> SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE! 

Nearly 87% of those responding by e-mail to the first-ever RVBUSINESS.com Industry Poll believe the RV sector’s 2004 sales will exceed those of 2003. And, given a variety of generally positive economic signals, about 41% of the nearly 400 survey respondents think that this year’s gains will be in the upper single-digit range.
A closer look:
• 10.5% anticipate double-digit growth.
• 40.9% expect an upswing of 5% to 9%.
• 35.4% foresee modest growth of less than 5%.
• 9% expect no significant change from 2003.
• 4.2% are bracing for a sales decline.
The late March poll of registered visitors to RVBUSINESS.com, the RV industry’s only daily news site, underscored the continuing optimism of businesses involved in virtually every facet of the RV sector, even taking into account some of the opportunities and challenges facing the industry for the duration of calendar 2004.
“I am a rental manager,” one respondent wrote in the essay portion of the survey, “and my bookings are WAY ahead of last year. I have tripled the size of my fleet, anticipating the growth.”
Said another respondent: “My perception of the industry’s future is based on the volume of retail and dealer stock orders received in the first three months of this year. Compared to the first three months of last year, I have received 30% more orders from the dealers within my sales territory.”
“RVing,” another wrote, “has become the ‘in’ thing to do. We are seeing a younger and younger buyer of Type A motorhomes and diesels. They think nothing of spending $800 to $1,200 per month on their hobby.”
“As an avid RVer and a shareholder in a resort,” concludes another participant, “I have seen unparalled enthusiasm in the RV lifestyle. A friend owns an RV dealership and mentioned to me that RVs are ‘flying out of the doors.’ ”
On the subject of rising gas and diesel fuel prices, the consensus view among those responding to the poll is they will have little effect on RV sales. “Gas prices are a concern,” one respondent wrote. “But I think the consumer is psychologically less impacted by the current prices than (by) what they may have been in the past.”
“I don’t see fuel prices having much effect on sales performance,” wrote another retailer. “As long as interest rates remain low, there will be positive results.”
Another said gasoline prices could become a factor if they continue to rise and would cause some decline in travel. “But, overall, I feel that consumers in the RV industry will still travel – maybe not as far.”
A number of respondents expressed concerns about issues that could limit expectations for the year, including stock market volatility; Middle East turmoil; component parts shipment delays; raw material price hikes, especially steel; unemployment levels; transportation glitches; and rising consumer debt.
Record consumer debt levels, the increasing cost of fuel and the failure of the Bush administration to generate jobs eventually catch up with RV sales, a survey respondent maintained. “There is always a lag, and right now things are coasting on last year’s positive stock market. There is great enthusiasm, but folks still gotta have jobs and sales (are) increasingly relying on younger buyers, i.e. those hit hardest by outsourcing and downsizing.”
Ånother respondent said: “The parts vendors are hampering the industry’s ability to produce product in a timely manner. Coupled with the freight companies’ lag time in deliveries, could mean a difficult time for dealers to maintain proper stocking levels.”
Muddying the waters for many amateur prognosticators, of course, are the elections, which, some feel, make forecasting consumer spending patterns even more problematic.
“In an election year,” one person wrote, “it’s hard to predict what goes on in the minds of the buying public.”
“Elections do weird things,” adds another. “Some people say they’re good for sales, others say they tend to bring economic lethargy. I, for one, am not sure.”
RVBUSINESS.com is a free service of RV Business magazine.