Steve Francis is trying his best to remain optimistic. That isn’t easy, being the owner of an RV dealership.
The Kansas City Star reported that Francis, owner of the Trailside RV Center in Grain Valley, Mo., and co-founder of the Route 66 Dealer Network LLC with his brother Dave, is surrounded by gloomy reminders of how badly the RV industry has been hit by the slumping economy: The lack of available credit, the effects of once-potential customers being out of work, the cuts in RV production.
Even President Barack Obama highlighted the woes of the RV industry when he visited Elkhart, Ind., the “RV Capital of the World” that suddenly is earning fame for another reason: having the nation’s highest unemployment rate.
Yet Francis is trying to look past all of that. Yes, times are bad, he said. But he’s been through bad times before, and the industry has always rebounded.
“We’re trying to make lemonade out of lemons right now,” said Francis, who will be displaying some of his RVs at the Mid-America RV Show this weekend at Bartle Hall. “I’ve seen tough times before. Right after I got in the business in 1987, it was terrible. I was wondering what I had gotten into.
“But we came out of that, and we’ll come out of this, too.”
Part of his optimism is based on demand.
The passion for the RV lifestyle hasn’t gone away, Francis said. It’s the credit that has disappeared.
“We have people come in all the time who are interested. We’ve even written up deals, but people will come in and say they couldn’t get the financing,” said Francis, 47, who lives in Stanley. “That’s the big thing right now.
“Every seven seconds, someone turns 50 in this country. That’s our demographic. A lot of people dream of retiring and buying an RV and traveling.
“The interest is still there. It’s just that the financing isn’t.
“Once the credit loosens up, I think we’re going to see a definite upturn. But how long that will take, no one knows.”
Until that happens, Francis and other RV dealers are just surviving. Trailside RV is still selling smaller units. “We delivered four units just last weekend,” Francis said. And the service department is still doing plenty of business.
But sales of big units, such as motorhomes, are way down.
Nonetheless, Francis went into the Mid-America RV Show with cautious optimism.
“If ever there was a time to buy an RV or a boat, this is it,” he said. “Dealers are offering some incredible deals.”
Francis believes in the product he sells. He and his family have long been involved in RV camping. In fact, he and his family plan to take a trip to Florida for spring break.
“The RV lifestyle brings families together,” he said. “It’s a great way to spend quality time in the outdoors.”
Francis hasn’t lost faith that others still feel the same way.
“With this economy, some of the weaker dealers won’t survive,” he said. “But once this is over, I think the industry will come back stronger than ever.
“We just have to ride out the storm.”