The recreational vehicle industry is on the comeback trail after a disastrous 2008 that doomed dozens of well-known RV manufacturers.
That was the message sent by dealers at the Summer RV and Camper Jamboree, which wrapped up Sunday (Aug. 15) in Bay City, Mich.
Dealers said the market’s rebound should be evident this weekend as shoppers peruse the dozens of models on display, the Bay City Times reported.
“We had a lot of people here last year, but they were mostly looking. We’ve seen more buying already this year,” said Mark Orlando, a salesman with Midland RV Sales Inc., one of five local dealers showcasing a range of RVs at the jamboree, which began Thursday.
Sticker prices on the lot roughly range from $12,000 to $35,000. Dealers said those who purchase an RV during the show will pick it up at the dealership at a later date.
Orlando said the RV market got lost in the shuffle during the recession because of the automobile industry.
“You heard a lot about the auto industry, but the RV industry lost about 35% of its manufacturers during that time,” he said.
This year’s sales are up “dramatically” from 2008, Orlando said.
Consumers are also starting to see RVs as an investment that will save them money on vacation expenses over time, he said.
That’s how Mike and Lisa Killey, both 33, of Bay City, feel about their potential RV purchase.
The couple spent Friday browsing the selection of vehicles on display from dealers, which also include Hamilton RV of Saginaw Township, Parashallburg Campers of Chesaning, Dolney RV Center in Kawkawlin and Tri-City RV.
“We’ve got two little kids who can now go camping with us, so an RV will get put to good use,” Mike Killey said.
The Killeys have either borrowed or rented RVs for previous camping trips, but said there’s appeal in the stability of ownership.
“It’ll be nice to not have to worry about whether or not we can get an RV when we want to go camping,” Lisa Killey said.
Innovations are also making ownership more appealing, said Todd Dolney, general manager of Dolney RV Center.
“Now it’s like taking your home with you. Whether it’s fireplaces, air conditioning or satellite hookups, there’s just less of a difference between your home and an RV now,” Dolney said.
Even with innovations and a healing economy, Dolney said he doesn’t expect to see a return to the 15-year period of steady industry growth that preceded the recession. Still, the industry has always shown resiliency, he said.
“We always say that the RV business is the first to get hit hard by a recession, but it’s also the first to bounce back,” Dolney said.
Michelle Perrow of West Branch, Mich., says her family of five needs a vacation upgrade.
“We just have a tent,” she said. “Something like this would be much easier.”
Perrow was touring a camper on Friday (Aug. 14) at the Summer RV and Camper Jamboree, held last weekend in the Kmart parking lot in Bay City, Mich. T
She said her family travels northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula frequently and a camper would make vacationing much easier, according to the Bay City Times.
“We think we found a fifth-wheel, but we’re still looking,” she said.
Perrow was among hundreds shopping for an RV, part of an army of shoppers looking for a long-term solution to cheaper vacations. Five local venders from the Greater Lakes Bay Region set up camp to entice camping enthusiasts like the Perrows to give up their tents and upgrade.
“The camper and RV business is looking at different solutions,” said Amanda Parish of Hamilton’s RVs in Saginaw. “Michigan has a lot to offer right now across the state, and with a lot of these campers on clearance, it’s more feasible for people.”
One promoter of the jamboree said buying a camper is a long-term vacation investment.
“There’s a pretty good chance that more people will buy a camper instead of going on a full-blown cruise,” said Dick Weisenberger of Alltop Enterprises, a promoting company for the 23rd annual jamboree. “It makes more sense right now to stay local, buy local and support local.”
Weisenberger said more campgrounds around the state are filling up quicker because of the popularity of RVs.
Adding to the appeal are smaller, lighter campers made with aluminum frames, which allow smaller trucks and even some sedans to haul a camper.
“It used to be that you needed a big truck to carry these trailers,” said Weisenberger, “but that isn’t the case anymore.”
The aluminum material cost more, but were still getting attention at the event.
“The smaller and lighter units are still selling faster,” said Kevin Carlton of Parshallburg Campers in Chesaning. “People want those because they aren’t driving huge vehicles anymore.”
Carlton credited last summer’s high gas prices as a reason why more campers are selling this summer.
Norris Saugstad, 84, of Otisville, says it takes the right kind of person to own a camper or motorhome.
“You really got be interested in the hobby and be willing to travel,” said Saugstad, who owned a camper for 10 years and only put 7,000 miles on it.
“They sure are nice, but you really need to use them to make it worth your money.”