RV industry sales on rise

Dealers say safer travel options amid COVID-19 are driving the uptick

Posted online

Recreational vehicle dealers are experiencing a multimonth jump in sales this summer, boosted by the coronavirus pandemic that shows no signs of dissipating.

Dealers say consumers are turning to RVs as a safer option for vacation travel while practicing social distancing amid the pandemic. The loosening of stay-at-home orders have spurred more visitors on RV lots, said Robyn Ziegler, general manager at Happy Trails RV Center Inc. along Interstate 44 in Phillipsburg.

“The last two months have been great,” Ziegler said, noting year-over-year sales at the dealership were up 40%-50% in May and June. “As soon as Missouri opened up a little bit, it’s been going crazy.”

RVs combine transportation and temporary living quarters for travel and camping – an attractive option for those not wanting to currently take vacations using airplanes or cruise ships, said RV Industry Association spokesperson Monika Geraci.

“You still have the freedom, but you also have that control,” she said.

“We are seeing that surge for those reasons. There’s a lot of first-time RVers who had never really thought of RVs as a way to travel.”

Although RV sales growth this year is fueled in part by the pandemic, it’s not a momentary success for the industry. According to a 2019 study by the RVIA, it’s a $114 billion industry – with RV sales and service clocking in at $20 billion.

The last four years have been the best on record for the number of RV wholesale shipments, according to the RVIA, which annually tracks industry production. A record 504,600 units were shipped in 2017, with roughly 406,000 last year, the fourth highest on record.

The organization has tracked numbers since 1960, Geraci said, noting around 11 million U.S. households own an RV.

“We are cautiously optimistic that we’re going to see a longer sales season and camping season,” said Geraci, adding RV travel usually ends in early fall.

Part of that optimism stems from a survey conducted in May by market research company Ipsos Group S.A.

The study examined consumer interest and travel plans during the coronavirus pandemic. According to the research, 46 million Americans, or roughly 14% of the population, plan to take an RV trip in the next 12 months. Additionally, 20% of U.S. respondents in the survey were currently more interested in RVs as a recreational travel choice, higher than any other option.

“People want to get out and they don’t feel safe going to motels, so they’re using RVs,” Happy Trails’ Ziegler said. “It’s like taking your home with you. Plus, you’re outside a little bit more.”

At Wehr RV’s LLC in Springfield, Sales Manager Joel Baum said the more popular RVs are single-axle travel trailers that small families or a couple can use.

“Bunk units are also really popular right now, so that larger families can have sleeping capacity,” he said.

Ziegler said he usually orders 30-40 units at a time, but Happy Trails’ inventory dipped in May as manufacturers were coming back online. Roughly 85% of his sales are travel trailers, he said, with Flagstaff, Sportsmen and Venture as his main brands.

“I’ve got a lot of them on order. They’re coming,” he said.