RV sales part of nationwide sales boom

Lavada and Bryan Ash are a husband and wife sales team who have been in RVs all of their lives. Some of the these well-equipped homes on wheels are surprisingly affordable, under $20,000 new.

The grinning horse mascot of See Grins RV has plenty of reasons to smile.

In Gilroy, automotive sales rose by more than 27 percent between 2013 and 2016 and much of that gain was fueled by sales of recreational vehicles. According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association since the beginning of the year have increased by 17 percent compared to sales last year raising from 29,233 to 330,673.

Last year, See Grins RV managers said they have sold between 1,500 and 2,000 RVs with a gross revenue of $85 million to $100 million. Next year, they hope to top $125 million at the outdoor and indoor lot at 7900 Arroyo Circle, near the Outlets. They have 450 RVs on the property.

“RV sales are up 30 percent this year across the country,” said Senior Sales Manager Thomas Horn. “In the last few years it has just taken off. A lot of people in this area are buying RVs because they’re living in them because rent is so high.”

See Grins RV markets itself as having the largest indoor RV showroom west of the Mississippi. Its 126,000-square-foot-building used to house Walmart. The company, formerly owned by Randy Scianna, started in San Martin, where it had to sell agricultural equipment for its permit. Thus, the horse logo to go with the horse trailers that were a mainstay before RV sales took off.

They moved to the new location in 2011. Scianna had named it See Grins because he wanted to see grins from buyers.

The showroom is like a brightly lit airplane hanger, with motor homes the size of city buses, along with models that would fit in a parking spot. There are about 80 employees working in sales and service along with office personnel. See Grins RV even has its own TV show, “Go RV With Me, hosted by Jules and Chris Wilson, which airs on KRON4 on Saturdays at noon.

When many think of RVs, they picture retirees investing their life savings into mobile homes so they can cruise the country in comfort in their golden years.

Not exactly.

“Younger people love the retro style travel trailers,” Horn said. “They’re staying closer to home now instead of traveling abroad. A lot of the younger folks love the mountains, hiking and they love the trendy trailers like the Minnie Winnies and the small compact trailers that can be towed by a Subaru or a small Toyota.”

Trailer campers are the rage for financially able millennials who would rather camp than spend money at hotels. Many California State Parks campgrounds offer sites ranging from $35 to $50 a stay and bookings are made months in advance. Spots are hard to come by in some of the most popular locations.

See Grins RV isn’t your run-of-the-mill dealership. On 13 acres, 450 RVs are on display, ranging from the Class A Winnebago the size of a dreadnaught to the much smaller 2,000-pound retro travel trailers with checkerboard floors, microwaves, gas stoves, bunk beds and restrooms.

Stepping into a newer model motor home is like stepping into someone’s living room. Leather couches and recliners, big flat screen TVs, fully equipped kitchens with stainless steel appliances and stone countertops, and even fireplaces are standard issue for many models.

“We sell everything from big 40-foot diesels down to the 16-foot travel trailers, it’s a good business and we’re glad we’re able to support the community and employ a lot of local people,” Horn said.

The less costly travel trailers, under $20,000, are particularly popular with young families prefer nature trips to big city glitz and glamour. Some luxury mobile homes sell for more than $300,000. They also sell models like a Forest River Class A RV, with all the bells, whistles and comfort for around $105,555.

Surging RV sales are also an indicator of an improving economy, low interest rates and lower gas prices.

“We’re seeing a lot more cash customers,” Horn said.

There is a downside to the sales boom. Storage for RVs is hard to come by and the quantity of replacement parts and available maintenance service are hard pressed to keep up with the demand.

“The manufacturers are way overloaded,” Horn said. “There is now three times the production than a couple of years ago and there aren’t enough employees to keep up.”

These are some of the good days for RV sales, but when the economy struggles, sales drop significantly. RV sales can be seen as a barometer of the economy’s health.

As the economy continues to climb, so likely are RV sales. The horse will have plenty of reason to keep smiling for years to come.

See Grins RV is owned by Millennium Capital Partners, of Garden Grove, an investment group headed by Edward Saldana which bought the company from former owner Randy Scianna in 2016.