Dustin Johns, owner of Innovation Inc. LLC and Travel Lite RV, stands inside the company's new Evoke travel trailer. The company has entered the full-size travel trailer market with units produced in the new Travel Lite factory in Syracuse. Staff photo by Roger Schneider
Dustin Johns, owner of Innovation Inc. LLC and Travel Lite RV, stands inside the company's new Evoke travel trailer. The company has entered the full-size travel trailer market with units produced in the new Travel Lite factory in Syracuse. Staff photo by Roger Schneider
ELKHART — The recreational vehicle industry completed its largest event for dealer orders last week and manufacturers are assessing their volume of sales.

During the Elkhart RV Open House, manufacturers hosted dealers from across North America and schmoozed them with food, live music by rock and country musical stars and even lit up the sky with fireworks. While the ancillary activities were fun, the reason the dealers were in Elkhart County was to review RV products and place orders.

Dustin Johns, owner of one of the few family-owned RV companies, Travel Lite RV, was wearing comfortable clothes and had a ready handshake as he greeted buyers interested in the company’s new Evoke travel trailer fresh out the door from a new factory in Syracuse.

“The production building is actually complete now and we built this first Evoke travel trailer at that facility,” he said.

Johns invested $5 million to construct a complex in the Syracuse Technology Park. The corporate headquarters and other company facilities there are also close to being finished, according to Johns.

Each year new RV models are introduced to dealers at the Open House. The largest RV companies, including Thor Industries, Forest River and Winnebago, lease ground or utilize their existing facilities along C.R. 6, to display thousands of every type of RV they make. Travel Lite’s display was smaller, but was prominent at the C.R.s 6 and 17 intersection.

The Evoke is the first full-size towable travel trailer for the company, now in its 20th year. The unit will be constructed in models ranging from 27 to 39 feet in length.

“I am so excited to be putting product into that sector,” Johns said. “The response has been absolutely incredible.”

TARIFFS AND MORE

The RV industry is expecting another record year, sneaking above the one it just had in 2017 by less than 1 percent, according to Thor Industry’s annual report. Yet, during three of the last four months shipments of RVs to dealers have declined.

In its annual report Thor, the largest RV company in the world, explained that it experienced a falloff in shipments in its second half.

The RV Industry Association has forecast that 2019 shipments may be a couple of percentage points below this year’s total.

At the show, RV professionals focused on new sales weren’t overly concerned over a couple of percentage points or the impact tariffs on imported metals may have on the price points of RVs.

“We haven’t seen any real impact. We haven’t had any huge price increases or anything like that,” said Gary Conley, national sales manager at Lance Camper. “I think there’s a lot of speculation that there’s a potential impact, but at this point it hasn’t affected us, and it definitely hasn’t affected the consumer. So as long as the consumer is feeling good ... Consumer confidence is at an all-time record high, so therefore so are our sales.”

Others see a coming impact from tariffs, but that impact is hard to quantify at this point.

“We’re keeping an eye on it. Retail sales are still strong. Retail registrations are good,” said Brian LaPray, national sales manager at Entegra Coach. “We’ll wait and see what happens with the tariffs. I think the RV industry as a whole is going to have some price increases because of tariffs, but it’s kind of wait and see, lets see what happens, and see how those affect pricing in the future. But it’s coming unless something new happens.”

Johns said the tariffs have already hit some of the steel and aluminum used to produce parts for his company’s products.

“And there are more coming in January,” he said. “And yes, that is going to cause a slight rise in price across the industry, but ... it is a fair playing field because we are all going to have to deal with that.”

Like other manufactures who have been asked, Johns couldn’t nail down what the tariffs’ financial impact might be.

He explained that suppliers of appliances for RVs, for instance, will have their own price increases, and those and similar costs will have to be added into the equation.

SHIPMENTS

A good thing may have led to the slight slide in summer shipments, according to Johns.

“I believe that was a result of a heavy delivery start to the year,” Johns said.

The industry reported record monthly deliveries during the first five months. But the cold, wet spring weather delayed the summery feel that prompts consumers to seek out RVs to go camping, he speculated.

“We kept shipping and every other brand did too, so dealers’ inventory was inflated,” he said.

But that slip is in the past, Johns said.

“The buying now is great,” he said. “Our retail turns right now are going fantastic. But it took a while.”

Goshen News writer John Kline contributed to this report.

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