North America’s two largest RV manufacturers, Thor Industries Inc. and Forest River Inc., jointly announced today (Feb. 10) that Elkhart County’s 5th Annual RV Open House Week will be held Sept. 18-20 throughout the northern Indiana RV-building center.
Both companies are planning to locate their product displays in the same locations as last year’s Open House, which drew more than 3,000 U.S. and Canadian dealer personnel to the streets, factories and open roadside lots of area Hoosier communities like Elkhart, Middlebury, Wakarusa and Shipshewana.
Thor’s six RV-building divisions are to be located on the grounds of the RV/MH Hall of Fame, while Forest River’s varied business units will be positioned in and around the grounds of Forest River’s Dynamax facility on C.R. 6 – about a mile apart from each other. Again this year, shuttle buses will ferry dealers back and forth between the two larger displays.
Having said that, the management teams of both companies apparently are looking for another good year of Open House festivities, a rare combination of serious business and social time that tends to cultivate sales as well as build relationships between dealers and manufacturers for the year ahead.
“For this year, we’re looking for more of the same – if not bigger,” says Bob Martin, the former Keystone RV president recently named president of Thor’s RV Group, headquartered in Jackson Center, Ohio. “Based on dealer reaction at Louisville, dealers that weren’t able to make the Open House last year had commented that this year they definitely would make it to the Open House. For us, it’s a great opportunity. We can simply show more product (versus a typical convention) and it’s a little bit more laid back atmosphere.”
Jeff Babcock, general manager for Elkhart-based Forest River, also sees some changes in the works with regard to a “tighter” layout for this year’s exhibitors that should make it easier for some of Forest River’s and Thor’s competitors to “set up camp” in more amenable locations. This would answer one of the chief drawbacks to the Open House for some of the exhibiting companies, who want better and more accessible locations.
“I think that this year is going to be even better than last year,” adds Babcock. “This thing’s taken on a life of its own. I think we’re going to have more participation from other manufacturers outside Indiana and Michigan. They’re going to come in. I know that I’ve talked to a land developer who plans on leasing out over a hundred acres and he thinks he can fill up that acreage.
“I mean, I think this thing’s going to be bigger than it ever has been before, but that just follows suit from the last four years,” he noted. “Every year this goes on, it just gets bigger and bigger, and we’re expecting this year’s Open House to be our best year yet.”
Attendance is looking strong for Elkhart County’s 4th Annual Open House Week, Sept. 19-23 in northern Indiana’s RV-building center, according to Forest River Inc. President and CEO Pete Liegl, who expects his own Elkhart, Ind., company to exceed last year’s estimated total attendance of approximately 3,000 dealer personnel.
Forest River’s signups as of late this week (Sept. 2) were approaching 2,500 for Open House Week, a relatively new industry phenomenon hosted by manufacturers in various locations in and around the city of Elkhart, Ind. (See the RVBusiness Open House Week map posted on the right side of the RVBUSINESS.com homepage, which details all of the announced locations at which RV builders will be hosting dealer personnel. This map will be updated should any other manufacturers or suppliers announce their participation in Open House Week.)
“We’re ahead of last year; I’ll tell you that,” says Liegl. “Now I don’t have the exact numbers right here in front of me, but people in our offices track it every week leading up to the Open House, and, as of today, the numbers are considerably bigger. We were right about 3,000 last year, and I know we’re going to beat that.”
Although a lot of people in the industry today might not realize it, Open House Week actually incorporates elements of older fall industry trade events that were once part of the industry’s traditional trade show cycle, including private manufacturer open houses and the old South Bend Show.
Today’s Open House Week, much like the defunct South Bend Show held for years around the University of Notre Dame’s football stadium, benefits from a drive to provide a cost-effective venue for both exhibitors and attendees that is reflective of relatively austere economic times.
Asked what effect the general economic trends might have on this year’s Open House Week, Liegl was quick to point out that the first Open House in 2008 was spawned amid a lot more dire economic circumstances than today’s. On the contrary, Liegl thinks all this talk of a double-dip recession might actually help the Open House Week.
“I don’t think it will hurt it at all,” said Liegl, who appears as an unofficial open house co-host on the cover of the latest (September/October) issue of RVBusiness magazine with one of his chief competitors, Peter Orthwein, chairman and CEO of Jackson Center, Ohio-based Thor Industries Inc.
“In fact, I think it (the economy) will actually help it,” he added. “Let’s say we do get our double dip recession. It’s all the more important that dealers are with the right manufacturer, OK? So, they have to do their due diligence to make sure they are with the right manufacturer. And that’s something we can help them do here at the Open House.”
Newmar Corp., Nappanee, Ind., announced today (Aug. 9) that it is joining with Carriage Inc., Monaco RV LLC and Travel Lite to display their latest products as part of Elkhart County’s 4th Annual RV Open House, set to run the Sept. 19-23.
According to a press release, Newmar will set up at a 15-acre site just a few minutes south of the RV/MH Hall of Fame. Newmar said the location, at the intersection of C.R. 17 and U.S. 20 in southeast Elkhart, provides easy access and plenty of parking in close proximity to other manufacturer’s open house displays for some of the 4,000 dealer personnel expected to visit Elkhart County during the week.
Newmar sales personnel as well as management will man the display Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. All Newmar motorhome brands are expected to be on display. As plans are finalized over the next couple of weeks by the participating manufacturers, more details will follow.
EverGreen Recreational Vehicles LLC, a leading innovator in lightweight, eco-friendly, sustainable, composite travel trailers and fifth-wheels, will be holding a dealer open house at its manufacturing headquarters in Middlebury, Ind.
As part of the Elkhart County 4th Annual RV Open House, Evergreen will be hosting its new product showcase display Sept. 19-23, running 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday.
Products showcased in the display include:
• New EverGreen i-Go Lite: The exciting new lightweight line of i-Go Lite travel trailers and fifth-wheels is easier to tow because of its narrower seven-foot six-inch width. The line is priced right to sell but still retains EverGreen’s exclusive composite inner shell, all wrapped into a quality, vacuum laminated camper.
• New Tandem Axel Element 26 Series: The line features a fully equipped bath, new convenience features and a larger 26-foot floor plan with heavier capacity tandem axles. The Element is gaining momentum with its fusion of styles between classic American automotive design and the latest in aerodynamic, European-inspired camping trailers. The company said there will also be a variety of Ever-Lite floorplans.
The 4th Annual Elkhart County RV Open House has gained another strong national player with the announcement today (July 22) that Iowa-based Winnebago Industries Inc. will show both towable and motorized product Sept 20-22 at a leased slot on County Road 6 on the north side of Elkhart – strategically located on the south side of C.R. 6 between the exhibits of Forest River Inc. and Thor Industries Inc.
“We’ve attained a higher visibility in the Elkhart area with the purchase (in late 2010) of SunnyBrook (SunnyBrook Manufacturing Inc., Middlebury, Ind.),” Winnebago Director of Marketing Chad Reece told RVBUSINESS.com. “So, this year, in correlation with the other events that are going on in Elkhart, we are going to conduct an open house also, and we are going to do it in Elkhart. We’ve got space right on the corner of County Roads 6 & 113 – 53000 Decio Drive — just down the street from the Hall of Fame.”
Elkhart-based Forest River’s exhibits will be located both inside and outside its newly acquired Dynamax Corp. plant to the west of Winnebago’s open house slot, while Jackson Center, Ohio-based Thor will be located to the east in an industrial park on the grounds of the RV/MH Heritage Foundation Inc.’s RV/MH Hall of Fame.
And word is that the Forest River and Thor will be running a shuttle between the two displays this time around.
The significance here for Winnebago, Reece points out, is not only the fact that the Iowa motorhome builder is throwing its hat into the emerging open house, but that it will also be Winnebago’s first full fledged showing of both towable and motorized product since its recent diversification move.
“We’ll have a nice presentation of the SunnyBrook product because we’ve been doing a lot of work revamping that,” said Reece. “And then we’ll also be showing the Winnebago towable product lines. And it will be kind of a first opportunity for the dealer network to see that all at once. And also we’ll be bringing key motorized product out, too. So, it will be a full corporate representation for us of towables and motorized. And that’s kind of exciting for us, too, you know, the first time that we’re kind of bringing the whole family of products together at one setting like that.
“It’s our first event in the area there, and we think it will be a pretty good opportunity to bring all of our dealers in for an open house event.”
Before all is said and done, RVBUSINESS.com has learned, a few other surprise manufacturing participants will be announcing open house plans.