Looking across the lot crowded with RVs, it’s hard to imagine a time when this vast sea of pavement held fewer than 30 units for months on end.
Now, Burton Campers off Interstate 65 in Calera, Alabama, is bursting at full capacity with 130 to 135 units stretching as far as the eye can see.
“We got down to just five to six units at the end of 2020 through the beginning of 2021,” says Mickey Price, Burton Campers’ sales manager. “I don’t think there was a month throughout 2021 where we never had more than 30 units.”
But now, production is up and the demand doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Despite the rise in fuel prices, the RV business still feels like it’s bustling, Price says somewhat cautiously, as if not to jinx the good fortune.
Looking at the statistics from the last several years, Price says he doesn’t see a big jump but more of a steady climb. According to Price, Burton Campers sold 369 units in 2018, 380 in 2019, 401 in 2020 and 441 in 2021. As of the end of June, when RV PRO spoke with Price, 281 units had been sold so far in 2022.
“I’m still figuring it’s still on an increase,” he says. “But we don’t know what’s around the corner.”
As an exclusive Jayco dealer, Burton Campers, which is owned by Lisa Burton, keeps an inventory of new and used motorhomes, travel vans, fifth wheels and travel trailers. The full service and warranty repairs department helps with major repairs and minor maintenance, and a retail store can help get any customer – from seasoned to a first-timer – equipped for the road.
Price, who has been with Burton Campers since 2007, says he believes the steady increase of sales is due to how the company does business, rather than being affected by economic upswings and downturns or, most recently, driven by the pandemic.
He says the sales department tries to do things a little differently.
“When we sell something, it’s a real simple process,” Price says. “We find the customer what they’re looking for, and we’re very fair. We price everything at a very fair price.”
Lately, Burton Campers has had an influx of customers who have sold their homes while the market prices were high, then purchased a camper and a piece of property. These customers are living in their camper full-time permanently, Price says, or temporarily while they build a home on that property.
Their average buyer is still in the age range of 40 to 65, he says, but there has been a broad range of customers coming in. In many cases, customers are the children or even grandchildren of customers who came to Burton Campers years ago. The company has been in the Calera area since 1983.
The dealer also gets a lot of repeat customers who purchase a larger unit when their children are younger and they want to travel with more people, then switch to a smaller unit when it’s just the couple on the road.
“Most of our business is repeat customers,” Price says, crediting that to great service and low turnover among the employees.
There are about 25 employees at Burton Campers and Price says the employees stick around because they are wanted, needed and paid well.
“It’s a family atmosphere,” he says. “We want people to feel good about what they do and want to come to work.”
One sticky issue that all dealers – and pretty much everyone in the RV industry – has experienced as of late has been supply chain hang-ups. Price says it has made it difficult to receive parts in a timely manner and while obtaining some parts has improved, now they’re finding that other items are coming in slower. Fabrics or material for awnings are the most recent components that are harder to get a hold of.
“It’s aggravating for the customer more than anybody,” Price says. “We have absolutely no control of it.”
While the sales staff is in good shape right now, Price says Burton Campers is always on the lookout for good employees.
As the industry keeps an eye on increasing fuel prices, especially since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, Price says he hasn’t seen that as a contributor to any downturn on sales – yet.
“I know they’re concerned, but it’s a nonissue right now,” he says.
When asked if he believes people’s approach toward how they’re living their lives has had a positive effect on the RV industry, Price nods his head.
“If they’ve always wanted to do this,” he says about RVing, “they say, let’s just do it. Let’s just do our thing.”