Randy Boatright has his four missing camper trailers back, but it’s too little, too late. His more than two decades of selling recreational vehicles in Wichita, Kan., are over, done in by an economic downturn and a steady stream of vandalism at his R&D Camperland dealership.
As reported by the Wichita Eagle, the latest blow came Friday (Jan. 2) night when a person drove a truck through a fence to steal four camper trailers, Boatright said.
The campers, valued at $85,000, have been recovered, Boatright said. “They spent about an hour… to go joyriding,” he said.
But Boatright said he’s had enough. His remaining inventory was being moved to 54 Auto and RV in Augusta.
“All these years working for myself,” he said wistfully. “I guess I can work for someone else. I’m going to have to.”
Wichita has too many RV dealerships, Boatright said.
“Probably nine at its peak, and that was just too many per capita,” he said. “We had almost as many as Oklahoma City, but we’re down to seven now.”
The thefts are the capper on a terrible year that Boatright said killed his business, including:
• A March 3 fire that started in a camper refrigerator and damaged the dealership.
• Tightening credit to customers and to the business.
• Customers moving steadily away from luxury purchases as the economy soured.
• Repeated vandalism throughout the year, ranging from thefts and break-ins to the final theft of the four trailers.
R&D has been a steady victim of break-ins over the years, Boatright said, beginning when manufacturers began building perks into the units like stereos, surround sound and televisions.
“People’d break in to steal something worth $200, but the problem was they’d do $1,500 worth of damage,” Boatwright said.
And then there’s the economic collapse: Boatwright said the business lost about $90,000 in 2008, plus another $40,000 out of his pocket.
“Trailer sales for me started to slow about 2002 or 2003,” he said. “But we could break even. And then, here came this economy.”
The Eagle reported that RV dealers nationwide are struggling, according to Dave Pirtle, who owns 54 Auto and RV, and Phil Ingrassia, vice president for communications at the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA).
“It’s an overall problem that a lot of dealers are struggling with,” Ingrassia said.
“RVs are a discretionary purchase, and when people are concerned about their job, the stock market, those kinds of things, discretionary purchases fall by the wayside,” Ingrassia said.
“It doesn’t surprise me about Randy,” Pirtle said. “And I look for several more to go.”
Ingrassia said there’s no national epidemic of dealerships closing.
“We’re keeping tabs on it, and over the last 12 months, it’s been less than 5% of our membership,” he said. “But it’s definitely a tough time as dealers are adjusting to the economy.”
Times and customers have changed, Pirtle said.
“Financing is tougher,” he said. “The cost of the unit according to the income of the person wanting to purchase it has changed dramatically. And none of us have the disposable income we used to have.”