Operating on the front lines, dealers normally are the first to see the effects of a turndown in the RV industry.
According to a report in the Goshen News, one direct example in Indiana’s Elkhart County is the now-defunct Hart City RV Supercenter. After over 26 years in business on the west side of Elkhart, the dealer was forced to close in October due to declining sales, rising gas prices and the credit issue.
More recently, the Wakarusa branch of California-based DeMartini RV Sales has been “temporarily closed for the winter” according to owner Tim DeMartini. A slow economy and the loss of the Monaco plant next door has drained what business they had.
“There’s no sense fighting a dead horse right now,” DeMartini said. He suggested the business may reopen in the spring if the industry improves.
“For us, November and December are always the slowest time of year in RV sales, and so my sales are the same as what they were the last several years in November and December,” Wana RV Center owner Gary Miller said.
He said October sales are down for the Shipshewana business, but added that this is not their main issue. “Where we’re running into problems is with getting people financed. That knocks a lot of people out of the buying market,” he said.
“What we’re looking for now is just getting through the end of the year. January always starts off again with an RV show that will be in South Bend. That usually gets us rolling again from our fall sales,” he said. “At that point we’ll really be able to tell where we stand.”
Tom Ewing disagrees with Miller regarding the credit crunch. He owns Ewing’s Outpost RV Inc. in Middlebury, which has seen a 35% increase in sales.
“Dealers are afraid, so they quit buying rather than telling the manufacturers they’re afraid. Then they make up this story I keep hearing, that ‘we can’t get anybody financed,’” he said.
Recently, the dealership has helped an 85-year-old man finance a trailer, and also financed a $61,000 RV for a 21-year-old college graduate without a career job.
“It’s not fair to the manufacturers that the dealers aren’t being honest with them. It’s the guy that’s working the line at the plant that’s getting hurt. People on the retail end haven’t stopped buying. Now manufacturers are laying people off because dealers are afraid to buy,” he said.
Ewing has noticed an interesting trend in his own customers — an increase in female customers. “Women are making a lot more money than eight or 10 years ago,” he said. “Back then they were making half of what their husbands made. Now, most women who come here make the same or more than their husbands.”
Elkhart-based Great Lakes RV Center has found a different angle to pursue. They rely on heavy use of their website, which has drawn in consumers from throughout both the United States and Canada.
“Through our Internet sites, we have been able to maintain and have a constant contact with customers all over the country,” Sales Manager G. Allen Davis said. “The future of this business is going to be more and more people buying on the Internet. They may see it at a dealer somewhere, but they’ll go online to get a better price.”
Although it may seem strange given the current economic climate, Davis said the majority of their business tends toward larger, more expensive units. Their average customers are the retired or the nearly retired, looking for the RV lifestyle with the conveniences of home.