The two letters hover above a three-mile stretch of Washington State’s Interstate 90, as familiar as the surrounding tree-covered hills.
As an acronym “RV” may be brief, but the reign of retailers specializing in recreational vehicles on the eastern fringe of Spokane County appears to be anything but short-lived. The Splash, Liberty Lake, reported that a trio of stores – Freedom RV, Camping World and R n’ R RV – call the city of Liberty Lake home, while two more – Spokane RV Liquidators and RVs Northwest – are a Frisbee toss from city limits.
“RVs represent leisure living,” said Liberty Lake Mayor Steve Peterson. “They’re a part of our environmental heritage in Liberty Lake. It seems if people don’t have a place by the lake, they go and buy an RV.”
From a financial perspective, Peterson said the RV business represents between 20% to 25% of the city’s sales tax revenue, depending on the year. In the early part of this year, when the city saw a significant jump in sales tax revenue, local RV retailers were the key, thanks to robust numbers from January.
“You look at the major drivers of sales tax in the city and it’s RVs, cars and houses,” Peterson said. “I see these RV dealerships bringing people into Liberty Lake.”
RVs Northwest was the first to set up shop along the freeway, moving from a site on Sprague Avenue in 1995. Original estimates were that sales would increase 20 percent with the transition – instead business improved 100 percent in the first six months. General Manager Ron Little said the confluence of stores has created “an easier avenue for RV shopping.”
“I also know that everyone who is going to my competitors has to go by my front door,” Little said.
Before RVs Northwest changed venues, Little said the trend for RV shops was to plant roots along Sprague or Division. Now, “RV row” is firmly entrenched along the freeway that carries its own share of motorhomes and trailers sailing the open road.
“I’d like to think we’re all friendly competitors,” Little said.
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Washington-based Valley Auburn RV has opened a second location in Kent with a ribbon cutting ceremony set for June 8, according to a press release.
The new facility, named Valley RV Supercenter, is five times larger than the Auburn store and features an indoor showroom, an expanded parts department and 20-plus service bays.
Valley RV was founded in 1966 by Frank Lee and Ron Claudon Sr.who took on the Winnebago line of motorhomes and actually sold four of the first 10 ever built. The RV facility became Valley I-5 (just off I-5 in Kent) in 1979. That dealership was eventually sold and in 2009 Ron Claudon Jr. teamed up with long-time Valley I-5 manager and RV expert Tony Weeldreyer to start Valley Auburn RV.
“We just felt the timing was right. Plus, we had out-grown our Auburn location”, says Tony Weeldreyer, co-Owner/general manager. “We offer a great product — Jayco. They truly build the highest quality lineup and it’s easy to understand why they have the best resale value in the industry. We also understand the value of providing exceptional service to our customers and we now have the facility to do just that.””
Valley RV Supercenter’s grand opening celebration will be held the weekend of June 8-9 with several special events planned. During this event, Valley RV Supercenter will donate $100 for each unit sold to the Kent Downtown Partnership, which is dedicated to serving and promoting the downtown Kent business community.The ribbon cutting ceremony will be held at 1 p.m. and will presided over by Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke along with other local dignitaries.
RV dealerships and nearby trailer owners in Fife, Wash., have been hit by a rash of break-ins. According to a report by KOMO TV, the thieves don’t try to steal the RVs and trailers — just electronics.
“And they’re not taking the remote controls,” said Patti Bellucci, who works with Sumner RV.
Their Fife location has been hit twice recently, with around a dozen of their RVs broken into. The small company doesn’t have a bulk discount with big manufacturers. They buy all the electronics right of the shelf, so the loss hits twice as hard.
“This is all coming out of our pockets, basically,” Bellucci said.
At nearby Fife RV, Matt Cazier walks by a range of high-end motorhomes, some that cost as much as $500,000. Some have power cords and exposed cables inside because thieves have broken into more than thirty of his campers just since December.
“They know that they’re fairly vulnerable. It’s quick. It’s in and out,” Cazier said.
Fife RV has lost an estimated $30,000 in equipment and decided to hire a security guard. That has helped the thefts taper off, but it has cost man hours and even more money.
Bellucci is simply disappointed. She fears drugs and addiction are fueling the odd crimes. She wishes her homes, mobile or otherwise, could be safer.
“It just really hurts. It’s really sad,” she said.
As RV sales in Fife, Wash., continue to gain momentum, more dealerships are taking part in the action.
“We didn’t have any business for a couple of years,” said Russ O’Connor, general manager of Fife RV Center. “We had a lot of pent-up demand in the area. … We had dealers that went away, but now we have dealers popping back up. The factories are reinvesting again.”
The Business Examiner, Tacoma, reported that O’Connor said his business is up about 60% from last year and on top of that last year was up significantly over the year before.
“You are going to see all this pent-up demand and all these people waiting for something new to come out or something better,” O’Connor said. “You are seeing all those people coming back into the market. It is very, very good.”
Baydo’s RV Center in Fife also witnessed the collapse of the industry in 2008.
“That kind of marked the turning point for sure,” said Kim Smith, finance manager for Baydo’s. “Then from about 2010 on, it’s been an ever steady increase in business. Last year was real good and this year is getting off to a banner start as well.”
While Smith said sales weren’t where they were in the 2007 period, he does believe this year will still be a “record year” for the RV industry.
“It’s just getting better and better all the time,” he said.
O’Connor said a couple of factors play into the industry’s improvement. But perhaps the most important one is that banks started to lend to customers again.
“In 2010 you would have a customer with good credit, but you couldn’t get them financed,” he said. “There’s a lot of RVers out there, but they couldn’t get the money to consider financing an RV. You don’t have that many cash buyers out there. When the lending went away the industry took a big hit.”
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