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Louisville: Let’s Go On With The Show!

“There’s no business like show business like no business I know
Everything about it is appealing; everything that traffic will allow…”

“There’s no people like show people, they smile when they are low;
Even with a turkey that you know will fold, you may be stranded out in the cold
Still you wouldn’t change it for a sack of gold, let’s go on with the show…”

Irving Berlin

With only one exception in the excerpts above, who would have ever guessed that Irving Berlin could have written words and a tune for a 1950’s-era musical that so closely reflect where the recreational vehicle business and its national trade association — the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) — stands today with regard to the trade group’s Louisville Show?

The exception in question is the reference to “a sack of gold.”

As we all know, shows come and go, but gold lasts a lifetime and more — and always determines the outcome. And, as we have all seen, not only do shows come and go in an array of different industries, but their very nature shifts substantially as the needs of the industry and the general economy shift in all directions. Having been in the business myself almost 45 years in varying capacities, I can attest to the changes that have occurred.

The South Bend Show at Notre Dame used to be a very important trade-only event for OEMs and dealers alike, as were the Pennsylvania and RVIA Dodger Stadium shows. Today, the South Bend Show — through which so many of us sweltered for years in the August heat — is long gone, and the Pennsylvania and Pomona Shows are basically retail venues. And for those of you who go back a ways, whatever happened to the RVIA Supplier Show?

Yep, it was gone with the wind decades ago.

These changes were, of course, due primarily to the proverbial “sack of gold” inevitably determining the outcome, one way or another. It has always been the return on investment — in tangible and intangible ways — that has shifted the very nature and existence of these annual show-going institutions. By counting the products sold, dealers signed and by reviewing dealers and OEMs’ perceptions, decisions were made — and show business changed.

Then there’s the faithful Louisville Show, which will mark its 51st edition this year. The Kentucky Exposition Center, where it’s been held for a long time (with the exception of one year in the 1980s when the industry tested the waters in Atlanta), had to expand and expand and expand or, by golly, risk the loss of the show and the revenue that comes with it. And now we have been unable to fill the massive space available in Louisville for several years.

There are many reasons for this, including the effects of massive consolidations, economic pitfalls, lagging consumer and business confidence and — could it be? — the growing impact of Elkhart’s County’s Annual RV Open House Week. Yes, could it be that Pete Liegl is a bloody genius?

The Elkhart Open House, an idea spawned in 2009 by Liegl, Forest River Inc.’s president and CEO, is an invigorating idea that is timed near perfectly to fill the sales books for the last quarter of the year. It is delightfully informal, with every OEM setting the table in a fashion that suits their aspirations and needs. There are no rules and they report only to themselves. And, it is right in their own back yard. Dealers can see and visit the plant(s) and get up close and personal.

How beautiful is that?

Looking a little closer at Louisville, there is a tremendous amount of history and tradition at work. It is an established show in a world-class venue in a wonderful city close to the heart of the industry. And the best part of Louisville is it appears to be timed perfectly to fill those same sales books for the first quarter of the next year. This show is certainly structured the same for all and offers a more orderly approach to trade shows with a more level playing field for all exhibitors. So, each year the industry moves in lockstep as it heads across the Ohio River to Louisville.

I, for one, think these two events are totally complimentary — but it matters not what I think or what RVIA, RVDA or any individual or group thinks. The absolute key to the future of Louisville and the Elkhart Open House is what the dealers think. After all, the dealer is THE CUSTOMER.

The dealers will ultimately decide the fate and the future of these events by, in effect, voting with their feet and their pocketbooks. The OEMs will run the tally by counting their sacks of gold and decisions will be made.

Are these events mutually inclusive or mutually exclusive? Will it be the LOUISVILLE SHOW, the ELKHART OPEN HOUSE, or both? The answer truly remains only in the future.

So, Let’s Go On With The Show!!