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RV Retail Industry Adapting To Changing Demographics

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Desmond O'Boyle
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Lane County's RV industry was once thriving, until the Great Recession hit in 2008. Since then, major manufacturers have laid-off thousands of employees, scaled down production, and re-structured ownership. But, the retail industry is starting to see a comeback.

In 2009, local manufacturer Monaco filled chapter 11 Bankruptcy and is now owned by Allied Specialty Vehicles. Country Coach went out of business in 2010, but the original co-owner has since purchased the intellectual rights to the company to keep it going. Fellow manufacturer Marathon survived, but all three companies are not operating at the output level they once enjoyed.

While the manufacturing sector is struggling to stay afloat, the RV retail industry is making a comeback. At the recent Guaranty RV Palloza, hundreds of models ranging from large luxury vehicles, to small pop-up campers were on display. To help entice customers, a test driving school is set up. Guaranty Marketing Director Becky Smith says both manufacturers and retailers are adapting to changing demographics.

Smith: “We’re seeing more first time buyers, and there are a lot more of the baby-boomer generation. They sell their permanent residence, and they hit the road. We’re also seeing a lot more young families. So they’ll typically get into something a little bit smaller, that they can tow.”

Smith says the RV Palooza helps sales since they started hosting it. She says vehicles featuring more eco-friendly engines with better gas mileage are in high demand.

Consumers have found other ways to experience RV's while stretching their dollar. Show Coordinator Jason Callahan says in the last few years, renting an RV has been popular.

Callahan: "We have a fleet of almost 30 RV's. And it is very popular. During the summer, they are sold out of them, every weekend. Every weekend we are getting rentals and we've expanded, our rental department has doubled and tripled in size. You know, we're creating jobs because of it."

The thousands of R-V manufacturing jobs aren’t likely to return to Lane County anytime soon. Retailers are optimistic about the future of the industry. I got to test-drive a 34-long “Ventana” model with instructor Rodger Stricklin.

Stricklin: “Go ahead and start it, now hit the D. Now release your parking break.”

Rodger has worked as Guaranty's test driving instructor for three years now. The course ahead of us is laid out with cones simulating different turns.

Stricklin: “Now stay on this side, and as soon as you go around the corner, you’re going to make a really hard right.”

With Rodger’s help, we carefully maneuver the Ventana through the course. I have to get used to making wider-than-normal turns, and am constantly checking the side mirrors.

Stricklin: “Make a hard right here.”

Reporter: “Ok, we’re at the part where we are going to make the hard right?”

Stricklin: “Yep.”

The hardest part is backing into the original space, but a video rear-view camera helped.

Stricklin: “That should be good right there.”

Reporter: “All right, that’s it?”

Stricklin: “And then put it in neutral and set your parking break.”

For millions of people, “R-V’-ing” is a retirement goal, a permanent residence, or a vacation in itself. It is also expensive. The model I test drove was listed just under 200 thousand dollars. As more baby-boomers retire, and household income slowly increases, retailers including Guaranty are optimistic for the road ahead. Although production is down, there's still demand for the once iconic vacation vehicle.

copyright, 2014 KLCC