LOUISVILLE, Ky. —
Curt Yoder and Kermit Kropf are competitors. This past week they were also neighbors.
Yoder is co-owner of Kropf Industries and Kropf is president of Dutch Park Homes. Both companies build park model recreation vehicles in Goshen. And each company had displays of their products set up in the Kentucky Exposition Center at the National RV Trade Show.
Tucked in along the back wall of Hall 5, the two displays were part of just a handful of park model dealers at the show.
"We are talking to existing dealer and getting orders from existing dealers. But overall, it seems attendance seems to be down," Yoder said while standing in front of the park models that are designed to look like downsized homes.
Yoder and Kropf both thought the Elkhart County Open House held in September had reduced the number of dealers visiting Louisville, especially dealers not already signed up to sell their products.
Yoder had three park models that were built at the Ind. 15 plant at the show. He said the company has recently earned its "green" certification because of the materials used in the park models. He also said the company is always working to improve products.
"We are constantly coming up with new floor plans and tweaking our products to stay ahead of the design game," he said.
Park model RVs are designed to be placed on a campground lot for extended stays of six or seven months. They are not used year-round, according to Kropf, because most states don’t allow permanent occupancy of campground sites.
Park models resemble small homes, with dinning rooms, a linked kitchen and a master bedroom, and most have lofts converted to small sleeping areas for visitors and grandchildren.
Many retirees use the models when going south for the winter. They are also popular with campground owners for rentals.
That demand from campground owners has helped stabilize the segment during the economic downturn.
Yet the industry has had a challenging time. According to the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Assocation, national shipment numbers for the last three years were 5,004 (2008), 3,307 (2009), and 2,891 (2010).
"Fortunately for us we have maintained a steady flow of business during the last few years of turmoil and it is steadily getting better. And we are looking for a better year in 2012," Yoder said.
The Kropf company has been in Goshen since 1946 and employs about 50 people. Yoder is the third generation of family ownership.
"There is not as many people as we would like here. I think the open houses we had up in Elkhart County have put the crimp on us here," said Dutch Park sales manager Larry Weaver about the Louisville show.
Kropf explained the realities of the current buying patterns for the industry.
"People who have the money can get them," he said. "People who want to finance them have a more difficult time."
Dave Mockler, sales executive at Dutch Park, said the company displayed three models at the show, two 12-foot-wide models and one 81/2-foot wide model.
And the interest from the dealers who stopped by were positive, he said.
"We have had a really good response from dealers this year," he said. "I think we have had a better year this year than last and some signs show we will have an even better year next year."