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South Carolina Sees Upturn in Rec Business

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April 5, 2010 by   Leave a Comment

Cozy campers, morphing motorcycles and billowing boats are the types of vehicles that individuals, couples and families take out for fun and trips.

Unfortunately for those industries, far fewer people bought those products in 2009 than in previous years. Prime culprit: the lagging economy, according to the Charleston Post and Courier.

“It’s just everything hit us at one time,” said Gloria Morgan, owner of The Trail Center in North Charleston, S.C. “We are hoping for a recovery.”

This year is apt to be an improvement, national and Charleston area observers contend. Local retailers said people are wandering into showrooms and are shopping, if not in cruises, zooms and waves, at least in lurches, fits and trickles.

A few days with temperatures in the 80s hasn’t hurt locally.

“Naturally, the weather is warmer,” said Morgan, noting that customers are most intrigued with the center’s pop up campers from its main brand, Jayco. “The winter had been bad. They just want to get out and see.”

National figures paint a grim result for 2009 but a brightening outlook for this year. Consider:

  • Recreational vehicle shipments are projected to total 215,900 this year, up 30% from 2009, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). Dealers are restocking inventory as sales continue to pick up.
  • RV shipments barely topped 165,000 last year, off 30.1% from 2008. “Lower shipments in 2009 were caused by the longest and deepest U.S. recession since the 1930s, the tightest credit conditions in several decades, job losses, falling household wealth, slower growth in real incomes and historically low consumer confidence,”  said Richard Curtin, RV industry analyst and director of consumer surveys at the University of Michigan.
  • Motorcycle sales dropped 40.8% in 2009 from the year before, with 520,502 dual sport, off-road, street bike and scooters sold compared with 879,910 the year before, based on figures compiled by webBikeWorld.com. Street bikes make up the lion’s share of the market with more than 60% of all sales. The shallowest decline was in off-road cycles, which dropped 28.4% year to year.
  • There are pockets of growth in the cycle business this year: BMW Motorrad USA saw sales jump 52% in February from the year before.

Lowcountry revved up

The tough economy hasn’t stopped Charleston area motorsports dealers from expanding their operations. Velocity Powersports unveiled an expansive new retail center at Interstate 26 and College Park Road last year. American Biker of Charleston moved from cramped quarters to a roomy new building on Treeland Drive in Ladson.

On the boating scene, Sea Ray of Charleston found a home at the massive Sportsman’s Island center off I-526 at Clements Ferry Road selling Scout and Boston Whaler watercraft. Duncan’s Boats is moving back to its original spot on the Ashley River.

One edge for the recreational side of the motor vehicle business is the variety: people can choose from RVs, campers, jet skis, power boats, fishing vessels, motorcycles, trikes and scooters.

Charleston Powersports, which is in the process of moving into a much larger building, is seeing signs of sales improvement. It offers Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki motorcycles, two types of scooters, all-terrain and utility-terrain vehicles, jet skis and jet boats.

“We carry something for everybody,” says Kyle Carter, sales manager.

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