Some RV manufacturers say the pressure on the industry’s transportation channels continues to build and that backlogs of up to six weeks in delivering RVs from factories to dealers are common. But others claim the transportation situation is easing up.
Jayco Inc., Middlebury, Ind., and Gulf Stream Coach Inc., Nappanee, Ind., are facing up to six-week waits. “The situation has eased up to some extent, but it is still a tight situation,” said Sid Johnson, Jayco’s director of marketing.
As for dealers and customers, adds Johnson, they’ve been relatively patient thus far.
“As we are now into spring and better weather, there is going to be increasing pressure on trying to get the product to the dealership when needed,” he said. “There is absolutely no doubt that the pressure will increase between now and the first of June unless we can provide a more timely service for them.”
In addition to a four-to-six-week shipping backlog, said Phil Savari, executive vice president at Gulf Stream, the market is such that has company is facing a four-to-six-week backlog on manufacturing their towable RVs.
The upside to all of this: Business is good.
“It is the best backlog we’ve had at our company,” he said. “But we are feeling the heat from dealers and customers. Looking at the seasonality of this industry, most of the manufacturing and shipping is happening between January and April. That is when the dealers/manufacturers/suppliers/transport companies gear up.”
Savari would prefer a market that wasn’t so seasonal, but realizes that this is the way things have always been. “What we are experiencing is a good sign right now because the demand is up and I believe more finance companies are going to be loosening up,” he added. “This is the great U.S.A. and people are going to feel confident again.”
Lazydays RV SuperCenter, Seffner, Fla., is also experiencing a backlog in the delivery of towables. “Lazydays has been able to minimize that impact by having a strong relationship with the drive services and even sending our own drivers when needed in order to best serve our customers,” said Sharon Padly, inventory manager.
However, the situation at SunnyBrook RV, Middlebury, Ind., is more fluid.
“Star Fleet is our primary carrier and the most we are out is one week,” said Elvie Fry, president. “Star Fleet is our carrier of choice so that helps. They do take good care of us, plus we are not shipping the higher number of units that some of the other larger companies are. We are shipping an average of 150 towable RV’s a month.”
From a carrier standpoint, Wave Express, Goshen, Ind., earlier this year had a three-week backlog — not as long as some other transport companies, but still more than part-owner Anita Carpenter would prefer. But she says the backlog has now decreased to two weeks.
Honestly it seems it is easing up a little bit,” she said. “Part of that reason is we hired more drivers. We’re still busy. There is plenty of work, but our dispatchers aren’t wanting to pull their hair out. Considering where we were two years ago it is amazing how busy we are.”
Wave Express is shipping 100-125 towables weekly in the U.S. and Canada.
RV Transport Service in Portland, Ore., is only three days backlogged for U.S. deliveries, about a week for Canadian deliveries.
“We’re hiring about one driver a week,” said Leah Dilgarde, general manager. “Our key to not getting backlogged is only accepting the work that we know will be covered in a timely manner. I have turned down work when we don’t have the drivers available, which is probably different from other companies because they’ll take every load they can get, even if they don’t have the drivers available.”
A rather sudden upturn in the towable RV market – on the heels of the production cutbacks of the recent recession – have left the U.S. recreational vehicle industry with somewhat of a dilemma: There’s simply not enough people available to deliver RVs to dealerships around the country.
Classic Transport, Elkhart, Ind., is backlogged six weeks on deliveries, according to CEO Bill Garvey. “We are working to build our fleet back up,” said Garvey. “This backlog is the highest it’s been since (the mass shipment of emergency housing units in 2005 to the Gulf Coast for) FEMA.”
Garvey said the age range of drivers (typically 50-70 year-olds semi-retired or retired), freight revenues, the expense of operating one-ton trucks, mounting regulations and the retail upswing are all factors contributing to the current transportation situation.
Classic Transport cut its company in half or more during the recession, and now there has been more than a 200% upturn in RV market shipments, says Garvey. “When these manufacturers break loose and start to ship in quantities, they create a backlog in the transportation industry,” Garvey said. “This has not come as a shock; we have all foreseen this.”
Garvey said almost none of his drivers are from the Elkhart area, contrary to popular belief, but live in other parts of the country.
“Since they don’t live in Elkhart, laid off drivers are harder to bring back,” he said. “Their trucks are very expensive, often with over $2,000 extra in equipment. We recruit part-time drivers, 50-70 year-olds. We are not able to recruit full-time drivers because when you sit down and do the math it doesn’t work out to full-time income.”
All of these factors add to the complex issue of transportation in a busy market. “We’ve been advertising (for drivers) and we’ve had a good response,”said Garvey, a former RV manufacturing executive. “But in terms of actually coming to work, they are not real thrilled with the snow. As the weather breaks, so will the dam on new drivers. How rapidly we will be able to get into the backlog is yet to be seen. There are a lot of variables to consider.”
Last week Classic Transport’s backlog nearly doubled in just one day.
“It’s a very large battle,” Garvey said. “We might not catch our breath until July when companies shut down for two weeks.”
Wave Express, Goshen, Ind., is having better luck contracting drivers, but is still backlogged three weeks, according to Anita Carpenter, part-owner of the company.
In August 2008, Wave Express had but three customers, and then the recession hit. Carpenter applied a little salesmanship and went directly to the dealers. Today Wave Express works directly with 25 dealers. It was to these dealers that Carpenter turned when the market picked up, prompting somewhat of a transportation bottleneck.
Carpenter last year needed maybe 20 drivers; she now has 52. “In Elkhart County there aren’t any drivers because of the recession,” she said. “So I went to my dealers to find drivers and placed ads in a few other states. We have 52 drivers right now and I could take on 100 more, but I don’t want to overpromise or underdeliver.”