Michigan’s recreational vehicle market is on the mend.
The state, with its retiree population and vast array of campgrounds, is seeing RV sales recover a faster pace than the nation overall, the Lansing State Journal reported.
“There’s been a demand, even through the bad periods of late 2008 through 2009, on the part of consumers who are looking for an economical way to travel with their families on vacations,” said Bill Sheffer, director of Okemos-based Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles and Campgrounds (MARVAC).
Towable trailers lead sales
There were 6,683 recreational vehicles — including motorhomes and towable trailers — sold in Michigan this year through August 2010, according to Grand Rapids-based Statistical Surveys Inc. (SSI). That’s up nearly 21% from the 5,542 sold a year earlier. Towable trailers accounted for the bulk of those sales.
“Even though Michigan has high unemployment, (the state’s residents) have a lot of buying power with people who are on retirement,” said Tom Walworth, general manager of Statistical Surveys.
The state’s jobless rate stood at 13% in September, compared with 9.6% for the nation.
Nationwide sales also grew, but at a slower pace. Dealers sold 135,158 new recreational vehicles through August, up more than 4% from the 129,654 sold during the same period a year earlier.
Michigan sales are likely are boosted by its network of 80,000 campsites in more than 1,200 state- and privately run campgrounds, Sheffer said.
But the past few years have not been leisurely for dealers.
Statewide, sales dropped 50% from 2000 to 2009, with the decline starting around 2005, according to MARVAC.
Stock market impact
The financing crunch has dealt a blow to the industry. Banks have been less willing to offer loans for RVs, though some dealers say the credit crunch is starting to ease, Sheffer said.
And the stock market has had an impact on sales, even more than gas prices, said Gennene Kitsmiller, general manager of Kitsmiller RV in Mason, a Lansing suburb.
Most of her customers are retirees on fixed incomes or are close to retirement and relying on investments, she said. Sales suffered when the market declined during the financial crisis and recession but have been rising as Wall Street improves.
In fact, the past two years have been the dealer’s best since it opened in 1961, Kitsmiller said. The store sold more than 400 RVs in 2009, up 67% from 2008 — many of them the towable variety.
Customers are looking for “more sensible” purchases in the $30,000 to $35,000 range. These tend to be lighter and easier to tow in order to get better fuel economy, she said.
Not all dealers have fared as well. Some have closed or merged into larger companies, Sheffer said.
Slow sales forced Greg Dennis to stop selling new RVs in January 2009. Dennis RV Center now focuses on service and parts. It also rents travel trailers and sells used trailers and motorhomes. The Lansing business has been family owned since 1964.
“Sales have been down and that was a big thing,” Dennis said.
“We had to make a decision to either ramp up our inventory … or concentrate on the customer service end.”