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Although most of the manufacturers exhibiting at this week’s 34th Annual Pennsylvania RV & Camping Show weren’t all that pleased with the level of dealer attendance during the show’s trade days on Monday and Tuesday, most continued to issue extremely positive reports about the general strength of the RV marketplace.
Among the RV builders still riding the crest as of the Harrisburg Show, a large trade and consumer event held Sept. 9-15 at Harrisburg’s Farm Show Complex, was Pennsylvania’s own SunLine Coach Co., Denver, Pa. SunLine, a 230-employee, privately held manufacturer of towable RVs, was apparently among the North American companies that seemed to have almost been ambushed by the strong upswing in RV demand earlier this year.
And while they declined to report actual numbers, senior managers of the mid-size towable maker did indicate that SunLine’s order bank this week is 50% to 60% ahead of last year’s.
“Since January, we’ve had about a 400-unit backlog, and we haven’t really (recaptured) tapped into that at all,” SunLine President Dale Zimmerman, told RVBUSINESS.COM. “And if we could have gotten about 30 to 40 more employees by March 1, I think we could have captured a lot more of the market. Looking back, there were at least 200 more units that we could have built. The market was there. The demand was there. We just could not produce fast enough.”
By mid-September, in fact, SunLine was looking at an eight-week backlog and was anticipating more of the same in the foreseeable future. “Next year,” added Tim Martin, vice president of sales and marketing, “our projections would indicate a 20% to 25% increase in units over this year. I think we easily have enough room to do that.”
What’s market forces are at work here?
“I think there’s a lot of things going on in the market,” said Zimmerman. “The low interest rates and the easy access to money aside, I think the whole concept of family togetherness, getting together again, being able to get away, reconnecting, I think that’s all a big part of it. People want to be able to get away from the hustle-bustle.
“Even if you look past 9/11 and you go back to the downsizing and right-sizing (of corporations) and all of the things that are happening out there,” he added, “people are more concerned about spending time with their families. They want to get out. They see the things going on with their 401-Ks and the stock market. And they say, ’you know what? I’m going to go out and enjoy myself because I don’t know what’s going to happen.’ I’m going to take some of this money; I’m going to make an investment in an RV, and I’m going to go out and enjoy myself because my kids are getting older. My life’s slipping away from me. All I’ve been doing is working; I’m going to find something to do to enjoy myself.”
But can’t you do all that at a country club?
Not really, says Zimmerman. “You don’t have the access to the activities, the recreation,” he countered. “You’re locked into one specific thing when you go to the country club. When you go camping, the sky’s the limit. You can do whatever you want to do, from the amusement parks to the museums.”