Walt Michal has been in the RV business for 35 years and says he’s never seen anything like the economic downturn of the past several years.
According to a report in the Dexter Leader, he has owned Walt Michal’s RV Superstore in Belleville, Mich., for the past 11 years and is getting ready to make a radical change to his business.
The RV superstore will soon be known as “Walt Michal’s RV, Auto & More” Superstore.
“I’ve cut my inventory by $6 million this year – we usually stock $12 million wholesale,” Michal said from the office of his Belleville dealership, which stocked $30 million in wholesale merchandise in its heyday.
What’s worse, it wasn’t too difficult to move that much product at retail to customers back then and make $70 million in revenue, he said. Now revenue is more in the $16 million range.
Judging by the size of his business, which he says was “built to be huge,” Michal counts himself among the crowd who never would have guessed things would get this bad.
“It’s a tough row to hoe here in Detroit,” he said. “People who were buying RVs here are (now) scrambling to pay their mortgage every month. We’ve had back-to-back the worst years I’ve ever seen … this is the worst economic status that has hit Detroit ever.
“Even with the mortgage rates in 1980 and ’81 we were still building a lot of cars and everybody was still working. Now a $30-an-hour guy on the line is going to be bought out or told to start over at $10 an hour and pay for his own insurance.”
Michal sees the decision to branch into other products as a sign of the times.
“We were the RV king, but now we’re the king of everything,” Michal joked, but there was tension in his voice. “We’re going to sell ATV’s, boats, used cars, snowmobiles, everything. We’re just trying to survive. We’ll sell anything with wheels … we’ll put the ultimate deal together.”
Michal wants to attract customers as early as possible. He said people can get their first car at his lot, and he hopes they will come back again and again for the rest of the lives with their friends and family in tow.
His only regret is that he didn’t react earlier.
“We should have diversified a year ago,” Michal said. “Guys who refuse to change will either go out of business, or they’re second- or third-generation dealers who have had money in the family for years.
“They don’t get any highs or lows. They have been able to maintain, because they don’t have the debt, so they don’t have to worry about that.”
The Leader reported that despite the credit freeze for businesses in Southeast Michigan and the automakers having bonds relegated to junk status, Michal is going to fight for the business that has “been so good to (him) over the years.”
Closing up shop and moving to Florida is not an option.
“I’m advertising this on billboards and TV stations are coming out … depending on the response I’ll do more billboards outside of my area and the county,” he said.
Once he has adjusted to shifting from a customer base that is 85% UAW workers, Michal says he, too, is going to hope for modest growth or simply balanced books once the economy stabilizes.