Wall to wall motorhomes, travel trailers, boats, golf carts and all-terrain vehicles filled the Peoria Civic Center for the 29th Annual Central Illinois Recreational Show in Peoria, Ill., which concluded on Sunday (March 6), the Peoria Journal Star reported.
“We’re pretty proud of covering the entire umbrella of outdoor shows, and we pride ourselves on being a family show,” said Denny Johnston, show coordinator for Events Ltd. “As the economy has gotten tighter, this business just keeps opening up. A guy doesn’t want to spend all his money at a hotel. He wants to go out with his family and not have to spend a ton of money.”
Johnston says that although he thinks that the economy has led many people to pursue cheaper options for family vacations, another reason behind the high number of people looking for RVs may be for the relationships that develop among people who see each other at campsites in the area.
“Some of these campgrounds that you can go to are like resorts,” Johnston said. “There’s pools and hot tubs and all that you would want. Some people ask, is it a lifestyle? Yes, it’s a lifestyle. If you go to a hotel and you get in the elevator and go up to your room and see another couple, I’d bet you $5 that they don’t say ‘hello’ to you. It’s kind of a throwback to the old ‘take care of your neighbor and watch the kids’ ways. Because of that, they call it the RV community.”
Many of the dealers at the show also spoke about customers wanting to save money by taking vacations without having to pay for everything from hotel bills to restaurants and entertainment.
“People just want to be able to get away for a couple of days,” said Darcy Rigsby of Pontiac RV. “We have seen our business go up despite the increase of gas prices. That wasn’t the case a couple of years ago. Now, people are coming out and getting RVs. The thing is that people are coming in and trading for newer models all the time.”
The appeal of instant escape from life at home seems to be a real draw for people looking at the options at the show.
“Every weekend is a vacation,” said Dave Peddicord of Spring Valley, who is looking to upgrade from an 18-foot motorhome to a 30-foot model. “You can get away from your house and your work and your phone. . . . We’re probably at the campground 38 weekends of the year. It’s a weekend getaway.”
Of course, one big draw for people at the show may just be finally shaking off the winter blues.
“People have spring fever,” Johnston said. “We’re all just ready to get outside.”
Pontiac RV in Pontiac, Ill., sells vehicles that can cost as much as a house, with a gas tank that can cost $200 or more to fill. Despite that, it has managed to thrive in the current recession, recently completing a 40% expansion, according to the Bloomington (Ill.) Pantagraph.
The growth means the dealership, located north of Pontiac off of Illinois 23, is now the largest recreational vehicle facility in the state.
Kent Kafer, who co-owns the facility with siblings Kevin Kafer and Courtney Farrell, said that the expansion was also a means of helping the business and its employees during the economic downturn.
“One of the things that started the whole process was with the economy slowing down, we had a meeting with our employees and determined that we were going to do everything possible to help keep our people,” Kafer said.
The three-month project to add a retail parts and accessories store kept the staff of 45 busy, said Kafer, and none were laid off.
Pontiac RV has been in business since 1979 and was started by the siblings’ parents, Ken and Gail Kafer. As avid campers and travelers, the Kafers started the business with just a few units. It now has 200 to 300 new and used units available from 25 different brands. Prices range from $1,500 to $190,000 Kafer said.
He said the RV industry was hit hard by the recession that began in 2007, with sales off 20% and some manufacturers forced to close.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen, and we took it day by day,” he said. “One of the things we did was to take control over our inventory. We were never really concerned that we would close because it’s a family-owned business and we don’t live really high.”
Despite slower sales, Pontiac RV was still responsible for one of every 10 units sold in Illinois last year, Kafer said.
“One of the things that has helped us is that we are now seeing a large group of Baby Boomers who are now retiring or taking early retirement, and their ambition or dream is to now travel,” he said. “We also get a lot of repeat business from the same customers who continue to come back.”
Local business officials said that the dealership has been a staple to the area.
“Pontiac RV is a great asset to Pontiac and we are very fortunate to have them here,” said Cheri Lambert, president and CEO of the Pontiac Area Chamber of Commerce. “We are really excited that they were able to utilize their employees rather than letting them go.”
Pontiac RV was recognized in 2009 as an RV Business Top 50 Dealer.