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RV sellers hopeful in frugal era

Category: RV, RV Show
Source: Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, Indiana
Publish Date: Monday, February 2, 2009
Summary: Coplen and other dealers said this year's show will likely turn out to have been one of their best in years.

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Michael Zennie
The Journal Gazette

Last year was bleak for the RV industry. Plants have shed jobs, many of them in northern Indiana, in an effort to keep up with slumping demand.

Coplen's Coleman Camper Center in Fort Wayne posted its worst sales in its 31-year history, owner Bob Coplen said.

With a tight credit market, rising unemployment and shaky confidence, all signs seemed to predict a slow year for the Fort Wayne RV and Camping Show, held last weekend at Memorial Coliseum.

But maybe not.

Coplen and other dealers said this year's show will likely turn out to have been one of their best in years.

And he pointed to several factors that likely helped some RVers overcome the economic forces arrayed against plopping down $10,000 to $180,000 for mobile homes-away-from-home.

For one, January's ferocious and bitter winter helped. After being cooped up inside for the worst parts of winter, RVers are revved up and ready to buy a new camper. They want to be ready as soon as the outdoors thaws out enough to go camping, he said.

Coplen said he's also seen a great deal of pent-up demand. Customers held tight to their money in 2008, hoping to ride out the financial storm. But those who still have the money to spend on an RV are more likely to do it this year because there is no quick end to economic troubles in sight.

And Hank Schrock, owner of Total Value RV in Elkhart, offered another reason for more brisk sales this spring. He said people who had more than $100,000 to spend on an RV before last year's financial meltdown still have it.

Indeed, Schrock sold one of the two massive 40-foot, $150,000 motor homes he brought to the show.

And RVers don't seem to be scaling back much; they still want all that high-end modern RVs offer.

Many trailers and motor homes feature molded wood paneling, flat-panel televisions, showers, refrigerators and freezers, ovens and microwaves. Some even offer on-board fireplaces.

But the picture isn't entirely rosy. Sales of motor homes – that is, RVs that have engines and are driven, not towed – are off 72 percent, Schrock said.

And the RV industry is still convulsing. Elkhart County, where the Damon motor homes that Schrock sells are manufactured, has the highest unemployment rate in the state – over 15 percent.

Schrock said he's had to cut his staff and work much harder to sell campers.

"It's almost like starting over," he said.

And Sunday, the last day of the RV show, found many of the customers simply browsing.

John and Sheri Auld, of Albion, likened their visit to the RV show to flipping through a wishbook.

Still, if they found the right deal, a new RV might be worth it, John Auld said.

"We just want to have a way to get away and relax," he said.

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