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Published: Tuesday, 7/21/2009

Campers converge in Bowling Green for convention

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - The normally serene campus of Bowling Green State University has been transformed this week into a city on wheels, with more campers per capita than the infield of a NASCAR race.

The 82nd Family Motor Coach Association convention rolled into town this weekend with well over 7,000 diehard enthusiasts clinging to the belief that their lifestyle, and its associated industry, would weather what already has been a tumultuous recession.

"It's the credit [crisis], no question about it," said Kyle McCrary, director of luxury products and product design for privately held Newmar Corp., which builds motor coaches that can top $750,000.

An industry veteran who's worked for motor coach manufacturers for decades, Mr. McCrary said the credit crisis tore apart the financial underpinnings of his entire industry last year, sending several manufacturers into bankruptcy or insolvency. Dealers across the nation, he said, tell horror stories of customers with incredibly good credit and cash in hand ready to purchase new motor homes, only to be told by their lending institutions that credit to buy motor homes was no longer available.

More than 7,000 people are at the Family Motor Coach Association gathering, making its first appearance in Bowling Green. More than 2,600 RVs are at BGSU and the Wood County Fairgrounds. More than 7,000 people are at the Family Motor Coach Association gathering, making its first appearance in Bowling Green. More than 2,600 RVs are at BGSU and the Wood County Fairgrounds.
JETTA FRASER Enlarge

"These are mom-and-pop pur-chases. It's not rock stars buying these; it's Grandpa and Grandma, and the banks don't want to lend," Mr. McCrary said as he showed off a 45-foot behemoth with all the interior amenities of a high-end apartment.

The association has a membership of roughly 105,000 families, spokesman Robbin Gould said. The association holds two conventions each year - in March and July, and this week marks the first time the group has met in Bowling Green and only the third time in Ohio.

More than 2,600 motor homes are expected to be parked on the campus and at the Wood County Fairgrounds through Thursday.

Despite what looks from a highway overpass like a sea of metal rooftops and satellite dishes, the event this week in Bowling Green is much smaller than those of recent years, said Barry Pulis, a vendor with Camco Industries, who has worked the association gatherings for nearly a decade.

"You don't find a lot of young people anymore, and that's probably because of price," Mr. Pulis explained. "If you're going to buy one of these rigs, you're probably going to be over 30."

The conventions "are an opportunity to get a bunch of people to see our new products," said Ryan Helgeson, a district manager with Winnebago Industries, one of the nation's largest manufacturers of motor coaches.

Indeed, association members stood in line for the opportunity to tour scores of new motor homes when yesterday's outdoor display opened at 1 p.m.

"Our biggest challenge has been the banking industry, and hopefully, the worst of this economy is behind us," Mr. Helgeson said.

If "motorhomers" are to continue to be part of the American travel tradition, it will be because of people like Gary and Lisa Butchko, the parents of four children 10 and under who were in Bowling Green this week for their first convention, and shopping for a new motor home.

"It's just a lot easier to travel with four kids in one of these than it is to fly somewhere," said Mr. Butchko, who owns a 37-foot motor home and was looking yesterday at bigger models.

"It's a great family vacation. When we travel, the kids and I watch movies or do crafts in the back, and it makes the driving fly by," Mrs. Butchko added.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette

at 419-724-6091 or

lvellequette@theblade.com



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