By Nanci Dixon
This is RVing during COVID-19. As summer approached, it became clear to many, many Americans that travel by RV was a much safer way to go than airlines, hotels, cruises or any form of public transportation.
At the beginning of the year, economists were forecasting that the 20% downturn in RV sales indicated an imminent recession. That was true in 2007 and 2009. When the COVID-19 Pandemic hit, however, and the economy crashed, RV sales soared. People who still had a job or discretionary dollars realized that RVs provided a safe haven for traveling, social distancing and a home away from home for essential workers.
Some sales lots are empty (literally) of pop-up campers, trailers, fifth wheels and motorhomes. One dealer we talked with usually has 100 to 150 units on his lot and is now down to 3. Many units have been selling as soon as they hit the lot. Some people are even putting money down on types of units they have never seen.
Another dealer, in northern California, reported he also normally had 150 RVs on his lot this time of year. Two weeks ago he said he was down to 10. A New England dealer reported that he would normally have 500 units to sell, but now has 180. A live video by a YouTuber searching for an RV to review showed an almost empty sales lot at See Grins RV in Gilroy, California.
Camping World is running ads telling RVers “We need your RV,” and offering to pay top dollar. “Your RV will never be worth more,” it says.
Major RV manufacturers shut down for a short time, while others reduced the number of employees to help cut the spread of the virus. That brought down the number of RVs available even as dealers were ordering more units to keep up with the demand. Some RV parts manufacturers also shut down for a period of time and resumed with shortened hours and fewer employees, causing a domino effect in the RV service industry.
As any RVer knows, seldom does an RV come off the lot without needing some minor tweaks or major service work. And a slowdown in parts manufacturing has meant that some RVers are waiting weeks for a part to fix their RV, as well as waiting for a spot in a service bay. Inventory that was supposed to last through the end of the camping season is gone, and dealers and customers are left waiting for the supply to catch up.
In what is supposed to be the slow season at RVForce LLC, a premier RV service center in Winter Haven, Florida, Mark Gorrie states, “Our service bays are full and our road crews’ schedules are filled out. Our slow season is generally the end of March until end of October and it’s still busier than during our busy season.” Josh Gonzalez, VP of Operations at RVForce, said, “I would reiterate what Mark said. We offer mobile service and we also offer shop service. Normally we are in our slow season right now for the shop and for the mobile side. Our shop is busier now than it is during our busy season.”
Jim Cook, the General Manager of Carpenter’s Campers in Pensacola, Florida, noted in an interview with WEAR-TV that “They (RVers) were sitting home for a month and now that the gates are open they are getting their RVs serviced, getting their maintenance done.”
Another swamped service center mentioned that people who have been hunkered down with nothing to do have decided that it is a good time to have their motorhome serviced.
Not only has the RVer stood in line for toilet paper during this strange COVID-19 year, but they are finding themselves again in line to get a spot in a service center and in line waiting for parts.