In a year like this, with gas prices spiking and all of the negative news stories in the press, it’s easy to become pessimistic and lose track of the big picture, says Tom Walworth, president and general manager of Statistical Surveys Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich., a repository for national retail registrations.
Walworth’s message? Get over it.
In certain areas, particularly travel trailers, 2005 remains a rather robust year in terms of retail sales, Walworth told dealers attending the recently concluded 2005 RV Dealers International Convention/Expo in Las Vegas, Nev. Besides, Walworth contends, people tend to have unrealistic expectations for continuous year-after-year growth.
“A lot of the dealers out there, a lot of the manufacturers are very, very concerned that the industry’s down, that we’re having a little bit of a slower year, with gas prices up and all these other things,” said Walworth, an avid Green Bay Packers fan who’s getting used to looking for silver linings lately. “But, take a look at how it all stacks up. We’re still looking at a very good year.
“You know, 2004 was a top 25 year. It was the best market in 25 years. This will probably work out to be the second best market in 25 years. So, we’re looking at very good retail numbers out there.”
On the downside, year-to-date sales of everything but conventional travel trailers were off through July – fifth-wheels by 11.8%, folding camping trailers by 21%, Class A motorhomes by 10.8% and Class C motorhomes by 4.5%. Gas-fueled Class A’s were 13.8% off last year’s pace, while diesels dipped 8.2%.
Led by the mounting popularity of toy-hauling SURV’s, on the other hand, travel trailers were up about 4.1% for the first seven months and clearly were the year’s categorical leader. July travel trailer retail sales of 15,855 units translated into the best July for this market in eight years.
And, with travel trailer manufacturers retailing 99,160 units through July – about 14,000 units ahead of the average pace of the past five years and well ahead of any other year in the record books – 2005 is likely to become the best year for travel trailer sales in the past 25 years.
These numbers, Walworth points out, do not include post-hurricane disaster shelter units manufactured for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “This is July data,” said Walworth, “and FEMA is not going to be part of this.”
All in all, Walworth is reminding his retailing and manufacturing clients that a bad year just isn’t what it used to be.
“We now have a bad year,” he said, “and maybe it’s going to be 10% less, 5% less. But it will not go to zero. It’s not going to happen on a national basis. It’s not going to happen on your local basis.
“So often dealers will come along and say, ‘you know, I’m not going to order any more product because I just want to adjust to the market.’ Well, what’s going to happen is that you’re going to sell out of your best selling product, and then you’re going to be left with the product that you couldn’t do well with in a good market. Now that’s what you have to offer to the customers.
“So, you have to make sure that you take a look at what you’re doing out there. Don’t overreact as far as clamping down and, you know, keep an eye on what’s going on the market.”
Statistical Surveys plans to include in its retail registrations all FEMA units that it’s aware of, but under a special designation.
“Because FEMA is such a big factor this year,” said Walworth, “we have sent a letter to all the manufacturers asking them to please send us the serial numbers of all the units that were involved in the FEMA program. We’re going to put those numbers in the system, and we’re going to record them as retail sales as they come through. But we’re going to indicate with an ‘F’ behind the number that it’s a FEMA unit. So, with our program, you’ll be able to see the totals with and without FEMA.”