ELKHART — At ages 4 and 6, Jeff Vardaman’s two daughters aren’t quite old enough for hectic sports and extracurricular schedules, but the Goshen father knows those days are coming.
In a couple years, he and his wife would like to buy their first motorhome. Vardaman was one of the first visitors Thursday, Aug. 7, at the 59th annual Midwest RV Super Show at Elkhart’s RV/MH Hall of Fame, an event that gives RV buyers their first looks at next year’s models. The show runs through Sunday.
“It would be more family togetherness,” Vardaman said. “Today, kids are so busy, stretching out soccer and all those family activities that are pulling the family apart. I look at these as weekend camping trips that bring families together without the electronics and things like that.”
Vardaman, a stay-at-home dad who will begin work this fall as a nurse, said he and his wife expect to spend somewhere in the $70,000 range when they are ready to buy. For now, the girls were having fun simply exploring the many RVs on site.
“They like to imagine and dream, and I’ve taken them up to the camping grounds so they’ve gotten a taste of it and they really like it.”
Show dealer Dave Titus, owner of International RV Wholesalers in Elkhart, said his sales this year are up 25 percent over last year, and last year was his best ever. Families like the Vardamans are a big reason, he said.
“We’ve seen a change in the last few years,” Titus said. “Ten years ago, our business was almost all retirees. I would say 65, 70 percent of our business now is under 40.”
Titus brought 45 units to the show, a mix of travel trailers, fifth-wheels and park trailers. They range in size from 18 to 42 feet, and in price from $15,000 to $100,000.
“It’s affordable,” he said. “I’ve got units here that start at $100 a month (with 10 percent down), compared to the cottage on the lake or the cabin in the woods, which is $300,000 or $400,000. Nobody can afford that. This is a super-affordable way to travel with your family.”
Like most dealers at the show, Titus is locally based. Show visitors could just as easily come to his lot across town, but the show gives him the chance to see many more in a short period of time.
“On my lot, we’d average 25 to 30 customers a day,” he said. “Over the next four days here we’ll see 5,000. It’s a no-brainer. It’s the marketing blitz.”
Actually, show organizer Matt Rose projected about 4,500 will attend the show, up from 4,200 last year. He based his estimate on strong turnout at January shows in South Bend and Indianapolis, and in April at the hall grounds.
A strong indicator has been wholesale shipments of motorhomes to dealers, which were up nearly 20 percent over the first half of this year compared to that time period last year, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. By comparison, towable RV shipments were up nearly 9 percent.
“Motorhomes are very strong this year,” Rose said. “I’ve had more phone calls leading up to this show asking about Class A units and what was going to be here, than I have in the past, which is a great sign.”
Rose said if he’s hearing that kind of interest about Class A motorhomes, which range in price from $50,000 up to $1 million, that means lenders are looking favorably at RV borrowers in this economy, which bodes well for the entire RV business.
“Financing and the availability of financing is key to this industry,” Rose said. “As long as money is available and consumer confidence is high, the RV industry will thrive. That’s what we’ve seen.”
Rose said the show is a great time to buy because there likely will be no dealer transport costs since more than 80 percent of RVs are made in the Elkhart area. When you buy a new car, you pay the same delivery rate no matter where in the country the dealer is located. But when you buy an RV, the transport cost increases by the mile.
That factor draws show visitors from around the country.
"Last year, we counted license plates from 38 states at this show,” Rose said. "We’re going to have great weather. Looking forward to a good show.”