Joe Range got into the RV business 40 years ago and has survived ups and downs in the economy, including the 1973 oil crisis.
But, according to a report in the Victorville Daily Press, the owner of Range RV in Hesperia said things have never been so bad as they are now, noting that sales are down 70% from five years ago when the business was at its peak.
“This is the most difficult time my business has ever experienced,” said Range, who came to the High Desert in 1985. “It seems like we are bottoming out — bottom of the very wide ‘U.’ We’re doing our best to survive up here.”
Retail sales have been recovering across the country since the 2008 crash. Victorville saw a 3% increase over the last year with $1.36 billion in taxable retail sales, slightly below California’s 4.6% hike, according to the Inland Empire Quarterly Economic Report.
Comparing 2010 and 2007 retail figures, however, sales are still 10% to 20% down in more than half of all zip codes in California, according to a recent study by the University of Redlands School of Business.
“It’s still quite gloomy. Retail sales bounced back nationally from last year, but last year was bad,” said assistant professor Xin Zhao, who conducted the study. “The consumer confidence index is still flat and not showing signs of an increase. I’m not very optimistic about the future.”
Some stores have been hit harder than others. For instance, car sales in 2010 were 30% lower than 2007, whereas apparel sales in California had gone up thanks to growing demand in family apparel. But RV dealers and florists suffered the worst damage with a drop in sales of more than 50%, according to Zhao’s study.
To accommodate the loss, Range reduced employees at his RV lot from 85 to 26 and inventory from $10 million to $2 million over the past four years.
“We’ve condensed our business to our small model,” he said. “We expect to be around for the (upward) turn that should take place.”
Range said consumer confidence is the key to retail recovery. And despite the struggle, he still hasn’t lost love for his products.
“It’s a fantastic product. It’s the product families enjoy and I get to see that on the regular basis,” he said. “(Consumers) are being cautious now. If they know they’ll have a job next year, they will spend money.”