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Tom Walworth

Tom Walworth

EDITOR’S NOTE: Statistical Surveys Inc. (SSI) President Tom Walworth issued the following remarks regarding the general state of the RV arena in a recent telephone interview with RVBUSINESS.com. A 58-year-old firm based in Grand Rapids, Mich., SSI currently delivers retail sales data to the RV, marine, manufacturing housing, commercial trailer and power sports sectors.

From all I can tell, 2015 is going to be a great year. Why? Well, take a look at our demographic cycle. Our biggest sweet spot has always been people between the ages of 50 and 65, and the Baby Boomers are right there.

We have this bubble. In the late ’60s, they built schools because all the Boomers were coming through at that time. Then, everyone bought cars, and look what they did to the auto industry. You can just watch it go through the cycle.

So, right now, it’s our cycle. The Boomers are bailing out of their jobs. They’re single or they’re empty nesters, and they have time and they have money. And that works great for us because we can help them occupy their time and we can certainly help them spend their money on products that we have to offer.

The other thing we need to take a look at is what’s going on right now on a national scale. Look what the expansion of the stock market has done. The stock market has really come up very nicely from its 2009 lows. Housing prices have stabilized and come back. There are a lot of positive things that are falling into place for these Boomers who are in the RV acquisition mode.

Also, when you take a look at the RV industry, the prices of our products are going back up — not so much due to price increases, but because people want lots of stuff in their units. They want upgrades, they want the diesel units, they want the big fifth-wheels, and all those sectors are really growing right now. And I think that this all translates into a good situation for our business. In fact, I don’t see anything, barring a world war or something like that, getting in our way.

Oil prices are down. People have more money to spend and, because oil prices are down, they’re buying bigger vehicles, which they always do. Every time there’s been a dip in oil prices over the years people come back and buy bigger cars and trucks, and they’re going to buy bigger RVs. It’s just traditionally always happened that way. And then when the oil prices go up, people are still going to recreate. They still buy cars, only smaller cars so they can all afford their lifestyles. Right now they’re coming back and buying the bigger stuff so this is kind of the pendulum that’s swinging through the system.

Are we back to the recent market high point of 2006 and 2007?

Are there any differences in this market?

From my perspective, I think it’s more like 2003 and 2004 when fuel prices, interest rates and unemployment levels were low and people were buying units. Now what depressed the market back then is that they started to increase interest rates rapidly, which pushed down the sale of big motorhomes in an industry that basically sits on a three-legged stool that consists of those same three factors — fuel availability, which is good right now; interest rates, which are historically low; and unemployment rates, which have been coming down.

Those are all good things for the industry.

So, bottom line, I think that America’s love affair with RVs has again resumed after the recession and that the RV industry will continue to ride the crest of a resilient marketplace.

You know, this is my 37th year as far as doing this and I’ve been through probably five down cycles. And the bottom line, again, as my own mom reminded me during the Gulf War, is that people are always going to recreate. “Even in World War II,” she said, “people still enjoyed life. They took vacations, they went out. They are not going to give up that lifestyle.” And that’s something for all of us in the recreational vehicle industry to remember going forward.