ELKHART — A grassy area filled with RVs is not an unusual sight in Elkhart. But as several units were positioned Wednesday morning next to the RV/MH Hall of Fame, a lot more than locally made products were visible.
There among the motorhomes, travel trailers and fifth wheels were signs of an industry returning to normal. Area dealerships are healthy enough to organize and finance a show on their own and the Hall of Fame is realizing its vision of becoming a favored place for events.
The Elkhart Dealers on the Road retail show will run Friday through Sunday at the RV/MH Hall of Fame & Museum. Four dealers — International RV, Great Lakes RV, Wana RV Center and Nexus RV — will be displaying more than 100 RVs ranging in price from $5,000 to $500,000.
Just less than two years ago, local RV retailers had to rely on a $40,000 appropriation from the Elkhart City Council to help revive the Midwest RV Super Show. Now, their sales are surging and the quartet of dealers is pooling its money to not only fund this weekend’s show but also to forego an admission price and let people come for free to see what’s new and what’s available.
“All signs are that it’s going to continue,” Dave Titus, president of International RV, said of the turnaround in sales. “There’s nothing on the horizon that’s going to choke the money off.”
A PERFECT VENUE
Although this will be the first RV retail show staged at the Hall of Fame, the idea of hosting RV, boat and even auto shows has been prompted since 2011 when the organization found itself deep in a financial crisis.
The Hall has renegotiated its debt and, as president Darryl Searer said, “we control our own destiny,” but renting the indoor and outdoor space remains a key way to generate income. In particular retail shows help the nonprofit’s bottom line as well as increase the venue’s exposure to the public.
“It’s there for everybody as it relates to the recreational vehicle and manufactured housing industries,” Searer said.
The Hall’s location next to the Indiana Toll Road convinced Claude Donati to participate in this weekend’s event. His company, Nexus RV, is a combination manufacturer and dealer that makes motorhomes and then sells them directly to customers.
Throughout the year, the company displays units at major shows like the ones in Hershey, Pa.; Pomona, Calif.; and Tampa, Fla. And had this weekend’s show been placed downtown at the Civic Plaza or the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds, Donati said he would not have joined.
But being able to display adjacent to the multi-state thoroughfare makes his and his colleagues’ products visible to thousands of drivers who, seeing a bunch of RVs, may pull over for a closer look.
Moreover, the 25 acres beside the Hall of Fame was made even more attractive by the refurbishment Thor Industries did in preparation for its own show during RV dealer week last September. Ten acres of grass was planted and pathways were created and covered with wood chips.
Titus said dealers had hoped the Hall of Fame would become a spot for retail and the addition of trails and grass in the open field next to the building has just made the venue more practical.
The show could see a large crowd, drawn by the free admission but the question is how many will be serious about buying an RV. Neither Titus nor Donati is worried.
Sales have been so robust since the beginning of the year that Titus has already burned through his supply of RV and he is preparing his second order when usually he would not replenish his inventory until the end of May.
Bank financing is easier to get, interest rates are low and many people have an appetite for the RV lifestyle, both Titus and Donati said. At the upcoming retail show they just want the opportunity to greet visitors and show them the units.
“If I can tell a thousand people our story this weekend, it’s worth it,” Donati said. “Ultimately they end up coming back and buying from us.”
Elkhart Dealers on the Road
What: RV retail show
When: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: RV/MH Hall of Fame & Museum, 21565 Executive Parkway
What else: adults visiting the show can tour the RV museum for the special price of $4 per person