Up and down Route 5 in Connecticut’s South Windsor and East Windsor, companies relying on the discretionary dollar survived the recession by picking up customers fleeing expensive undertakings, or they simply waited until their old customers came back.
“We thought this would be a recovery year, but it is really beyond our wildest expectations,” Mark VanOstrand, owner of Van’s RV Center in South Windsor, told the Hartford Business Journal.
Last year was the absolute worst year for sales in Van’s 44-year history, but those customers have come back in droves this year with sales triple the first half of 2009, VanOstrand said. Customers held off spending $15,000-$30,000 for a towable recreational vehicle last year in the tumultuous job market, but as employment has stabilized, people are buying.
“At least at this point, if you haven’t lost your job, you’re not going to lose your job,” VanOstrand said. “Now, they are comfortable making that purchase.”
Disposable income has risen from 2009, although the levels are still below 2007, said Demetrios Giannaros, business professor at the University of Hartford. Many Connecticut residents lost their jobs and all their disposable income; others took pay cuts, missed raises or had to spend more on necessities.
Consumers are more cautious now than in the previous five years, Giannaros said. Even if they have the same level of disposable income, spending on vacations, restaurants and entertainment is down.
At Van’s RV Center, where sales of towable RVs have returned to the glory days, the sales of high-end motorized RVs — starting at $75,000 — remain mired in the recession.
The motorized RV sales are better than 2009, VanOstrand said, but they are a much more expensive commitment. Consumer confidence must greatly increase before sales return to the records made from 2002-2007, he said.
Van’s work force is still down 40% from 2007, with only 15 employees remaining.
“Eventually, the motorized sales will follow, but it may take a year or two,” VanOstrand said.