Dealers in the Indianapolis area and the Indiana portion of the Chicago metro area reported brisk sales once Indiana authorities lifted “stay at home” orders in their regions.
“We’ve been selling travel trailers – mainly entry-level trailers-- like there’s no tomorrow,” said Ken Eckstein, CEO of Indianapolis area dealership Mount Comfort RV, where Covid-19 related restrictions on movement and gatherings were lifted May 4. “The other parts of the business have been slow, but at least that part (entry-level towables) is going great guns.”
At the far northwest corner of Indiana, near Chicago, business really picked up once restrictions were lifted, said Todd McGinnis, president, of Pete’s RV, which has dealerships in Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, in addition to its Schereville, IN, location.
At Schereville, McGinnis said, “We were shut down – both sales and service – from March 20 until Monday (May 11). We did internet sales prior to (May 11) but we’ve been very, very busy since then. We’re very happy with the amount of business we’ve had since (May 11).
“We’re selling a little of everything, but the bulk of it is travel trailers,” McGinnis added. “It’s pent-up demand, but there are more people interested in RVing than was the case before the pandemic.”
Once Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb issued a stay at home order in March, Mount Comfort went to a “partial staff, selling by phone and internet, and did a decent amount of activity,” Eckstein said. “But when the order lifted (on May 4), it (retail demand) has come back. The majority of customers (since May 4) are in the 35-45 years old age bracket, although we’re still getting buyers who are 55 and up and retirees. And the campgrounds aren’t even open yet, but RVs offer a ray of hope amongst all the gloom & doom.”
Pete’s RV in Indiana saw “more credit challenged customers” when it was trying to transact business remotely during the shut-down, but McGinnis said customer credit quality “is back to normal now.”
As far as sales and inventory levels are concerned, McGinnis said, “Before we shut down, we were trending ahead of (the dealerships’ sales) budget, although less than 10 percent (ahead). Now, we’re behind. March, April and May traditionally are good months for us. We are a little heavy in inventory now, and we’ll probably end the year a little heavy.”
Concerning wholesale credit, McGinnis said, “Our floor plan lender offered to work with us on interest and curtailment payments, but we’re staying current. We’ll need to pay it anyway so we might as well keep paying on schedule.”
Meanwhile, at Mount Comfort. Eckstein said its inventory, as of May 1, was “exactly where I wanted it to be.” But because the RV manufacturers also were shut-down for several weeks, Eckstein believes there could be a temporary product shortage, particularly of entry-level towables, due to manufacturers being unable to immediately ramp up production to pre-pandemic levels. “But the manufacturers have been through this (sharp market downturns) before, they’ll meet the (retail) demand by late summer,” Eckstein said.
Longer term, Eckstein feels the increase in demand for RVs “won’t be an uptick, but a leap forward if the industry does it right. We’ll see pent-up demand short-term but there’s also a demographic shift that will provide long-term benefits to the industry.