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RVIA eying open house week as new date for Louisville show

Recreation Vehicle Industry Association considers changing date of National RV Trade Show
Marilyn Odendahl
Posted on June 19, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

ELKHART — For the next two years, the National RV Trade Show will be held in Louisville, Ky., the week after Thanksgiving but starting in 2014, the dates of the industry-wide event could be changed.

The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s board of directors has given preliminary approval to a recommendation that the Louisville show move to a late September/early October time frame beginning in 2014. A final decision could come as early as July after the association learns whether the Kentucky Exposition Center can accommodate the new date and hears the advice from an industry ad hoc committee that is also examining the issue.

Gregg Fore, chairman of the RVIA, said the change was being considered to help alleviate an increasingly busy fall calendar. Retail shows in Pennsylvania and California along with the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association’s convention and the RVIA trade show cost dealers, manufacturers and suppliers time and money.

Moreover, Fore pointed out, the expense has become even greater because of the recession and because the industry is smaller with fewer dealers, less manufacturers and fewer employees.

“I think there’s a general agreement that there can be some combination that works over time that doesn’t interfere with anybody’s business plans,” he said.

The new date being considered for the Louisville show is about the same time as the annual RV Open House Week in Elkhart County. This loosely organized event by RV manufacturers attracts thousands of dealers from across the United States and Canada to the area. It sprouted, in part, because manufacturers have trouble fulfilling orders from the Louisville show in time for the early retail shows in January.

Pete Liegl, president and CEO of Forest River, kick-started the idea of an open house and as other manufacturers have piled on, it has grown into a major showcase. Some dealers have acknowledged they get what they need at the open houses so they are skipping Louisville.

When the national event is held depends on the dealers, Liegl said. Whether the retailers want December, June or some other time, that is when the trade show should be held.

However, a change in the Louisville dates does not necessarily mean an end to the open houses. Liegl again noted if the dealers want the Elkhart County event to continue, it will. That is good news for the local economy since the product shows pump money into area hotels, restaurants and other businesses. For the 2011 event, Forest River alone spent an estimated $1 million on hotel rooms, food and liquor for its dealers.

Emphasizing the open house is for the RV retailers, Liegl said he would resist any effort by the RVIA to ban the event altogether.

“They can go to hell,” he said. “If I want to have a product show, I’ll have a product show. The RVIA is not going to tell me what I can and can’t do.”

Fore downplayed any conflict with the open houses, noting the manufacturers are part of the decision-making process and will still be able to run their businesses as they see best.

“It’s not going to stop manufacturers from bringing people to look at products,” he said. “The open house thing is not new. Industry people have been bringing dealers to town to look at units since the industry started. This is not a new phenomenon.”

Despite the success of the open houses, Liegl does not believe they will ever trump the industry’s trade show. While Forest River and Thor Industries do well at the local event, the other manufacturers do not reap as great a benefit.

In addition, he does not expect Forest River to ever pull out of the RVIA event.

“I anticipate we’ll always be in the Louisville show,” Liegl said.



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