A celebration of RVs

Elkhart Truth file photo Thousands of dealers are expected for the RV Dealer Open House in Elkhart. 

ELKHART — The upcoming week promises to be an exceptional one for Elkhart and the RV industry, as the RV Technical Institute opens for the first time, the city hosts the 2019 Elkhart RV Dealer Open House and musical entertainers Big & Rich, Styx and Keith Urban come to town.

Urban, four-time Grammy Award winner and 2018 Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year, will play at Thor Industries’ Dealer Open House on Tuesday.

Thor is taking advantage of the RV/MH Hall of Fame’s outdoor 600,000-square-foot exhibition space, displaying all of its brands and 530 units in one location for the first time.

“As we look forward to and plan for the 2020 selling season, our Dealer Open House is a great opportunity to reconnect and spend time with our dealer partners. We are excited to introduce our dealers to the numerous new and redesigned products we have from all of our operating companies,” said president and CEO of Thor Industries. “In celebration of Thor’s 10th Anniversary Open House, we also wanted to provide a memorable experience for our dealers in recognition of the great work they do in supporting our products to retail consumers.”

Though the highlight of Thor’s event may well be Urban, the company also boasts that the heart of their display will be a 22,000-square-foot pavilion that will serve as a central meeting space.

The 2019 Elkhart RV Open House runs from Monday through Friday. The event began a decade ago as en exclusive Forest River expo, but is now an industry-wide event.

According to RV Business, the open house typically draws about 4,000 dealer personnel who come to see new model year introductions.

Most of the displays will be near the RV/MH Hall of Fame and C.R. 17 and C.R. 6. The Forest River expo will be at the East to West RV campus at 3000 C.R. 6.

Chicago rock band Styx, which peaked in the 1970s and 1980s with songs such as Come Sail Away and Too Much Time on My Hands, will play at the Forest River expo entertainment building Tuesday at 8 p.m.

Big & Rich, a country duo perhaps best known for “California” and “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy),” will play the same stage at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Good for the community

Great Elkhart Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Levon Johnson said that, even though the open house is mostly for dealers from out-of-town, the local community benefits a great deal from what organizers say is the biggest RV dealer show on Earth.

“You can’t find a hotel anywhere around right now, because the number of people coming in and out of Elkhart County right now and really spilling over to the surrounding cities as well,” said Johnson.

RV manufacturers will hope to entice dealers to make new orders, but so will local restaurants. On top of that comes providing tents, tables and other expo equipment, which is often done by local or regional business, said Johnson.

With a significant downturn in RV shipments since the record high in 2017, there will be a lot of eyes on the orders coming out of the show, he said.

“There’s a great deal of optimism, knowing that this show is coming up,” said Johnson.

That’s largely because dealers did slow down in ordering new units but have now, according to some in the industry, reached a point where it’s necessary to restock.

RV Technical Institute

The RV Industry Association is also expecting to have a good time this week, as the grand opening of the RV Technical Institute is at 5 p.m. Monday.

For Curt Hemmeler, executive director of the RV Technical Institute, it is the culmination of many years of working to improve technical education and training for service technicians. Hemmeler will play a significant role in the running of the facility and implementing the Institute’s business plan, including the recruiting and training of RV technicians nationwide.

Hemmeler, who most recently served as vice president of operations and strategy at the Wyoming educational institute WyoTech, said he is thrilled to be part of the RV industry, which he called “the heartbeat of America,” and excited to be able to help shape a new kind of business model combining education and business.

“I salute the RV Industry Association for creating the Institute and understanding that there are not enough RV technicians available,” Hemmeler said. “Supporting more experts in the field can only result in a better experience for customers as well as for dealers.”

In June 2018, the RV Industry Association’s Board of Directors approved a comprehensive strategic plan and multimillion-dollar investment to address RV owner satisfaction by creating the RV Technical Institute – to solve the RV industry’s shortage of trained technicians and to implement metrics to track the RV customer experience.

According to the Institute, a technician will be deemed a Level 1, 2, 3 or 4 technician based on completion of designated levels of training and the ability to successfully demonstrate the required knowledge and skills associated with each designation. Each level of training builds on the foundation of the previous level and allows the technician to become a generalist or a specialist.

“I am very excited to be a part of something that will leave a positive legacy within the RV world, as well as help to wipe out the national skills gap,” said an enthusiastic Hemmeler. “It all begins later this month in Elkhart”

Hemmeler will attend the Monday celebration along with U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2, RVIA chairman Garry Enyart, RVIA interim president Craig Kirby, RV Technical Institute board members and local business leaders. The official ribbon-cutting ceremony will begin at 5:30 p.m. followed by an open house and tours of the facility. Additional tours will be provided throughout the week.

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