January 22, 2009 in City

Amid belt-tightening, RVers find deals at trade show

Industry feeling the pinch, offering price cuts
By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photo

Francis and Joy Belgardie, of Tum Tum, Wash., make themselves at home in front of a TV and fireplace inside a 34-foot fifth-wheel trailer on sale for $55,938. They were visiting the 2009 RV Show at the Spokane Fair & Expo Center in Spokane on Thursday, January 22, 2009.
(Full-size photo)

If you go

The Inland Northwest RV Show and Sale runs through Sunday at the Spokane Fair and Expo Center. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, and admission is $7, good all weekend. For more, see www.spokanervshow.com.

This weekend’s RV show at the Spokane County fairgrounds is like a good news/bad news survey of the economy.

On one hand, the RV industry has taken big hits in the past year, with wholesale orders to dealers down 72 percent in November alone. On the other hand, consumers are seeing lots of sales and discounts – as with auto sales, bad times for dealers are good times for buyers.

And, though credit has gotten supertight this year, people who qualify for financing could be seeing the lowest interest rates in years. Attendance at last weekend’s Tacoma RV show was down by around 20 percent, but dealers reported higher-than-expected sales.

Steve Cody, organizer of the Inland Northwest RV Show and Sale, is trying to be realistic but optimistic.

“It’s a bad situation but it could be a good situation” for buyers, he said. “People are getting better prices, their payments will be lower.”

The 21st RV show opened today and runs through Sunday at the fairgrounds. Around 10,000 people usually attend the event, which includes dealers offering a wide range of RVs from modest tent-trailers to lavish buses with all the amenities, including “Corinthian leather,” Cody said.

The unofficial theme of this year’s event: clearance.

“You go around the show and all the signs say ‘Clearance’ or ‘Super Discounts,’ ” Cody said. “I think the dealers are definitely trying to lower prices to get sales.”

Dick Gardner and his wife, Judy, of Coeur d’Alene are longtime RVers who said the price cuts were noticeable. “They seem really low,” Dick Gardner said.

The Gardners have had some sort of RV for around 15 years, starting with a tent-trailer they used for family trips with their three kids. After the kids grew up, so did the Gardners’ RVs – now they’ve got a Class A motorhome.

“We just kept upgrading,” Judy said.

Like a lot of RVers, they like the freedom and flexibility of taking to the road.

“On our first trip when we retired, we left our driveway in June and got back in November,” Dick said.

Dealers are emphasizing the money-saving side of RV vacationing. A survey by tourism consulting firm PFK Consulting – which is often cited by the RV industry – shows that family vacations in an RV are much cheaper than trips involving flying or driving, hotel stays and restaurant meals. The survey, which did include the estimated cost of owning an RV, said the savings ranged from 26 percent to 74 percent.

Last year was a historically bad one for RV sales. The RV Industry Association reported that wholesale orders in November – the most recent figures available – were at an all-time low, and that some manufacturers had suspended production for the year.

Industry leaders have even appealed for a piece of the federal financial bailout backage, with RVIA president Richard Coon urging Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to include RV loans in an expansion of consumer credit.

Marc Tareski, general sales manager at Blue Crick RV, said that the same doldrums affecting consumers across the board are affecting his industry. But he said he’s hopeful it will turn around soon.

“It really is on people’s minds,” he said. “But I believe that as Americans, No. 1, we’ve got to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. … I think things are going to turn around pretty soon – in general, not just in the RV industry.”

He said that among the 60 or so towable RVs his firm brought to the show, he was most excited about a couple of models that were smaller and more affordable, and easier to use for people without big towing rigs.

The show at the fairgrounds included scores of different kinds of RVs, from $5,000 trailers to $350,000 buses that seem like hotel suites inside, to vehicles outfitted for hauling motorcycles in the rear.

“Have you seen the one with two bathrooms?” Gardner asked.

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