Happy campers: RVs bring big bucks to Hoosier State

Michele Lawson, The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute, Ind.
·4 min read

Apr. 15—From RV sales to industry jobs to campgrounds and travel, Indiana is a mecca for people who enjoy the RV lifestyle and all that surrounds it.

A new report by website Outdoorsy analyzed the states that generate the most revenue from RV parks and campgrounds found that Indiana generates nearly $44 million annually. The highest number of RV sales by state is Indiana ($6.8 billion), California ($2.2 billion) and Texas ($1.8 billion). This is no surprise as over 75% of the RVs made in the country are manufactured in Elkhart by Thor Industries, Forest River and Avion International. Elkhart has been dubbed "RV Capital of the World."

"Last year, Forest River reported it had a 400% increase in business from the year before," said Mike Smith, co-owner of Midwest RVs in Terre Haute.

"I think the RV industry is going to see even bigger growth this year."

Indiana RV makers cranked out a huge number of RVs in 2020. According to the RV Industry Association, that number totaled 423,628. They're estimating that the number of new recreational vehicles in 2021 could possibly hit 502,582.

Poised for tremendous growth heading into 2021, Smith said the RV industry and RV lifestyle have enjoyed a boom in business for the last several years.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic didn't seem to hurt the RV industry like it did so many others, but instead, helped it to grow. According to a new survey from the RV Industry Association, 61 million Americans plan to go RVing in the next 12 months. This is up from 46 million when this question was asked in May of 2020.

"It's actually a double-edged sword because manufacturers can't keep the supply up with the demand," Smith said. "If they could, our sales would be quadruple."

Forest River representatives told Smith to expect a $1,500 price increase across the board on all of its models, which is largely due to increased prices of metals and plastic. Smith said that he's not getting many trade-ins for resale because a lot of people are opting to repair their RVs instead of buying.

"We won't sell any trade-ins that are damaged but will take them to auction instead," he said, "and now they bring in way more over book value."

Most of the sales at Midwest RV come from people who live within a 100-mile radius. But Smith said that they just wrote up a sale for a man who lives in Idaho because he couldn't get the RV he wanted in his area and was willing to pay a couple thousand dollars to have it shipped.

RVs are sought out by a diverse blend of demographics that include younger individuals and families who live an active outdoor lifestyle; baby boomers who are entering retirement; adults who must travel for work; and people who want to downsize and join the tiny house movement. Just like families, RVs come in all shapes and sizes from spacious motorhomes to tiny trailers to fit various needs and lifestyles.

"We've sold several RVs to people working in the construction trades," Smith said. "Instead of spending their per diem on expensive hotel rooms, they find it makes more sense to them to spend it on an RV."

With so many rigs on the road, finding a place to park an RV can be an adventure in and of itself. Smith said that a lot of campgrounds are already booked up for the year but that new private campgrounds are beginning to open. He said state and county parks have some of the best campgrounds available but stays are limited to two weeks.

"Fowler, Hawthorn and Sullivan County parks are my favorite places around here to camp," Smith said. "It used to be that state and county parks didn't take reservations so you just had to take a chance that a spot would be open. But now it's my understanding that state and county parks are taking campsite reservations."

The key to finding the best campsites is research.

Contact your campground of choice for more information. A list of Vigo County campgrounds can be found at: in.gov/isdh/22949.htm.

RV-camping.org has tips and information about public lands and the best camping locations in every state.

Contact Michele Lawson at michele.lawson@tribstar.com or at 812-231-4232.