COVID has taken its toll on our entire industry; there isn’t a sector of our industry that hasn’t been touched one way or another. Ironically, as the travel goods industry has been impacted by COVID, the RV industry has simultaneously surged. Many travel industry vendors are positioned extremely well, while others are just holding onto their hats, waiting for a rebound.
Let’s face it – anyone who has served on the front lines of retail knows a few of the rules of travel, which include:
- When any primary market suffers, the aftermarket typically sees a surge. This is a simple rule of retail.
- Pivoting can be the life raft of any company or industry.
- Nobody buys a wheeled suitcase unless they are going on a flight (or are delusional).
The sheer number of people buying RVs for the first time is astounding. This is illustrated by (the limited) availability at campsites, RV parks, and state, county and national parks. Inside these RV destinations, it’s the equivalent of rush hour traffic in old “normal” life. Fifty percent or more of the consumers who have adopted the RV lifestyle are brand-new to the experience – but have spent tens of thousands of dollars to adopt this new way of traveling. These are the customers to whom we should aspire to “pivot.”
This new “pivoted” group of customers have shopped our channel for years. It is now up to us to become RV accessory and packing experts! In my opinion, there should be no such thing as a luggage department in the “new normal.” Instead, these should be aptly named “travel goods departments.”
The Luggage & Leather Goods Manufacturers of America changed their name decades ago for the trade. It is now time for retailers and suppliers to change their game for the consumer! Graphics for our industry need to include reference to the RV world. Why?
- Packing accessories are equally as important for the RV crowd as they are with traditional travel segments.
- Travelers who make significant investments in RVs are not going to abandon that style of travel the minute they can get on planes and cross borders again!
- Anyone that travels via RV uses packing accessories, toiletry bags, day bags, and backpacks just like the international traveler does.
- Anyone that purchases an RV for the first time, or upgrades to a better RV, is looking for ways to maximize space, minimize what must be packed, and multi-function items. Let’s get those creative juices flowing, folks!
We have suppliers in the travel goods industry who cater to the outdoor industry, and suppliers who cater to the auto accessory industry. Retailers, it’s time to give another look at those market players – and look for new ones. Suppliers, it’s time to crossover, hedge your bets and use your ingenuity to go after the RV consumer that used to be your travel goods customer.
The fact is, when someone has a vehicle sitting in their driveway, that mode of escape is easier and more affordable than booking a last-minute flight, rental vehicle and room! When you get away for a weekend as a “traveler” – in the traditional sense of the word – you can’t “boondock” (park anywhere legal) like you can with an RV.
The tech world is keeping up, too – there are countless apps available to find a quick and easy “hidden treasure” outdoor area in which you can park a camper.
The RV travel world is a different animal. Camaraderie plays a large part in defining the industry. Campers can’t wait to meet, chat and show off the latest gadget or accessory that makes travel easier or more fun with the guy at the campsite next door.
Another consideration: RVers all bring their dogs, which opens a new potential opportunity – pet travel for RV owners.
Tips to immerse yourself into this market from a longtime retailer:
- Learn the jargon so you can talk the talk and walk the walk.
- Check out RV shows near you.
- Know the difference between a Class A, B & C, as well as what “toy haulers” are.
Suppliers and Retailers, if you haven’t been involved in or done any RVing, I challenge you to rent a rig for a few days, get out there and start to harvest ideas for your next pivot point of survival, success and growth. Think about how you can capture, embrace and flourish in what is now the industry you are in! Walk around the RV park or campground and share your “newbie” status. Ask questions and take a close look. What you find just may be the lifeline that saves your business. It’s new, it’s refreshing and it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
Chuck what a great article!! Thank you for giving all of us something to think about. “Pivot” is definitely the concept that will help us all stay open and RVing is category I haven’t really considered. Thank you for continuing to share your knowledge and experience with all of us.