Suppliers Set Up Shop in New Venues

Given that suppliers only got actively involved in Open House Week in Elkhart, Ind., over the past few years, it is to be expected that there would be changes in the format and locations of those showcases until the kinks get worked out.

Such is the case this year.

Many of the suppliers that had shown their wares at the BAL/Norco facility the past two years have joined a large group of other suppliers to set up inside the RV/MH Hall of Fame this year.

Another group will be on display with a handful of RV manufacturers at the Elkhart Airport, not far from Forest River’s s new exhibit location at its East to West facility. This display is being coordinated by Randall Jeremiah, who ran the display in the large tent near the RV/MH Hall of Fame last year.

Meanwhile, Dometic will again host an event at the Wellfield Botanical Gardens in downtown Elkhart and will have booth space at the Hall of Fame exhibit.

So, with suppliers and vendors going all-out to attract Open House attention, the competition is on to see which display e gets the biggest turnout and word of mouth.


Suppliers and vendors got more involved in Open House Week in 2018, with a large tent set up near the Hall of Fame. That venue is moving to the Elkhart Airport this year to be near Forest River’s new location at the East to West facility.

Climate-Controlled Venue at the HOF

When Open House Week was moved a week later in the month last year, it was hoped the event could avoid the sauna that Elkhart sometimes becomes in mid-September. Or the swamp that the Hall of Fame grounds sometimes become after late-summer storms.

But thanks to a hurricane that stalled in the Carolinas, heavy rain got cut off from the Gulf Stream and drenched things in 2018.

Darryl Searer, president of the RV/MH Hall of Fame, had just the solution for suppliers hoping to avoid the elements. He opened a section of the Hall and rented out booths to around 81 exhibitors inside a dry, air-conditioned setting that will offer visitors a chance to escape whatever is waiting at manufacturer exhibits surrounding the Hall.

Every booth was sold out well in advance of the event.

“I just wish I had room for more,” Searer says. “That’s the only disappointment I had, was that we couldn’t accommodate more of the suppliers.”

Searer says he expects the event to be well-attended by dealers, given that Thor accounts for about 47 percent of the business in the industry and the manufacturer will occupy its traditional location just outside the doors of the Hall.

To attract some of that attention, Searer plans to hold drawings every half hour Monday, Sept. 23, through Wednesday, Sept. 25, to give away $200 in cash. On Thursday, Sept. 26, the exhibit will be open only until 1 p.m., but drawings will still be held every half hour and the prize will be $400.

Entrants will put their name and phone number on their tickets, so they don’t have to be present to win the prizes.

Searer says complimentary water and soft drinks will be available and food vendor trucks will be on-hand for lunch.

Searer says he is optimistic that Thursday will see a good turnout of OEM reps in the supplier area, given that many dealers are gone by then.

“The last four hours of the show could be the best for the suppliers,” he says. “They haven’t seen OEM reps at the Louisville show for 15 years or more. We’re trying to really make it pay for the suppliers. I think they are going to get supported.”

Hours will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday.

Near the Airport/ Forest River Exhibit 

Randall Jeremiah of Adventure on Earth was the first to try to make a big splash of a supplier/ vendor event.

He went into direct competition with the smaller event at BAL/Norco in 2018 by setting up a huge tent near the Hall of Fame and inviting everybody to stop by.

That first event was a learning experience all around. The tent stayed dry and wasn’t damaged by heavy winds during a storm, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t issues.

“Last year, our tent provider said it would light up really nice. It didn’t light up well at all,” Jeremiah says. “I was a little disappointed with it. We have a structured tent and you can put as many lights in there as you want. It will be very nice on that. It’s a structured tent, so it’s a little bigger.”

He compares this year’s tent with the one that Thor uses for its meals and events outside the Hall of Fame. Flaps can lift up and provide lighting and ventilation that were missing last year. Jeremiah says he expects around 70 vendors to be in attendance at the airport. He also has a small plot of land nearby that can accommodate up to nine manufacturers that want to display RVs.

The airport also is across County Road 6 from Forest River’s East to West facility, where the manufacturer moved its display to this year. (The Dynamax plant, which had hosted each Open House for Forest River, lost access to the field that had been used for parking.)

“We’re very excited about having our second annual there and making it a permanent location at the airport and building that out to be a very nice campus for people to come,” Jeremiah says. “We’re going to have shuttle vans to go back and forth between the sites on our campus. That makes it easy, so people don’t have to walk so much. We’ll have set parking with a van to bring you back and forth. It’s going to be a pretty nice setup for people and a great way to come to one spot and get a lot done at once.”

Hours will be from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 23, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24, and Wednesday, Sept. 25, and from 10 a.m. to noon Thursday, Sept. 26.

Dometic Hosts an Evening in the Garden 

For its part, Dometic is hosting “The Experience” during Elkhart Open House Week.

It begins on Monday, Sept. 23, at the Wellfield Botanical Gardens. The party this year is carnival-themed. There will be games (with prizes), food, music and more. Dometic will be showing its innovation of new products during this event, which lasts from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Dometic also will have a booth at the RV/MH Hall of Fame. Visitors are invited to come by the Dometic booth to experience in virtual reality new product concepts. Additionally, coffee will be served in the morning and drinks in the afternoon.

Additionally, Dometic will open its new RV headquarters, located at 5155 Verdant Drive in Elkhart.

Travis O. Pryor

Travis Pryor is the former managing editor of RV PRO.

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