Gas prices are expected to top $4 per gallon next month, but that doesn’t seem to have slammed the brakes on recreational vehicle sales, according to a report on Virginia’s Fredericksburg.com.
Interest in everything from inexpensive pop-up campers to pricey motorhomes with hardwood cabinetry, gas fireplaces and multiple flat-screen TVs was higher than ever at the seventh annual Fredericksburg RV and Camping Expo.
Held Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Fredericksburg Expo and Conference Center, it drew larger crowds than last year and more attendees were buying, dealers said.
“This year we’re not seeing the fear in people about spending that we saw last year,” said Buddy Settle, owner of Settle’s Cars, Trucks & RVs in Amissville and Flint Hill. “Sales are up.”
Settle, who has been involved in the business since 1972, said that people showed interest in all the travel trailer and fifth-wheel models he had on display, and two of the travel trailers sold by midday Sunday. He said he expected more would sell after the show.
“It’s like buying a home,” he said. “People go home and look over the brochures before making a decision.”
Tracy Williford, sales manager of Camping World of Roanoke, said recreational vehicle sales slumped after the stock market fell and banks stopped loaning money for “floorplans,” the interest dealerships were paying on the vehicles on their lots.
“Many RV dealerships went under,” he said between talks with customers at the expo. “After that happened, the industry started coming back. People realized their money wasn’t making money so they started spending.”
So far, 2012 has been a record year for Camping World, the nation’s largest retailer of RV supplies, accessories, services, and new and used RVs. It has 85 locations nationwide.
“The stock market’s up, banks are lending more, so people are spending,” Williford said. “We’re definitely outpacing last year.”
Recreational vehicles appeal to a variety of buyers, according to the seven dealers at the expo. The event also included about 30 vendors marketing everything from loans and insurance to campgrounds and camping accessories.
Families with children, the RV dealers said, tend to be interested in campers and travel trailers, which can be pulled with a truck or SUV. Those at the expo ranged in price from about $10,000 to around $160,000.
Retirees who want to see the country are more apt to buy fifth-wheels or motorhomes. These can start around $50,000 and go up to $300,000 or more.
Doug Green, general manager of Safford RV in Thornburg, said he’s seen a trend away from motorhomes, which he doesn’t carry, to travel trailers over the past three years. People use them to take the family camping or to go to trade shows or sports events. Some simply park them places such as Indian Acres, a private campground in Thornburg, for use as a second home.
“People talk about gas prices, but they don’t drive these 24/7,” he said. “They go somewhere and park it and use what they purchased—air conditioning, a kitchen, beds. They’re cutting down on the cost of a vacation.”
Owners don’t have to feel guilty about leaving these vehicles in the driveway when they aren’t in use because there’s no motor to keep in tune and they can use them as a spare bedroom, Green said. And they can deduct the interest on loans for RVs that have a kitchen, bedroom and toilet because they qualify as a second home.
Camping World’s Williford said people were interested in the entire range of RVs he and his staff brought to the expo, from 14-foot-long Coleman campers selling at $11,500 to the 42-foot-long Damon Tuscany Diesel, which goes for $318,000.
Motorhomes were getting the most interest, especially from retired military and government workers who wanted to travel for weeks or months at a time, he said.
These have gotten increasingly luxurious over the past decade with the addition of such things as electric awnings, satellite TVs and bigger slide outs, which expand living space.
“They want the extra creature comforts that they have at home,” Williford said.