The three largest RV manufacturers in the U.S., Forest River, THOR Industries and Winnebago, announced this week that they will not be participating in the Elkhart Open House Week in September, due to coronavirus concerns.
The annual gathering in Elkhart, Ind., was scheduled for Sept. 21-25, and is traditionally one of the industry’s largest events of the year.
“The health and safety of our employees, dealers and the community are paramount,” said Winnebago Industries President and CEO, Michael Happe. “Due to pandemic-related concerns, Winnebago Industries will not be hosting traditional September Open House activities in Elkhart, Ind. in 2020. This includes our Winnebago, Grand Design RV, and Newmar businesses. Each of our RV brands will continue to work closely with our dealers to ensure they have access to the latest products, updates and information as well as sales and service support.”
The RV industry, like other markets, has been roiled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many manufacturers were shut down for several weeks starting in March, and reopening required following strict Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to ensure safe workplace operations. Meanwhile, as the pandemic continues, much of the general public has expressed – in survey after survey – that their preferred mode of vacationing this year involves an RV. That means RV sales are way up, and manufacturers are scrambling to keep enough inventory in stock.
That was one of the points made this week by Bob Martin, THOR’s president and CEO, who said that along with the safety concerns holding open house would bring, his company is pushing hard to keep up with demand for units.
“Our dealers are getting to the point where they need product,” said Martin. “Open House is a huge event and is put on by a lot of people. It’s one less thing to worry about. We can keep getting product ready and find alternative ways to show product.”
In 2020, all business conversations start and stop with COVID-19. And Elkhart County health officials – a little more than eight weeks out from Open House Week – remain concerned with both the number of cases they are seeing and the percentage of those testing positive.
A show the size of Open House Week takes an extraordinary amount of planning, and with only eight weeks to go and coronavirus still very much in the headlines, its three main participants decided to put safety first and wait until next year.
“While this decision was very difficult to come to, not only because of the business aspect but also because of the relationship building that takes place during the event with our valued business partners, we concluded that it was the responsible course of action to take,” said Michael R. Terlep, president of Coachmen RV, a division of Forest River. “Our focus is on the health of the people we work with and the community we serve in. We very much look forward to reconvening the Expo in 2021.”