RV sales have fluctuated over the past few years with big booms, thanks to the pandemic. If you’re wondering where the RV market is headed from here, you’re not alone.
What can you expect when it comes to the future of RV sales? And how can you adapt to meet the changes in the industry? Find out what Phil Ingrassia, The National RV Dealers Association (RVDA) President, has to say about the latest RV trends and the best practices he’s seen to keep customers happy and coming back.
The key RV trends
“Selling RVs is more complicated than it’s ever been,” Ingrassia said. With the fluctuating RV market, RV dealers need to be able to pivot and adapt to changes. Here are a few trends Ingrassia sees in the RV industry:
- Digital marketing and ecommerce are rising
RV dealerships are using new digital tools to reach customers. “RV dealers are incorporating new technology into their websites and digital marketing, whether it's through Google AdWords, chat windows or text alerts,” Ingrassia said. “These things make it stickier for the customer, so they stay with that dealer.” Using digital tools also allows RV dealerships to measure their return on investment on digital advertising platforms.
The Internet has also made it easy for customers to do their homework. “Dealers have to be really on their game with this new breed of consumer who is armed with information, not only about the product but on the pricing and even the dealership itself,” Ingrassia said. Managing your online reputation is more important than ever; you should always respond to online comments and reviews.
- Innovation is creating more sustainable products
The rise of electric vehicles is impacting the RV market. With the shift toward electric trucks, there’s concern about towing capabilities and EV range. People don’t want to get stuck out in the middle of nowhere when they’re camping.
The interest in electric and solar on-board power generation in RVs is growing because of government incentives as well as benefits like quieter operation and extended off-the-grid use. That means RV dealerships will have to understand how to service these new products. “Solar-powered lithium batteries have gained market share. At the dealership, techs will have to know how to install and fix those units,” Ingrassia said.
Ford and Mercedes are integrating electrical and solar power into their new camper van and motorhome-chassis prototypes over traditional fuel power. There are also trailer chassis prototypes in development with an electric powertrain that will extend an electric tow vehicle’s range. Ford Lightning, Rivian and other electric tow vehicles are here, and more are on the way from automakers, so the industry is responding to the EV future.
RVs offer more choice and customization
As the RV market expands, we’re starting to see more choice and customization when it comes to RVs. For example, retirees who want to head south for the winter are looking for RVs built for comfort, ease and fun. Whereas families might want units with bunk beds, rustic campers are looking for RVs that are built to be off the grid. RVs with built-in offices have become more popular to accommodate digital nomads. And we’re seeing a rise in RVs designed for special use, like tailgating or outdoor or sports adventuring.
- RV sharing comes with pros and cons
People renting out their RVs has become more popular. But Ingrassia warns that this new peer-to-peer sharing model comes with its own issues. As an RV dealer, and when counseling customers, you need to approach the situation with caution.
“The upside is you're bringing in folks that didn't consider an RV vacation before, and the peer-to-peer platform makes it possible for them to do that," Ingrassia said.
But there are risks that come with peer-to-peer RV rental. According to Ingrassia, “The insurance needs to be correct on the unit, lessees also need make sure they are not voiding any of their warranties by commercially renting the unit.” Finally, the owners should consider the issues they might experience by renting out the unit. If their RV renters have a problem on the road, who will they be able to contact?
Best practices for RV dealerships
With the changing RV market, how can you keep customers coming in? Ingrassia has some suggestions for running a thriving RV dealership.
First, an RV dealership that offers a full-service model, including new and used sales, services/parts, financing and insurance, is your best bet. "Dealers who embrace the full-service model seem to be the most successful ones, in my experience. If you're treating the customer correctly and have a strong full-service dealership that provides strong sales, strong service and parts and good customer support for finance and insurance, that’s somewhere customers can feel comfortable,” Ingrassia said. Offering service on RVs is important for the long-term health of the dealership. “Anybody can sell the first unit to somebody, but service really will make that second and third sale.”
Next, providing a good product mix will appeal to the widest consumer base. “There's just really something for everyone right now. The dealers who embrace that diversity are selling a lot of different types of units.” Ingrassia suggests having a variety of units available, including towable and motorhome units, ultra-lightweights and heavier-duty RVs for longer-term camping with slide-out rooms.
You also want to be a consultant and an educator, not a salesperson. “Research shows that consumers want to be listened to, to be sure they are getting a fair price and that a dealership will support them down the road.”
Ingrassia suggests listening to your customers to ensure they’re getting the RV that works for their lifestyle. “They may want a certain type of unit, but once you start drawing out how they’ll actually use it, that won’t be the right unit for them at all.”
Customers also want a hassle-free experience, so be sure to properly set their expectations going in. This is a home on wheels, and it will eventually require maintenance. They also need to learn how to use the systems, whether it's hydraulic leveling systems or dumping the tanks. “I’ve seen as high as 25% of the people that come in thinking something’s broken,” Ingrassia said. “They just didn’t know how to use it. If we can stop that, think about how much more efficient RV dealers will be moving forward.”
Technology is another great way to help consumers learn about their RVs. How-to videos can help RV owners learn how to operate their units. According to Ingrassia, “One manufacturer provides a QR code with every unit. It takes buyers to a series of videos that tells them specifically how to operate these things because you’re so excited you’ve made the purchase and then you forget everything. Boom, hit the QR code. It’s all right there.”
Ingrassia also recommends thorough customer support in the beginning. “The customer walk-through can take a lot of time. But just think if you’ve got the support mechanisms in places through manufacturer videos or through the dealership, you’re better off in the long run.”
GPS asset-management systems have also gained traction among RV dealers. They allow dealers to keep tabs on their inventory both on and off the lot. It’s such a powerful theft-recovery tool that the location information it provides can help law enforcement track down stolen RVs whether they were taken off the lot or from customers.
Discover more about RV trends and sales
Want to learn more about how you can take your RV sales to the next level? Join PassTime at RVDA’s November convention to network with other RV dealers, learn what’s happening in the RV market, discover all the latest RV trends and much more. Register now.