ELKHART — The RV industry isn’t back to its pre-recession heyday, but Richard Coon believes the ongoing expansion can keep going and there’s plenty of room for the recreational vehicle market to grow.
Coon, president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association addressed roughly 400 industry insiders in Elkhart Thursday, May 9, as part of the inaugural RV Power Breakfast. After that event, he sat down with The Elkhart Truth to offer his analysis of the RV industry, which is heavily concentrated in the Elkhart County area.
THE RV INDUSTRY RIGHT NOW
With the recent growth in the industry, manufacturers and suppliers are already having a tough time keeping up. “It is better than I thought it would be, but I think they’re running into spotty shortages now. If the industry continues at the pace they’re continuing before the season’s out, there will be some difficulties in keeping up,” said Coon.
“Every month has beaten last year’s numbers,” he said. “Last year was not a bad year in the industry. That’s encouraging. We’ll keep up,” he said.
“Overall you’d be hard-pressed to find the folks in this industry, whether you’re a supplier or a manufacturer, that don’t feel really good about this industry.”
Economic indicators are good for RV buying, the California market is strong and the weather is going to warm up in the northern-tier states, all of which will improve demand as this year goes on, Coon said. “Business is going to stay up for at least a few years.”
Motorhome growth is especially strong right now. Coon said one of the main indicators they watch is the wealth factor. “When the stock market went to hell in a handbasket, when the ability to get credit went to Hell in a handbasket, when your home all of a sudden the value went down so drastically, your wealth factor is pretty low. That stops motorhome buying,” he said.
“Motorhomes cost a lot of money, people that don’t do well in the market, don’t feel good about their homes, they think, maybe that’s not the time to buy it. Of course, the last year or so, especially the stock market today, they’ve gained back their losses in the market ... they feel much more comfortable. That all bodes well for the motorhome side of the business. They’re starting to come back into the market.”
REACHING DIVERSE CUSTOMERS
Meanwhile, the industry group, which manages the industry-wide “Go RVing” marketing campaign, is pushing to expand its marketing to introduce English-speaking Hispanic populations in the U.S. to the RV lifestyle.
“We’re probably overdue, quite frankly,” he said. Their ads are more inclusive, manufacturers are thinking about new features, and the RVIA is trying to work with campgrounds to increase group camping options. “They’re heavily family oriented, they stick together, the other thing they like to do is bring the neighborhood,” Coon said. “I think once the Hispanics experience the outdoor life, it fits perfectly with what they like to do.”
The growth of oil production in North Dakota and Montana have created growth in RV markets, but Coon also said the same factor is pushing growth in western Canada.
While Canada has long been a key market for the RV industry, other international markets are emerging. The RVIA is pushing into China, Coon said, but Brazil and Russia are also emerging RV markets. “South Korea is actually ahead of China in developing an RV market,” he said.
“If you’d have talked foreign markets 10 years ago, nobody would’ve paid any attention.
“The rest of the world, I always say, the lifestyle, the social network that goes on with RVing, is not a North American-only thing. The whole world, as they get acquainted with it, as you can imagine, likes that lifestyle.
“Peoples are the same in that respect. They love family and they want to be with them and they want to spend quality time and they like to get outdoors,” he said.
While U.S. manufacturers are currently having a hard time keeping up, “people in-country are looking for ways to partner with U.S. manufacturers. Believe me, the world knows that American manufacturers have the wherewithal, the skills, the design, the history to build products that are quality products that people like.
“We in the United States, unless you go out of the country you have no perception of how valuable the outside people think products built in the United States are. They are by far on the forefront of what everybody wants,” Coon said.
“I hear that all the time in China. They don’t want, necessarily, a U.S. product built in China. They want a U.S. product built in the United States. That’s a very prestigious thing. Other countries, people feel the same way,” Coon said.
But will manufacturers “take advantage of it? That’s the challenge RVIA is trying to get RVIA interested in. They’re busy trying to get everything supplied today,” and there’s huge potential for growth in the U.S. market, Coon said. “You have to pick and choose where you’re going to spend your time. The smart company figures out to do all of it. They spread their risk, it could be when the United States is down, China’s in a boom.”