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Big or small, RVs and travel trailers are a hit during the pandemic

Consumers have been buying everything from hard-walled pop-up trailers to 20-foot travel trailers to 40-foot destination trailers. They're doing this to take a safe vacation in the pandemic, when many felt uncomfortable boarding an airplane or booking a hotel room.

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Mike Johnson, at Budget RV in Grand Forks, said some older customers are buying travel trailers more associated with younger campers. (Adam Kurtz/Grand Forks Herald)
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Motorhomes and camping trailers both large and small flew off of sales lots in 2020, as people looked to spend time outdoors during the pandemic. Buyers wound up having to make their decisions quickly, because of a supply crunch.

Consumers bought everything from hard-walled pop-up trailers to 20-foot travel trailers to 40-foot destination trailers, in order to take a safe vacation in the pandemic, when many felt uncomfortable boarding an airplane or booking a hotel room. Dealers saw first-time and return customers, evenly split between younger and older, but some older customers bought models that traditionally appear to be reserved for those just getting into using campers.

Mike Johnson, at Budget RV off of Gateway Drive in Grand Forks, said he has sold several pop-up campers that, when fully extended, form an A-frame-style shape, to people in an older age group. It’s a model Johnson thought would be more popular with younger customers, but the pandemic has some consumers bucking the trend.

“When we first took them on, we really thought that it was going to be the younger crowd that has smaller SUVs, people graduating from the tent,” Johnson said. “Surprisingly, we have sold quite a few of those to the retired, the 55 and older age group.”

A smaller travel trailer offers several advantages, including the ability to more easily go to other campgrounds, ease of pulling in and out of gas stations, and price.

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But that doesn’t mean all customers are going small. Johnson said he is still selling plenty of 40-foot destination trailers that come with all the creature comforts of home, like patio doors, fully equipped kitchens and as many as six slideouts, which create more interior room.

Customers who go large are doing it so they can have multiple bedrooms, and can enjoy camping with their friends, children or grandchildren and pets.

“Within a two hour drive of Grand Forks, there are many many campgrounds that offer what they call 'seasonal camping,' where you pull your camper to the campground and you set it up and leave it there for the whole season,” Johnson said.

Like Johnson, Dave Peterson, owner and manager of Leisureland RV in East Grand Forks, said 2020 wound up being a good year for sales, especially once campgrounds were able to reopen to the public. Sales came quickly in a three-month stretch, due to concerns about the supply of RVs.

“The decisions are happening quicker when they decide they're going to do it,” Peterson said, adding that interest rates are “relatively reasonable” right now.

When it comes to his customers, Peterson said he is seeing “a little bit of everything” in terms of sales. Customers are spread out between travel trailers and fifth wheels; motorhomes, too, have started taking off.

But it’s the supply of those products that have dealers reaching out to manufacturers. Producers of travel trailers, like most other industries, are backed up because they had to shut down due to closure orders in some states. Then, after reopening, some had to shut down again when an employee contracted coronavirus.

The same goes for companies that make all the needed components for RVs, like air conditioners and water heaters. The wait time for some products can be pushed out beyond four months.

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“That is what I'm hearing from my manufacturers, and I'm in three lines -- I'm in cargo trailers, I'm in golf carts and I’m in travel trailers, fifth wheels and motorhomes,” Peterson said. “All my markets are saying the same.”

When customers show up on the lot, they know what they are looking for, Peterson said. Gone are the days when customers roamed the lot for three hours, searching for what suited them. Now, they prepare on the internet, and have a firm idea of what they want.

Knowing what kind of camping they want to do is key, said Johnson at Budget RV. Customers need to decide whether they want to go to many different campgrounds, or leave a large trailer at a spot for the whole season. It’s important for customers to think about how many people they intend to camp with.

Making those determinations in advance puts customers one step closer to enjoying the outdoors, even during the pandemic.

Related Topics: GENERATIONS
Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at akurtz@gfherald.com, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

Desk: 701-780-1110
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