Area recreational vehicle dealers are optimistic that this will be a fourth consecutive year of sales growth, after the Great Recession put a dent in their industry — and many others.
Some said sales still haven’t returned to pre-recession levels, and each said higher fuel prices in the past few years have resulted in RV owners staying closer to home.
Wholesale shipments of RV units by manufacturers rose to 285,749 units in 2012, up 13.2 percent from 252,407 in 2011, the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association said. That was the highest annual total since 2007, when 353,400 units were produced.
The association said 257,551 towable units were shipped in 2012, compared with 28,198 motorhomes.
“The industry was able to capitalize on an improving economy and strengthening consumer confidence to post substantial gains in 2012,” RVIA President Richard Coon said. “We anticipate this moderate growth continuing in the coming year.”
The 18-month recession — the longest since the Great Depression — officially began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009.
“Motorhomes got hit the most in the recession,” said Paul Pretasky, co-owner of Pettibone RV along the pike between La Crosse and La Crescent, Minn.
The dealership added new motorhomes to its product line in the past few years “because they’ve started to come back,” Pretasky said. But travel trailers and fifth-wheel trailers, both of which cost less than motorhomes, remain its biggest sellers.
Pettibone RV felt the recession “big time” when it occurred, Pretasky said. But sales have increased in the past three years, he added.
The dealership’s sales peak from February through June, and most people want to have their new RV in time for Memorial Day weekend camping, Pretasky said.
“There’s better traffic this year” into his store, he said. “People seem to be in more of a buying mood.” But with high fuel prices, Pretasky predicts RV owners will continue to camp out closer to home than they did several years ago.
RV sales have increased for the past three years at FMB Trailer Sales in Holmen, owner Dan Howe said.
“We’re still not where we were before the recession,” he said. It probably will take two to three more years to get back to those sales levels, he said.
RV sales declined during the recession partly because banks were more reluctant to loan money and because of high fuel prices, which have prompted many RV owners to take their vehicles on shorter trips and stay closer to home in the past few years, Howe said.
“This year we’re getting off to a real good start,” said Mark Richgruber, manager of Coulee Region RV Center near West Salem. Sales have increased in the past few years, but motorhome sales remain a smaller part of the industry than they were before the recession, he said.
During the recession, Richgruber said, “The economy was going down, the price of fuel was going up and a lot of people didn’t have the resources to buy motorhomes. With the improving economy, people are starting to look at motorhomes again. But it’s still a lot smaller part of the business than it used to be.”
Joe Bubnich, owner of Bubnich Motors & RV in Tomah, said he thinks sales this year will be at least as good as last year and possibly a couple percentage points higher.
“The banks and credit unions have plenty of money to lend” and are eager to make loans, Bubnich said. Partly because of that, the RV industry is “getting back close to normal again.”
But with continued high fuel prices, the trend of RV owners going on shorter trips probably will continue this year, Bubnich said. “They’re still camping just as much; they’re just staying closer to home.”