ELKHART — Another year of unprecedented growth is expected in the RV industry, but first the industry needs more employees, better and more timely customer service and housing for hires coming into the area.

Growth and those dire needs were the focus of talks among more than 850 RV industry leaders, lawmakers and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb during the fifth annual RV Power Breakfast Thursday morning at the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart.

Spurring this unprecedented growth are Generation X and Millennials, who, according to a KOA Campgrounds study, along with Generation Z, make up 72 percent of those who camp. About 34 percent are Gen X and 38 percent are Millennials, according to Mike Gast, vice president of communications for KOA.

Campers are also becoming more diverse as various ethnic groups are discovering the love of camping, he said.

Frank Hugelmeyer, president of RVIA, presented similar numbers. Eight out of 10 RV owners are under the age of 65 and 60 percent of RV purchases are by first-time buyers, he said.

“We are not the Boomer industry anymore,” he said.

Gast said these new campers are big into recreation — they want their bikes and kayaks. He feels that’s an area the RV industry can work on since he doesn’t see many bike racks or kayak mounts on RVs.

Gen X and Millennials also like to camp in groups and want their technology to travel with them.

“Wi-Fi is hard at a campground,” Gast said. Sixty-one percent of the campers surveyed said they want to go online once a day and if it’s raining, they want to stream Netflix.

Again, it’s another area the RV industry can step up its game, he said.

There were no arguments from the group.

Panel discussion

Six panelists — all leaders in the RV industry — concurred that with unprecedented growth comes growing pains and they need to meet the challenge.

If new buyers are given a good experience, Brian Wilkins, president of Wilkins RV, said, it will “make sure they stay in our lifestyle.” If not, they will go somewhere else, he added.

Part of that experience is not just in buying the RV, but in helping buyers care for their investment.

Jason Lippert, CEO of Lippert Components, said, “We can’t make enough investment in this area.” Customers should not be stranded for 30 or more days because parts are not immediately available for their RV, he explained.

The younger generation of buyers have different expectations of the RV industry, Bob Martin, president and CEO of Thor Industries said. The auto parts industry can get parts out overnight and buyers expect that rapid service.

Wilkins added, “As an industry, we’ve got to get better.”

After the breakfast, Martin said part of getting better is to start with a better product. RVs are not built robotically, he said. They are built by humans, so there are bound to be a few mistakes. But they can strive to do better.

But as KOA’s Gast said, all of the statistics still don’t fully explain why RV’ing is increasingly popular.

“You help bring families together,” he said, “and that’s what they want.”

Online: For a look at the KOA Campgrounds study, go online to koapressroom.com

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