When Paul Stenzel and Chris Clark wanted to see the country outside their upstate New York town, they bought an RV.
They haven’t been back home since June.
Their stops included Deadwood, S.D., Cody, Wyo., and Ocean City, Wash. On Thursday (March 26) they were parked at the American Heritage RV Park in James City County., Va., according to The Daily Press, Newport News, Va.
The two are among millions of RV owners who take to the roads each year.
But the recession has taken a toll on the RV industry, as shipments decline and consumer confidence wavers.
“There is some level of buying, but not what the industry was seeing three or four year ago,” said David Body, general manager of Affinity Events. “Sales are down. The RV industry is impacted like every other industry.”
Affinity hosts about 50 RV shows nationwide a year. While sales are down nationally, people are still coming to local shows, RV experts say.
About 10,000 people attended the Affinity RV show in Hampton, Va., earlier this month. That number was consistent with attendance in 2008, Body said.
Motorhome sales were down 42% nationally in 2008, compared with 2007, according to Phil Ingrassia, vice president of communications for the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA). Travel trailer sales were down 23%.
“RVs are somewhat a discretionary business – our business slows when the economy does,” said Ingrassia. He said the decline in the availability of credit poses a problem for both dealers and consumers.
“I think that right now for customers there is generally a good selection out there and dealers are willing to wheel and deal a little bit because business has been slower than normal,” Ingrassia said.
The RV season typically runs from March to August. At Dodd RV in York County, Va., business is good.
During the first 10 days of March the company’s sales were higher than during the same time in 2008. “One thing that we’re seeing is that the warm weather in the last few weeks has accelerated the pace significantly,” owner Jamie Dodd said.
Smithfield resident Rob Davis purchased a trailer from Dodd last week. Davis bought the vehicle to travel to his 14-year-old daughter’s softball games.
“If you look at the cost of a hotel room and eating out, I actually think it’s more economical for us,” Davis said.
Although the recession has slowed sales nationally, RV experts say many dealers are offering lower prices to move the product – something that Davis and other buyers have run into.
“Now is as good time as any,” Davis said. “If you’re going to purchase, go ahead and do it sooner than later because I think the economy is going to bounce back and the special deals may not last.”
RV shipments in 2008 were down 32% nationally from 2007, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). The industry shipped 237,000 units in 2008. According to the association, the decline was due to tight credit conditions, higher interests rates and falling household wealth.
The association projects that RV sales will continue to be slow in 2009. An estimated 130,100 units will be shipped nationally this year.
“When credit markets are restored, the RV industry will rebound,” said association spokesman Kevin Broom.
Dixie RV in Newport News has seen an influx in traffic in the service and parts department, by owners who want to maintain what they have. That trend is also occurring at local auto repair shops.
Even with more people taking care of their RVs, Dixie vice president Layne Forrest says the economy has taken its toll on RV business.
“When people tighten up their pocketbooks, we’re definitely one thing that gets cut quickest,” he said.
People have continued to pack the American Heritage RV Park, in James City County, despite tough economic times.
The park’s attendance is up 20% from 2008, according to co-owner Bill Rhoads, who said 2008 marked the park’s best year.