LOUISVILLE, Ky. — There has been some question the last few years about attendance at the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association’s National RV Trade Show, but many say the Louisville show remains vital no matter what the numbers say.
The emergence of the Elkhart RV Open House in September has raised questions of how the two shows will coexist as both develop and change.
Bob Martin, CEO of Thor Industries, said he hadn’t received any sales or attendance numbers as of Wednesday afternoon but agreed that the Louisville show is no longer the big selling event for Thor’s companies that it was in the past.
“Dealers have started to buy a little bit more at the Open House, for us,” Martin said.
That doesn’t mean the event doesn’t serve a purpose, however. Louisville still provides a good chance for traffic and exposure.
“Actually, it’s been very positive so far,” Martin said. “Yesterday was very busy.”
“I think Louisville may be a bigger show for some of the smaller manufacturers,” he said, than the Elkhart Open House.
And though many dealers may have already made purchases prior to the show, a strong market still has them looking for more product.
“Overall, dealers have been very optimistic,” Martin said. “They’re happy with where their inventory is at and very happy as they look at the year to come.”
Forest River General Manager and RVIA Chairman Doug Gaeddert sees the two shows interacting together to actually make things easier on the industry.
“The Open House was obviously awesome; Louisville is a beautiful follow-up to that Open House week,” Gaeddert said.
“Dealers order the bulk of the product they’re going to order at the expo,” he said, referring to the Elkhart Open House. He said they still sell quite a bit at the Louisville show, but that the more they can sell in Elkhart, the less pressure there is when they get to Kentucky.
Gaeddert said having the big buying event a bit earlier also makes life a little easier for manufacturers trying to meet deadlines and demand.
Gaeddert said many manufacturers are experiencing transportation shortages, meaning inventory is backing up to be shipped out once vehicles are completed.
“The dealer might have ordered it in October, we built it about February, truck picks it up in March and it could be April before the dealer gets it,” Gaeddert said of the old routine.
The September buying week allows manufacturers to get a head start on building and then shipping units rather than having a bunch of orders coming in late in November or early in December.
In addition, the continual demand for products has led to more stable employment conditions and more consistent quality, Gaeddert said.
“Our industry right now is probably the smoothest I’ve ever seen it,” he said.
For dealers and manufacturers, Louisville may have been passed by the Elkhart Open House, at least in terms of sales. But for another sector of the industry, shows like Louisville cannot be replaced by the Elkhart Open House.
Jarod Lippert, director of public relations for Lippert Components, said the Louisville show, and other shows throughout the year, remain the standard for suppliers.
“Dealers love the Open House,” Lippert said.
“The thing about the Open House, there’s not really that opportunity for suppliers like us and international manufacturers and dealers to really come and look and talk to suppliers.”
Lippert said the Louisville show has become the prime place for the company to connect with those potential international partners that they would not have a chance to reach easily otherwise.
“The international guys, this is their one time of the year to come here and get ideas and see things,” he said.
Lippert estimated that from an attendance standpoint, however, the Louisville show has found its niche in relation to the September Open House.
“From last year, I’d say it’s pretty much the same this year,” Lippert said.
“I think maybe it’s found its groove a little bit as to what we can expect from traffic here now that the Open House is a standard thing.”