Dealerships specializing in recreational vehicles turned a corner in the second quarter of 2010, and the dealers expect the uptick in sales to continue well into the new year, The Florida Times Union, Jacksonville, reported.
“I anticipate 2011 will be an extremely good year for us,” said Scottie Manson, general manager of Camping World RV Sales in St. Augustine. “Our inventories are in line with what our customers are wanting today. The manufacturers are responding to the market, and are actually building more RVs that are available for less money.”
Beyond the RV industry as a whole, Manson’s dealership has experienced a record year in sales compared to the other 47 Camping World locations nationwide. His St. Augustine location ranked No. 1 in sales in November.
General sales manager Alan Dulberger gives much of the credit to the team Manson has put in place at the store, with many of its 11 salespeople boasting years of experience in automotive sales. Manson attributes part of the success to the dealership’s competitive pricing – which has brought customers from as far away as Pennsylvania to the dealership, located next to the Prime Outlet Mall at State Road 16 and Interstate 95.
“Unlike some of our competitors, we also get a great deal because we buy in bulk,” Manson said. “We buy 10 to 40 [RVs] at a time and can pass those savings on to our customers. The savings are significant enough that they result in a widespread customer base.”
Compared to the automobile industry, RV manufacturers responded more quickly to customer demand, retooling their factories to turn out more lower-priced and small-to-midsized RVs.
Consumers have responded. According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), RV shipments in the third quarter of 2010 were 20% higher than in 2009. The association expects total shipments in 2010 to reach around 236,700. That’s a 43% increase over the 165,700 units sold in 2009 — the most anemic sales recorded by the industry over the last decade.
University of Michigan economist Richard Curtin projects further growth in 2011 with shipments rising by 4% to 246,000. Curtin anticipates growth in every vehicle type.
The resurgence in RV sales led Suncoast RV, located at Beach and Southside boulevards in Jacksonville, to reopen its location up the street at Beach Boulevard and Forest Street two months ago, which was shuttered when the recession began. The company has added salespeople and technicians to support the growth in both sales and service.
Suncoast General Manager Matt Bateh credits the nimble actions of the manufacturers, along with an easing of financial hurdles, for the comeback.
“I have to give some credit to the banks, because the rates that are available now are phenomenally low,” Bateh said. “While it’s not like it was three years ago, when a customer with a 600 credit score could get a loan with no money down — which got us into this mess in the first place — it’s gotten a lot better.”
Bateh notes that RV buyers with a credit score of 700 or better, who will put at least 10% down, can capture a great financing rate.
Just as Suncoast is expanding, so is General RV in Clay County with the addition of another five acres to its dealership on Wells Road.
“We’ll basically be doubling the size of our lot, in addition to expanding our service bays,” said Operations Manager John Dyer. “From the corporate side, we have a total of 37 stores and will be adding another 10 nationwide over the next few months. We’re gearing up for a very big year.”
Unlike previous years, most RV dealers say the growth in sales in 2011 will be in the areas of towable and smaller RVs and not the large 42-foot motorhomes that supported the industry in the early 2000s.
“The trend actually began about eight years ago, well before the recession started,” said Dulberger. “Because of the economy, owning a big motorhome is out of the range of most camping families. The cost difference is significant. You’re looking at $100,000 for a large motor home compared with $30,000 for a travel trailer or towable, which also makes it much easier to finance.”
Also, Dulberger said that many families now own either a sport utility vehicle or crossover SUV, which allows them the flexibility of transporting towables and travel trailers with their own vehicles. This trend has been further aided by RV manufacturers, who are churning out lighter campers that are easier to pull.
“For the novice or part-time camper or camping family, who may go out six to 10 times a year, by far the travel trailer makes the most sense and is the least expensive to own,” Dulberger said.
Depending on the size and amenities, travel trailers range in price from $12,000 to $35,000, with pop-up campers available for even less, ranging from $4,500 to $10,000.
Dulberger and many in the RV industry expect travel trailers will lead the way in sales next year, followed by fifth-wheel trailers, and the three classes of motorhomes and other RV types bringing in the smallest percentage.
“The large RVs are a luxury item, similar to yachts in the boating industry,” Dulberger said. “And it’s going to be awhile before that market rebounds.”