MAINE, USA — In Yarmouth, Harvey and Rachel Williams' driveway has a new addition -- a small silver camper with a lot of history and personal touch. On Tuesday afternoon, they chatted excitedly with NEWS CENTER Maine, detailing some of the trips they're planning to take with their two young kids this summer -- Wolfe's Neck, Rangeley, Acadia National Park.
"With all the craziness of the last year with the pandemic and everything, it just seems like a good time for us to get back out in the wilderness a little bit -- kind of do some trips with the family," Harvey explained.
That urge (and a bit of cabin fever) led to a visit this winter at Maine Vintage Campers in Alfred. They found the 51-year-old camper -- in need of some serious love -- and worked with business owner Jim McCadden to renovate it. Harvey says they feel lucky to have acted a few months ago, seeing the huge demand for campers and RVs now.
"There was a number of people that would walk through the door and were always kind of eyeballing this one, so I was very happy that we got it when we did," Harvey said, as Rachel nodded with a smile.
Families like the Williamses are a big reason why McCadden does what he does. About seven years ago, he bought a 1958 camper and rehabbed it -- and after a couple of other similar renovations, he decided to make a major life change and pursue the hobby as a career in 2018. Now, McCadden goes "hunting" for old campers, buying them from their previous owners and selling them to new ones. McCadden has a room full of parts where customers can get supplies they may need for touch-ups -- and he offers to do full renovations, with the understanding that as a one-man team, it takes him about six weeks or so to complete one camper.
"The best part about this is to see the smiles and customers' faces when they leave," McCadden expressed. He says the first part of 2020 was slow (specifically, "dead as a doornail") during the pandemic -- but by a couple of months into the new normal, business began to boom, and he saw a 40 percent increase in sales compared to 2019. The demographic of customers has also changed a bit, with more families buying from him.
"It's very exciting to see the family when they (go), 'Ah, look at what I have!'" McCadden smiled.
According to the summer 2021 issue of RV RoadSigns (a quarterly forecast put together by ITR Economics for the RV Industry Association), the total number of RV shipments is expected to hit 576,065 units in 2021. That's a 33.8% increase over the year-end total in 2020 and about a 14.1% gain over the record high of 504,600 units in 2017.
A recent survey by the RV Industry Association says 56 million Americans plan to go RVing this summer, whether they're buying or renting. The top three reasons cited for the urge -- an increased interest in exploring the outdoors, expanded flexibility through work and school, and wanting to travel with family.
At Mountain Road RV in Sabattus, sales manager Bill McLean says the high demand is unlike any he has seen in the business' 38 years at this location. In the past, people 60 years and older typically bought from him -- but this year, customers have been as young as 25 years old. His sales book is also full, as people come even from out of state to buy.
"I had six brand new Conquests on my yard last Wednesday. I have two left for sale," McLean said, noting the yard closes at 5 p.m. -- but lately, employees have been there for a couple of hours after to finish up work. He has also had to hire four new, additional employees to try to meet the steady interest -- a welcome challenge, though, in the wake of a financially-difficult pandemic.
"I've been able to keep 12 different families in their job for the last year and a half, two years -- feeding their kids, paying the bills, keeping things going," McLean noted.