On the Road Again

Local RV show is a sign that the economy is moving

When the RV Super Show hit South Point hotel-casino Oct. 26-31, it was more than just a sales opportunity for some 200 new and used recreational vehicles. Sponsored by Camping World, the show was the company’s second in Las Vegas since February, following a two-year hiatus, an indication that the economy may be picking up speed. Recreational vehicles are a disposable-income splurge, the type of spending that’s the first to go and the last to recover in a recession.

“Two and a half years ago this housing thing hit and we’ve been pretty much struggling ever since,” says Kevin Wise, regional vice president for Camping World. “Financing a recreational vehicle is disposable. It’s not like your car, it’s not something you have to have to get back and forth to work or transport your kids to school.”

The average price of an RV from Camping World is $40,000, but higher-end units can cost $100,000-plus. As with the housing and job markets, the Las Vegas RV market suffered tremendous blows.

“We’re seeing that the Vegas market and Nevada in general was one of the harder-hit markets,” Wise says. “Where we had a very successful store, we found it even more challenging than some of our other markets. But we’re seeing it rebound slowly. It’s still a work in progress. We’re seeing our service revenue and our parts revenue much better than in years past and our sales volume has increased over the last year. And we’re hoping it continues.”

In fact, production in the industry is expected to be nearly 45 percent higher than a year ago, according to Kevin Broom, director of media relations for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, which is located outside Washington, D.C., and is the national trade association representing manufacturers. That’s following a roller coaster of a decade in RV sales.

The industry hit a nearly 30-year high in 2006, says Broom, when 390,500 RVs shipped from manufacturers to dealers. In 2007, when foreclosures started picking up, RV shipments dipped about 9.5 percent. Then the credit markets froze, and neither consumers nor RV dealers could get a loan. Consumer confidence plummeted, and in 2009 only 165,000 RVs shipped. Two of the largest RV makers (Monaco Coach and Fleetwood Enterprises) filed for bankruptcy protection.

But as the credit market loosens up and people are slowly returning to their pre-recession lives, things are looking up for the RV industry. “The feeling is that the buyers are coming back,” Broom says. “The pent-up demand is starting to be released.”

Broom says that the most popular item is the travel trailer. It’s less expensive than an RV and it attaches on to an SUV, which many families already have. Broom adds that if you’re going to travel, this is an incredibly affordable way to do it.

“It’s the least expensive way to travel, except if you want to drive your car and sleep in a tent,” he says.

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