On a recent visit to the suburban Denver facilities of Windish RV Center, an RVBusiness Top 50 dealer that received special recognition last week (Jan. 18) from RVB and Ally Financial Inc. for its charitable nature, General Manager Jim Humble shut his office door for a quick interview that shed some light on an array of relevant topics that, once again, lent credence to the industry’s prospects for a continued growth market in 2017.
Headquartered at the base of the west-side foothills near downtown Denver, Windish RV — Colorado’s top towable dealer — handles Airstream, Keystone and Grand Design travel trailers and fifth-wheels at its main 9-acre Lakewood store on U.S. 6. The retailer, owned by President Carolyn Windish Irwin, also operates a 7-acre satellite outlet about 35 miles to the north in Longmont and is in the process of adding a third facility, a 25,000-square-foot building now under construction on an 11-acre site to the south in Colorado Springs, that’s slated for a spring opening.
RVB: Everything considered, Jim, is the market here in the Denver area as strong as we’ve been hearing about in some other areas of the country right now?
Humble: The market looks great right now. I think that now more than ever, based on the influx of young families who are just coming out in force. I think that today in the world of technology people are seeing the benefits of traveling in a trailer or fifth-wheel versus the cost of airfare to go to Disney World, which far exceeds the cost of traveling with a family in an RV when you can spontaneously just take off and go for a long weekend. I think that families in today’s world are really seeing the benefit of that more than ever.
RVB: And this view, we’re assuming, is reflected in what you’re seeing at the early winter shows?
Humble: Well, what we’re seeing at the retail shows is very encouraging. The Colorado RV Adventure Travel Show in early January (Jan. 5-7) at the Denver Convention Center, for example, was about 10% better than last year, even though it was a day and a half shorter due to the holidays and a big snow storm. It was off the charts on Saturday. All in all, we sold 119 units in two and a half days, especially toy haulers and lightweight towables. We’re a big toy hauler fifth-wheel dealer, one of the biggest in the country, actually. And that segment was very good for us.
RVB: Are you, like some other dealers, seeing a demographic shift in buyers?
Humble: We certainly are. I think Airstream is a good example of that. I think Airstream has grown leaps and bounds over the past five years, and I think that customer is a new RVer. It’s a new younger crowd that looks at these Airstreams as certainly an iconic brand and something cool to own that introduces them to the lifestyle of going out and camping. Obviously, Airstream is on the expensive side of things. So, people who can’t afford that lifestyle are moving into stuff that retails in the mid-20’s and 30’s and are seeing the benefit of the cost of that on a monthly basis.
RVB: So, we’re clearly not just talking about the young Millenials here, many of whom aren’t yet secure financially and in their careers, right?
Humble: Certainly on the Airstream side, it’s somebody who has a good career. You know, it’s someone who’s going to spend upwards of $100,000 for a small trailer to pull behind their BMW or Land Rover, things like that. That’s the new Airstream customer. Airstream buyers years ago were retired folks, and that’s certainly not the case today. I think Airstream’s major growth is with that GenEx crowd. And I think if you look at Airstreams that are sold, a lot of them are under 16 to 25 feet.
Small as those tend to be, I think you’ll find that a lot of those Airstream customers really are not spending a week at a time in their units. You know, they’re getting bike racks on the back and going for long weekends to get away from the hotels.
RVB: Then again, judging by the Keystone Passports and Grand Design Reflections on your lot, Windish has been benefiting from the market’s swing to more affordable towables and price-sensitive buyers.
Humble: Yes, they tend to be in their early 30’s to mid-40’s with two or three kids at home and a mortgage and two car payments. That’s who’s buying those types of RVs. They’re trying to find an affordable way to spend family time where, again, it’s not going to cost them $15,000 to go to Disney World for a week. And I think that’s what’s driving a lot of it. Interest rates have been fantastic. That’s certainly helped the business tremendously. It makes it much more affordable.
And, honestly, I think some of the price points in travel trailers have not really risen over the years. If anything, they might have gone down in certain segments. I think car loans have extended terms, and so, from all appearances, the car and truck payments have been a little more affordable, too.
The other thing with this business is that everybody now has an SUV with the ability to pull a trailer. I think if you go back 15 years ago, trucks were trucks and minivans were more popular. And today, everybody has an SUV. They don’t have to go out and buy a special vehicle to pull a trailer. They already have it, so that saves on the expense of things, too.
RVB: Looks like consolidation, a trend that’s apparent throughout the RV industry right now at every level, has had an impact here in Colorado.
Humble: You know, Denver’s kind of a unique market right now. Lazydays bought out RV America a little over a year ago now. And now Camping World, which has a store in Golden about a mile from us here with other stores in Longmont and Colorado Springs, just bought Ketelsen RV (Ketelsen Campers of Colorado) in Wheat Ridge. But with all that being said, it becomes a pretty interesting dynamic here in Denver. You know, we’re one of the last few remaining larger independent dealers.
RVB: That’s an amazing statement, in a market this size.
Humble: There’s a lot of consolidation in this business right now, not only on the manufacturers’ side, but certainly on the dealership side. We’re in very interesting times – from Jayco getting bought out by Thor and now the Winnebago-Grand Design thing.
I don’t know how positive or negative it is. I think time will tell with that. But when you have two major players in the industry — I don’t know how great that is for the dealers’ side of things. And with these bigger dealers buying a bunch of small mom-and-pop stores, it could be a very positive thing for strong independent dealers if it’s managed properly.
RVB: So, Jim, we can tell by the general tenor of your comments here that you’re betting on another growth year in 2017.
Humble: I don’t see why not. I mean, I think that we would not be going through the expense of building a new dealership if I didn’t’ feel like this business wasn’t on an upward trend. And I honestly think that over the next three to five years it’s going to be very solid. Are we going to have double-digit increases? I don’t know about that. But I think that it’s conceivable that we could have good 5% to 7 % increases each year for the next few years. Our customer, I think, is excited about buying RVs, honestly, and getting out and camping.