With America’s Baby Boomers hitting their golden years, recreational vehicle manufacturers and sellers expected a skyrocket in sales.
But then came the financial meltdown of 2008, and the boom went bust as money in peoples’ 401(k) accounts dried up with the stock market, and banks tightened their lending requirements. Because of that, buyers didn’t get loans to make purchases, and retailers couldn’t get financing to put new RVs on their lots, according to Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville, Fla.
“It was not only devastating for RV dealers, it was devastating for RV manufacturers,” said Dan Ball, owner of D.P. Ball Advertising, a marketing firm that represents RV dealers, including Dick Gore’s RV World, which has locations in Jacksonville and Savannah, Ga.
But that hasn’t put a damper on people’s desire to have a recreational vehicle, said Maher “Matt” Bateh, general manager of Suncoast RV in Jacksonville.
“Shocking as this may sound, customers are still coming in like they were two years ago,” Bateh said. “The biggest thing that’s held us back is the banking end.”
Banks now require higher credit scores than they did two years ago to approve financing, he said. And in some cases, that’s excluded fixed incomes typical of those of people who are retired, he said.
“You’re taking a very large segment of the population out of the market,” he said. “They (banks) look at these as luxury items, not necessities,” he said.
“The demand has always been there,” said Ball. “What’s happened is last year, in September, the bottom almost fell out of the country. The portfolios of the majority of people getting ready to retire were seeing half their worth.”
The turn in the economy happened on the eve of the 100-year anniversary of the RV, which has allowed Americans to get away from it all while bringing it with them. From the smallish early vehicles to those the size of buses, RV ownership has allowed travelers to explore the countryside bringing bedrooms, kitchens, dining and play areas with them and bypassing the need to stay in hotels.
According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), shipments of RVs larger than vans fell by 44% nationwide between August 2008 and August 2009. But amid low consumer confidence, recent trade show attendance has been strong and dealer inventories have been reduced by recent sales, the association reported.
And the RVIA reported that it expects things to turn around within the next year.
Salem Hassan, president and co-owner of Jacksonville-based myrvlink.com, said business for the 2-year-old company, which sends Web-based business referrals to RV dealers nationwide, has been steady since it started in 2007. He said referrals fell by about 30% from 2008 to 2009, which he attributes to people’s reaction to the economy and his company’s transition from start-up.
“There were a lot of people who decided to wait,” he said. But the business created by RV “enthusiasts” — people who regularly trade up their vehicles on a three- to five-year cycle — remained constant, he said.
Already, improvement for financing in the RV market is beginning to show, Ball and Bateh said.
Some six months ago, Ball said, sellers were seeing about 40-50% of customers being rejected for financing. Today, that number has dropped to about 25%, he said.
“One of the saving graces are the local credit unions and banks,” he said.
And Dick Gore’s RV World is opening a new dealership in St. Augustine around Jan. 1, Ball said.
Bateh said the average sale on his lot is from $35,000 to $40,000.
“This isn’t an impulse buy, by any means,” he said. “But the demand’s here. There’s people walking through the door.”