Mark Hixson, owner Southhaven RV Center in Oliver Branch, Miss., knows all too well that times are tough for the recreational vehicle industry.
After six years, Hixson recently had to close his Olive Branch RV dealership, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
“Even when gas prices hit $4 a gallon last summer, business was good,” Hixson said. “Then it was like somebody grabbed a light switch and turned everything off.”
Actually, credit is what was turned off, and the lack of credit availability is taking its toll on the RV industry like many others — though campgrounds are seeing a surge.
Hixson said the business was forced to close the Olive Branch facility after three of its large RV manufacturers filed bankruptcy this year.
“They owed us a lot of money and this coupled with the economy, we had to consolidate and cut our staff of 54 in half,” Hixson said. “Now, if we could get the banks to let go of some money, that would help us all a lot.”
The tight credit market has dried up financing for RV customers, who, during boom times a few years ago, were buying up the RVs that range from $10,000 to $500,000.
The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) said in 2008, RV shipments fell 33% from 2007 to 237,000.
This year, with the recession continuing, the shipments are expected to drop to 130,100, the industry association predicts.
But industry officials said all is not lost.
“The industry is optimistic about the long term,” said Kevin Broom, an RVIA spokesman. “Times are difficult now, but the history of the industry is it comes out of economic downturns strongly.”
To give the industry a much-needed boost, recently, the Go RVing coalition spent $3.5 million on its “Go RVing” advertising campaign, urging campers to buy and hit the road.
Hixson and area campgrounds also remain optimistic.
“We are going to let the Lord take the reins,” Hixson said.
The Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park in Horn Lake and EZ Daze RV Park in Southaven said they have been busy in the recession, as campers view RVing as another penny-pinching way to keep traveling.
Managers at both parks said that in addition to traditional campers, they recently have seen an increase in month-long bookings, mainly by construction workers in town working on projects at Memphis International Airport and at Valero Energy Corp.
“The construction workers said it is cheaper than renting a motel for a month at a time and the bonus is they get to sleep in their own bed,” said Kristy Gelsinger, coordinator at EZ Daze.
Last year the campground, formerly Horn Lake’s Audubon Point RV Park, became a Jellystone park.
The park’s goal before the economy tanked was to become a “family destination” by appealing to campers with children.
And that goal remains intact.
In fact, next year, the park’s owner, Keith Russell, plans to build a water park at the campground that will be for campers and the general public, said Jellystone manager Robert Shelanskey.
“Our goal as we are transitioning to a family destination park is to make our campground like a home away from home,” Shelanskey said. “In fact, with the economy, we are seeing more and more people living in their RV’s as their home.”
As Joey and Taffany Yarbrough of Hernando walked among the shiny, hulking RVs at Southaven RV Center recently, they were only window shopping for what could be their future home.
“We’ve thought if we did get a RV, we might just live in it once our kids leave home,” Taffany said. “We have some land down in Eudora, Miss., so that’s a possibility that’s looking more and more attractive these days.”