The RV business has always been volatile – with sales early to decline in a recession, and late to improve in a recovery. Total unit shipments steadily improved from the 2009 low of 165,700 units to a high of 504,600 units in 2017 (RV Industry Association, www.rvia.org). The first warning signs were in 2018 with a decline of over 4%, but dropped a whopping 16% in 2019. Industry pundits were forecasting further declines for 2020.
During the early months of the pandemic, sales were obviously down severely, since in most states these dealers were deemed non-essential and shuttered. However, over the summer and into this fall, sales not only resumed but resumed at levels substantially higher than the prior year. In September, factories shipped 41,509 units, a stunning increase of 31.2% over 2019, and by all accounts, 2020 will be overall better than 2019.
Fun Fact: Elkhart, Indiana is the home of two of the dominant manufacturers – Thor Industries and Forest River, Inc. – which together account for nearly 20% of the total employment in the county. According to the RVIA, three of every five recreational vehicles manufactured in the United States comes from this one relatively small county.
Unlike many retail sectors, the RV industry has major gaps in supply in most cities. We mapped demand against supply using five mile radius trade areas centered on block groups, as shown below for the Columbus, Ohio area. The red areas are those where there are existing RV dealers, and they tend to be located well outside the city center. Most of the densely populated area of the city is without any dealers within five miles. This is not surprising, since recreational vehicle dealers are very land intensive and typically locate in areas where land costs are low.
A retail gap analysis can often be very useful in highlighting areas where competition will be intense, and areas where there is demand but a lack of local suppliers. These can often be excellent locations for new retail development.