The RV industry is taking more notice of the growing market for recreation vehicles among African-American campers. It’s a market that has existed under the radar for decades and is growing as more African-Americans enter the middle class and can afford to buy the product.
“I think it’s been going on for years but not realized by most people,” said Howard Gregory, of Cleveland, an RVer since 1978 and central region director for the National African-American RVers Association Inc. (NAARVA), the nation’s largest camping club for minority campers. NAARVA now has about 2,000 members from coast to coast and holds annual rallies in each of five regions as well as a national rally.
“We at NAARVA realize there are lots of African-Americans with RVs but weren’t part of a club.”
Tom Stinnett, owner of Tom Stinnet RV Freedom Center, Clarksville, Ind., said minority ownership of RVs “is probably increasing at a much faster rate than the general market. Twenty years ago, we didn’t have anybody coming in the door who was a minority buying our products. Fifteen years we saw a few. Ten years ago, we started seeing more. Now, it’s probably 10% of our business. Considering 10 years ago it was 1%-2%, that’s a good chunk of business.”
This growth is fairly recent and didn’t happen by accident.
Stinnett said he asked some of his minority customers several years ago how he could make his dealership more inviting to other minority members.
“A lot said some dealers ignore them and do not view them as good, quality customers,” Stinnett relayed. “We don’t allow that to happen here at all, but they’re telling us that’s an issue out there.”
Stinnett said RV dealers “need to make ourselves an option to them as well as everybody else.”
RV dealerships in other metro areas such as Atlanta, where 60% of the population is black, are encouraged by the business they receive from minority buyers but think it could be larger.
“We see an African-American in our stores every day,” said Bryan Hays, general manager of John Bleakley RV, Georgia’s largest motorized RV dealership. They’re buying everything from entry level Class C motorhomes to $250,000 rigs, he said. “Lately, we’re seeing a lot of first-time buyers who never owned an RV before. We’re seeing a lot of Baby Boomers, not just retirees.” Hays also noted a large percentage of African-American shoppers at their two big trade shows in September and January. He estimates the African-American shopper buys 60% new and 40% used.
(Bleakley RV was an exclusive motorized dealer until adding towables this summer to broaden its product line.)
Hays also noticed a lot of repeat buyers in the two years he’s worked there. He estimates that minority purchases represent between 5% and 10% of the business at the dealership’s three stores.
At Peco Campers, a towables dealership in suburban Atlanta, approximately 20% of its parts business comes from African-Americans, but less than 5% of its vehicle sales. The latter number should be a lot larger, management says.
“We’ve been racking our brains for 30 to 40 years to figure out ways to get into the black market. Our best method is taking extra care when they come in because they don’t have a heritage with it, many of them did not grow up in families that camped,” said Nick Adams, general manager.
The potential for business is great in Atlanta, he said, because “there is a huge growing middle class and they’re looking for ways to spend their money.”
On the positive side, “Each year, the number of minority shoppers and buyers is increasing,” Adams said.
Hays and Adams credit the GoRVing Campaign with bringing in greater numbers of black shoppers.
Stinnett co-chairs the Go RVing Coalition and has been a prominent leader of the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA).
“We’ve often thought at RVDA or at Go RVing meetings we needed to broaden our approach to market expansion,” Stinnett explained. “We didn’t know how to do it for quite some time. We finally landed on (the idea) to visually show in our ads the inclusion of minority prospects.”
Based on research by Harris Interactive for the coalition, the RV industry is targeting its new print and TV ads in the current Go RVing campaign to promising RV prospective audiences. Families with children are featured in the ads, including African-American and Hispanic families who now constitute 16% and 11% of prospects, respectively, according to Harris.
The 2004 Harris study found that prospective African-American RV buyers are more likely to fall within the 35 to 49 year age bracket and consider RV travel a good value. Harris calls this segment, “The Get Up and Go Crowd.”
NAARVA certainly fits this description. It is a family oriented, nonprofit organization which brings together fellow RVers and develops friendships among adults and youth. The freedom of adventure characterizes all the members.
NAARVA demographics mirror the profile of many RV owners. The average NAARVA member is 52 years old. Most members are married and approximately 20% have children living at home. NAARVA membership is weighted toward motorized, as an estimated 70% of the NAARVA members own motorhomes. The rest are in either travel trailers or fifth wheels, because NAARVA regulations require members to travel in self-contained RVs.
This year’s national rally is the end of July at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia, the second time the national was held there. Other national rallies have been in Lexington, Ky., Dayton, Ohio, Buena, N.J., Mansfield, Ohio, Perry, Ga., Puyallup, Wash., Forest City, Iowa, Urbana, Va., and Houston.