Popup Camping Market Trends

Popup Camping Market Trends
  • Popup camper sales peaked in years around 1998 with sales of around 63,000 popups.  
  • In 2010 Sales were 15,000 popups (click link for source)
  • Fleetwood/Coleman went from a peak of around 30,000 Popups sold per year and around 45% market share, to around 3,000 units sold per year when they went out of business in January 2011.
  • RV shipments data shows a significant move away from Popup campers to larger Travel Trailers.  According to Richard Curtin of the University of Michigan, "Folding camping trailers now account for 1 of every 25 RV shipments, down from 1-in-5 in the 1980s and 1990s."  In 2011 Curtin stated that the number of households owning RVs is as follows:
    • Travel Trailers: 4.8% of households
    • Motorhomes: 2.1% of households
    • Truck campers: 1.7% of households
    • Folding camping trailers: 0.5% of households
    • Total RVs: 8.5% of households own some form of an RV
  • Like prior decades when trends moved from cars to Station Wagons, to Minivans, in the last decade, people have purchased more SUVs and Trucks, which have become popular for their roominess, ability to haul large items, powerful engines, and for some, as a status symbol.  The trend toward SUVs and Trucks enabled towing of larger RVs for people who had already made the decision to purchase a large Tow Vehicle for other reasons.
  • RV dealers make more profit margin on larger RVs than on small Popup Campers so they tend to attract and/or upsell customers to buy the biggest purchase and profit for which customers can get financing approved.  This is the same in every market - autos, homes, etc.   This upselling and marketing attract people to the benefits of larger units.  
  • Personal Debt has increased significantly as people have increased their debt levels for Auto Loans, Home Equity Loans, Credit Card debt, and Mortgage Debt.   See a graph of the trends in Personal Debt at this link.   Auto Loans and Home Equity Loans increased and stayed high since 1999.  Both of these types of loans can be used for RV purchases and Tow Vehicle purchases.  Since the Great Recession people are reducing personal debt slowly, as credit has no longer been available as easy as during the latest economic bubble.
  • In recent years, new Popups come with added conveniences and appliances like electric sink pumps, refrigerators, heaters, hot water heaters, showers, toilets, etc,  and increased in prices for new units from $6K up to $12 to 18K for high wall popups.  For those buying new units, smaller Travel Trailers are similar in price to large popups, so people consider just buying a Travel Trailer that does not need to be popped up and popped down.
  • Popup Campers are actually more complex to design and manufacture than economy Travel Trailers because they have to transform into a small compact space when popped down.  The structure of an economy Travel Trailer stays in one position at all times.  The compact nature of Popup Campers make them very convenient to store in a garage, and they weigh less.  Many specialty products designed for camping are more expensive than big and bulky products.  People still buy Popups for their light weight, ability to be towed by a mini-van, and ability to store in a garage or smaller space.
  • Set-up and Pack-up time for a Popup can be 30-90 minutes depending on how many amenities and stuff you have.  Many people want convenience and comfort more than a tent-like experience.
  • The trend is toward more entertainment and people want to take their entertainment with them, even when they go camping.  Larger RVs accommodate amenities like televisions and other forms of entertainment more than Popups
  • Demographics have changed away from large families to smaller families with dual incomes and more money for toys and conveniences, and less time for setting up a popup camper.  Smaller families with less children can now fit into Travel Trailers.  Popups can be purchased to sleep a family of 6-7 with no problem, but Travel Trailers are often designed with less beds and more luxury for higher income families.
  • Baby Boomers are getting older and migrating to larger Tent Trailers and 5th Wheel RVs with less sleeping areas and more luxury for older retired people.
  • The whole RV industry has been in a major slump for the past years.  Recreational Vehicles are a luxury that people do without during slow economic times.  
  • The Great Recession has impacted those most who would buy the lower priced RVs like Popups.
  • When we move out of the Recession, Popup sales may increase again, but but since they don't provide all the entertainment and convenience as Travel Trailers, they may never be as popular as they were in the 1980's and 1990's.
  • Personally, I keep hoping people will come to their senses and stop increasing debt, spending, and excessive purchases of large RVs and large expensive tow vehicles, but that's like hoping the entertainment industry will once again begin to promote traditional values.  

Latest Breaking News!!!

Columbia Northwest introduces new line of pop-ups, 
with former employees of Fleetwood/Coleman and similarities to Fleetwood/Colemans

Here are links to discussions and photos of new models shown at an RV Show in September 2011
Popup Explorer Discussion


In spite of the trends away from Popup campers there are still benefits of popup camping that may become popular again some day including:

Economic benefits:
  • Lighter weight
    • Can be towed with the existing family Mini-Van or Crossover Vehicle, rather than upgrading to a significantly more expensive Tow Vehicle like an SUV or 4 door Truck  (This is a huge factor for many who still want to minimize their personal debt.)
    • Much better gas mileage to tow, due to less weight and smaller Tow Vehicle
  • Compact and possible to store in the Garage, which saves money on storage, and is very convenient too
  • Most Popups are generally less expensive and more affordable than most Travel Trailers  (though the trend for Popups has been to make them bigger and more expensive than even some Travel Trailers)

Personal preference benefits * 
  • Has the feel of being like a tent, but off the cold and clammy ground
  • Feels more like camping to some people who tent camped in the past
  • Does not feel like a mobile home 
  • Not cold, clammy and wet, like you get in some tents after a big rain (depending on the quality of the tent).
*Not everyone shares these perceptions; only a certain percentage of the market has these perceptions, but to that share of the market these perceptions are held very strongly.

Consolidating Ownership of Popup Manufacturing Companies

Three primary holding companies now owning most popup manufacturing companies in the US:

1.  Columbia Northwest, which owns:
    The new (in 2011) successor to Fleetwood / Coleman high quality designs and features
    Marketed to a niche market of couples without children, desiring high quality popups

2. Jayco, which owns:

3. Forest River RV, owned by Investor CEO Warren Buffet's company Berkshire Hathaway, which owns:
Coachman Viking
Coachman Clipper
Polomino - a low cost brand
Plus other RVs that are not Pop-up style RVs

Like the turnaround investment company BlackStreet Capital bought and closed down Fleetwood/Coleman, Warren Buffet's companies are in business to make money on their investments, so if certain brands are making less profit than other brands, they will be exiting the brands that make the least profits.   Warren Buffet bought up many RV companies when they were losing money during the Great Recession.  With 5 brands owned by the same company, they have the ability to analyze which are providing the most operating cash flow.   Some of the popups are part of a larger product line.  The Coachman brands also sell Travel Trailers, 5th Wheels, and larger RVs.  The decision to continue certain brands might be linked to perceived brand loyalty to those larger units as well.  Popups are just a part of their strategy.  They probably aren't thinking mostly of popups when doing their strategy.  The decisions on popups will just fall out as part of a larger financial strategy of which brands to maintain or exit.  The Viking brand seems like a likely survivor and winner in the end, since Coleman did research when deciding to put their brand label on the Viking a few years ago, until they were blocked in court.

How Broader Demographic Changes are changing the Popup Market

Demographic trends are probably moving customers to have more expensive toys, less children, more money for better tow vehicles and larger RVs like Travel Trailers, which can be towed by larger tow vehicles.

SUVs and Trucks have become popular, sometimes a status symbol, like the minivan and station wagon were popular in the past decades.  Larger tow vehicles enable towing larger RVs than a Popup.

Some day the economy will come back and more middle income people will be in the market for popups that sleep large families.  However, there are fewer people having large families, so that probably makes the small Travel Trailers more attractive as well, since small Travel Trailers tend to sleep less people. 

In modern western Europe, this trend is already in place, except among immigrants from other low paid countries, like Turkey, where these poorer people still tend to have larger families.  It is predicted in Germany that in another generation or so, there will be more non-ethnic German people living and voting in Germany.  German natives are not having children very much.  However immigrants from Turkey and other Eastern countries have 6+ children per family on average.  Demographic studies have been done by the government in Germany, which is urging ethnic German's to have more children.  The average number of children is less than 2, which is weighted by non-ethnic German's who are having 6+ children, so that means ethnic Germans are having much less than 2.  Such low numbers mean that an ethnic nation will decline.  The same is occurring in France, Italy, UK, etc., and to a lesser extent in North America.

It may be that in some states the trend is much less prevalent than other states.  In Minnesota, and the Midwest, many do not see this trend as often as on the coasts, perhaps.  As the trend affects the national market demand for popup campers, all states are affected by demographics in all other states.

Vacation Resorts are also experiencing changes in trends as more people change from visiting vacation resort cabins to buying a cabin.   More vacation resorts are selling out to have their land, divided up for cabin development.  This makes it more difficult for people with lower incomes to find places to go for a vacation cabin.

Changing demographics also explain why Toy Hauler popup's have recently become popular.  More room is needed to haul Toy's than people.

These kinds of broad demographic trends impact the market demand for Popup Campers, and the availability of popup campers for those who prefer this type of camping.