Officials hope return of RV show, after a year off, sends message that industry is back

By Tom Coyne, AP
Friday, August 13, 2010

Officials hope RV show is a sign industry is back

ELKHART, Ind. — The Midwest RV Super Show is back after plummeting sales forced it to take a year off, and its director hopes that sends a message that the recreation vehicle industry is on the move again as well.

Things have improved steadily since last year, when the show — held in northern Indiana for 54 straight years — was canceled because people weren’t buying RVs. The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association reports that through the first six months of this year, sales are up more than 87 percent over 2009.

Mark Bowersox, executive director of the Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council and director of the super show, says RV sales are a reflection of consumer confidence. He says people are buying RVs again because they are feeling better about the economy.

“We’re making a statement that the RV industry is still around and it’s still a viable product,” he said of this year’s three-day event in downtown Elkhart.

RV sales plunged last year because of the recession and the credit crisis. The RVIA, the industry’s main trade group, reported that 165,700 RVs were shipped to dealers in 2009, down about 30 percent from the year before and down sharply from the record 390,500 shipped in 2006.

That hit hard in Elkhart County, which bills itself as the RV capital of the world. As RV factories shut down and cut back, thousands lost their jobs. Unemployment in the county spiked in March 2009 to 18.9 percent. Things got so bad that President Barack Obama made two stops in 2009 to tout his stimulus plan.

“When the economy gets bad or you feel uncomfortable with your financial situation, that’s really the first thing you’re going to do is stop putting money into luxury, discretionary kinds of purchases,” Bowersox said. “Conversely, when you feel better about your financial future and you’ve had everything tightened down for a while, that’s the time people will break loose and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to treat myself.’”

Now, the RVIA reports that shipments of RVs have been up for 10 straight months. The group’s president, Richard Coon, said part of the reason is pent-up demand and people feeling a bit more secure in their jobs.

“I’m having one of my best years, personally,” said David Miklik, an RV salesman for Camp-Land RV in Burns Harbor, about 75 miles west of Elkhart.

He had not yet sold any RVs in the opening hours of the show Friday, but said people who are serious about buying frequently wait until Sunday to make purchases.

Traffic was steady Friday at the show, where visitors can get a look at everything from small travel trailers that can be pulled by small cars to large luxury motorhomes with price tags in the $200,000 range.

Several attendees said Friday that they were more likely to buy now because they feel more comfortable about their economic outlook than a year ago. When Jeff Craig, a retiree from Jackson, Calif., was asked what made him more likely to buy now, he answered simply: “Stock prices.”

Still, he didn’t expect to buy an RV this weekend. Others also said that while they are closer to buying, they are still not sure they are ready.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty right now,” said John Nok, an insurance agent from Granger, northeast of South Bend, who was looking at motorhomes with his wife and their 6-year-old son. “You don’t know how stable your income is going to be. There’s a lot of question marks right now.”

Still, he said after toying with the idea for a year or two, they are looking more seriously now.

“But we haven’t put any money down,” he said. “I don’t make real rash decisions.”

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