RV business looking better

It’s been a long haul for the RV industry since the economy tumbled in 2008, but local dealers are optimistic about the road ahead.

Prospective buyers check out the selection of RV's and trailers at the Red Deer RV Show and Sale Thursday. The show runs from now until Sunday

It’s been a long haul for the RV industry since the economy tumbled in 2008, but local dealers are optimistic about the road ahead.

“We’re pretty positive,” said Andy Janko, owner of Uncle Ben’s RV Centre.

Speaking on Friday, the second day of the Red Deer RV Exposition and Sale at Westerner Park, Janko said early indications were that the 2012 edition of the annual event — which continues until Sunday — would be a successful one.

“Our first day of the show was very good to us.”

Marty Vellner, owner of Vellner Leisure Products, was also upbeat. This January was one of the best that his dealership has had, he said, and RV shows across Canada are enjoying renewed success.

“Certainly in Central Alberta there is a more optimistic feel,” he said of the local market. “We’re seeing more traffic on the lot.”

Janko pointed out that the industry should also benefit from the bustling energy sector, with many companies relying on RVs for accommodation in remote areas.

“It’s starting to look like that’s what’s happening again.”

The situation is a welcome change from the last few years, when a tight credit market prevented many people from buying recreation vehicles and then the broader economic downturn discouraged the purchase of such “luxury items,” said Vellner.

Janko estimated that Uncle Ben’s suffered a 40-per-cent drop in sales. Although the RV market hasn’t fully rebounded, it’s certainly looking healthier — with the possibility that the industry might now benefit from a pent-up demand for new product, he said.

Janko and Vellner agree that it’s a good time to buy an RV.

“The factories went through quite a downturn in the recession,” said Janko. “So they had to come out leaner and stronger and build better stuff.”

Meanwhile, the high Canadian dollar has helped reduce the cost of American-built RVs.

“The size of the units in general has gone up; the price of the units in general has gone down,” said Vellner of the trends over the past decade.

Approximately 200 units are on display at the Red Deer RV Exposition and Sale. In addition to Vellner Leisure Products and Uncle Ben’s RV Centre, participating dealers are Woody’s RV World, Paradise RV, Southside RV Centre and Cars RV & Marine.

Vellner and Janko have both been involved in the show since it started 36 years ago. It’s grown considerably since then, they agreed, as have the units on display.

The technology built into RVs has advanced significantly, added Janko. And the use of materials like aluminum and fibre-glass have reduced the weight of unites, noted Vellner.

Interior designs have also become more family-friendly, said Vellner, listing features like bunk beds, exterior kitchens and improved bathroom accessibility. This in turn reflects the changing demographic of RV buyers, he suggested.

Whereas older, retired couples were once the “meat of the market,” it’s now families that drive most RV sales. And many are willing to borrow to get themselves into a trailer or motorhome.

“They want to use it in the prime of their life, when they can experience the joy with their family and kids,” said Vellner.

Janko concurred, calculating that families now account for half to three-quarters of his customers.

A recent study commissioned by Go RVing Canada concluded that RV vacations are more economical for families than alternatives like driving or flying and staying in motels and eating at restaurants — even when vehicle costs are factored in.

“There are some significance savings,” said Vellner, adding that these tend to be even more pronounced in Alberta, where many people already own a vehicle that can tow an RV.

The cost advantage is a surprise to many customers, said Janko and Vellner. But that doesn’t seem to be the main factor that draws them into RV ownership.

“RVing is a lifestyle choice,” said Vellner, explaining that many families see it as a way to connect with the outdoors and promote family togetherness.

Many value the fact they can prepare their own meals while travelling, added Janko, and its a much more social way to vacation.

“When they come into a campground, within probably an hour or two they know their neighbour down two trailers,” he said.

Vellner went even further.

“You take your trailer to a campsite, you can’t get it parked before you’re going to know the people on both sides of you.

“When was the last time you knew the guy in the hotel room next to you?”

Normally running from Friday to Monday on the Family Day weekend, the Red Deer RV Exposition and Sale had to be postponed this year as a result of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for children and seniors and $15 for families.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

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