RV salesman Bob Lacey, left, and Altmans Winnebago president Joe Altman, right, talk inside an RV at Altmans Winnebago. Altmans Winnebago is closing after 40 years.
This is the time of year many people stock up their RVs and roll ‘em out for road trips. They aren’t just motor homes. They’re pop-up campers, travel trailers and “fifth wheels” that can range from a few thousand dollars to 100 grand or more.
Recreational vehicles, even moderately priced ones, stopped selling when the economy drove into a ditch three years ago.
The economy’s back on the road now - sort of - and for some people, the time finally is right to buy an RV.
There’s a sold sticker stuck to the windshield of Bernhard Puzik’s new RV. That new one is a used 37-foot, $72,000 diesel Endeavor motor home by Holiday Rambler.
“If we want to leave a weekend, or on a spur of a moment, you know, just go, because it’s loaded, ready to roll," says Puzik.
Over Memorial Day weekend, Puzik drove from Westchester to an RV show at the Rose Bowl to buy the Endeavor. He and his daughter Erika took a walkthrough to learn how to crank fans, dump wastewater and operate the outdoor shower. “I’m hoping they have a manual for this," Puzik says.
Inside the RV, there’s cream-colored leather seating and a foldout table with plaid chairs, two TVs, a fridge, a stove and a washer/dryer combo in the back bedroom.
The Puziks say it’s not their first motor home. They’re still trying to sell their 27-foot Winnebago Brave.
“Well, the family grew and we needed something to be more powerful, especially," says Puzik. "We chose a diesel because of its towing capacity. It was time to upgrade.”
But for some RV dealers, sales still aren’t improving fast enough. Altman’s Winnebago in Carson used to be one of the largest Winnebago dealers in the country. But company president Joe Altman says the family-owned dealership is closing this month after 40 years.
He shed the last of the company’s six satellite stores in August to focus on improving sales at their Carson location. “We were hoping that by concentrating all of our efforts and focusing into one location that we would be able to take, you know, the benefits of whatever the market was gonna offer us and turn it into a profitable business. It just wasn’t possible.”
Altman says he was 16 when his brother, Dave, started the business. All seven Altman siblings have worked there.
They’ve been through rough times – oil embargoes in the ‘70s and a recession in the ‘80s. But Joe Altman says it’s never taken more than three years for sales to recover. He can’t wait any longer.
“I don’t know what’s going to lie ahead for me," says Altman, "but I’m a pretty spiritual person. It will go good. I’m not afraid. Hopeful, somewhat concerned, but not afraid.”
Art Schaub knows what Altman is going through. In October, he closed his Traveland RV dealership in Irvine after 14 years. He started working at Altman’s as a salesman just four months ago.
Now Schaub needs a job – again. “It’s just in your blood," says Schaub, "it’s just hard to get out of it. I thought about getting out of the business, but you know I have 25 years of experience and that’s hard to buy, so I could offer a company a lot.”
Schaub ought to try McMahon RV in Irvine. The largest dealer in California changed sales techniques to stay in business. They bring RVs directly to customers at traveling shows and sell more coaches at smaller profit margins.
McMahon's sales manager Vern Phillips, who’s worked in RV sales for 38 years, says he’s working harder and smarter to succeed. “You get the business and you make great deals. Sure we’re not making the money we used to in the old days, you know, which wasn’t too long ago, but we’re doing the numbers, so one offsets the other.”
McMahon’s focus on lower prices helped get Erika Puzik and her dad to buy. Once the new RV is gassed up, the Puziks are heading out on a five-hour drive to Laughlin, Nevada with Erika’s husband, her brother and some friends.
“We try to go out at least every two, three months,” says Bernhard Puzik.
“Yeah, we pretty much go to the desert and go dirt biking,” says Erika.
“We got a ‘toy hauler’ we haul behind here."
“It’s super light. Fourteen feet? Just enough to store six bikes we fit in there very carefully." Erika laughed.
But Erika won’t be behind the wheel. “I’ve moved it, but I haven’t driven it. I’ll just be there for the ride.”
Erika helped buy that RV. She’ll let someone else drive it.