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Signs Point Upward at Original Iowa RV Show

February 5, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Rosemary Stellinga stood in the kitchen/dining room/main living area of a Winnebago Journey 40L on Thursday (Feb. 4) at the Original Iowa RV Show and pondered the possibilities. 
 
She was perhaps saying good-bye to the snow and ice and instead eyeing winters on warm roads with her husband, Jerry, who recently retired after 35 years in the Hy-Vee meat department in Spirit Lake, Iowa, according to the Des Moines Register.

The $255,925 motor home, marked down to $197,954 for the recreational vehicle show that runs through Sunday at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, is nice, both Stellingas acknowledged. But it’s also kind of big.

”I’m still not convinced,” Rosemary said. “I can’t imagine taking this through town.”

Plenty of people apparently can.

An estimated 15,000 people are expected to file through the Varied Industries Building this weekend to look at vehicles, from massive motor homes to 12-foot towable trailers. Industry officials and stock analysts said the once-ravaged RV business is still a long way from its 2004 peak. But signs continue to point skyward, at least slightly, after a disastrous 2008 and early 2009.

Statistics from the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association show wholesale shipments of RVs peaked at 390,500 in 2004, then fell 59 % to about 159,500 in the next five years.

Shipments in December from manufacturers to dealers were up 150 % compared with December 2008, according to a report from analysts R.W. Baird & Co. last week. Industry numbers predict deliveries will grow nearly 28 % this year, from 159,500 last year to 203,500 in 2010.

“Our sales are up probably up 20 % over the last year and a half, but it’s all in the $10,000 to $50,000 stuff,” said Ed Garner, organizer of this weekend’s trade show and owner of Autorama RV in Des Moines. “We’re seeing a lot of farmers buy them, a lot of families with kids.”

Ryan Roske, a district sales manager for RV maker Winnebago Industries Inc,, Forest City, Iowa, said he’s seeing renewed demand both at the cheaper end of Winnebago’s product line and at the most expensive. Affluent but formerly cautious retirees have begun to show interest again, now that the economy looks more stable, he said, while many midrange customers seem to be dropping down to the smaller end of Winnebago’s offerings.

“What we’ve been seeing recently is that the high end is doing very well and the low end, but it’s the middle of the road” that’s weakest, Roske said.

The mostly gray-haired crowd shopping Thursday professed to be looking for value.

Russell and Iris Kelley of Scranton purchased a 27-foot Cougar fifth wheel to replace one with a leaky roof that they frequently use for extended visits with family in Texas. The couple said they enjoy being able to pack and move as they please.

“We’re not hotel-motel people,” Iris Kelley said.

Meanwhile, former RV owners Leanna and Patrick Rist were looking for a way to tour the country during Iowa winters, now that they’ve entered retirement.

“That’s the only way you can see America, really, is by doing that,” Leanna Rist said. “We like to go down the road.”

Garner, who sells relatively few motor homes, said the vast majority of his business continues to be driven by people seeking to make a long-term investment in a camping lifestyle. Garner said towable trailers can be easily driven to the lake, where the only cost for a family vacation is for a campsite rental and some hot dogs: “Where else can you entertain your kids for $24 for the weekend?”

Garner, one of seven RV dealers with merchandise at the trade show, said the group combined likely will sell around 100 vehicles this weekend.

But not to the Stellingas, who still want to test vehicles a bit. They’re leaving soon to spend a few weeks in Texas with a mobile home they’re renting from some people in Canada.

Will they be back for the next trade show?

“We’ll see,” Jerry Stellinga said.

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