Across the board, members of industries belonging to the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR) delivered a similar message during a conference call with members of the media Thursday afternoon (Sept. 3): It has turned out to be a pretty good year, but, oh, what might it have been.
Industry leaders from the RV, marine, motorcycle, camping and outfitting industries each told a similar tale of Americans finally being released from COVID-19 quarantine and flocking en masse to outdoors in responsible ways that kept them safe from the virus.
For many, including the RV industry, the problem stemmed from those six or so weeks where pretty much everything in the country was shut down.
Monika Geraci of the RV Industry Association (RVIA) pointed to the recent July shipment data that indicated a 15% increase over the previous year. She said nationwide, 55% of people buying RVs are first-time buyers and that some dealers are reporting up to 80% of their buyers are first-timers.
“Production is up the highest among small towable and – although it’s a small segment of the industry – van campers,” she said. “And now we’re seeing a second wave of families and professionals who are able to take advantage of remote working and learning. But even with all of the good news, we’re still overall down a total of 10% for the year. You simply can’t erase those six to eight weeks we lost earlier this year.”
Dealerships started reporting record sales in May as soon as the space started opening up, so with manufacturing lines shut down, there is some catching up to do. Geraci said all of the manufacturers put a high value on the health and safety of their employees, so most of them were shut down into May, meaning shipments were still down until June.
July marked the most shipments during that month in four decades, so the industry was able to catch up some to dealer demand, but that isn’t a gap that is going to close overnight.
“Inventory at dealerships is still very thin, but the manufacturers are working very closely with their dealer partners and supplier partners to meet the needs,” Geraci said.
Representatives of both the motorcycle and marine industries indicated similar upticks in their businesses, but with an added drawback. Tariffs placed on goods imported from China, particularly steel, have caused more of a backlog in getting some of their new inventory to market.
Once things opened up, many of the seasonal workers were not interested in taking the jobs because of the increased COVID unemployment checks that were being sent out. As a result, more than half of the campgrounds operated with smaller-than-usual staffs resulting in what Basler called “employee fatigue.” He said some campgrounds would like to extend their seasons to try to make up for lost ground, but are not able to because of the fatigue factor.
Basler and others praised Congress for passing the Great American Outdoors Act, and said its affects on the outdoor industry can’t be overstated.
“It doesn’t necessarily affect the private parks and campgrounds, we recognize that what it does impact is small businesses in gateway communities nearby national parks and landmarks,” he said. “Many of our member parks are in those gateway communities. In the outdoor recreation industry, there’s a direct connection between improving our public lands and waters and the success of small businesses across the industry.”
According to the survey results, the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the outdoor recreation industry is showing signs of easing, with some turnaround from what was a devastating spring for the industry. The new August data paints a picture of a resurgence within many sectors of the industry; some areas with record high sales, and more people and newer and younger consumers prioritizing their time and resources during a recession on outdoor recreation. While the trend is heading in the right direction, it has not been universal across the industry and more support is needed as many outdoor recreation businesses are still suffering and in danger of permanent closure.
“According to the US Census Bureau, outdoor recreation was the second most impacted industry this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, next to food and accommodation,” said Lindsey Davis, ORR vice president. “The industry experienced a double whammy impact due to both the pandemic related closures that slowed entire supply chains, retail, manufacturing and services and the closures of state and federal parks, marinas, trails, docks and more on our public lands.”
According to a review of previous responses and ORR’s most recent survey responses of the 23 participating national outdoor recreation trade associations, representing over 25,000 businesses with nearly 2.5 million employees, the numbers show how hard the industry was initially impacted and how things have started to trend better for a lot of the industry:
COMBINED RESULTS (The below statistics represent a change of year-over-year)
Production / distribution:
April: Of the businesses this survey represents, 89%, are experiencing difficulty with production and distribution, with 68% experiencing significant impacts.
May: Of the businesses this survey represents, 100%, are experiencing difficulty with production and distribution, with 79% experiencing significant impacts.
August: Of the businesses this survey represents, 91% are experiencing difficulty with production and distribution, with 48% experiencing significant impacts.
April: 89% of outdoor industry businesses are experiencing a decrease in sales with 39% seeing a decrease of 50-75% or greater.
May: 94% of outdoor industry businesses are experiencing a decrease in sales with 24% seeing a decrease of 50-75% or greater.
August: 65% of outdoor industry businesses are experiencing a decrease in sales with 17% seeing a decrease of 50-75% or greater. 22% of businesses are reporting in increase compared to one year ago.
Trade Association Revenue:
April: 80% of outdoor industry trade associations are seeing a decrease in revenue with 30% seeing a decrease of 50-75% or greater.
May: 95%of outdoor industry trade associations are seeing a decrease in revenue with 26% seeing a decrease of 50-75% or greater.
August: 70% of outdoor industry trade associations are seeing a decrease in revenue with 13% seeing a decrease of 50-75% or greater. 9% of trade associations are reporting an increase compared to one year ago.
April: 79% of these businesses have laid off or furloughed a portion of their workforce, with 11% closing, or laying off most of or all of staff.
May: 88% of these businesses have laid off or furloughed a portion of their workforce, with 8% closing, or laying off most of or all of staff.
August: 47% of these businesses have laid off or furloughed a portion of their workforce. 36% of businesses are reporting they are hiring, and more employees are needed.
“We hope that the trends we are seeing now in outdoor recreation continue, and that some of the issues our members and businesses still face are quickly addressed by policy makers,” said Jessica Turner, ORR executive director. “It has become widely known that recreation is a huge economic driver and with more smart investments like the recently passed Great American Outdoors Act, such as a Recreation Package, this industry will be a key player in economic recovery and a solution to other issues facing the nation such as unemployment, rural development, equity in outdoor access and mental and physical health.”
This is the third time ORR has surveyed its member trade associations, which represent over 110,000 RVing, camping, boating, fishing, powersports, horseback, hunting, skiing, hiking, biking businesses and more, about the impacts their member companies have experienced since the pandemic began.
The Outdoor Recreation Roundtable promotes the growth of the outdoor recreation economy and outdoor recreation activities and is the leading outdoor recreation coalition with 32 member associations serving over 110,000 businesses. ORR’s members represent America’s hunting, fishing, RVing, biking, hiking, camping, ATVing, diving, horseback and skiing communities among many more.