Based on customer sentiment and buying patterns, it looks to be a very good year for the RV industry, according to KZ RV LP dealers who saw encouraging activity during this winter’s RV shows.
In a press release from Shipshewana, Ind.-based KZ, dealers reported that show attendance was up and sales were “very pleasantly way up,” said John Gajewski, sales manager of King’s Campers in Wausau, Wis. “We almost doubled our record attendance at our open house, which we’ve had on the same weekend for the last 16 years,” he said. “We got maybe 6,000 people coming through over four days.”
John Petrie, president of Niagara Trailers in St. Davids, Ontario, had similar experiences. “Our first show, we had an 87% rise in unit sales over last year,” he said, noting that the Sportsmen Classic, Spree Escape and Coyote travel trailers by KZ did very well at his dealership’s three shows. But what surprised him was how well the bigger fifth-wheels were received.
“Fifth-wheels are definitely popular right now, particularly the Durango and StoneRidge, and there was lots more toy hauler activity,” Petrie said. “This season what’s doing really well is KZ’s 40th anniversary units.”
The release stated that the anniversary units “bring back some classic features of KZ’s historically successful RVs with contemporary presentation and technology.”
In addition, the “show stopper” models, fashioned and priced specifically for dealers to use at winter shows, found success at Niagara Trailers.
“The big thing that hit the market for us was the KZ show stoppers. Before, we only sold four the whole season. This year, we sold nine just during the first show. They seemed to really take off,” said Petrie. “KZ has lots more awareness in Ontario now. They’re a family owned company so they can make decisions about how to make what sells based on feedback from the dealers, and that really helps.”
Both dealers found an overall increase this winter in buyers new to RVing. “Maybe 30% of our customers were new buyers, which is a very nice number,” Gajewski said. “These shows definitely show us getting a good chunk of new customers.”
“There was an increase in purchases by people who are all new to RVing, but ironically we also had more trade-ins than before,” said Petrie. “These are people who used to be into RVing and are now coming back in, which is the opposite of the last two years.”
Whatever features and floorplans customers seek out, the recession-era shift to offering more for less in order to keep business flowing has made an impression on customer expectations. “What people really want is more amenities for less money, to be frank,” Gajewski said, and Petrie agreed: “As far as features, most RVs come with so many features in the package anymore, it’s almost the expected now.”
According to KZ, gas prices don’t seem to be dampening enthusiasm. “Customer attitude this year is surprisingly good. You don’t hear gas comments as much any more. It hasn’t been a focus,” Gajewski reported.
Petrie added, “There’s been no negativity about gas prices, interest rates, job loss, any of that. This year the weather in Ontario has been phenomenal. Traffic is higher at our shows and our dealership. Everything at this point looks like 2012 will be a very good year.”
Positive is the word that best describes the mood at the 48th Annual acNational RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.
More than 300 manufacturers, suppliers and support companies have gathered here for the annual exchange of commerce. Deals are made, sales goals are either met or lowered and new business relationships are formed. In a nutshell, this is where the RV industry’s heartbeat is, The Goshen (Ind.) News reported.
After a depressing, recession-wracked show in 2008 and a so-so show last year, dealers and manufacturers are all positive this year as sales and interest in RVs are rebounding.
“So far it is going very well. I have seen some interesting new products,” said Scott Vande Kieft, a dealer for Wholesale Trailer Sales in Lynden, Wash.
He said his customers “are very cautious,” but he sells the fun that RVs bring to a family
“Even in a down economy, it is still very dificult to take away their vacation time,” he said. “They still like to have their fun.”
Vande Kieft was studying the floorplans offered for a Keystone RV Co. trailer made in Goshen. A few feet away Bob Martin, president of the company, was greeting dealers.
“It has been going very well, very busy. The traffic has been strong,” Martin said. At the time most all the Keystone sales staff were paired up with potential buyers.
Martin said the increase in dealer interest, coupled with an increase in financiing available to dealers, is encouraging.
“All these signs are great indicators of better days to come,” Martin said.
RV sales are 43% higher nationwide, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), which is hosting the show. That sales increase has eased the unemployment rate in Elkhart County, which jumped to about 17% percent during the recession. Martin said that in the past year Keystone RV has hired back about 1,000 workers.
“We are gearing up for a great year (2011),” Martin said.
Keystone is a big player in the towables market, and at the show the company has 50 units on display over 35,000 square feet of floorspace. The staff at the show numbers about 80.
Keystone’s Montana fifth-wheel, which is made in Goshen, has been the No. 1 selling fifth-wheel for 10 years running.
“Orders received have ben very strong for the Montana line,” Martin said. A few changes have been made in Keystones lineup, both in architecture and interiors. “Dealers always want to see some changes because that gives customers a reason to buy,” Martin said.
Keystone is investing $2 million in a new building at its Goshen complex to manufacture its Laredo line. That factory should be finished in February, Martin said.
Altogether, Keystone has 3,000 employees (2,700 in Goshen) and 16 production facilities.
Just down the aisle from Keystone’s massive display was Riverside RV’s display. The small company had four trailers on display and one pickup camper. Angled to get the corner view of passing dealers was the company’s new White River Retro trailer. And it was drawing in most every dealer who passed by.
The Retro is designed to look like a 1960s towable. The interior has a bed, a convertible dinnette, a stove, sink and portable toilet hidden in a cabinet.
“We are very happy with it. Very happy,” said Bob Taulbee, a Riverside salesman.
And the show is going well for the LaGrange, Ind., company.
“Because of the Retro, it has been busier than in the past. The Retro is drawing a lot of people over here,” he said.
The Retro was introduced at the show. It weighs 1,700 pounds and is 14.5 feet long and because of its lightness, can be pulled by smaller cars and sport utility vehicles.
“I got the feedback from the dealers as what they wanted and our people put it together,” Taulbee said. “The bulk of what we do comes from dealer feedback.”
Another LaGrange County company, KZ RV LLP, was also offering new products. Andy Baer, vice president of sales and marketing, was busy showing off the new, elaborate outside kitchen offered on the Stoneridge fifth-wheel. The stainless steel kitchen features an infrared grill, work area and sink, all covered with an awning in case it rains during tailgating.
KZ also was offering a new lightweight trailer, the Spree Escape. It weighs 2,200 pounds and is designed to be towed by smaller vehicles, according to Baer.
Baer said KZ has had a good year and he is expecting the trend to continue. “The outlook is very positive,” Baer said.
Part of maintaining good sales is staying in touch with consumer trends. And Baer, like other sales people at the show, knows consumers are doing more research on products before they spend money.
“You don’t have to buy the cheapest necessarily, but you want to do your homework and get value for your dollar,” he said.
Taking a break near the KZ booth to study his map of the massive exhibit area, Steven Minghenelli of Sewell, N.J., was looking for diesel RV manufacturers.
“It’s a great show, very informative and there is a lot of product being displayed here. And it seems like it is busy,” Minghenelli said. As for his dealership’s businesss, Minghenelli said sales are improving.
“We are a diesel dealer and there is a lot of diesel displayed here, which is great for us,” he said. “And the diesel market is coming back strong, which is great for us.”
The National RV Trade Show runs through today.
The Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association of Canada (RVDA of Canada) has released the results of its 2008 Warranty and Parts Survey.
The trade group had 97 dealers, nationally, respond to the survey, which examined warranty and labor rates, warranty parts and handling as well as rated manufacturers in terms of their overall support, according to the association’s current newsletter.
In the manufacturer ratings, KZ RV LP, Shipshewana, Ind., got the top score, 82.4, out of 100. Jayco Inc., Middlebury, Ind., was second with a rating of 78.8, while Carriage Inc. of Millersburg, Ind., was third with 76.9.
Rounding out the top 10 were Crossroads RV, Topeka, Ind.; Pleasure-Way Industries Ltd., Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Monaco Coach Corp., Coburg, Ore.; Cruiser RV LLC, Howe, Ind.; Coachmen Industries Inc., Middlebury, Ind.; Fleetwood Folding Trailers, Somerset, Pa.; and General Coach West, Oliver, British Columbia.
KZ, Pleasure-Way and General Coach West were the only three firms to rank among the top 10 in all four recent survey years (2008, 2006, 2005 and 2003).
Among the other findings:
- The average hourly warranty labor rate varied from $45 to $135 with the national average at $90.16.
- The average retail shop rate was $92.50 per hour with a range between $45 and $130.
- Warranty parts and handling allowances ranged from 0% to 100% with the national average at 17.2%.
- The average parts margin nationally was 37.4%, with a range of 0% to 75%.
- The number of technicians varied from one to 16 with the average of five per shop.
Most manufacturers give a handling allowance or mark-up for warranty parts. The majority of manufacturers gave allowances ranging between 10% and 40%.
Dealers also were asked to rate (with 100 tops) the following categories:
- Ease of completing the claims, 64%.
- Approval of warranty claims, 67%.
- Flat rate time allowances, 56%.
- Parts availability and supply, 64%.
- Overall support, 69%.
- Promptness of payment, 65%.
The recent survey had an overall satisfaction of 64.1%, which is higher than the 2006 survey, which received a satisfaction rating of 63.3%.