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Dealers working hard as pandemic drives demand for RV sales, inventory

Published: Jun. 22, 2020 at 5:05 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Right now, RV sales are through the roof, according to local sellers. Sounds like a good deal, right?

Those dealers say while the pandemic is driving people to the great outdoors, it’s also left them scrambling to meet the demand.

That includes the staff at American Family RV in Salem, meeting more American families than ever before.

“Nobody wants to fly or go on a cruise. Camping is social distancing at its best,” said owner Layne Rowland.

He said since March, work has been steady, and then some.

“It’s been incredibly busy,” he said.

Not only on the lot, but even online. General Manager Kevin Thomas said their website is getting three times the traffic they had pre-pandemic.

"Our website has seen an increase so heavy that we've had to increase our package that was available to be able to accommodate everybody," said Thomas.

He said they’re selling RVs faster than they can bring them in and are working with more first-time buyers than ever before.

“It’s just a huge anxiety relief thing,” said first-time buyer Brenda Mason.

She and her husband looked at and bought their first RV Monday, pushed to find alternative options after being cooped up in the house for months.

“It’s like, no doom and gloom, we can actually move about and do something that feels free,” she said, while her husband worked to learn how to hitch their new RV to their truck.

It’s one of just a handful of RVs currently on the lot. The American Family RV lot in Salem contains a quarter of the RVs they’d normally have.

“We have people coming from all different states,” Thomas said. “We’ve had lots of business out of Tennessee, North Carolina, the surrounding states. It’s been fun getting to know all those folks and trying to service all of them.”

But servicing them is half the battle.

“Our problem is getting product,” Rowland reiterated.

The RV Industry Association says in a recent survey, 46 million Americans say they plan to go RVing this year. But the RVIA said the three main manufacturers that make 90 percent of all RVs sold in the U.S. closed for weeks. Only in early May did they begin to steadily ramp up production.

“We’ve had to beg, literally every day; it’s an everyday fight!” Rowland said. “You don’t just stop at talking to one of the manufacturers’ reps. You move on and you continue to harass them for lack of a better term.”

Rowland said they expect a longer than typical camping season, which means he and Thomas might have to delay their own RV adventures.

“Right now is not a very good time because I’m just so busy, taking care of our customers,” Thomas said, laughing under his mask. “But i do look forward to taking some time and going and enjoying it.

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