Watch today’s Featured Video courtesy of WSBT-TV, South Bend, Ind., about the following story.
It used to be a huge event for the RV industry at the Elkhart County Fairgrounds in Goshen, Ind., every summer, but last year it was canceled due to the economy. Now it looks like the Midwest RV Super Show is making a comeback, of sorts, this year.
Organizers are hoping to hold a smaller show in August at the downtown Civic Plaza. The city of Elkhart is working with a statewide RV organization to make it happen.
Some RV dealers in the Elkhart area say they are noticing a turnaround in business, and that sales are beginning to pick up compared to a year ago. There are not as many RV dealers right now as there were two years ago, but the existing dealers want to get the word out about their product line.
That’s what the city and the Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council (RVIC) want to do, so they’re teaming up for an RV show to accomplish that.
“It’s not news to anybody that the RV industry has been in a bit of a downturn recently, but things are coming back, especially at the manufacturing level,” said RVIC Director Mark Bowersox. “We want to get the message out there that Elkhart is still the RV capital, and so there will be dealers from the city of Elkhart as well as the surrounding county, and really a lot of product that is made here locally.”
“I can feel the good times coming back,” said Hank Schrock, an Elkhart RV dealer. “It’s starting to come back this spring, and we are looking forward to doing some more shows.”
Plans call for the show to be held for three days, Aug. 13-15. The city says it has the potential to attract 8,000 people to the downtown area.
The decision on whether the 55th annual Midwest RV Super Show and Rally will take place remains up in the air.
Reports of its cancellation were incorrect, said Mark Bowersox, director of the Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council, according to The South Bend (Ind.) Tribune.
“It was postponed,” he said. The show is currently slated for Sept. 17-20 at the Elkhart County Fairgrounds in Goshen, Bowersox said. The RVIC board of governors will decide if the show will go on.
“Right now what we are doing is playing for time,” Bowersox said. “There are certain industry and economic indicators we are looking at that need to improve between now and then for that show to happen.” But some of those factors are already improving, Bowersox said.
“The industry is rebounding in the lightweight and towable markets,” he said. “The stock market, the growth of the last week or 10 days not withstanding, is starting to come back from where it was last year. And consumer confidence, we believe, is starting to rebound as well.”
Bowersox said a decision will have to be made by mid-August and might be made sooner.
“We want to have the show,” he said. “We think it’s good for that area and the industry, but we need to see growth in those areas.” Two years ago about 7,500 people showed up to look at products from 22 RV retailers that represented 80 different product lines.
Last year retailers and crowd numbers “were off,” Bowersox said.
“And that’s a case of economic factors around the country and their impact on the RV industry,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with the product, per se,” he added.
“We believe it’s a good, reliable product, and at a good price point. The unfortunate part is that it’s part of the overall American economy.
“It’s subject to consumer confidence issues not created by the RV industry.
“Financing issues, the stock market and consumer confidence are what it’s tied to. They are all outside of the RV industry, but have had a tremendous impact on the industry. The RV industry will continue to improve as those factors improve.”
The show always has been held in August in the past, and it draws regionally, Bowersox said, with some people coming from the Southeast and Eastern parts of the United States.
The show is the same show that had been held for decades on the campus at Notre Dame.
Diana Lawson, executive director of the Elkhart County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said she thought the show drew about 3,000 people a year ago at the fairgrounds.
She is unsure how it would do in September, but thinks it could do OK.
“I think if there is enough lead time to let people know that the event is going to happen, there is an opportunity for it to do the same amount of business as it did last year,” she said. “It will depend on the amount of dealers they get to participate in the show so they have enough product for people to enjoy.”
For 54 years, dealers and manufacturers in Elkhart County, the RV Capital of the World, have gathered their motorhomes and towables in a central location and opened the gates to consumers from the serious buyer to the merely curious.
Whether the Midwest RV Super Show and Rally will happen for the 55th year, however, remains in doubt, according to The Elkhart Truth.
Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council (RVIC) has canceled the August dates — the time the dealer show has been typically held — but is still considering holding the event in mid-September. Problems with wholesale lending, consumer credit and consumer confidence are dampening the market for recreational vehicle and have put the show in limbo, said Mark Bowersox, director of RVIC.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that the industry has hit bottom and we’re recovering,” he said. But the council will have to determine if the level of growth can sustain a show in the fall.
As an indication of the upheavals in the industry, Michiana RV, the former Coachmen factory store in Elkhart, and DiMartini RV, the former Monaco Coach Corp. sales lot in Wakarusa, have closed since the two dealerships participated in the 2008 Midwest show at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds.
Dealerships that are struggling would probably not be helped by the event, said Gary Miller, owner of Wana RV Center in Shipshewana.
Although sales are made, RV shows usually provide dealers will long-term leads that eventually turn into sales, he said, noting customers have walked into his showroom and bought a unit two years after they attended the Midwest show. Consequently, a dealer worried about next week’s bills will not care about delayed returns.
Hank Schrock, owner of Total Value RV in Elkhart, said having the show is “absolutely important.” Along with bringing people to town who want to buy RVs, the show injects some competition among the local dealers which, Schrock said, is healthy.
Within the next couple of weeks, RVIC hopes to make a decision about having the show in September.
Skipping the event would not tarnish the RV Capital’s image, said Diana Lawson, executive director of the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau, explaining that in today’s economy, consumers are very forgiving. In fact, having a show with few dealers and poor attendance could do more damage.
“If we can’t do at least as well as we did last year, probably the best thing to do is let it rest,” Lawson said. “Then try it when we can do a good job and do the industry proud.”
Recent local RV shows did not unveil new models as they once did but, Bowersox said, the annual event gave the customers the opportunity to see many of the latest RVs side by side from multiple manufacturers without having to drive from one dealership to another.
Since the Midwest show may not happen, Miller and Schrock are planning their own shows to lure customers and spark sales. Miller has targeted Aug. 14 and 15 while Schrock is waiting to see what the Midwest RV Super Show does before solidifying the dates for his Fall Foliage Festival.
“I don’t believe you can sit here and do nothing,” Miller said. “You have to keep moving forward and that’s what I’m doing.”