Young First-Time RV Buyers Hold Keys To Future RV Aftermarket

Nearly 90% of all first-time buyers also spent in the aftermarket

As America prepares to leave the COVID-19 crisis behind and get back to vacationing, new data shows young first-time buyers could hold the keys to the future of the RV aftermarket.

According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, older generations still make up a slim majority of first-time RV buyers, but that lead is slipping: Nearly half of all first-time RV buyers fall into either the Millennial or Gen-Z generations.

These young buyers aren’t scared off by any big sticker price. The average first-time RV buyer typically spends about $75,000, but Millennials spend $82,000, the highest amount paid by any generation.

But the buck(s) doesn’t stop there: Nearly 90% of first-time RV buyers also picked up at least one aftermarket product, and 56% of those bought three or more items. Considering RV manufacturers and suppliers had a $68 billion economic impact in 2019 and the varying wants and needs of first-time buyers, the possibilities for revenue generation are nearly endless — and fruitful.

“On the whole, there continues to be a tremendous opportunity for our industry to meet the consumer’s ever-changing needs and the aftermarket segment is strongly positioned to enhance the consumer experience and build lasting loyalty to RVing,” RVIA President Craig Kirby said.

So, what are first-time buyers calling their home away from home? Travel trailers, mostly. RVIA data showed 270,431 travel trailers were shipped in 2020, a nearly 6% year-over-year increase. Considering the ongoing coronavirus pandemic’s negative impacts on practically every other aspect of the travel industry, that number offers promise for the RV industry as a whole.

RVIA also reported a big boom — around 60% — in camper vans that have become popular on many social media feeds.

About 1 in 4 first-time buyers said their new RV would serve as an outdoorsy base camp, the base for their next grand adventure. When they hit the aftermarket, they’re going to be looking for items like improved gear storage, devices to extend their amount of off-grid time or upgrades that let them take their RV further into the wild.

“All of our research shows that more and more young people are enjoying RVs as a way to complement their active outdoor lifestyle,” Kirby said. “These findings further confirm that consumers want multiple ways to find parts and accessories that they can use to tailor their RVs to fit their unique experiences.”

One of those unique experiences seems to be taking the office on the road. About 22% of first-time RV buyers said a big selling point was that their new vehicle could also be a place where work gets done. This is a factor that will likely continue to grow as more Americans embrace the work-from-anywhere lifestyle brought about by the enormous increase of remote work during the pandemic.

This, specifically, offers a big opportunity to appeal to younger buyers. A November Gallup poll showed 52% of Millennials worked remotely, compared to 29% of Gen Xers and just 17% of Baby Boomers. Nearly 3 in 4 Millennials said they don’t want to work in the office five days per week. These people will all need somewhere to make a Zoom call — why not an RV?

These first-time buyers are looking to travel all over the place. The four most popular destinations were state parks, RV resorts, private campgrounds and national parks. Slightly more than half plan to stay within 200 miles of home, but 45% are looking to rack up some miles. About 53% have a specific destination in mind, while the remainder will simply follow the road and hop from location to location.

What does all this mean for aftermarket suppliers? They’re going to have to develop and market products that appeal to a wide variety of travelers and their plans. But it also demonstrates that the RV aftermarket presents varying opportunities and plenty of new customers to market to, especially Millennials.