Recreational Vehicle Dealers Assocation (RVDA) Chairman: RV business continues to be strong

The following column from, written by Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) Chairman Brian Wilkins, looks deeper into the recreational vehicle industry's recent dramatic spikes in growth.
"For many of us, as we put Labor Day weekend in the rear view mirror and send the kids back to school, we know that the RV selling season is going to start to slowdown.  
It’s just the seasonality of the business, especially for those of us in the northeast part of the country. That said, from most accounts, business has been and continues to be very strong. Evidence of this was the recent press release from RVIA recapping July MTD wholesale shipments and forecasting 2016 shipments to exceed 405,000 units and 2017 shipments to reach 411,000 units. These would be the first two years that shipments exceeded 400,000 units since these numbers started being tracked in 1978.
Shipping 405,000 units will also mark a complete recovery from the 2006-2009 market downturn. What’s most interesting about this recovery is the speed with which it happened.  I know, as we’ve gone through it, it hasn’t always seemed like an especially speedy recovery. But if you look at the numbers, it’s been a pretty awesome recovery.
From 1978-1980, RV shipments dropped from 389,000 units to 107,200 units, or 72.5%. It then took the industry 28 years to return to those 1978 numbers, doing so in 2006, when it hit 390,500. As we all know, that return didn’t last long. Shipments quickly dropped from that 2006 number back to 165,700 in 2009, a decrease of 57.5%.
This time, the market has fully recovered in just 10 years. I think this recovery says a lot about our industry. For years we have talked about the Go RVing campaign, and how RVs have become more popular. These numbers support this and can give us confidence that our industry and our products are better situated to not only recover from future market downturns, but to possibly support further market growth, possibly to levels we’ve never seen before.
As we move into fall, the fall show season has begun. I recently returned from the Hershey RV show. For further evidence of our industry’s growth, take a look at the attendance figures issued by PRVCA. According to their press release, attendance hit an all-time record of 57,692 attendees. According to a past press release, that’s an increase of 80% over the 2009 attendance of 32,100 attendees. That’s 80% increase in just seven years. It doesn’t seem as if the customers disappointed either, with most dealers seemingly very pleased with retail activity including multiple accounts of the show’s first day being the best dealers have ever had.
Hershey was followed closely by the Elkhart RVOpen House, and we all know how much this event has grown over the past eight years.  Open House week is an industry event that 10 years ago, didn’t even exist. Yet, according to the Elkhart Truth, both Forest River and Thor expect to exceed $1 billion in sales this week alone. What’s most amazing about the Open House event is that there is no structure or organizing body behind the event. The event’s growth has been completely informal, with most of the industry — manufacturers, suppliers and dealers — participating while the only structure is two leading manufacturers agreeing on the dates of the event.
Yes, business is good and the prospects for our industry seem to be very promising. Interest rates remain favorable, the economy has been consistent, and as stated above, RV popularity is as high as it’s ever been. 
But we do need to proceed with caution. 
In the past, the market has not sustained these types of numbers. As a result, as an industry, we don’t have a lot of experience at maintaining these levels for extended periods of time. Manufacturing is maxed and employment is tight at both the OEM and supplier side and if our industry is going to continue to grow, increasing our employment base and training that base is going to become critical. In addition, as I have discussed in past columns, we need to address issues of product quality, after the sale warranty support and replacement parts availability if as an industry, we are to reach our full potential."
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