If you find yourself on the road this Memorial Day weekend, you might want to keep track of the recreational vehicles you see.
MSN Money reported that while not exactly a surefire economic bellwether, RV sales have been coming back after a disastrous recession for the industry, and they may be another indicator of a strengthening economy.
Elkhart, Ind., is the heart of the business, with about 83% of all North American RVs manufactured in the region. Unemployment in Elkhart soared to more than 20% in 2009 as the economic downturn deepened, RV sales plunged and several manufacturers closed their doors or disappeared through consolidation.
“When the stock market went to hell in a hand basket, when the ability to get credit went to hell in a hand basket, when your home (value) all of a sudden . . . went down so drastically, your wealth factor is pretty low. That stops motor home buying,” Richard Coon, the president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), said recently at an industry breakfast.
But according to the RVIA, a stronger economy has pulled the industry out of a ditch. The trade group predicts more than 307,000 recreational vehicles will be manufactured and shipped this year. That number is still below the pre-recession high of 353,400 reached in 2007, but it’s nearly twice as high as the low point of just under 166,000 in 2009.
Recreational vehicles come in a wide variety of types and price ranges. Units that fit on the back of a pickup and popup camping trailers start at about $3,500. They go all the way up to tour-bus-size “home away from home” Class A vehicles, which can run anywhere from $50,000 to the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And of course you need to factor in gas prices.
Richard Curtin, the director of the Consumer Research Center at the University of Michigan, says a combination of factors is behind the recent growth in recreational vehicle sales, including an easing of credit terms and better availability of consumer loans, as well as modest gains in household income.
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Editor’s Note: Robert W. Baird & Co. recently partnered with the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) to contact 110 RV dealers regarding demand during the first quarter. The following is a summary of the results.
Early-season trends were strong, despite a later start to spring and slower traffic in cold-weather markets. Retail demand improved nicely, up 9% to 10% in both motorhomes and towables. Dealers consider motorhome inventory lean and towable inventory balanced. With dealer confidence soaring, higher absolute inventory levels are fine.
“We remain bullish on fundamentals and would look for a market correction to provide an opportunity to become more aggressive,” Baird concluded.
Solid retail despite later start to spring. Demand for motorhomes and towables improved roughly 9% to 10% in Q1, despite slower traffic in some cold-weather markets. (Raw survey results indicated 18% growth in motorhomes and 26% growth in towables, but we believe a number of multi-location dealers skewed preliminary data). Big picture, we continue to believe that negative equity among RV consumers has begun to evaporate, driving cyclical recovery. The passage of time (the market peaked in 2004) and better used RV values – along with better home prices and a strong stock market – all play a role.
Inventory appears lean-to-balanced. Dealers appear comfortable with inventory levels. Motorhome inventory appears lean as several dealers mentioned unfulfilled orders (consistent with production constraints manufacturers have reported). Towable inventory appears balanced. Recall that towable manufacturers offered large discounts to protect share on dealer lots, a bet that could pay off if retail remains solid. Based on the number of days of inventory reported, motorhome (113 days vs. 102 days) and towable (115 days vs. 106 days) are up.
Dealer sentiment still lofty. Sentiment remains near record highs as dealers anticipate a recovery. One dealer noted, “if sales continue to follow early trending, this could be one of our best years ever.” After a difficult recession, dealers that survived are enjoying better retail, fresh inventory and easier credit. Indeed, just 5% of dealers reported tighter retail credit trends – and no dealer reported tougher access to wholesale credit. Net, the surge in dealer sentiment helps explain the desire to accumulate inventory – a natural re-stocking effect.
Bullish on fundamentals. We remain bullish on RV fundamentals as a solid cyclical recovery unfolds. We believe that negative equity is evaporating, fueling spending in previously dormant markets (RVs, boats, motorcycles). Meanwhile, dealer inventory is lean-to-balanced, supporting a potential restocking effect and better earnings power. Investor momentum has begun to fade, which could provide an opportunity to be more aggressive.
The days of canvas tents, a gas lantern and a Coleman stove have long passed when it comes to camping. According to a report by The Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, innovations and technology have made camping in recreational vehicles a whole lot more comfortable.
From air conditioning to slideouts to outdoor kitchens and even more recently, RVs with 1 1/2 baths, the world of camping is ever-changing.
“Outdoor kitchens with refrigerators, stoves are the newest big thing,” said 28-year RV salesman Don King of Fogdall RV in Cedar Falls. “We’re also seeing RVs with two doors, one that leads directly into the bathroom. And slideouts and multiple slideouts, that has been the biggest thing in the last 10 years. More space is big, bunkrooms in the back so parents and kids each have their own individual spaces.”
Active travelers are also seeking trailers that have rear space to carry ATVs, motorcycles and other all-terrain vehicles.
While innovations have made RVs spectacular, the market for new RVs fluctuates because of the fickle economy.
“It changes so fast,” said Greg Heath of A1 Vacationland. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years and every time we think we have the answers for the RV market, believe me we don’t even have the questions.”
The Courier reported that locally, the results are mixed. Heath says business has been down, but service on older units is at an all-time high. At Fogdall, King says business is up 15%, the largest increase for Fogdall since 2008.
“Many of those are repeat customers, and probably 90% of our business is of the towable variety, which is more affordable,” King said.
While high gas prices have made consumers of RVs scale back on long trips, Heath and King say that isn’t a new trend to Northeast Iowa.
“We are so blessed with many great campgrounds in Northeast Iowa,” Heath said. “Campers can go a short distance, find a great campground and have a good time.”
Two campgrounds within the immediate area, George Wyth State Park and Black Hawk Park, are consistently packed on weekends.
“I would say most people who have RVs will camp within 50 miles of where they live,” King added. “That doesn’t mean all do it, but my guess is 75% of our customers stay within 50 miles.”
Another benefit to having great campgrounds in the area is business on two fronts.
“It is a huge benefit for our type of business because RV consumers typically do business within a 100-mile radius of their home,” King said.
For Heath and A1 Vacationland, where their service department has picked up the slack when sales have been slow, he has sent a lot of servicemen out to local calls and some as far away as Clermont, MacGregor and Marquette, which is part of a new trend — leaving an RV at a permanant location.
“We do a lot of service on campers where it doesn’t look like they’ve moved from their pad in two or three years,” Heath said. “I believe those type of campers are enjoying what they can without spending a lot of money to do it.”
For 37 years, Lazydays has maintained a grip on the Tampa, Fla., RV market with its ever-growing, expansive headquarters located within eyesight of Interstate 4 in Seffner.
According to a report by the Tampa Bay Times, customers from as far away as Alaska have traveled to the mini mecca to purchase everything from small pop-up campers to toy haulers and luxurious fifth-wheels.
A lot has changed since the days when a gallon of gas was a mere 45 cents. Diesel engines have increased fuel economy in the RVs. Technology, including convection microwave ovens, flat screen televisions and smartphone apps, have boosted the ownership experience. And competition for the leisure time dollar has grown.
As a response to these market trends, Lazydays opened the Better RVing Store on March 15.
Customers can expect to go beyond the car dealer look and find parts, upgrade options, services they have longed for or some they may not have known about.
“We got in the parts and service business not just to be in the parts and service business,” said Bill Tickel, parts and services manager. “We had customers who wanted to buy things that we just didn’t carry.”
Situated on 124 acres with a team of 492 employees, 221 service bays, 299 campsites and three restaurants, a retail store was a natural progression and one Tickel says the Lazydays team batted around for years.
So Lazydays renovated the former customer lounge and turned it into an open-design store. It also renovated a new customer lounge inside near the offices and training center.
Tickel said the layout was customer driven with a good shopping experience in mind, so don’t expect department store aisles or a cavernous warehouse feel. The Better RVing store carries necessities for any coach, as they are called.
It also offers items you might not expect such as outdoor camping accessories, pet owner needs and even some home-grown Florida crafts.
“We did not want to abandon our customers to an operation that could not supply them,” Tickel said.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that a main competitor is Camping World, which has an adjacent location and used to have a cooperation agreement with Lazydays to supply parts and accessories. Camping World terminated that agreement in June 2012.
Tickel said Lazydays wanted to make sure there was something available for every type of customer, right down to the toilet paper on the shelves for those who are visiting for meetings, rallies, educational seminars or vacations.
For every new flooring option, Lazydays also offers safety courses; for every recliner, mattress, cabinet and window shade there are “how to” classes. Lazydays, which operates a second location in Tucson, Ariz., has a pipeline to big manufacturers for special order “hard parts” needed for repairs.
Whether you prefer a Class A RV, or a towable, which Tickel says is the fastest growing coach segment, Lazydays offers its customers a variety of equipment and educates them on how to use it before hitching up and pulling away.
“We have a commitment to the customer experience,” Tickel said.
Although unemployment remains stubbornly high, sales of travel trailers and motorhomes have rebounded to some of their strongest levels in six years as consumers feel more confident about their personal wealth.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that in Wisconsin, there were 6,100 travel trailers sold in 2012, the highest amount since 2007, according to Statistical Surveys Inc., a Grand Rapids, Mich., firm that tracks sales in the recreational vehicle and recreational marine industries.
Low interest rates and stable fuel prices have helped boost sales, along with pent-up demand for the products. High unemployment in some parts of the nation is about the only thing holding sales back, said Tom Walworth, president of Statistical Surveys.
“As long as people feel confident in their jobs, and interest rates remain low, they will continue to buy things,” he said.
Leisure-product market trends affect hundreds of Wisconsin businesses and help drive the state’s tourism industry.
A full recovery in motorhome and camper sales will depend on the economy and consumer confidence. But spurred by retiring Baby Boomers and young families buying their first camper trailers, the long-term prospects for the RV industry look good.
Experienced RV enthusiasts, many of them retirees, were among the first to return to the equipment marketplace – if they left at all. They’ve been followed by first-time RV users, many of them under age 40, who are now a little more comfortable with their spending since the recession ended.
The RV industry has always been a leading economic indicator, according to Walworth.
“People watch the industry to see which way it’s going,” he said.
Burlington RV Superstore, in Sturtevant, said it had a 40% sales increase in 2012 from the prior year, and that it expects another 10% sales increase this year.
“We are in a nice growth mode again,” said Burlington President Tim Wegge.
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The Florida RV Trade Association (FRVTA) just completed its sixth regional show at venues throughout the state and reported that attendance numbers have been strong, according to a press release.
A roundup of show results includes:
• The Fort Myers RV Show, celebrating its 28th year, featured 17 dealers from all along the Gulf Coast along with well over 100 vendors. Show Chairman Chris Morse reported that attendance increased about 1,000 over the the 12,300 patrons last year while dealers and vendors registered steady sales. Morse noted that the event also generated followup sales for dealers.
• The Ocala RV Show held the last week in January showcased 13 dealers and the supplier’s tent included representatives from campgrounds and resorts along with a parts and accessories store. Great weather the entire weekend brought in just under 5,000 people over the four days of the show. “This was the second year at the new location adjacent to the Super Flea Market, which gives us great visibility from I-75,” said FRVTA Marketing Director Dave Kelly. “It’s easier to get to and we are closer to town than the old location. I know the dealers like being closer to town and it appears the public does, too.”
• The 7th Annual Spring Clean-Out RV Show was held the second weekend in February and featured seven RV dealers and six vendors at Germain Arena, which fronts I-75. Held in conjunction with an annual home and garden show, the event attracted over 3,300 attendees despite a cold, rainy start. “We hold this show to reach down into the Naples market where there are lots of RV resorts, but no RV dealers,” said Region 1 President Dan Wylie. “From what I could tell, every dealer did well, moving both new and used products.”
• The Jacksonville RV Show returned for the fourth year to the Jacksonville Equestrian Center. Six participating RV dealers showcased product and the supplier’s area was setup so that the public came in and out right past the booths. Great weather again brought in a record crowd of over 7,300 people. “We renewed the promotion from last year’s show to get visitors to go to every dealer and have a card stamped that made them eligible for a drawing every day for a gas card,” said Region 6 President Tom Tibbitts. “This not only got people to visit every dealer, it also gave every dealer the chance to interact with every visitor.”
• The Central Florida RV Show was held at the Volusia County Fairgrounds in DeLand the last weekend of February. Seven RV dealers reported “good to great” sales from the close to 4,000 people that attended. “We dropped the admission price a couple of bucks to try and get a bigger crowd, and we were up about 400 people over last year’s show,” said Ken Prentiss, Region 4 president. “We will continue to look at ways to increase attendance and bring more buyers to this event next year.”
• The last winter regional show was held March 7-10 in West Palm Beach. Held in the parking lot of the South Florida Fairgrounds, and included nine dealers and 10 booth exhibitors. Drawing over 3,400 people, dealers enjoyed strong traffic, including Keith Waits from Palm Beach RV who reported selling both new and used units.
Still to be held is the 18th Annual RV SuperSaver Show in Fort Myers. Show Manager Jack Carver expects to have about 11 dealers and 10 exhibitors in this annual event that is aimed at local residents. “Depending on the weather, this show usually delivers about 3,500 people over three days,” he explained. “It’s the perfect time for our dealers to reach out to local residents as they prepare for the summer travel season.”
Kelly noted, “The bottom line coming out of the Florida winter/spring RV show season is that the attitudes of consumers are vastly more positive and the fact that most shows were either at or close to last year’s attendance means the interest in RV products is still strong and getting stronger.”
For more information contact the FRVTA at (813) 741-0488 or www.frvta.org.
The 2012-2013 Michigan Association of Recreational Vehicles & Campgrounds (MARVAC) show season wrapped up this past weekend with all five shows posting the highest consumer attendance in years.
According to a press release, the show season began on a strong note with the Fall Detroit Camper & RV Show up 30% in visitors, and RV dealers optimistic for the upcoming year. This was followed in February by the Detroit Camper & RV Show which was up 13%, the highest in over 12 years.
MARVAC said that shows in Battle Creek, Flint and Traverse City continued the positive energy with excellent attendance and sales.
“Michigan residents continue to look at the recreation vehicle lifestyle as an increasingly popular way to travel and vacation with their family in a safe and efficient way,” said Bill Sheffer, MARVAC director. “This year’s show reflected an increase in attendance from both new RV enthusiasts and veteran RV owners looking to upgrade their recreation vehicle in 2013.”
Last year began this upward trend with motorhome sales rising 7.3% nationally from 2011, according to Statistical Surveys Inc. RV shipments are projected to grow 7.5% in 2013 to 307,300 units, according to economist Richard Curtin, director, Surveys of Consumers at the University of Michigan.
Continued industry growth in 2013 is evident by MARVAC’s shows, but many factors will contribute to this growth and interest in the RV industry in 2013. Economic growth, more expendable household income and greater availability for financing is expected to have a positive impact on consumers and sales well into the camping season.
The Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles and Campgrounds (MARVAC) is a statewide, non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging growth in the recreation vehicle and private campground industries while contributing to the quality of Michigan tourism. For more information, visit www.marvac.org.
RV wholesale shipments to retailers continued to rise in February this year, growing 6% above last month and were 6% ahead of this same month last year on shipments of 26,120 units. This was the best February total since 2008 with nearly all vehicle categories participating in the improvement. February’s shipments pushed the year-to-date total to 50,499 units, a 16.6% gain over the first two months last year. On a seasonally adjusted basis, February shipments were at an annual rate of more than 300,000 units. Year-to-date, the seasonal rate represented more than 320,000 units annualized.
Lincolnshire, Ill.-based Camping World RV Sales today (March 20) reported 2012 revenue on rolling stock sales of $1.48 billion, a 28.8% increase over 2011.
According to a news release, income from operations for the year totaled $67.4 million, an increase of 74% over 2011 results.
The company noted that the results do not include revenue or income from operations of the company’s affiliate Good Sam Enterprises LLC.
RV enthusiasts turned out in high numbers, resulting in record sales at GS Media & Events’ RV Shows in January and early February, the company reported.
“GS Media and Events has access to vast resources of RV enthusiasts across the country, reaching qualified RV buyers nationwide through direct mail marketing as well as email campaigns to past show attendees, Good Sam Club members, as well as current or past Camping World customers,” said Barbara Ronning, marketing and project manager for GS Media and Events. “Through these avenues, GS Media and Events reaches those consumers most likely to be looking to upgrade to a new model, trade in their old units, or even buy their very first RV. By providing quality, feature-packed shows, attendees return to our shows year after year.”
Comments on specific shows follow:
• Regarding the Colorado RV Adventure Travel Show held Jan. 9-12, Jim Humble, of Windish RV Center in Lakewood, Colo., said, “The January show was very good. Traffic was very solid even with cold weather and a Bronco game on Saturday. Sales were similar to 2012 show, a record year for Windish RV Center. We saw great traffic in the weeks after the show as well, and we will continue to do shows with GS Media and events as they are a huge part of our yearly success.”
• The Mid-America RV Show was held Jan. 17-20 in Kansas City, Mo. Daryn Anderson, general manager of Olathe Ford RV Center in Kansas City noted, “This was probably the best show as far as sales that we have had in many years. The show attendance seemed very large and the quality of the folks looking to purchase was also very encouraging for us. We are starting to plan for our attendance next year and definitely look forward to being a part of the Mid-America RV Show for many years to come.”
• At the Minneapolis/St. Paul RV Vacation & Camping Show earlier in February, Coates RV Center of Forest Lake, Minn., reported record sales. Sarah Lange, owner of Coates RV, said, “This was our best show on record for sales, and we are very pleased with the results. Saturday traffic was heaviest I have seen, and we have had great follow-up with qualified leads in the weeks following the show. This is the best show to reach our potential customers.”
• At the New Jersey RV & Camping Show in January, record attendance was set, explained Anthony Tedesco, show manager. “We had very strong reports of show sales from dealers. Crossroads Trailers reported the strongest level of sales since 2004, which was the height of the RV industry boom. In Greenville, S.C., strong attendance was reported with more than 100 units sold at the South Carolina RV and Camping Show. This year, we doubled the size of the show and quadrupled dealer participation.”
• Record attendance was also set at the Atlantic City RV Show in February with dealers reporting excellent sales, said Ronning.
Upcoming RV shows for GS Media and Events include events in Providence, R.I., El Paso, Texas, and Milwaukee, Wis. All of these shows are part of the Progressive Insurance RV and Outdoor Show Series and will feature a variety of RVs, campground information and accessories along with expert advice and entertainment.
For more information about upcoming consumer shows, exhibitor lists and discounted online tickets to the shows, visit www.GSEvents.com.