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Optimism key at annual RV show

Category: uncategorized
Source: WSBT, South Bend, IN
Publish Date: Thursday, December 3, 2009
Summary: To say the RV industry has hit a "bump in the road" might be putting it mildly. Overall sales are down as much as 70 percent over the past two years, forcing 30 percent of dealers nationwide to close their doors. Some experts say the industry is now poised for a major comeback. At the annual RV Industry Association National Trade Show, the buzz word was "optimism."

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To say the RV industry has hit a "bump in the road" might be putting it mildly. Overall sales are down as much as 70 percent over the past two years, forcing 30 percent of dealers nationwide to close their doors.

Some experts say the industry is now poised for a major comeback. At the annual RV Industry Association National Trade Show, the buzz word was "optimism."

The show featured more than one million square feet of motor homes, towables, fifth wheels and pop-ups. They were flanked by nearly 10,000 suppliers and dealers.

The show this year was actually downsized — 30 percent smaller than a year ago, as companies cut back on the floor space they bought.

RVIA President Richard Coon isn't worried that things are still headed downhill.

"We'll get back to the numbers we were, and probably beyond that," he said.

There's solid backing behind his confidence. New innovations and buyers are the reasons why.

"The fastest growing segment of our market are people that are 35 years and under," Coon said.

During the past 30 years, David Woodworth amassed the largest private collection of RV memorabilia in the world. He passionately refers to himself as both an RV historian and "a real pack rat."

"There's no question that the RV industry will rebound," he said. "It will be bigger and better than ever and stronger."

How can he be sure? Quite simply, it's happened before, starting just after World War I.

"At that time, the industry really slowed down, but in 1920, it flourished. And by 1922, the New York Times estimates there are 15 million automobile campers on the road," Woodworth said.

It didn't take long for it all to come crashing down again. By 1931, as the Great Depression's grip tightened, the largest company in the industry, Covered Wagon, was building just 32 units a year.

"Four years later, in 1936, they had a plant of 140,000 square feet. They were working 24 hours a day, seven days a week — could not build enough trailers to keep up with public demand."

What changed each time to reignite success? Woodworth says, nothing.

"The public just demands it," he said.

It's not just manufacturers who are seeing a sales uptick these days. Many dealers at the show say they're seeing sales sizzle as well.

"We've already turned the corner," said Preston Rogan, an RV wholesaler. "Since June, we've had record breaking months every month."

Coon is counting on that history, too.

"We've been through all kinds of economic problems, and this industry continues to move on."

The question from those and on the streets of so many local communities bound together by the industry, is how fast they'll get there.

"We're pretty optimistic that it's going to be a strong year," said Gregg Eash, sales manager at Alta Resources of Elkhart.


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