It’s no secret that for retailers, millennial consumers have represented an enigma since they were old enough to crack open a wallet. The reason? They differ drastically from the generations preceding them in what they value, the world they grew up in, and their economic circumstances.
This has been especially challenging for recreational vehicle (RV) dealers. RV buyers have always skewed older and more financially secure. The stereotype of retiring baby boomers hitting the road in their golden years exists for a reason.
But, while retirees may be a dream demographic for loans that can more closely resemble a mortgage than a car loan, it also means dealers’ target market is shrinking every year. Consider that the youngest baby boomers are turning 57 this year – not a recipe for long-term viability.
Interestingly, RV sales are actually booming, thanks in part to vacationers opting for RVs to avoid travel restrictions, hotels, and airports during the pandemic. In the short term, we should expect that boom to accelerate as the end of the pandemic releases a flood of pent-up spending money and vacation fever upon the economy.
The takeaway? There’s never been a better time for the industry to shift gears and start focusing on millennial buyers. Millennials have represented the largest group of consumers since mid-2019. If RV dealers want to secure long-term, stable growth, they’ll have to pivot to focus on this demographic sooner or later.
Why not start now?
Where is the “in” with Millennials?
But, how exactly do dealers do that? Where is the “in” with a group that is so markedly different from their parents and grandparents?
Let’s consider what we do know about millennials: They tend to value (or say they value) experiences over material possessions. In other words, millennials place a premium on events that take place outside the routines of daily life, particularly outdoor activities (including camping, tailgating at sporting events, and weekend getaways, to name a few).
These preferences align perfectly with one of the core value propositions of an RV: You can take the comfort and amenities of home on the go, allowing you to get more fun out of life, experience other cultures, and see new places.
In the automotive industry, there’s a similar rising trend called “overlanding,” which emphasizes off-road, vehicle-based exploration in remote locations. Overlanding is expected to help boost truck and SUV sales post-pandemic.
Thus, RV dealers can successfully reach millennials simply by tweaking their messaging. Instead of talking about the freedom earned through retirement to travel, spend your discretionary income, or even see the grandkids more often, position the RV as a symbol of freedom from the daily grind to enjoy new experiences and go “off-grid.” It’s overlanding on steroids, in a sense.
This isn’t the only way RVs can appeal to millennials, either. Another characteristic that sets this demographic apart from their predecessors is the extent to which they use their finances to promote their values – “putting their money where their mouth is.”
As it turns out, RV ownership can dovetail neatly with millennial values in a critical way: Compared to a traditional, stationary house, RVs are very green (that is, environmentally friendly).
The notion of an RV as a permanent residence promotes the idea of a small home that consumes less energy and water than your average household, creating a comparatively green living situation. Those benefits multiply when you consider life in an RV also means cutting out lawn upkeep, airplane travel, and hotel stays, all of which translates to less energy consumption and waste per person. The perks multiply even further when RV owners opt to share that space and create a more communal living situation, an arrangement millennials are more amenable to than previous generations.
It’s also worth noting that advances in digital technology that are making remote work situations more feasible and widespread could make the mobile lifestyle made possible by an RV more attractive to millennials as well. In fact, this trend already has a name: digital nomadism.
Finally, while some may argue that because RVs are on the road all the time, they’re contributing to carbon pollution and negating much of that environmental benefit, the reality is people traveling in RVs tend to stop at each point along their journey for a significant length of time – to “hunker down” and enjoy it. The point of traveling in an RV, after all, is not to be on the road all the time, but to access new destinations and unlock new experiences.
The RV industry is currently in the unique position of having a rosy short-term outlook with some significant structural challenges looming on the horizon.
To overcome those challenges, pivoting your messaging and business model to suit the needs and expectations of the next generation of buyers is key.
In the case of millennials, the “in” is clear: Pitch RV ownership as an experience and appeal to their values. In exchange, you may just lock down a new generation of loyal customers.