SylvanSport Founder & CEO, Tom Dempsey, Weighs In On The RV Sales Boom And Future Trends In Response To The Growing Category

Apr 27, 2021

Brevard, NC’s SylvanSport, a manufacturer of camping trailers and affiliated gear, helped pioneer the “RVing meets adventure camping” category, a niche that has boomed during the pandemic. SGB Executive spoke with its CEO and founder, Tom Dempsey, for his thoughts behind the RV sales boom and what lies ahead for the brand.

How big a boom has the RV category seen from COVID, and was it booming beforehand? Coming out of 2019, the traditional RV industry was in a bit of a slow-down. Like many businesses, COVID brought it to a full stop in early 2020. By mid-year, it was not only back on; it was full-speed 200 percent. We saw no slowing over the winter, and 2021 continues the acceleration. It’s gratifying to see so many new participants coming from younger and more diverse backgrounds.

How did you adjust your business during the pandemic? When COVID arrived just over a year ago, we shut down our factory’s towable manufacturing lines. We made a fast shift to producing PPE, which kept our team employed for several months. In mid-2020, all of our towables and gear came roaring back. In addition to shifting to PPE production, our marketing team redirected its efforts toward improving out e-commerce. Our digital pathways have grown from our website’s overhaul to a partnership with Backcountry.com to sell our expanded gear line. Our Dine-O-Max Camp Kitchen sales have also grown nicely. As such, we ended 2020 positive, and 2021 is off to an even better start. Most importantly, all of our associates and families have been able to stay healthy.

What was your inspiration for SylvanSport? I began my industrial design career at Coleman’s pop-up camper division, which at its peak produced about 40,000 campers per year, aimed at the entry-level RVer. While later making kayaks for Perception and Liquidlogic in the ’90s and 2000s, I watched the traditional pop-up camper market decline in popularity while all forms of other outdoor pursuits were booming – from paddling to mountain biking, climbing, and more. I saw this as an opportunity to re-invent the pop-up camper and designed it for a more modern lifestyle.

What’s better/different about your products than traditional campers and RVs? The SylvanSport GO started it all with its simple set-up, ability to carry loads of gear and a completely different approach to an RV. We now make three towables that share those traits from entry-level to our rugged and luxurious VAST travel trailer. Our products are multi-functional, meaning they don’t sit in your gear closet or yard for 11 and a half months per year waiting for a vacation. Our GO gets used just as much for its utility purposes as it does for recreating.

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