Are boomers still the bread-and-butter of the RV industry

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By Greg Gerber
Editor, RV Daily Report

I saw an interesting report on Yahoo Finance today which proclaimed that half of Americans approaching retirement age have nothing saved either in a 401-K or individual retirement account.

According to Yahoo Finance, of those 55 and older, 48 percent had nothing put away in a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan or an individual retirement account, based on a Government Accounting Office estimate for 2016 that was released Tuesday.

Although two in five people who fell into that age bracket had access to a traditional pension, 29 percent of older Americans — almost one in three — did not have a pension, 401-K or assets in an individual retirement account.

For years, the RV industry has been proclaiming that the baby boom generation would be the bread-and-butter of the industry. We were told that 10,000 baby boomers were retiring every day.

When I started in the RV industry in 2000, the average age of first RV ownership was around 55 years of age. Today it is in the early 40s.

We were also told that the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of the world was about to take place in which members of the mature generation (those born before 1945) would be handing over trillions of saved money to their baby boomer children (those born between 1945 and 1964).

Yet, it does not appear that things panned out the way that pundits predicted.

Perhaps that explains why baby boomers took a back seat to millennials at this month’s RVX trade show in Salt Lake City. Most of the displays and attention were focused on the needs of younger families and tech-savvy people.

Even most of the photos on the GoRVing website depict younger folks and families with children. Occasionally, you’ll encounter an image of older people using an RV.

Have the movers and shakers in the RV industry concluded that the expected surge of baby boomers was really a bust?

Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber

A journalist who has covered the recreation vehicle industry since January 2000, Greg Gerber founded RV Daily Report on April Fool's Day in 2009. He also serves as the editor of the publication and website. As an Eagle Scout, he has enjoyed camping for decades and has visited every state except Hawaii. A DODO -- Dad of Daughters Only -- to three young women, he has two grandchildren as well. He currently splits his time between Wisconsin, Texas and Arizona. Greg can be reached at editor@rvdailyreport.com.

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  • Matt says:

    Interesting thoughts, especially as our dealership considers what products to sell and what demographic groups on which to focus. The 40-50 age group may have increased proportionately to RV owners ages 55+, but I wonder how the total # of owners age 55+ has changed/not changed.

  • Gail says:

    Too bad FMCA doesn’t realize this and start heavily marketing to this group. Sadly the old saying “If it was good enough then, it’s good enough now” is their motto! Slowly the Association will die because it is not keeping up with the times. Event attendance is way down at all their rallies across the country.

  • Frustrated Gen X'r says:

    First off, I have to say thanks to Greg, I’ve been a regular reader on your site.
    Now on to the rant:
    I have to speak up here. The movers and shakers in the RV industry are not listening, most of them are in the same demographic as the boomers. The issue with the RV industry is many of the people in the RV industry don’t listen. We have been shopping for 5 years for a B van. I have talked to sales people, territory sales managers and even made contact with people inside brands like; Winnebago, Leisure Travel Vans, Pleasure Way, and Hymer. Supplied them with floor plans, concepts, ideas and designs. All you need to do is look at the blogs, comments in reviews, etc. There is a huge demand for the van designs and layouts offered in Europe. Yet the North American manufacturers just keep pumping out the same s#$t, we don’t want raised oak panel cabinetry and a noisy generator with an absorption frig. I grew up in a family that camped, from tent trailers to a 5th wheel. I do not want my parents RV, the designs, and engineering has basically not changed in 40 years, unlike automotive markets. Only recently at the RVX were modern and interesting products put forth by Winnebago, with the Boldt, SuperShell construction and Volta power systems (thanks for listening Winnebago!). You may only have a few manufacturers that have dual pane acrylic windows as standard items (thanks NuCamp!). Baby boomers have not purchased because the offerings are what their parents had and putting in an AGM battery or saying it has solar is the equivalent of “offering” power steering and power windows in the automotive world, you just don’t get it. Being in our early 50’s and no luddite, we grew up in the transition to office and home PC’s, and our work life evolved with the technological revolution of the 90’s, cell phones became part of our work and home life. The industry has not adjusted to the change in technology until an entire generation showed up that does not know anything different. The RV industry totally missed the transition generation. Just because we were not born in the 80’s does not mean we will accept a cardboard box on a steel frame that looks like a brick going down the highway and don’t use social media or stream movies! Those boomers that want to buy have not because we grew up in the generation of “you get what you pay for and don’t settle for anything less than what you want”.
    Thank you, ranting is done, for now. Cheers

    • Bill says:

      Great post frustrated! The other issue the manufacturers don’t get is Quality! To keep producing substandard units with manufacturing defects is criminal. There are modern manufacturing methods that can be employed with no additional cost that would save warranty costs and owner frustrations. The fact that none of them have their feet held to the fire by RVIA or the law is disturbing. As consumers, we need to demand more through the many organizations that most of us belong to.

    • Bill T. says:

      I hear you Frustrated. I am at the very tail end of the “boomers” and have been around during the technology shifting era from pen and paper to home and work PC’s and cell phones. I agree with your comment however, unlike Europe, younger generations here, that are starting to RV with their families are. under budget restrictions that only allow the majority to buy used. That is the unfortunate reality. The used RV market is filled to overflowing with “traditional” RV’s. RV manufacturers are starting to walk the new and thin line between technological innovation and profit. RV equipment is supplied mostly by third party manufacturers, who have their own business profits to manage and costs to absorb. Lithium batteries, advanced charging systems, 600 watts of solar, etc, are still too expensive and would put most manufactures out of business. They would need to charge 250+ thousand dollars for a new “B-Class “rig. Most young families look at these prices and if they can afford it, will probably buy a house instead.

    • hugh says:

      Don’t cry!!!! If you want a camper van, just buy a new big van & build your own. I did, it’s self contained, not rocket science.

  • T&T says:

    I’m retiring 4/1 after 45 years working “for the man”. After looking at all the dark, goth interiors of new RV’s combined with the poor quality, we opted for a well built, high quality barely used 2011 KZ. Unlike the 48% who didn’t or couldn’t save for retirement, we did. The outrageous cost of health care took my inheritance after my dad’s cancer and mom’s strokes, there was little left. But what savings we do have will not be wasted on lower quality, poor value “modern” RV’s. The RV manufacturers need to pull their heads out of (full in with your own expression).

  • BO says:

    When we started RVing 30 years ago, we saw a good mix of families and older folks, but the families usually had the tents, popups, or small TTs and the older folks had the motor homes.
    What we seldom saw were younger full-timers. However, in today’s world of readily available technology, coupled with the lack of affordable housing in larger cities, we see more and more younger couples who bring new meaning to the word “work camping.” They are working while they camp, and their workstation exists inside their camper! Hooked up and ready to go, these younger folks are not waiting for retirement. They are doing their travelling while they are young. Wish I had thought of that!

  • DAVE JONES says:

    It is not just the RV industry. We just purchased a 2018 Jeep Wrangler to tow behind our motorhome. Half of the electronic stuff on the Jeep we are having a hard time figuring out. Take it to the dealer….they have to find a young person in their 20’s to show us how to work it.

  • Shalon says:

    I will be the one that disagrees with the posts before me. I go camping to get away from the 24/7 bombardment of electronic *stuff* the last thing I want is more of it in my rv. You already can’t find adequate repair people for the things you actually need. Then you have so many people that well heck yes they are whiz’s with a cell phone and all that, but they are also posting the questions because they have not one idea how to fix something on whatever they own. So yes, no thanks, I don’t want more stuff that is going to break and can’t fix it or even be able to find someone qualified who can.

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