RV sales and rentals are surging as vacationers seek to have fun while maintaining a safe distance from crowds. RVs enable travel, even across long distances, without the need for airports or hotels. RVers will have to stop along the way for food and fuel, which is good for the truckstop and travel plaza industry.
“Recreational vehicles were gaining in popularity before the pandemic. Now, with travel restrictions loosening, a surge of travelers is drawn to the relative solitude that RVs offer,” the New York Times wrote in a June 11 feature on increased RV traffic.
The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association reports that more than 9 million American households own an RV. That is the highest level ever recorded and also a 16 percent increase since 2001 and a 64 percent gain since 1980. Buyers aged 35-54 are the largest segment of RV owners, according to the 2011 University of Michigan study of RV consumers commissioned by the RV Industry Association.
What’s more, the New York Times reported that RVshare, a RV sharing site, said the number of days booked via its site has more than doubled year-to-date compared to last year.
When it comes to stopping points, RVers are looking for a lot more than a good price on fuel. They look for clean restrooms, a range of food options, gift shops and dump stations. They also often need shorepower hookups and fresh water to refill their water tanks and seek out campgrounds and mechanics.
These numbers at a glance:
- 9 million American households own an RV
- Buyers aged 35-54 are the largest segment of RV owners
- 16 percent increase since 2001
- Number of days booked for RV sharing double year-to-date compared to last year
The good news is, many of you already have everything RVers need, and there are several things NATSO members can do to attract this type of traffic.
Parking Spaces for RVs
Iowa 80 has 20 pull through parking spaces for RVs and travel trailers located near the convenience store entrance and gas islands. “We have diesel fuel for pickups and RVs at every gas lane for convenience and speed of fueling,” said Heather DeBaillie, vice president of marketing for Iowa 80 Group. “Due to Iowa 80’s size, ease of entry and exit, plenty of parking, as well as the many food and supply choices, we have always been a favorite stop for those traveling by RV.”
Mainting Your Listings Online
Many RV drivers choose where to stop once they’re already on the road and often use apps to find truckstops. Walt Muralt, president of Muralt’s Travel Plaza in Missoula, Mont., said he maintains his location information in RV websites and directories. “Make sure they have your information correct and up-to-date,” he said.
Mobile apps such as AllStays and Campendium are two of the go-to sources for full-time RVers to research where they can stop, where they can dump, where they can fill water and buy propane, and where they are allowed to stay overnight. Walmarts and Cracker Barrels are known among RVers as two of the most RV-friendly Interstate businesses are all listed, plus they include info on how many RV spaces, which side of the building the spaces are on, and whether overnighting is allowed. Truckstops are mostly all listed, but most are missing RV amenities and overnight parking data.
Need a Reason to Come Inside
RVers can and do use the restrooms in their rigs. So, retailers can’t count on RV customers coming in for the restrooms. They need something else to lure them inside. Consider adding pump toppers that advertise RV supplies or promote grocery items (remember, they’ve got kitchens and fridges with them too). There are so many fewer places RVers can go and be able to fit or park compared to four-wheel travelers, so if they’re someplace fueling that can fit their rig, it’s not hard to convince them to come in the store or restaurant and take full advantage of the stop.
While on the road, RVers “are definitely looking for areas that can accommodate their size, especially if they’re towing a vehicle,” said Karen Redfern, director of marketing communications for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. They also look for large wash bays where they can wash their vehicles. RVers also stock up in stores and look for dump stations where they can empty their holding tanks.
What About at Night?
Many trailers and motorhomes are fully self-contained, so travelers can park and sleep anywhere and enjoy a hot shower, cook a meal, etc. “I recently chatted with a friend who spent more than four years traveling the country in a diesel-powered pickup towing a 30-foot travel trailer. He told me lots of RVers sleep in Walmart parking lots. If you’re arriving late and leaving early, it sometimes doesn’t make sense to pay $50 for a campground when you can stay literally anywhere with all the luxuries of home,” shared Darren Schulte, NATSO’s vice president, membership.
“He said many RVers worry that if they sleep at truckstops and rest areas, they’re taking a spot from a professional driver. If a truckstop lot were big enough, a dedicated few spaces (labeled) for overnight RVs would be an attractive alternative to Walmart.”
While that may not always be feasible, Walmart has done well by welcoming these customers. It’s not uncommon to find a dozen trucks and two dozen RVs sleeping in a Walmart lot near an interstate exit every night of the week. If a travel plaza adds overnight RV spaces, remember that a lot of RVs have slide outs. Many times, you can’t even get inside the trailer or the living space of the motorhome without extending the slides. With slides out, these vehicles are wider than a semi, so the RV spaces should be a few feet wider to accommodate.
Iowa 80 allows RVers to park overnight and carries items just for them, such as toilet paper that breaks down faster and lights that fit RVs. “Our convenience store has a lot of grocery items in it and they stock up on some of those things,” DeBaillie said.
To better serve RV traffic, Rex Davis, president of Melvin L. Davis Oil Co., offers multi-product dispenser pumps that are separate from the gas pump so RVers don’t have to mix with four-wheel traffic if they don’t want to. “The dump station is located next to that,” he said.
RVers can also have mechanical needs while out on the road. “We can also help out RVers in our repair shop and often aid them in getting their rigs going again,” Muralt said.
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