From ‘dead’ to ‘nonstop’ – RV sales accelerated by COVID
SPARKS, Nev. — Months ago, when the coronavirus pandemic hit Northern Nevada, floor traffic and sales at RV Country in Sparks screeched to a halt.
Since May, however, the RV dealer off of Legends Bay Drive is racing to keep up with the accelerated demand.
“March and April, business was dead,” said Gary Hoskins, general sales manager at RV Country in Sparks. “And then, since the weekend before Mother’s Day, it’s been nonstop.”
Cooped-up Americans desperate to hit the road after months of lockdowns are craving any semblance of a vacation as the COVID crisis drags on. Seeking surefire ways to social distance outside of the house, people around the country are bypassing airports and snatching up camping trailers and recreational vehicles.
Hoskins said the surge in RV sales is reminiscent of the spike in demand after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Since RV Country in Sparks has only been open for one year, the dealer does not have sales figures to compare to 2019, he noted. What he does know, though, is the phones and showroom have never been busier.
“What we’re seeing right now is very similar to the fact that after 9/11 there was a fear of flying by the public,” Hoskins said. “There was a fear of going to places where large groups gather, like theme parks and Disneyland, places like that. And a lot of people felt safer buying an RV.
“So now you’re seeing the same thing in people wanting to travel and they want to go on vacation, but they don’t want to fly.”
The stats back that up. The number of RV shipments nationwide in July was 43,035, a 54% increase compared to July 2019, according to the RV Industry Association (RVIA) — the most July shipments in four decades.
The influx comes despite the fact that more than one in five workers has filed for unemployment during the pandemic. Clearly, that’s not stopping people from shelling out upwards of six figures so they can safely rove wide-open spaces with their kitchen, bathroom and bedroom in tow.
Meanwhile, the airline industry is on a long road to recovery after COVID grounded travelers for months. The Reno-Tahoe International Airport, for one, saw a 96% drop in passengers when the pandemic took hold.
August marked the fourth consecutive month that the daily average of U.S. travelers — 700,260 per day — improved from the previous month, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) data.
Even still, the rise in COVID-fueled RV and camper sales is not expected to slow down. The RVIA found recently that 20% of people surveyed are more interested in RV travel than flying, tent camping, cruises and hotel stays.
As a result, 46 million Americans plan to take an RV trip in the next 12 months, according to global market research company Ispos.
Though RV demand is stronger than ever, Hoskins said the supply is lagging behind, mainly due to the fact factories that make RVs are operating at 50% or higher capacity amid COVID-19, limiting the amount they can produce.
He noted that inventory was not a problem post-9/11, when the industry “kept hiring a lot of people” because manufacturers “couldn’t build them fast enough.”
Post-COVID is a much different story.
“I know a lot of dealers in California and back east and everybody’s out of inventory,” Hoskins said. “We’re pre-selling a lot of inventory that’s coming in just from pictures online or pictures in a brochure. People are buying it, putting their name on the unit, so when it gets here it’s already theirs.
“What a lot of manufacturers are doing now to make it fair for everybody is putting everybody on allotments; to not play favorites with certain dealers that get all the orders.”
While he wants to say it’s “a good problem to have,” Hoskins feels the reality is RV dealers across the country are unable to fully capitalize on the growing demand due to its dwindling supply.
“You’ve gotta make hay when the sun’s out there and this isn’t going to last forever,” Hoskins said. “Who knows what will happen after the election.”
Concerned that a spate of COVID-19-related lawsuits could bankrupt businesses, members of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce implored the state’s congressional delegation during the chamber’s annual D.C. retreat to pass a federal liability protection measure.