (Sept. 19) amid some heavy September rains.
But rain aside, I’ll go out on a limb and say this: In most every respect, from the professionalism of the presentations to total attendance to the general atmosphere of the entire affair around the northeast side of the RV-building hub of Elkhart this week — especially Tuesday and Wednesday — the Open House succeeded in taking another significant step forward this year toward becoming an industry fixture for most of the nation’s recreational vehicle manufacturers and virtually thousands of RV dealers from coast to coast as well as Canada.
There are also signs that, with Open House soirees held by key area vendors like Lippert Components Inc., Dometic Corp., ASA Electronics and Coast Distribution/Husky, this growing ad hoc trade show could someday become more of an important venue for a wider array of OEM suppliers. But hold that thought for the moment because, right now, the supplier role is still clearly secondary.
And while the industry’s two market share giants, Thor Industries Inc. and Forest River Inc., both showed their best sides at their huge respective exhibits at the Hall of Fame and on County Road 6, it was at last night’s climactic Forest River cocktail party at which things seemed to coalesce in my mind as to how far things have come since Forest River’s Pete Liegl first got a gleam in his eye in 2009 during the onset of the recession for a casual kind of dealer get-together during which retailers could cool their jets and relax and, at the same time, perhaps buy some product along the way.
It worked then and, I think most participants will quickly agree, it’s working today in a big way as the industry emerges from the global downturn in a fairly impressive manner. That’s certainly the view of Jeff Babcock, a general manager for Forest River who took a few minutes to chat with RVBUSINESS.com. He says things have gone really well from his perspective. “Yeah, we got a better turnout,” said Babcock. “We’re probably up 10% peoplewise from last year. I think 4,000 is about the mark on registrations – 4,000 individuals. As far as dealerships, I don’t know the number.”
That’s 4,000 registrants at Forest River alone, not including dealers who came into Elkhart to visit literally dozens of other manufacturers. Thus, it’s fair to say, the hotels were packed for miles.
“We’re basically sold out, and we’re just trying to find places (hotels) because, you know, we cut registration off last week and we were still getting calls from people who wanted to come in,” added Babcock. “I mean, we had a ton of dealers. And this place was packed both nights. We had a big country western band in here last night. And everybody’s been out in the displays. Again, we got lucky with weather on the first two days. And our venue is just the best in terms of being able to show a maximum number of products and floorplans. We’ve had more than 600 units on display. The dealers say it’s better than Louisville. The atmosphere’s great. Really, you can’t walk around Louisville with shorts on. This is the place. This is my favorite venue for a wholesale expo.
“The dealers just like coming here. It’s the right time of year. It’s the right weather. Things are kind of slowing down, retailwise. They don’t have to be at their dealerships all the time. And they come here, and, again, I think it’s our venue and the amount of product they can see here. They love it. You know, at Louisville we’ve got 100,000 feet. Here, we’ve probably got about 30 acres worth of RVs.”
Babcock says Forest River served close to 3,500 meals each night, and, while it’s hard to gauge the numbers ahead of time, the caterers were real close to running out of prime rib on Tuesday night. “I see this thing just getting bigger every year,” added Babcock. “I don’t think this will ever go away. Now, I can’t say that Louisville will ever go away either. I’m just saying that this won’t go away. It’s just the right time of year. Dealers love coming here for this show. And, again, you get to see so much product here that you can’t show at Louisville.”
The buying atmosphere was also good for Forest River and, from what we were hearing, for an array of other manufacturers as well.
“The best,” he noted. “I mean, we’ve sold a ton of stuff – both towable and motorhomes – our sales guys are knocking it out of the park. And we just want to thank all the dealers for coming out. Without the dealers we don’t have anything. “
And that’s the bottom line for now.
Just as the recreational vehicle industry is growing and changing, Elkhart County RV Open House Week in northern Indiana continues to grow and change.
As reported by The Elkhart Truth, this year it’s not only bigger in terms of the core of the industry — more manufacturers, more display space, more units, more dealers, more entertainment, and yes, more blimp-type balloons along County Road 6 — it’s spilling over.
Suppliers are jumping into the event, with Lippert Components Inc. showing off its wares and talking with dealers, Dometic hosting dealer tours of its huge factory, and even once-removed suppliers like Bright Ideas LEDs watching the trends in the industry.
“We’ve had dealers here on tours every day so far,” said April Klein, Lippert’s vice president of customer support services. “It’s going great. Dealers are very positive. There’s so many customers here, and we’re here to support them. It’s nice to have it in your hometown.”
Bob Tiedge of Lippert said having the show in the front yard of Lippert’s new C.R. 6 headquarters provided great exposure, as the company had a variety of products on display, from a basic RV frame to brakes to hitch parts.
A few miles to the south, Dave Schutz said dealers had been touring Dometic’s facility, seeing how the company makes refrigerators and air conditioning units that go into the RVs built in and around Elkhart County. Dometic also provide stoves, toilets and awnings for the RV industry.
In 2009, the company spent $20 million to move RV refrigerator production from Sweden’s Electrolux headquarters to here because the RV industry is here. “Elkhart offered the best of the market,” and that brought 400 jobs here making hundreds of refrigerators and air conditioners a day, Schutz said. It has a testing facility in LaGrange that it offer to RV builders, and the company has benefitted from double-digit growth in the RV industry the last few years. “We’ve grown with it. Right now Elkhart is the envy of the Dometic world,” Schutz said.
To read the entire article click here.
The Elkhart County RV Open House had a different kind of kickoff this year – and that’s fine with Dustin Johns.
“I’m always happy to see the sun shine,” the president of New Paris, Ind.-based Travel Lite said Tuesday (Sept. 17) afternoon. “In 2012, the Open House began with two days of rain.”
As reported by The Goshen News, Johns was sounding an upbeat tone as the dealers rolled in, and he wasn’t alone. Thousands of dealers from across North America are expected to visit Elkhart County during the official three-day run of the sixth-annual Open House. Begun by Forest River Inc. as a smaller, company-only event, the recreation vehicle showcase has since grown to include most of the RV companies in this area.
Bob Martin, president and CEO of Thor Industries Inc., was expecting strong attendance at the industry showcase Tuesday.
“We officially opened at 9 (a.m.),” Martin said. “There were people waiting in line at 8 to get in. There were people sneaking in (Monday). Just trying to see what’s new and trying to get the advantage, and if there’s a new line everybody wants to know if they can try to figure out if they can get it before their competitor.”
Both Martin and Johns were highlighting their products on the grounds of the RV/MH Hall of Fame near County Road 17 and CR 6. Johns said Travel Light has been part of the truck camper industry for more than 15 years. The company has also expanded into travel trailers, with a focus so far on smaller-size trailers.
Johns indicated Travel Lite has grown more than 300% in the past three years, adding that other manufacturers are showing gains, too.
“You can see the climb out of the recession,” he said.
Martin noted that the Open House has gained strength as manufacturers are using the event as a platform to unveil new products,
“Typically, there’s been a shift in the industry from December to September as far as showing new products,” he said. “The bulk of what we present and sell that is new has really become an open house September timeframe that works out better for the dealers.”
To read the entire article click here.
Thousands of RV dealers from across North America came to town to see thousands of recreational vehicles on display Tuesday (Sept. 17) the first full day of Elkhart RV Open House Week in northern Indiana.
As reported by The Elkhart Truth, Tom Peay of Idletime RV in Allen, Okla., has been coming since Forest River Inc. started the event in 2008. In the middle of the Thor Industries Inc.’s minitown outside the RV/MH Hall of Fame, Peay said, “I believe we get more good out of this than Louisville,” which is where the post-Thanksgiving annual industry trade show is put on by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
Doug Peay said the advantage of the open houses for dealers is that “we get to see everything new. Pretty much all of the big boys are set up here.”
Nearby in the Heartland RV display, dealer Mike Hymer of Pharr RVs in Lubbock, Texas, said he thinks the open houses will eventually supplant the Louisville event. “It’s a lot better atmosphere, it’s just a better setting,” he said.
Like the Peays, Hymer likes seeing new and updated products here, and he also likes the social aspects, “talking to the other dealers.”
From hog roasts to bonfires to casino night, there are plenty of activities for visiting RV dealers, and the manufacturers are putting up a lot of money. Thor and Forest River rented hotel rooms for thousands, but the open houses are a major sales time for the manufacturers.
To read the entire article click here.
Attendees at the Sixth Annual RV Open House in Indiana’s Elkhart County should have a good time. A casino night, fireworks, cocktail hours, even a band. And that’s just at Thor Industries Inc.’s Dealer Open House on the RV/MH Hall of Fame grounds.
According to a report by the South Bend Tribune, many other manufacturers, including Forest River Inc., which started the fall open houses, are also putting on quite a show.
Smiles were nearly as numerous Tuesday as the 350 recreational vehicles that Thor Industries had placed on the RV/MH Hall of Fame grounds. A walk through the parking lot easily revealed cars from 15 states and Canada.
The shows are definitely working for dealers in a year when the industry is projected to exceed 300,000 in shipments for the first time since 2007.
“It’s great. It gives you an opportunity to see all the inventory that they have to offer,” said Mary Wright, owner of Camper City in Buford, Ga. “I love it. We just love seeing it.”
A dealer can even get better deals, she said, ordering this time of year.
Walking down one of the long center aisles on the east side of the Hall was Scott Engele, a dealer representative from Saskatoon in Saskatchewan.
He agreed it’s a very good show because of all the products one can see. “It’s a very big deal because that’s what you order from,” he said.
It was quite a chance to look at 2014 models and place orders for spring shows that the dealers will be having.
“The purpose of this is it’s a dealer open house,” said Bob Martin, president and CEO of Thor. “It’s our opportunity to showcase our new products to the dealers a little earlier than we typically do.”
To read the entire article click here.
Thor Motor Coach introduced a whole new class of products, the Recreational Utility Vehicle (RUV), at Tuesday’s (Sept. 17) opening of the Elkhart County RV Oen House.
Situated at the RV/MH Hall in Elkhart, Ind., the Thor Motor Coach exhibit also featured a wide array of models from its existing line of Class A gas, diesel pushers, Class B-plus, Super C and Class C motorhomes, according to a news release.
The new RUVs, aptly titled Axis and Vegas, were designed for the consumer wanting a small, easy-to-maneuver vehicle, but not wanting a traditional RV. Sized like a large SUV, the unit measures just over 25 long, 8 feet wide and 11 feet tall, helping it fit into the tightest of spaces most traditional RVs can’t go.
These small dimensions lower the overall center of gravity, to help safety and stability while driving. A proven and powerful Ford V-10 engine has plenty of muscle for smooth highway merging, while sipping fuel along the way. A contemporary exterior with aerodynamic windshield and cap is extenuated by Thor Motor Coach’s exclusive HD-MAX, High-Definition exterior. Frameless, automotive styled, windows continue the sleek styling on the exterior.
Although small in stature, the coach offers an innovative design with multiple sleeping areas, including a drop down overhead bunk. The rear twin beds even convert to a king size bed. High-tech features include a 6-inch touch screen display audio with camera display, iPod adapter with radio interface and multiple USB and 12V ports, along with 110V plugs. For eco-conscious buyers the LED celling lighting reduces energy usage, while the window tint helps to reduce dependence on running the air conditioner.
“The new line-up of RUV is sized like a large SUV, and most importantly they are priced like one. A family can own one with payments that are less than most sport utility vehicles,” says Dana Simon, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Thor Motor Coach. “We see this unit fulfilling a need those who are new to RVing, those who are seasoned veterans looking to downsize and anything in between. The RUV product segment is going to grow as it answers questions concerning affordability and size some consumers may have with traditional larger motorhomes.”
For more information go to http://ThorMotorCoach.com, dealers should stop by the Thor Open House at the RV Hall of Fame.
While hotels and restaurants in Elkhart County get a big boost from Notre Dame home football games, there’s something even bigger coming: Elkhart RV Open House Week.
The Elkhart Truth reported that the event, in its sixth year, is centered largely along County Road 6 northeast of Elkhart as RV manufacturers and suppliers show off their wares to thousands of RV dealers.
“Elkhart will be invaded by dealers from all over the country and Canada,” said Randy Fish, who does marketing in the RV industry and has been around the industry for decades.
B.J. Thompson, owner of BJ Thompson Associates in Elkhart, noted, “From what I understand, it’s going to be bigger than ever” with Elkhart’s population increasing by 8% while the dealers are in town.
Diana Lawson of the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau said, “it’s not only the tourism industry, it affects absolutely the entire community when this event happens.
“Quite simply, this event is the largest event that we have in this county in terms of filling hotel rooms and the impact that it has on the hotels, the restaurants. Almost everything that we have to offer here is consumed,” from catering to disc jockeys.
Since Forest River started the event in 2008, it has grown into an “amazing” event, Lawson said. “To simply state the enormity of what this event is to Elkhart County, it’s better than the best Notre Dame home game that we’ve ever had,” she said. “The demand on our restaurants and catering facilities is enormous.”
To read the entire article click here.
Venture RV, a division of Shipshewana, Ind.-based KZRV LP, will be displaying its new line of Sonic ultra-lightweight travel trailers at next week’s Elkhart County RV Open House.
“We will have 13 units in Elkhart, including our newest product innovation, the Sonic,” said Dave Boggs, director of marketing and sales, in a press release. “The Sonic weighs between 2,950 pounds and 4,500 pounds, and ranges from 20 to 25 feet in length. The segment we are targeting is the minivan and small SUV market.”
Boggs noted that the Sonic features many standards not found in the ultra-lightweight market including interior LED lighting, convection microwave, champagne-color infused fiberglass exterior (including the roof) and CD/DVD/MP3 with Bluetooth.
“I’m sure it will be a big hit at the show,” said Boggs, adding, “It’s been exciting creating the SportTrek and the Sonic. The SportTrek will feature new island kitchen floorplans as well as several new selling features. This fall show will mark our one-year anniversary since we launched Venture RV. Dealer reaction to the SportTrek product has been phenomenal and we will keep the momentum going with the Sonic.”
The SportTrek travel trailer is available in 12 floorplans, ranging from 26 to 35 feet. It is equipped with up to three slides, enclosed underbelly and champagne colored front and back wall. The affordable lightweight travel trailer can be towed by today’s small crossovers, SUVs and light duty trucks.
Venture RV will be showing product at their display area just south of the intersection of County Road 6 and County Road 15 in Elkhart. The display will be open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily Monday-Wednesday and 9-noon Thursday.
Starcraft RV will display more than 30 units at the Elkhart County RV Open House Sept. 17-19. According to a press release the Starcraft exhibit, located at the northwest corner of County Road 6 and County Road 17 across from the RV/MH Hall of Fame, will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
During the week, Starcraft will showcase 34 of its 2014 towable lineup, featuring eight new floorplans covering all brands. One of the biggest highlights will be its new hardside Comet camping trailer series with three floorplans on display. In addition to the new hardside floorplans, the Comet series now boasts tan-colored sides, new graphics and black moldings.
“With our new Comet Hardside series and the other new floorplans on display, we expect a good reaction to this year’s open house.” said Starcraft Director of Sales Brent Froman. “It’s always a great time for us to meet with our dealers and show them we’re not slowing down as we move into the winter months.”
Starcraft is also using the open house as a platform to introduce many exciting changes to the front profile of its AR-ONE, AR-ONE WideBody and Autumn Ridge lines. They will also have on display two new Launch Ultra Lite floorplans, 24RLS and 26BHS, and a new 239TBS Travel Star EXP floorplan.
In addition to the display, Starcraft will be hosting a 50th anniversary celebration for dealers complete with a live band, door prizes and hors d’oeuvres. The celebration will take place September 17 from 2-5 p.m. at the display. This dealer celebration is part of a yearlong 50 anniversary campaign for Starcraft.
Starcraft’s regional sales managers will be onsite during the open house hours Tuesday through Thursday to talk with dealers. Starcraft will provide lunch from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday for visitors.