Thousands flood Elkhart County for RV Open House

RV dealers have flooded Elkhart County for this year’s RV Open House.

At the RV Hall of Fame compound Thor Industries, its seven subsidiaries and a handful of other local manufacturers put their newest units on display.

“This has become our largest event for the industry,” said Bob Martin, CEO of Thor Industries.

Thousands of dealers from throughout the nation and Canada are in town to purchase new products for their spring inventories. Throughout the summer of 2013 the industry saw tremendous growth in terms of sales and output. It’s a welcome turnaround after the recession devastated Midwest production in 2009.

“We’ve watched the industry bounce back, it’s definitely a resilient industry,” added Martin, “people that start the RV lifestyle, they typically don’t get out of it.”

Martin pointed to packed campgrounds as evidence that RV enthusiasts remained loyal over the past four years. He said, “It told us people were simply holding off their buying decision” and waiting for the entire economy to start recovering.

Some in the industry said the recession taught a hard lesson in how to do business smarter. Over the past several years manufacturers and owners worked to streamline production and bounce back.

The open house will provide a dual advantage: manufacturers have more space to display their vehicles, and dealers have a concentration of suppliers at their disposal.

Grand Design RV is new to the open house this year. Don Clark and his co-owners branched off from Thor Industries to create their own company.

Now, Grand Design said it has met with dealers and is excited to show them its new products and lines.

“There's not a dealer coming to Elkhart County that's not going to get an opportunity to look at your product,” said Clark. As he explained, in the RV industry product is king and dealers ultimately determine what product gets put out there for purchase.

Clark added, “They're going to make decisions for the planning stage of all next year so it's critical to a lot of manufacturers to wow the dealers with what they see.”

Economic benefits are expected to have a spillover effect county-wide. According to Jackie Hughes of the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the open house fills hotels and restaurants for the entire week.

“This is who we are. We are the RV capital and this really does verify that we are the RV capital,” said Hughes.

Hughes said seeing RVs parked up and down streets can energize the county. She described RV users as a “tribe” that enjoys meeting one another and doing “things that RV-ers love to do.”

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