Popup Camping Market Trends

Popup Camping Market Trends

Popup camping provides an exciting experience in the outdoors similar to tent camping with breathable fresh air and the adventure of setting up camp together.  Market trends show how people might be losing sight of this shared experience and feeling of accomplishment together, among pressures toward a higher priced, more entertaining, more convenient, and a more vicarious experience of camping, along with smaller families that don't need room in a Popup for 6.

Market Trend Data
  • 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.
Reasons Given for Market Trends

  • Easy.  People want comfort and convenience rather than family teamwork building of setting up camp together!  Set-up and Pack-up time for a Popup can be 30-90 minutes and some have lost the vision of building teamwork and fun in the outdoors around this type of adventure!

  • Entertainment and Infotainment.  Travel Trailers feel more like video gaming  or going to a movie, sitting down in the seat, and taking in the entertainment, standing up from your seat and walking back to your car, sitting down and driving home.   Just turn it on and hit play.  Lot of sitting in front of screens.  Larger RVs accommodate a lifestyle saturated with televisions, video games, computers, ipads, and other forms of entertainment.

  • Changing Family Structures.  There are less stay-home moms and smaller, or non-traditional family structures. More women are working outside the home and people are postponing and having less children.  Dual incomes provide more money for toys and conveniences that busy working mom's demand, with less time for setting up a popup camper.  Less or no children can fit into more luxurious Lightweight or Ultra-light weight Travel Trailers.  Popups are designed to sleep a large family of up to 6-7, back in the day when people had 4 children as the norm.  Travel Trailers are often designed with less beds and more luxury for retired people and now for smaller families.  In some cases one or two children are taken camping by grandparents rather than traditional two parent family structures.  We see more younger adults camping in quality tents, without children.  Maybe some will later upgrade to an ultra-light travel trailer and stay child-less all their life.  Some younger adults are investing in education, careers, and paying down debts on college loans, rather than thinking about having children that need a popup camper.  Here is a link to quality graphics of trends by the Pew Research Center on family size changes.

  • No Exercize.  Popup camping feels more like healthy exercise, setting up camp, learning the joy of sharing the work together, learning patience, grace, and character from working together on something exciting and adventurous.  Travel Trailers fit the cultural lifestyle more of those who mostly want to be entertained vicariously.

  • Large Tow Vehicles.  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 Dealer Profit.  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.  

  • High Debt.  Personal Debt has increased significantly 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 beginning in 1999.  Both of these types of loans can be used for RV purchases and Tow Vehicle purchases.  Since the Great Recession people reduced personal debt slowly, as credit has no longer been available as easy as during the latest economic bubble.

  • Quality of Tents has improved dramatically.  I see more and more people in high quality tents rather than bothering to buy a Popup or RV.  My son's REI tent always stays dry even in heavy rains.  If tents get a little cold and clammy in a downpour, a Little Buddy Heater from Walmart can dry it out pretty well.  

  • More Appliances.  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.

  • Build Complexity.  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.
  • Empty Nesters.  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
  • Roof Issues.  Certain years of Fleetwood/Coleman popup roofs had failures that might have given Popup's a bad reputation.  All other brands have also had roof failures that leak or delaminate.  
  • Lower Airfare.  Sometimes people would rather travel by air, rent a car and a hotel to see a national park rather than "Get Their Kicks on Route 66".

  • Personally, I keep hoping culture will change and people will stop increasing debt, spending, and excessive purchases of large RVs and large expensive tow vehicles, and re-learn the excitement of setting up camp together.

Benefits of Popups

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 * 
  • Fresh Air is breathed all night long as you sleep, providing a great sleeping environment compared to the recycled air we normally breath indoors
  • 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,  purchased by Thor Industries in 2016 for $576 million, 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