ELKHART — Though most recreational vehicle manufacturers don’t open their displays for Elkhart RV Open House Week until Tuesday, Sept. 17, there were dealers ready to go Monday for the RV builders who got an early jump on the dealer show.
Keith Graham of Trailblazer RV in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, was one of those dealers who was in town Sunday night so he could look at RVs Monday.
From the Venture RV display on C.R. 6, Graham said, “The open house week, it gives us an opportunity to have a look at the new product and order the new product and get it shipped to us in western Canada. Open house week really works for us.”
The event started six years ago when Forest River invited its dealers to Elkhart to check out their product offerings, and it’s grown every year. The core of the event stretches from Forest River’s Dynamax plant on C.R. 6 to the RV/MH Hall of Fame east of C.R. 17. It brings in nearly all manufacturers in this area, ones from the Decatur area and even Tiffin Motorhomes from Alabama.
“If you’re a dealer, you’re not going to get the opportunity to see all these models in one place,” said Jeff Fought of Cruiser RV, one of Monday’s early birds.
Dave Boggs of Venture said, “We’re taking advantage of the dealers that are in town, give them something to do” by starting on Monday. “We’ve had great traffic. We didn’t open until 9, they were lined up at 8:30,” he said Monday afternoon.
Fought, too, had dealers at Cruiser’s site on Executive Parkway at 8:30 a.m. Monday.
“We’re expecting pretty good things,” he said. “We put a lot of effort into it, but in the end, it’s up to the dealers.”
With the industry’s upswing, though, Fought thinks their projections will probably turn out to be true. “We’re expecting a lot from the show. It was spectacular for us last year,” and they have 54 models on display with every floorplan they offer. “It allows us to show our dealers the complete lineup,” and they expect to not only sell more RVs to dealers this year, they expect to sign up more dealers.
In addition to one-stop shopping for dealers, Elkhart RV Open House Week offers them something else — timing.
Like Graham said, the September show gives enough lead time to get new models delivered before the winter and early spring retail show season. “It gives them the jump on their show season,” Fought said.
The open-house phenomenon has helped smooth out production for manufacturers, he said.. The traditional fourth-quarter lull still happens, though in the third quarter of the year now, and it’s helped by the fact that the retail selling season is still strong in the third quarter.
Boggs said it’s the one-year anniversary for Venture, a sister to KZRV, and “we’ll sell more product to dealers, more dealers signing. We’ve had great traffic.”
THE LOUISVILLE EFFECT
The rise of the open-house phenomenon has raised questions about the post-Thanksgiving show in Louisville. The National RV Trade Show by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association used to be the major site for dealers to see products from manufacturers all in one spot, but that’s no longer the case.
Fought said Elkhart RV Open House week found a key niche. “I don’t think it’s going to change. I think this event’s going to continue to grow.”
At Louisville, space is at a premium. Fought said he’ll take maybe 10 units to Louisville. “You talk to dealers about the floorplans, and say, ‘it’s kind of like this,’” he said.
At this week’s display, GE Capital is set up with Cruiser, instead of at a spot elsewhere in the convention center in Louisville, Fought said.
At the inaugural RV Industry Power Breakfast in May, Richard Coon, president of the RVIA, pointed out that the Louisville show weathered the recession better than the industry as a whole, and stressed the importance of the show.
Even though Graham has come to the open houses for several years now, he continues to make the trek from Alberta to Kentucky for the RVIA show, too. “It’s becoming more of a social event, rather than a business event,” Graham said. With less buying pressure, attendees can enjoy more of the social functions put on by different industry groups, something that Graham said he didn’t have the luxury to do in the past.
The Louisville show also has the advantage of being indoors. While most manufacturers have tents set up as part of their displays, nobody’s really sure what impact bad weather would have on the open houses.
There’s been some talk in the industry about possibly combining the two events, and Indianapolis has been floated as a possible option.
However, the RVIA has committed to Louisville for the next several years, and moving things from Elkhart County would eliminate the advantage of manufacturers setting up minutes from their factories.