Wednesday was opening day of the 25th Annual Fort Myers Recreation Vehicle Show at the Lee Civic Center in North Fort Myers, Fla.
Besides RV dealers, about 100 vendors will be displaying equipment and accessories, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Kathie Eppers, co-owner with her husband, Skip, of Skip Eppers RVs in Punta Gorda, was busy Wednesday setting up the roughly 19 RVs they have on display.
There’s something for everyone at the show, she said — everything from towable units for young couples to go camping on up to fancy large-scale motorhomes with washers, dryers, tile floors and granite kitchen counters.
This is the busiest time in the industry in Southwest Florida, said Eppers, who noted she’s been coming to the show for the past 20 years.
Also setting up at a booth inside the civic center was Jack Murray, a manager of Camp Hatteras RV Resort, an oceanfront park in Rodanthe, N.C.
The remote location is accessible only by bridge or ferry and features units as close as 50 feet to the Atlantic, he said.
Now is the off-season but he expects a lot of interest from Floridians planning their summer trips, Murray said.
The Fort Myers show is presented by the Florida Recreation Vehicle Trade Association (FRVTA), whose Florida RV SuperShow in Tampa last week reported a 12% increase in attendance compared to 2009.
A new loan guarantee is drawing praise from Southwest Florida boat and recreational vehicle dealers.
The Small Business Administration-backed floorplan financing program will be available July 1 through Sept. 30 of next year. It’s available to new car dealers as well as RV and boat retailers who meet certain criteria, according to Tallahassee.com.
“Our industry needs a shot in the arm. … The timing could be almost perfect,” said Tom Hansen, boat dealer and president of Southwest Florida Marine Industries Association.
Floorplan financing is a line of credit that allows dealers to borrow against their inventory, and then repay that debt as they sell their inventory.
Area boat dealers generally order new product in late summer and early fall, Hansen said. However, traditional sources of this financing have curtailed credit lines in recent months. Some have cut off dealers outright.
That doesn’t surprise Tom Nichols, owner of Bonita Boat Center in Bonita Springs: “Most of them, just like the banks, have been hit hard by repos and defaults.”
GE Capital, a mainstay of many local boat dealers, “raised the rates significantly, and the terms have become more stringent,” said Hansen, who’s general manager for the company that owns The Boat House at Boater’s World in Cape Coral.
A similar credit crunch hit RV dealers.
Last December and January, it was impossible to obtain new inventory “unless it was a special order and you had the money from the customer.” said Kathie Eppers, vice president of Skip Eppers RVs, a Punta Gorda dealership. She said things have eased up since then.
Nationally, RV manufacturers shipped out 237,000 units in 2008, down nearly 33% percent from 2007, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
The trade group attributes the decline to the tightest credit conditions in several decades, higher interest rates, falling household wealth, slower growth in real incomes and the crisis in consumer confidence.
On a more positive note, the RV association is encouraged by the Obama administration’s overall economic stimulus plan.
SBA-backed floorplan financing could help boat dealers, provided banks make loans to qualified consumers, Nichols said, noting: “Why would the dealer want to go through extra product he can’t sell?”
Across America, sales of new boats were down 30% last year and could fall another 20% this year, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
But as summer approaches, some dealers and others in the industry are upbeat, citing low gas prices, plentiful bargains, low interest rates and an uptick in showroom traffic.
Even in Southwest Florida, where buyer demand fell hard in the wake of real estate and construction industry troubles, “I’m seeing a small glimmer of recovery,” Nichols said, adding:
“There are still people who were not devastated by the real estate bubble, who still want to have some fun and enjoy paradise.”