With the RV industry in the early stages of recovery from the Great Recession of 2008-09, the 47th Annual National RV Trade Show kicks off Dec. 1 as a somewhat smaller, yet still substantial industry showcase at the Kentucky Exposition Center (KEC) in Louisville. And the general consensus among many industry insiders is that the RV sector’s improving prospects will shed a positive light on the entire sequence of trade-only events in the Ohio River city of Louisville.
And that’s a real switch from the atmosphere most had expected only a few months ago.
“I’m thinking it’s going to be a good show,” said Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) Chairman Jim Sheldon, a Monaco RV LLC executive. ‘”There are enough things going on that indicate it will definitely be better than last year when the Louisville Show was right on the heels of the national financial crisis.
“At that time, we were in a tailspin,” he added. “Now we know what we are dealing with. And there are a number of positive signs I see in the economy: The stock market and home sales are up and there has been a reduction in the number of job losses.”
The viewpoint that the RV industry is turning the corner on the recession is currently shared by RVIA’s Robert M. “Mac” Bryan, vice president of administration, who tracks industry wholesale shipments. “Things definitely are improving,” Bryan told RVBusiness. “The marketplace is much more optimistic and that goes beyond saying ‘It’s improved.’ We have to see the opportunity for growth before growth occurs. I think that’s where we are in the cycle.”
To make his point, Bryan noted that had shipments stayed at the same level for the entire year that they were in January, dealers would have ordered fewer that 100,000 RVs in 2009. In August, the first month in two years that shipments were higher than the same month the year prior, however, the annualized rate had climbed to more than 200,000.
In September, Richard Curtin, director of consumer surveys at the University of Michigan, predicted that 146,200 units would be shipped this year, an estimate that Bryan said would be revised shortly before the Louisville Show.
“I can already see that we likely will outperform (Curtin’s June) forecast,” Bryan said, adding that Curtin is also likely to revise upward his 2010 estimate of 185,000 total shipments. “My guess is that the new forecast will be a positive expression of the optimism we see in the marketplace for 2010.”
That said, the 602,807 square feet of space booked for the upcoming Louisville Show is 35% less than last year, which, of course, called for the show to be reconfigured without the use of the entire West Wing.
”It will certainly be a change from what people are used to,” said Mary “Mike” Hutya, RVIA vice president of meetings and shows. She said that OEM and supplier displays will be located in the KEC’s North and South wings, and that park model manufacturers will be dispersed among the regular exhibits and not segregated in Broadbent Arena as they were in the past.
Thor Industries Inc. has booked the largest amount of floor space for this year’s show, a total of 90,000 square fee. That includes 30,000 square feet for its Elkhart, Ind.-based Keystone RV Co. division plus another 60,000 square feet for the rest of Thor’s RV-building subsidiaries. The RV industry’s No. 2 manufacturer, Forest River Inc., Elkhart, Ind., has reserved 60,000 square feet.
Most of the supplier booths also will be located in the North and South wing hallways and atrium. There will be no supplier booths on the floor of Freedom Hall, where the Louisville Cardinals play basketball.
Early registrations, Hutya said, also indicate that fewer people will attend. Total show attendance last year was 8,427 — 2,934 of them registered as dealers or dealer representatives. ”My guess is that would be about 5% fewer this year,” Hutya said. ”I hope we get more, but I’m seeing the advance registrations.”
Keeping with tradition, the show kicks off Tuesday (Dec. 1) with the annual Outlook Breakfast — ”Outlook 2010: Let the Sun Shine” — with a lineup of substantial presentations that will communicate a strong message of optimism as the industry moves toward recovery, according to an RVIA.
The free event, coordinated annually by RVIA Chief Marketing Officer and Vice President Gary LaBella, begins way early — 6:45 a.m. — with a complimentary sit-down breakfast in the KEC’s South Wing Mezzanine Ballroom. Despite the lowered expectations for general show registrations this year, more than 1,000 attendees are expected to show up for ”Outlook 2010.” Lines form well before the doors open.
With Sheldon serving as host, ”Outlook 2010” will feature RVIA President Richard Coon’s thoughts on how RVIA has helped the industry weather the storm and prepare for the future. “Americans still love our products, and the forecast is for market growth in the upcoming year,” Coon said in RVIA’s release previewing the breakfast. “(The) show will help speed us along the road to recovery.”
In a segment of the breakfast dedicated to the all-industry Go RVing Coalition called “Spreading Sunshine in `09 and Beyond,” Go RVing co-Chairmen Dicky Riegel, CEO of Thor Industries Inc., and dealer Tom Stinnett, owner of Tom Stinnett’s R.V. Freedom Center in Clarksville, Ind., will be joined by RVIA’s LaBella to emphasize how in their view the Go RVing market expansion campaign promoted consumer demand in 2009.
Although Go RVing spending has been curtailed due to reduced RV shipments in 2009, the core mission of the Go RVing Coalition has been retained and the trio of Riegel, Stinnett and LaBella will unveil revised television spots and website content scheduled for launch early next year as confirmation of that fact.
Following the Go RVing presentation, RVIA Public Relations Committee Chairman B.J. Thompson of BJ Thompson Associates, Mishawaka, Ind., will team with LaBella to review the association’s public relations program “that garnered substantial positive publicity in 2009 despite the year’s gloomy news environment.”
RVIA, by the same token, is hosting an RV Centennial booth at the show at which specifics regarding the industry’s upcoming 100th anniversary will be presented.
Other speakers will be named at a later date.
Meanwhile, from 2:30 to 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 30, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel (formerly the Executive West Hotel) across from the KEC, the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) Foundation Inc. will sponsor a special workshop on customer service by coach, consultant and author Michael Duke.
”Michael Duke is a great choice for this year’s workshop because dealers are saying they are starting to feel an end to the current downsizing in the market” said RVDA Foundation Chairman Rick Horsey of Parkview RV Center, Smyrna, Del. ”His message of building a culture of service will help dealers continue to rise to the challenges they will face as the RV industry recovers.”
During the show, several suppliers will sponsor free seminars focusing on their products, including:
- 1 p.m.: Systems 2000 Inc.
- 2:30 p.m.: RV Web Service
- 4 p.m.: SHURflo
- 9:30 a.m.: Channel Blade/ARI
- 11 a.m.: Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp./Cummins
- 2 p.m.: ADP Lightspeed
- 3:30 p.m.: Parallax Power Supply
- 10 a.m.: Coach-Net
- 11:30 a.m.: Titan International