A Goshen-based RV maker hopes some reality TV product placement will help it gain leverage in the competitive toy hauler segment.
Keystone RV has struck a deal with "Fisher's ATV World," a reality TV show on Discovery's Velocity channel, to regularly feature the company's Raptor toy hauler. The show features all-terrain vehicle celebrity Brian Fisher embarking on weekly adventures that involve riding ATVs and side-by-sides, which are four-wheeled ATVs that resemble golf carts modified for off-roading.
Fisher, originally from Dover, Pa. and now living in Nashville, Tenn., planned to come to Goshen Friday to pick up the fifth-wheel RV. He expected to start featuring the vehicle on shows airing in July.
Toy haulers, also called "sport utility trailers" and "ramp trailers," look like other RVs from the outside, but they are equipped with a ramp door and "garage" in the rear to haul ATVs. They often have fold-down furniture and components for when the ATVs aren't in the garage.
Fisher said he first discovered Keystone toy haulers two years ago when representatives of Progressive Insurance, a sponsor of his show, brought three Raptors to one of his reunion rallies. Progressive and Keystone had been discussing a partnership in which Keystone dealers would give Progressive access to its customers for marketing purposes, but the deal never materialized.
Fisher had been using a 42-foot Fleetwood motorhome, and pulling his and his wife Melissa's ATVs on a trailer behind the Fleetwood. If they wanted to see an attraction, go buy something or eat somewhere else, they had to have someone drive them. But the toy hauler allowed them to simply unhook it from their pick-up truck and drive the truck from the campsite.
Fisher also likes the convenience of the toy hauler's 30-gallon gasoline tank and pump, which lets him refuel the ATVs without lugging gas cans around.
"The Raptor is as comfortable as our bus, with leather furniture and flat-screen TVs, and yet you're mobile when you get there," Fisher said.
Fisher, who had his own ATV dealership before launching the show 13 years ago, is used to promoting sponsors' products on the show. He said he tries to be subtle.
"I'll throw in little things here and there about the Raptor," he said. "The way we do things, I'll talk about things as I do it. In television, you can soft sell, where people can see what you're doing and then go to a dealer and talk about getting one for themselves."
The first toy haulers hit the market in the late 1990s and were introduced by West Coast-based manufacturers that have since gone out of business, said Tom Walworth, president of Statistical Surveys Inc., a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based firm that tracks the RV industry.
Now most RV makers produce a toy hauler.
"The sport utility trailer business has expanded our customer base by opening it up to different uses than the traditional RV," Walworth said. They've "revolutionized" camping because teens like to store their tents in the garage section and camp outside the RV, away from their parents. He noted the vehicles also are popular with snowmobilers and dog exhibitors who store their dogs in the garage section while traveling to shows.
The average fifth-wheel toy hauler retails for $50,000 to $70,000, while most trailer models sell for $25,000 to $30,000.
Industrywide toy hauler sales climbed from 17,600 units in 2003, the oldest data Statistical Surveys has available, peaked at 35,001 in 2006, bottomed out at 11,007 in 2011 and climbed back to 16,000 last year.
Keystone is a subsidiary of Thor Industries, whose toy hauler market share has grown from 40 percent in 2010 to 50 percent last year, Walworth said. Forest River's market share also has risen but at a slower rate, from 29 percent to 32 percent, meaning Keystone is taking business away from smaller players in the market, Walworth said.
Keystone spokesman Jim Mac said Keystone's Raptor and Fuzion brands sold more toy haulers "by far" than any other manufacturer last year.
"Fisher's ATV World" airs at 8:30 a.m. Sundays on the Velocity channel. Velocity officials could not be reached to discuss how many people watch the show, but 68 million households subscribe to the channel, said Raptor project manager Jim Rzepka.
"These families are part of an exploding ATV lifestyle," Rzepka said. "They are heading outdoors on weekends for a few weeks at a time, often at remote locations. They don't want to give up the comforts of home."