RVs have never been hotter than at one of the world's largest RV extravaganzas.
The Florida RV SuperShow scratched every recreational vehicle itch I hoped it would. And a few I didn't know I had. By the time I finally walked through the show's chain-link gates, I'd already waited an hour in line for parking, eventually ditching my Uber to walk the final quarter mile to the front gate. But that's to be expected when you and 84,000 of your closest friends cram yourselves into the heat of the Florida state fairgrounds for the world's greatest RV show. (Prove us wrong in September, Hershey.) Neither hell nor high Uber fees would deter us. Entering Gate 3 funneled me into a dimly lit expo hall that went on for about a quarter mile. And a curious smell told me that perhaps the fairgrounds had previously housed some sort of livestock exhibition. It was now packed, butts to belly buttons, with RVers.
Even so, I found myself fascinated by the vendor halls, with booths promoting everything from newfangled electric bikes to nudist groups (Yes, they're really a thing, and no, they did not have samples of the wares on display … and no, I did not stop to take a brochure.) But I was here for more than the vendors alone. I was here for an RVpalooza. After a 20-minute shuffle through the throng, I walked out the other end of the hall onto one of the main thoroughfares of the show. Suddenly, there were hundreds of RVs everywhere I turned. From where I stood, I could see at least six different manufacturers already. Then, a bagpipe band strolled by playing “Scotland the Brave”— clearly a sign I was among my people. My favorite thing about RVing is that adventure is around every corner. And the SuperShow captures that experience perfectly. In addition to the bagpipe band, I saw jugglers, magicians, and other circus-like performers.
There was also the most adorable bubble-blowing mobile handwashing station I've ever seen. But the stars of the show, without a doubt, were the rigs. “We come every year to see the new models,” says Dorothy Larsson, a fellow RVer waiting in line with me at one of many food trucks scattered around the site. She and her husband drove their Class B Thor Sequence four hours from southern Georgia and parked for the week in the SuperShow's massive RV parking section. “They don't really change that much year to year,” she says, “But we always find something interesting to look at. And it's just nice to be here.” Dorothy's onto something. Being in a place like this, where your hobby is practically worshiped, is powerful.
A RecordBreaking Year
The SuperShow is put on each year by the Florida RV Trade Association. Dave Kelly, its executive director, says this year's attendance broke the previous record attendance— by over 13 percent. That's huge in a year when, even in Florida, people are at least hesitant to travel. (Though RVers have never seemed the type to be afraid of a little adventure.) “My favorite thing about the show,” says Kelly, “was the comment made by one of the attendees that said, ‘things feel like they are back to normal!' That is the best compliment that anyone can say about the show. That comment made my entire show!”
It did feel normal. Good normal, especially if being surrounded by over 1,400 brands spanking new RVs by around 150 different suppliers is the kind of thing you love. (Or heart.) Old and new manufacturers were there, from start-ups to reservation-only luxury brands. Roaming acres upon acres dedicated to America's fastest-growing traveling pastime, you come away with a clear view of the entire RV world and everything it has to offer. The latest innovations were on full display, from e-vehicles to new technological features. American-made was standard. And, while the familiar shape of tried-and-true industry models dominated the eye, there were also some standouts. New ones.
“My favorite thing about RVing is that adventure is around every corner. And the SuperShow captures that experience perfectly”
One of the new entrants to the market was Hoosier Custom Cruiser. Talking with the manufacturers on the fairgrounds, I stood next to their first unit, just recently out of production. Their pretty Class C rig comes with a Pinterest-ready interior, boasting that Pottery-Barn look so popular in Instagram reno jobs. Flanked by their first unit, Hoosier related how they were
founded by a group of workers from another RV manufacturer, who are now operating as an employee-owned company. If their first unit is any indication of what is to come, we'll be rooting for them down the road.
The Younger Face of the RV Market
Walking around, it was simply impossible to not recognize industry progress. The energy of the record-breaking crowd was undeniable. The RV scene is not only growing, it's getting
younger—with the explosion of new buyers bringing new faces to the scene (see Page 8). The average age of attendees might still be approaching retirement, but the youth movement is increasingly visible. Ember RV is the prime example of a new-to-market brand making a robust appeal to new buyers. Ember RV was founded out of Bristol, Indiana by Ashley Bontrager Lehman. Her grandparents were the founders of Jayco, and today, she represents the infusion of young blood into the market—in more ways than one. Her distinctive brand brings a colorful ruggedness to their products, with a style that would look at home in a high-end outdoor adventure catalog like Patagonia or Arc'teryx.
Ember RV's design makes a bold—and highly welcomed—visual departure from the more classic styling of its predecessors in the market. The changes are a result, in part, from interaction with RVers themselves. Which is why Lehman says that events like the SuperShow are invaluable to anyone in the industry who wants to connect with their audience directly. “Having the opportunity to speak directly with your customers at events like RV retail shows gives you a different perspective,” says Lehman. “It's important to hear what customers have to say, what they would like to see, and how they plan to use your products so that
you can deliver a product they'll enjoy for years to come.”
The Most Super ThIng About the Show
I entered the largest RV show in the country anticipating a spectacle. And I got that—and more. The expo halls had over 350 vendors, each hawking their RV-centric wares. Hitches, TPMSs, batteries, e-bikes, and resort networks with the most exceptional accommodations—all available. From fancy, RV-friendly soap to toilets and water treatment options, almost anything your RV-loving heart desired could be found. But, in the end, I'm with Dorothy. The best thing about being at the show wasn't strolling through endless rows of RV stuff. It was the opportunity to be amongst Your People. Nothing against new releases. Or upgrades. Or even deals. Sure: All of these things make the SuperShow … super.
But being surrounded by your tribe means knowing that the
person to your left and to your right share your values and interests. You are where you belong. For me and at least 84,697 other RVers, the SuperShow was a perfect picture of RVness. Adventure around every corner. Warm, welcoming friends to meet at every stop of the tram. And an increasingly diverse collection of Americana that isn't afraid to embrace the weird or welcome the new. And Dorothy's right. That's a nice place to be.
Several manufacturers have dabbled in e-vehicles, and Winnebago had their front and center at their huge display. Their e-RV is a fully electric camper van with zero emissions and operation so quiet you might call it to whisper mode. Still a production vehicle, the e-RV is a sign of earth-friendly trends to come.
For the younger RV crowd, social media influencers are the flavor du jour. Families in matching brand T-shirts promoting their preferred social media channels were ubiquitous. (Side note, if you're at next year's SuperShow, keep an eye out for a booth dedicated to your favorite RV magazine, assuming it's this one.
The colors are out. Grays and neutrals are in. If you've seen a luxury furniture store catalog lately, you'll recognize the vast majority of interior styling, as manufacturers trade the vibrant for the monotone. The most successful styles are pairing organic or simulated organic materials with their mostly gray interiors.