Author Foster Huntington, who launched a millennial nomadic movement with his #vanlife Instagram account chronicling his travel experiences living in a van, is credited with coining the term “Home is Where You Park It.”
Scores of Americans have embraced his philosophy, hitting the road in Recreational Vehicles (RVs), many of them with bumper stickers quoting his mantra and garden flags that decorate their RVs and campsites. But is this a recent fad? Is the boom just a blip for the RV industry?
In a word — no. The U.S. RV industry has actually been steadily growing for years.
The majority (67%) of the $3.6 billion in national shipments came from establishments located in Indiana, home to nearly every RV (and RV component) manufacturer in the nation.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 Economic Census, the nation’s 2,667 RV Dealers (NAICS 44121) generated $25.9 billion in sales in 2017 (the latest data available), up 81.5% from the $14.2 billion in sales in 2012.
In 2017, RV dealers generated an average of $9.7 million in sales, $571,822 in average sales per employee, and $11.80 in sales for every dollar in annual payroll for employees.
The average annual sales per-employee was significantly higher than the average $31,053 for all Retail Trade (NAICS 44-45) businesses but below the average annual sales ($777,174) per employee for New Car Dealers (NAICS 441110) in 2017.
RV dealers in Florida generated $2.6 billion in sales in 2017, the highest of any state, as well as the highest average sales ($788.325) per employee.
However, RV dealers in Maryland reported the highest average sales per establishment in 2017 ($16.6 million), while RV dealers in South Carolina reported the highest average sales per $1 of annual payroll ($15.75).
That’s up from 2012, when there were only 2,625 U.S. RV dealers employing 33,029 workers with $42,820 in average annual payroll per employee.
The average annual payroll per RV dealer employee in 2018 was higher than the $29,164 average for all Retail Trade businesses but below the $54,523 for New Car Dealers.
About a third (901) of RV dealers employed fewer than five employees in 2018, but the 453 dealers that had a workforce of 20-49 employees had the largest total number of employees (14,277).
Businesses with fewer than five employees paid them better, however: an average $59,770 a year.
California had the most employer RV dealers (249) and the most employees (4,412) in 2018, but the seven RV dealers in Alaska reported the highest average annual payroll per employee in 2018 ($65,400).
In addition to the 2,703 employer RV dealers in the United States in 2018, there were 3,813 nonemployer (or self-employed) RV dealers.
Despite the high number, self-employed dealers generated just $362.8 million in sales in 2018. According to the Nonemployer Statistics program, 70% of these businesses had sales under $50,000 and only 44 had sales of $1 million or more in 2018.
According to the Economic Census, the nation’s 4,513 RV Parks and Campgrounds with employees (NAICS 721211) generated $3.1 billion in revenue in 2017, up 30.3% from $2.4 billion in 2012.
In 2017, each RV park generated an average of $683,000 in revenue (an average $138,759 per employee) and $4.78 in revenue for every dollar in payroll paid those employees.
RV parks in California generated the highest sales ($404.8 million) in 2017, but RV parks in South Carolina generated the highest sales per park ($2.3 million).
Once again, Alaska came out on top with its 31 RV parks reporting the nation’s highest sales per employee ($472,176).
RV parks employed 22,673 people in 2018, with an average annual payroll per employee of $30,628. There were fewer parks in 2012, 4,403 compared to 4,513 in 2017, with 19,354 employees and $25,913 in average annual payroll per employee.
Just like RV dealers, RV parks are typically very small businesses. More than 71% had fewer than five employees in 2018. These small RV parks employed 4,668 workers with an average annual payroll per employee of $44,329.
Texas had the most (376) RV parks but California had the most park employees (3,161) in 2018. Alaska again led the pack in pay: its 31 RV parks reported the highest average annual payroll ($91,611) per employee of any state.
Just as there are many RV dealers without employees, there are many parks without workers. In 2018, there were 7,218 RV parks run by self-employed people, which generated $471.3 million in sales.
Even when combined, the (11,791) employer and nonemployer RV parks make up a small share of the nation’s total number of sites available to RVers. .
This number does not include the thousands of parks run by the National Park Service and by state and local governments. It also excludes camping sites operated by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
There is even free camping operated by organizations such as Boondockers Welcome that pairs RVers with homeowners and Harvest Hosts that pairs them with farms, wineries, and other types of businesses that will let them park on their property.
RV dealer firms are primarily owned by white males, according to the Census Bureau’s Annual Business Survey.
Of the 2,046 U.S. RV dealer firms in 2017, 1,353 were male-owned and 1,998 were white-owned (almost all non-Hispanic and non-minority). The ethnicity and race characteristics of RV park owners were similar but there was more gender equality: 1,519 of the 3,973 RV parks were equally male and female owned.
As the nation and the Census Bureau recognizes the manufacturing industry this Friday on Manufacturing Day, we provide here a detailed look at motor home manufacturing.
Forty-seven Motor Home Manufacturing (NAICS 336213) establishments in the United States reported shipments of $5.4 billion in 2017, according to the Economic Census.
While the number of manufacturers was down from the 61 in 2012, their shipments more than doubled from the $2.2 billion reported in 2012.
In 2017, these businesses employed 12,127 compared to 6,609 in 2012, and, on average, each employee generated $442,848 in shipments, up from $339,407 in 2012.
The majority (67%) of the $3.6 billion in national shipments came from establishments located in Indiana, home to nearly every RV (and RV component) manufacturer in the nation. Indiana motor home manufacturers also reported average shipments per establishment and average shipments per employee substantially above the national average – $190.5 million and $547,747, respectively.
While the number of motor home manufacturers was relatively small, the number of Travel Trailer and Camper Manufacturers (NAICS 336214) was not. The 743 establishments in this industry reported shipments of $17.2 billion in 2017, up 67% from the $10.3 billion in 2012.
In 2017, these businesses employed 51,435 workers (up from. 38,322 in 2012), and each employee generated an average $334,727 in shipments vs. $268,886 in 2012.
Indiana dominates the domestic travel trailer and camper manufacturing industry: $11.9 billion (69%) of the national shipments in this industry came from establishments located in Indiana. Shipments doubled from the $6.2 billion reported in 2012.
Indiana businesses in this industry employed 31,182 workers in 2017, up from 20,755 in 2012.
“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in the position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”
This quote from author Bill Bryson, who often writes about travel, resonates with RV fans. RV vacations give Americans a chance to experience all our country has to offer while still having all the comforts and familiar things of home like electricity, drinking water, a kitchen and bathroom.
Whether the growing popularity of RVs in recent years will continue remains to be seen but, for many, home is now where they park it.
Andrew W. Hait is an economist at the U.S. Census Bureau who recently purchased his first RV.
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