A rather sudden upturn in the towable RV market – on the heels of the production cutbacks of the recent recession – have left the U.S. recreational vehicle industry with somewhat of a dilemma: There’s simply not enough people available to deliver RVs to dealerships around the country.
Classic Transport, Elkhart, Ind., is backlogged six weeks on deliveries, according to CEO Bill Garvey. “We are working to build our fleet back up,” said Garvey. “This backlog is the highest it’s been since (the mass shipment of emergency housing units in 2005 to the Gulf Coast for) FEMA.”
Garvey said the age range of drivers (typically 50-70 year-olds semi-retired or retired), freight revenues, the expense of operating one-ton trucks, mounting regulations and the retail upswing are all factors contributing to the current transportation situation.
Classic Transport cut its company in half or more during the recession, and now there has been more than a 200% upturn in RV market shipments, says Garvey. “When these manufacturers break loose and start to ship in quantities, they create a backlog in the transportation industry,” Garvey said. “This has not come as a shock; we have all foreseen this.”
Garvey said almost none of his drivers are from the Elkhart area, contrary to popular belief, but live in other parts of the country.
“Since they don’t live in Elkhart, laid off drivers are harder to bring back,” he said. “Their trucks are very expensive, often with over $2,000 extra in equipment. We recruit part-time drivers, 50-70 year-olds. We are not able to recruit full-time drivers because when you sit down and do the math it doesn’t work out to full-time income.”
All of these factors add to the complex issue of transportation in a busy market. “We’ve been advertising (for drivers) and we’ve had a good response,”said Garvey, a former RV manufacturing executive. “But in terms of actually coming to work, they are not real thrilled with the snow. As the weather breaks, so will the dam on new drivers. How rapidly we will be able to get into the backlog is yet to be seen. There are a lot of variables to consider.”
Last week Classic Transport’s backlog nearly doubled in just one day.
“It’s a very large battle,” Garvey said. “We might not catch our breath until July when companies shut down for two weeks.”
Wave Express, Goshen, Ind., is having better luck contracting drivers, but is still backlogged three weeks, according to Anita Carpenter, part-owner of the company.
In August 2008, Wave Express had but three customers, and then the recession hit. Carpenter applied a little salesmanship and went directly to the dealers. Today Wave Express works directly with 25 dealers. It was to these dealers that Carpenter turned when the market picked up, prompting somewhat of a transportation bottleneck.
Carpenter last year needed maybe 20 drivers; she now has 52. “In Elkhart County there aren’t any drivers because of the recession,” she said. “So I went to my dealers to find drivers and placed ads in a few other states. We have 52 drivers right now and I could take on 100 more, but I don’t want to overpromise or underdeliver.”