The recreational vehicle industry is on the road to recovery, said Southwest Florida dealers preparing for an annual show that starts today (Jan. 20) in Fort Myers, Fla.
“The people who were reluctant to spend for the past couple of years are starting to buy,” Skip Eppers, owner of the Skip Eppers RV dealership, told the Fort Myers News-Press.
“They still want a good deal,” Eppers added. Unlike immediately following the national banking debacles of 2008, financing is available, he said. However, the buyer’s credit score must be good – “at least 700 and up,” according to Eppers.
The RV show runs through Sunday at Lee Civic Center, North Fort Myers. It will feature several hundred RVs ranging from $9,000 “popup” tent campers to motorcoaches with price tags of $500,000 or more.
The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) estimates that 8.3 million American households, or about 7%, own RVs.
Bob and Peggy Amend of Port Charlotte are among them. Bob, 70, is a Wal-Mart greeter. Peggy, 69, works part time as a nurse. Both relish taking two-day getaways with the new Kodiak travel trailer purchased about five months ago from Eppers.
“I have a stressful job,” Peggy Amend said. “It’s nice to hook (the trailer) up and go.”
The Amends generally camp at state parks within easy driving distance from their home. “That makes camping so reasonable, even when the gasoline prices are going up,” Peggy Amend said.
In Naples, Tony Giangiordano is wintering at the Panthers Walk RV resort in the new 43-foot motor home he bought from North Trail RV Center, Fort Myers. The former Philadelphia city employee started with a smaller Class C motorhome in 1993. First, he went camping just on weekends: After retiring, he became a full-time RVer.
Summers, he takes the RV back to New Jersey to visit relatives. Giangiordano, who’s 72, thinks it beats hotels: “I’m like a baby; I like my own crib at night,” he quipped.
Industry leaders say RV travel remains affordable for many people, despite the economic downturn. A 2008 PKF Vacation Cost comparison study showed that a family of four can save 27% to 61% on vacation costs by traveling in an RV, even after factoring in ownership costs and fuel.
To combat rising fuel prices, RV manufacturers have improved fuel economy through the use of plastic composite materials that have reduced the weight of RVs by as much as 25%.
Through November, wholesale shipments to RV retailers for 2010 totaled 224,000, according to the RVIA. That’s up 47.7% from the same period in 2009.
However, 2009 “was bad for the entire industry,” said Kevin Broom, association spokesman. From shipping 390,500 units in 2006, manufacturers say demand slipped 9.5% in 2007, 33%t in 2008 and 30%year-over-year, in 2009.
People still wanted RVs, but they were concerned about possibly losing their jobs and the devaluation of their homes when the real estate bubble burst, Broom said.
Deferral of buying “is not completely over,” Broom said, “but it does seem people are getting back into the RV market.”