Rebounding Economy Lifting RV Sales in Colorado

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4min 18sec

First photo: Johnny Wong, sales manager at RV America in Loveland. Second photo: The Nashes' 1962 Shasta Airflyte Trailer before and after its makeover. Third photo: Vicky and Richard Nash. [Photos: CPR/PMack]

The Klein family of Fort Collins - Jim, Allison and their three children - are in the market for an RV. They left home without one once and experienced too much of the outdoors.

"We’ve tried just regular tent camping but, uh, it’s a little too laying in the dirt-ish," Jim Klein said. "We kind of want to get elevated a little bit."

Allison Klein confirms she found the “laying in the dirt thing” lacking. "With a two year old," she added, "not fun."

The Kleins are shopping at RV America near Loveland. Allison says one reason they might buy a trailer is to make vacations more affordable by eliminating the cost of lodging and airline tickets.

"We’re thinking of just driving to destinations, and then you already have your hotel already built in," she said.

The Kleins aren’t the only ones looking for an RV. Sales across the country are up, particularly in the south and west. In Colorado, sales have increased about 13% so far this year.

Johnny Wong, the sales manager at RV America’s Loveland store, says this year is building on last year’s rising sales.

"This year, you can see the market, the people coming in, it’s a whole lot stronger," Wong said. "I think it’s the consumer confidence. It’s up."

Wong says most buyers say they’re tired of seeing their money earn little interest in a bank account, so they use that cash to buy an RV. He adds that his sales would increase even more if lenders would relax credit standards a bit, making it easier for consumers who can’t pay cash to get loans.

Rising RV sales are a big relief to an industry that struggled during the economic downturn. Tim Hyland is president of GE Capital’s RV dealer financing business. Nationally, he says, sales fell by 50% during the Great Recession.

"To some degree, you’re seeing the recovery of that market back up towards the levels they were before, and that’s largely being driven by the health of the economy," Hyland said.

The RV recovery is even sparking entrepreneurship in Glenwood Springs.

Richard and Vicky Nash sensed an increased interest in RVs and decided to launch their business, Retro Trailer Design, late last year.

Their first makeover is still their favorite. In 2005, they bought a 1962 Shasta Airflyte trailer for $100. It needed work.

"The seams were splitting. It had a flat tire. The hitch was broken. It had many issues," Vicky Nash said, "so it was quite a project to begin with."

Richard used his skills building homes and fixing up old cars, as well as $25,000 in parts, to transform the ham-can-shaped trailer. It boasts a red and white paint scheme, catching the eye of people everywhere they camp.

"They say, ‘Oh my gosh, that is so cute I want one!’" Vicky said. "Everybody asks us if that trailer is for sale or if there are others that are for sale. So we thought, 'We’re going to give this a shot and try it as a real business.’"

So far, business is brisk. In addition to the trailer being remade, five more are inside the shop waiting for their turn.

Back at RV America, Tim Simmons is in the parts department, buying a spare hose and hitch attachment for his trailer. He’s RV’d for 30 years and cautions, "It’s not for everybody."

Simmons is visiting family in the Loveland area. He’s from Louisiana and lives in his RV at the construction sites he manages. He loves the mobility of his RV but says driving with a 36-foot trailer takes skill, and maintenance never ends.

"They should give a 40-hour course before you buy, especially these big motorcoaches," Simmons said. "There’s a lot to learn."

That hasn’t stopped many shoppers this year including the Kleins of Fort Collins. The couple settled on a used 10-foot pop up trailer, ending that "laying in the dirt" thing.