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Friday, December 26, 2008

Another Recession Plus: RV Sales Down

On our regular trips through Lake Herman State Park, my wife and I usually count the number of tent campers. Out of 72 campsites, we have never on a single day reached double digits. Throughout the summer, the campgrounds are all a-whir with RV air conditioners.

I like simple camping. Tent, compass, notebook, boots, and RPM (raisins, peanuts, M&Ms). On the trail, I hardly want to cook, let alone have a microwave and TV.

It thus gives me some grinchy pleasure to hear that RV sales are down nationwide about 25%. Duane Spader of Spader's RV Center near Sioux Falls tells AP he's taken an even harder hit, a 30% drop this year. I take that as a sign that more people are realizing they don't need 40 feet of fiberglass and AC to enjoy the great outdoors.

I note with some disdain that Spader appears to be getting some KELO time as part of what looks like a coordinated RV dealers campaign to publicize the impact of tight credit on RV sales. The National RV Dealers Association is trying to make the argument that banks receiving federal bailout money should "make consumer loans available for RVs on an equal basis with loans for automobiles, educational expenses, and purchases with credit cards."

Hold the phone, kids:
  1. Financing to buy an RV is not a "critical need."
  2. If you need a loan to finance your recreation, you're spending too much on recreation.
  3. If more banks are at least requiring buyers to make down payments on RVs, that's a good thing for consumer responsibility (see RVDA's Nov. 2008 dealer survey).
  4. If we have any federal money left to throw around, it should go not to finance extravagant consumer purchases for a minority who can afford loans beyond their home mortgage and auto loans, but to support building infrastructure that everyone—RVers, tenters, hikers and bikers alike—can use and enjoy. Fix the roads and bridges (WPA), build parks and trails (CCC).
Yes, yes, RV makers and dealers employ a lot of good people (150,000) and RVs are largely American-made (um, might there be a reason other countries don't invest a lot in building such extravagances?). But real economic security lies in helping people get money through work on lasting public improvements, not loans for consumer items we really don't need.

Let's hope the recession helps refocus folks' priorities: When you go camping, a good tent beats a giant tin can on wheels. And when you fix your economy, jobs and public works are more valuable than consumer spending.


  1. "I take that as a sign that more people are realizing they don't need 40 feet of fiberglass and AC to enjoy the great outdoors."

    Not to discredit your comments, but it makes more sense to assume that RV credit has tightened, the media has frightened people into holding their money and the impact of our previous $4 fuel hurt sales in 2008.

    Unless you see an influx of tent campers at Lake Herman, you can realize that the folks who have the money for RV's are holding it or waiting for financing deals and rebates.

    One thing is for sure, people who plan to buy a home, farm land, a new vehicle or any other major purchase should do it now or sometime in 2009 while interest rates are at their lowest in history, because every period of "deflation" is followed by a period of dramatic "inflation" with interest rates at 15-18% and price increases that will sock your pocketbook hard.

    Folks with CD money should go short term (18 months or less) so they can ride the uptick on rates that occurred just like the early 1980's.

  2. "the media has frightened people into holding onto their money"? The media are as motivated as everyone else to keep people spending their money (advertising pays the bills). Maybe people are just realizing that real fiscal conservatism starts at home. Why spend money just to spend it? Why spend money on stuff we don't really need?

    If tight (a.k.a. sensible) credit is the only thing slowing down consumption, then we still haven't learned our lesson. Buy less, live more!

  3. I thought people called that GORP.. for Good Ol' Rasins and Peanuts... or have times truly changed? :(

  4. No harm there -- GORP is a free-flowing term. For me, the G-O always stood for granola and oats. But I don't care what you call it, as long as you bring plenty and share!

  5. It reminds me of the hotdog vendor whose son went away to get a Business Degree. For decades, dad had sold hundreds of hotdogs every day, but when the son came back from school, he told his dad, "There is a recession coming, you'll have to cut back on expenses to weather the storm."

    So dad bought a cheaper grade of hotdog, smaller buns, cut back on condiments, and increased his prices. Sure enough, his educated son was right. Business dropped almost immediately and eventually, he had so few customers he had to retire and close up shop.

    The moral of the story is, "Believe what you know, not what you hear" and, "There is always a market for quality at a fair price."

    Other than our unfortunate locals who have been laid off or cut back, most of the actual recession is media driven. People hear that things are going to get bad so they pull back on spending routines, and guess what? Things do get bad.

    You're right about "buy less, live more", but in this particular economy, buying something will bring the economy back so much faster than buying nothing, even if it is a sensible purchase. Dollars must start flowing and orders must come to our factories.

  6. Many of my friends in their 40's still can't handle money. Their parent's understood restraint and did just fine, so did they fail to teach it? Or was it a shift in American values that moved most of us this way? Our country has so much but squanders it.

  7. "...buying something.... Dollars must start flowing..." But what if I buy nothing... or at least not much more than what I really need? Am I abrogating some basic duty to my community? Instead of an RV, we bought a bigger tent last summer. Are we bad Americans for not scaling up our camping domicile more than that?

  8. No Cory, our country has become dependent on credit. People used to even buy stocks on credit, at least until 1929. We would all be so much better by more direct accountability. Other than a house and car, with reluctance on the car, why would anyone want to be in debt? Other than business loans. I want a new tv! But they're coming down in price. So I'll wait, at least until Sunday.

  9. Cory, You are probably a bit of an anomally in the fact that you are more of a conservative naturalist than mainstream spenders, so anything you spend may be considered overkill. The point is that those who normally spend $300 to $600 a month for outside meals, trips to the mall, theater tickets and electronics are not spending right now. Like it or not, those folks drive the economy because their purchases cause a continuation of orders for merchandise, which keeps people working and cash flowing. When America pulls back and stops spending as a whole, the economy dries up. The same is true of local firms like Rosebud and Gehl. When contractors pull back, orders slow, inventory grows and layoffs begin. Hopefully, folks will realize this is the very best time to build or buy a home provided you do it responsibly. Inventories will decrease bringing more orders and more jobs. So Cory, buy a new Gehl skid steer, treat your wife to a new set of Rosebud Cabinets with some countertops and you might help put someone back to work.

  10. Yeah, there's a good a point. How many people from Rosebud are out of work after we moved them out to their new digs? They probably don't want us to know how many have been laid off. I've long thought, like 20 years ago, that we would have to accept a lower standard of living as the global economy took shape. We still have it good, but in fact I could have been wrong. The whole world might move up and this might just be a bump in the road.

  11. I cut back drastically on my spending this summer, especially on the eating out and entertainment. The results have led to a fatter wallet and a smaller stomach!

  12. Instead of buying a tent, you should've stayed at home and tended your garden and saved your money. Don't waste your money on gas and camping fees.

  13. Oh, come on, Anon -- everyone can use a little time away. And we did pick Big Stone Lake over Paris. ;-)

  14. I guess we are all better off with the tens of thousands of people who make, sell, repair RV,s plus all the folks who supply parts and supplies to the manufacturers, and to the RVers, out of work. That is a great way to grow the economy.

    DOn't be such a "outdoorsman snob" You enjoy your rec time your way and others have their way. Yours is not better--just different.

  15. I used to think the same thing when I was tent camping among RVers. Why take it all with you when you're trying to get away from it all! Here's a clue: RVers are typically staying *much* longer than you are -- anywhere from a couple weeks to the fulltimers who live in their RV (as I do) traveling whenever and wherever they please. However, I also tent-camp and backpack extensively, so I truly understand your sentiment. May I suggest making reservations at "primitive" campgrounds without hook-ups to escape the noisy air-conditioners!

  16. I'm all about the primitive campgrounds, Anon! When I'm in the Black Hills, I always go for the backcountry camping on the Centennial Trail and other areas of the national forest rather than the campgrounds. We also stayed in the tents-only area at Hartford Beach last summer, which was nice. But I note with regret that, here at Lake Herman, the SD GF&P eliminated the wonderful secluded primitive camping area in favor of building a second RV-accessible campground. We hope they'll restore some primitive sites here for the campers who really like to rough it.


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