Thor Industries Inc.’s senior managers were issuing upbeat reports on Friday (Sept. 20) regarding the 2013 Elkhart Open House, which closed out Thursday amid heavy rains that apparently didn’t succeed in dampening the industry’s growing appreciation for this dynamic northern Indiana trade show at which an array of U.S. manufacturers set up shop for a few days to meet and greet an impressive influx of U.S. and Canadian dealers.
“Overall, it all went very well,” Thor President and CEO Bob Martin told RVBUSINESS.com, noting that Thor’s display this year featured more than 300 units representing all of its varied divisions. “Dealers were incredibly optimistic as they look at this year coming up, and very enthused with virtually all of the Thor brands coming into the show with all-new product lines.”
Martin said that Thor Motor Coach’s introduction of its Axis and Vegas motorhomes represented one of the highlights for the Elkhart, Ind.-based company. “Dealers seemed very intrigued by what was truly almost a new category – a new twist – in the Class A market. It offers a new size, new price points and new chassis,” Martin said, adding, “I’m definitely seeing the motorized category starting to get legs and come back stronger every month.”
Martin confirmed that despite the rain on Thursday, dealers still turned out to investigate – and buy – product.
“Dealer traffic was very strong on Tuesday and Wednesday,” he said. “Thursday, we had some rain, but just as dealers see on their retail lots, qualified buyers were out there to look at product and, you know, kind of plan their year. So, we still had some action on a rainy day. But, overall, we were very happy with the increased attendance on Tuesday and Wednesday — Thursday fell off a bit – and our big Wednesday casino night was very well attended.
“And once again, dealers loved the atmosphere of the Open House. They appreciate it and enjoyed it and thanked all of us for putting it on and just bringing everybody together.”
Martin, like most others consulted late this week, considered the 2013 Open House another step forward for the wildcat trade show, now in its fifth year, and a good signal for the future in an industry that now seems to have settled on two key sales-oriented conventions – the Open House and the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) National RV Trade Show, this year’s rendition of which is slated for Dec. 1-3 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville.
“Yeah, I mean truly, dealers really seem to enjoy the (Open House) venue,” added Martin. “It’s laid back. Dealers are able to break bread and have a cocktail with other dealers and the manufacturers. They just enjoy the laid-back feel that we have here with the campground setting we created in our display. And our display keeps getting a little bit larger every year – a few more units added every year and dealers like the opportunity to see more floorplans, more decors, just overall more units. As I’ve said, we’re going to continue to do what the dealers want, but they truly seem to enjoy this event.”
Martin said Thor is still very much focused on Louisville. “Definitely,” said Martin. “Louisville’s still an important show for us and, you know, we always hold a few surprises for Louisville and encourage everybody to come. It’s another opportunity for us to spend time with the dealers and be under one roof and it’s a good venue for dealers to go competitive shop. So, after many of us head to RVDA for a few weeks and then right after that down to Louisville, it’s a pretty quick turnaround. But we’re prepared, and this year we have all the Thor companies at one nice location in the South Wing (of the Kentucky Exposition Center). So, we’re excited about having everybody there together for the first time.”
Over at Thor Motor Coach, Vice President of Sales & Marketing Dana Simon was reviewing what for Thor’s motorized subsidiary was a solid Open House performance across the board. “Very successful, a very good show,” said Simon on Friday morning. “Our product was received really well – from our Class C’s to our diesel pushers. And, of course, our results on the Axis and the Vegas were incredible.”
Indeed, Simon noted, the Axis/Vegas certainly had the buzz this year as far as new 2014 Open House products on display because of the perception among many attendees that this newly termed “Recreational Utility Vehicle” (RUV) – a short, 24-foot Class A on a 12,500-pound GVWR, Ford E-Series strip chassis powered by a V-10 Triton engine retailing for as little as $69,999 – could be a real game changer for the motorized marketplace.
“The driveability of this new coach is better than any motorhome I’ve ever driven,” said Simon.
Matt Zimmerman, president of Keystone RV Co. and Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., issued a similar upbeat report on behalf of his division(s), Thor’s largest.
“It went fantastic,” said Zimmerman. “I think it exceeded our expectations in every way. We don’t only measure a show’s success strictly on the orders received – and the orders were nothing short of phenomenal for us not only on the Keystone side of the fence but also the Dutchmen organization. But we also measure it on just the overall attitude of the dealer body towards our great company and our product and our people. And all three of those categories were very solid this week. Attendance was great. The display’s never looked better, and at the end of the day the results far exceeded our expectations and, in terms of sales, represented an increase over last year.”
“It was absolutely a great show,” added Dutchmen Executive Vice President Aram Koltookian. “We were a little bit ahead of last year, as far as total sales, and the dealers seemed real receptive to the change over the past year at Dutchmen. They understand all the new processes and the construction going on, and a lot of dealers decided to stick with the Dutchmen brand and our company. And we signed a lot of new dealers.”