It seems the pandemic-induced surge in RV demand is cutting across all segments. John Stringer, who oversees the Rockwood and Flagstaff lines at Forest River Inc., said the folding camper market has been “astronomical.”
In fact, he said retail sales right now are exceeding shipments by about 30%.
“We’re building 10 campers on Saturdays just trying to meet the demand,” he said. “To give you a comparison, retail registrations for the months of June and July are the best they have been since 2004. That’s the biggest growth we’ve seen in 15 years.”
Forest River is fortunate in that it has been building folding campers for four decades, Stringer explained, so the company was quickly able to ramp up production. But, even with adding a Saturday shift, he said dealers nationwide are pleading for more pop-ups.
“I can sit here and talk about Denver and Salt Lake City, but those have always been the two biggest markets. The Pacific Northwest, those have always been huge markets. They’re seeing the same growth as everything else. But what is amazing is dealers in Ohio and Michigan and the Midwest and New England and the Southeast are like, ‘I’m just out of tent campers. I’m out of folding campers. Send me anything you have,’” he said.
The reasons for the current RV boom are similar to the surges following 9/11 and other historical events through the years, Stringer explained. “People want to sleep in their own bed. They want their own bathroom. They want to cook their own meal. They want to enjoy the great outdoors,” he said.
Stringer added that while they are seeing pop-up buyers cutting across all demographics, for the most part, it’s young families.
“They are the primary buyers who are coming in, and very often it is young couples that are pre-children,” he said. “They know they’re going to have the kids; they just want to go out and start camping. But they want room for the kids and they want room for extra couples. In a folding camper, we’ll always have at least two to three sleeping areas, sometimes four sleeping areas. Everyone always has their own bed area.
“And what’s exciting is these are first-time buyers who are becoming campers and looking at this as an alternative style for recreation and vacation,” he continued. “These are people who may have never had it on the radar, and these are families that are going out and experiencing the campgrounds.”
Studies have shown that most RVers will own five units throughout their RVing lifetime. Provided they have an enjoyable experience, that suggests these pop-up owners will soon graduate to a travel trailer or perhaps a fifth-wheel or two before they move onto a motorized unit.
The two biggest reasons pop-ups are striking a chord with first-time buyers is they’re lightweight and affordable. Dry weights of some lesser-equipped units can dip under 1,000 pounds, and retail prices start at about $9,000.
But the entry-level, no-frills units aren’t the ones that are selling the most, Stringer pointed out.
“What we’re finding is the most popular units are the bigger units with a few more bells and whistles,” he explained. “These are what we call a ‘high wall’ unit where it has bathrooms, showers, water heaters and built-in toilets. What’s also very popular is our ESP and SE series, which is a Sportsmen Outdoorsmen model that has bigger tires and higher ground clearance for the people who are going backcountry. Units are solar prepped and so many people now are carrying portable solar panels.”
Other reasons for pop-ups’ resurgence include their tow-ability and garage-ability, both because of its low profile when not in camping mode.
Also, Stringer suggested the folding camping buyers, many of whom are tent campers and backpackers, are more outdoors-oriented compared to buyers of other RV segments.
Whereas fifth-wheels offer a condo on wheels experience – which he likened to “cottage getaways” – Stringer said pop-ups are enjoyed by people “who want to be outside by the fire, hiking, fishing, bicycling – whatever their passion is, but it’s outdoors, not indoors. And the folding camper is just such a great alternative step up from the people who’ve been the backpackers and the tent campers but also the first-time buyers.”