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Rough waters for boat, RV dealers mean smooth sailing for buyers at show

Source: The Bakersfield Californian
Publish Date: Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Summary: Used motor homes are going for less than $10,000 and new travel trailers are priced at $12,000.

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Shellie Branco

Feb. 4, 2009 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) -- Excitable salesmen, the kind who live for local TV ads, are fond of saying, "I'll stand on my head to make you a deal."

These days, RV and boat dealers would add a few backflips if it nudged you toward buying a home on wheels (or water).

Buyers will have the upper hand at the Central Valley Sportsmen Boat and R.V. Show Friday through Sunday at the Kern County Fairgrounds.

Motor homes, trailers, toy haulers, fishing boats, speedboats and kayaks await. Last year, more than 15,000 outdoors nuts attended the show, said Mike Hatcher, a promoter of the show.

Doug Hensley, sales manager for Stier's RV Center, said right now prices are "phenomenal" -- 40 percent off the big Class A traditional motor homes. A new model that cost $85,000 a year ago is going for $69,995.

"I've been in the business since 1990 and I've never seen discounts like this," he said.

The big challenge for consumers, however, is getting a bank loan, Hatcher said.

Boat dealers are even more desperate to unload, he added. The dismal local market forced Hatcher to bring out-of-town exhibitors to the show.

Stier's, Camping World, RV Peddler and other companies will be there with 300-plus RVs and more than 20,000 square feet of boats on display.

Buyers are attracted to smaller, wider RVs, whereas last year they were snapping up the 30-foot trailers and RV haulers, Hatcher said. Outdoors enthusiasts are cutting down the frequency of vacations and sticking closer to home.

You don't have to be in the market to buy to enjoy the show. Giveaways include a fishing trip to Mexico, a big-screen TV, quads and motorcycles and a $60,000 dune buggy. There'll be a mobile bass bin with fishing demonstrations, sand drag races, and a rock wall and laser tag for the kids.

Hensley said Stier's had three satellite locations, but closed them over the last few years to consolidate to its Wible Road store.

On a positive note, Stier's has seen an increase in sales over last month, he said. Hensley thinks consumers have accepted the state of the economy and they're still interested in vacationing without the expense of airfare and hotels.

People want to upgrade the amenities and they're hungry for the flat-screen TV and slide-out rooms, he said. Used motor homes are going for less than $10,000 and new travel trailers are priced at $12,000. It's bad news on the oceanfront. Marine and motorcycle dealers are calling it quits all over the place, said Bill Royer, owner of Royer Cycle and Marine on White Lane.

Hatcher said Valley Boats and Allstar Marine have gone out of business, leaving Galey's Marine Supplies the only one standing.

Royer's sales were down 45 to 50 percent last year from 2007.

He won't participate in this year's show. He's in the process of selling his Bakersfield store. The typical middle-class family consumer "virtually disappeared," he said.

He also cut staff and reduced his line of products, closed an Atascadero store and is selling his Bakersfield Yamaha dealership, leaving him with a store in Lemoore.

"We'll try to weather the storm until the consumer has a little more discretionary money to spend," he said. "Then they'll start looking at the recreational products, but again, recreation, that's the first thing to go. You gotta keep the home and the groceries."

Newstex ID: KRTB-0022-31462319

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