Trailer Traction

Smaller, fuel-efficient RVs find their place at annual outdoor recreation show
Alexis Smith, 5, of Medford makes her way down a climbing wall at the Sportmenís & Outdoor Recreation Show at The Expo in Central Point.Julia Moore

CENTRAL POINT — Chris Theodore was right at home Saturday amid the latest outdoor gear, simulators and creations being displayed at the Sportsmen's & Outdoor Recreation Show at The Expo.

For a quarter of a century, Theodore was a wholesale auto parts salesman for Mercedes-Benz. For the past 13 years, he's been on the road, living out of a fifth-wheel with his wife, Dora, selling recreational vehicles.

If you go

The 13th annual Sportsmen's & Outdoor Recreation Show continues today. Doors open at 10 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. Tickets cost $6 for adults and $1 for children ages 6 through 11. Children 5 and younger get in free. A coupon worth $2 off Sunday admission is available at all Bi-Mart stores.

Squeezed between Sawyer Paddles & Oars and a display of Ford vehicles, Theodore and fellow salesman Jeremy Currier of Paul Evert's RV Country were showing off a trio of pop-up and light-weight trailers.

This is Theodore's 25th show, covering eight states in 12 months. He's in his element, mingling with the crowd and chatting up the nuances of a Columbia Northwest Aliner pop-up trailer.

"We stay a while and go on to another location," Theodore said. "We wanted to see Wyoming, so we went to Gillette for a few weeks, and on our days off we went to Big Horn National Forest, Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore. The people we're around are always happy, because they're on vacation. When I was selling parts, the people were never happy, no matter what. When a car breaks down, everyone is disgruntled."

The throng circulating through Compton Arena Saturday was jovial, checking out an array of booths from local and distant vendors — from whitewater companies and river guides to wildlife exhibits and a climbing wall.

Theodore has seen recreational vehicles peak, bust and climb back out of the Great Recession.

With 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day until 2025, demand for RVs has grown, he said. Some are people who have lost homes — or who had to be away for protracted periods for work reasons — and have acquired recreational vehicles to avoid apartment or motel rents.

Two in 10 buyers planned to live in their RVs in 2007, he said. Seven in 10 people now buy an RV to live in it.

While high-end motorhome makers such as Monaco, located in Coburg, north of Eugene, took a beating during the recession, lower-end RVs have become popular. At the other end of the arena, Caveman RV owner Chad Vest said sales were up a bit last year and appear to be on their way to another modest gain this year.

He said RV makers have responded to rising gas prices by creating lighter and smaller trailers that can be pulled by smaller, fuel-efficient autos.

"Customers are starting to do recreational things again, the stuff they've put on the back burner," Vest said. "People realize they can get by with a lot less than before and have scaled down their wants. They don't want to give up RVing, they are just adjusting the way they do it."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.



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