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At the Mid-America RV Show in KC, this year’s models emphasize homeyness

Updated: 2014-01-17T16:19:17Z

By ROBERT A. CRONKLETON

The Kansas City Star

Step into some of the RV trailers at the Mid-America RV Show this year, and it’s bound to feel more like you’re stepping into a residence.

In fact Shawn Wiegers, sales manager for Liberty RV in Liberty, expects to hear more people than usual say, “This is nicer than our home.”

That “wow factor” is what RV manufacturers are hoping for.

“So many of these trailers have gone to residential furniture,” Wiegers said. They have also gone to full-size refrigerators, wood cabinets and soffit lighting. There’s even theater seating in some.

“That gives you that ‘I’m at home feeling’ even while you’re vacationing with your family,” Wiegers said. “That has gone over really well with our customers.”

And you can see what the industry has been up to at Bartle Hall through Sunday. The Mid-America RV Show began Thursday afternoon in downtown Kansas City.

Show hours are 2 to 9 p.m. Thursday, noon to 9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. The cost is $10 for adults. Children 12 years old and younger are free.

More than 300 RVs are on display, said Mark Boggess, president of media and events for GS Media & Events.

“The RV manufacturers over the years have changed, and they are building coaches for the consumer’s lifestyle,” Boggess said. “Whether your a weekend warrior with the kids and family or whether you’re a tailgater or whether you hunt and fish or whether you’re a NASCAR enthusiast, they are building new RVs to satisfy those lifestyles.”

Walter Cannon, executive director of the Recreational Vehicle Safety & Education Foundation of Merritt Island, Fla., said the RV or camping lifestyle is a great for families.

“It is something that kids will remember all their lives,” he said.

People who enjoy RVs typically start with their kids by taking them out on weekends a couple weeks of the year. Pop-up trailers, which are smaller, less-expensive units that can be towed by almost anything, are popular among first-timers.

They then typically move up into smaller travel trailers and fifth-wheels, then bigger travel trailers and fifth-wheels and then up into the large motor homes.

“It really is a progression,” Cannon said. “Most people find that is what they do — they get started, they like it and then they want something a little fancier, a little bigger maybe, a little more room. That is what they move up to.”

Another side of the RV industry is catering to tailgaters.

“You go to any major sporting event, particularly college football, and you are going to find a lot of RVs there,” Cannon said. “People use RVs for a lot of different reasons where they can take basically have their stuff, their home, and be comfortable and have a good time, too.”

Prices vary dramatically depending on the type of RV and its amenities. Pop-ups start at about $5,000 to $8,000, while some small trailers are around $15,000. A small motor home can go for the price of some cars.

Prices grow from there, depending on the size and specifications The larger fifth-wheel trailers can cost $75,000 to $100,000.

“Motor homes go to whatever you want,” Cannon said. “It is just like a house. You can get into any price range to that you want to get into.”

RV shows are a great way to see what is available and to talk to other RV enthusiasts and dealers.

One exhibitor even rents RVs so that people can try the lifestyle before making a commitment.

This year, people will see more trailers built with composite materials that are lighter, durable and easier to tow with smaller vehicles.

The RV industry is starting to see a solid comeback from the downturn in the economy.

“Is it a major boom? No,” Cannon said. “We are seeing a steady increase in RVing and the building and selling of RVs.”

The rebound could work to the advantage RV buyers this year.

“The last couple years, people held on to their trades,” Liberty RV’s sales manager Wiegers said. “There wasn’t very many new buyers out there. We are starting to see a large influx of buyers coming in and seeing the economy rebound, so they are getting back to their trade cycle.”

That is especially true with families who are getting back to vacationing together. As they do, they are looking to upgrade their unit at the same time.

Meanwhile, manufacturers are also trying to meet the wants and needs of customers.

Wayne Brown, sales manager of Lifestyle RVs in Grain Valley, said larger trailers are becoming a primary residence for some people.

“More and more people are looking for a lower-priced way of living,” Brown said. With good credit, a person could buy a residential fifth-wheel for anywhere from a $300-a-month payment up to something in more than $600 a month, depending on the amenities.

“People are paying a lot more a month for that in rent,” Brown said.

To reach Robert A. Cronkleton, call 816-234-4261 or send email to bcronkleton@kcstar.com.

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