Ottawa RV suppliers revving up for another record year as travellers look to stick close to home

Michael McNaught
RVezy CEO Michael McNaught says his company is on pace to triple last year's revenues. File photo

Fuelled by a surge in younger vacationers looking for safe ways to travel this summer as the pandemic drags on, local businesses that sell and rent recreational vehicles say this year is shaping up to eclipse records set last year ​– to the point where some dealers worry they soon won’t be able to meet demand.

Just as cottages and campsites are being booked up months in advance by travellers eager for an escape that’s close to home, companies such as Ottawa-based RVezy say they are seeing record traffic this spring.

Michael McNaught, the co-founder of the peer-to-peer rental platform for recreational vehicles, says business has never been better for the rapidly growing startup.

“In March, we were seeing numbers that we don’t even see in the summer months,” says the former police officer, who launched RVezy five years ago. 

McNaught attributes much of the RV boom to so-called “revenge travel.” After being cooped up inside for seemingly months on end, he explains, Canadians are now looking to make up for it in a big way by exploring the countryside without restrictions.

McNaught adds that the majority of RVezy’s customers are millennials, shattering the stereotype of retirees driving demand in the industry. 

“The entire customer base in the entire industry has shifted,” he says, noting that his site is flooded with young professionals between the ages of 35 and 45 who have kids and are seeking comfortable and affordable travel options. 

McNaught says the firm is on pace to triple last year’s record revenue numbers and has nearly doubled its headcount to 60 over the past 12 months. The company expanded to the U.S. last August and now has an inventory of more than 10,000 motorhomes, trailers and camper vans for rent, up from 7,000 last summer.

RVezy isn’t the only local RV business that’s booming so far in 2021. 

Leisure Days RV Group, for example, has boosted its employee count by 20 per cent this year. The chain, which is headquartered in Ottawa and operates dealerships in five provinces, recently acquired a dealership in Gananoque and opened another store in Rockland as it continues a cross-Canada expansion drive.

Supply-chain shortages

But growth has come with challenges, says vice-president Mike Garrick.

Garrick says the company is selling out of new vehicles faster than it can bring them in. With inventory at an all-time low, he’s even had to tell a few eager would-be road-trippers he can’t sell them the vehicles they want because the RVs need to stay on the showroom floor for display purposes.

“We have 27 stores (nationwide) and we have never had such a lack of inventory,” Garrick says. “I would say we are probably one-third of where we should be.”

Garrick says the global semiconductor shortage that has hampered automobile production around the world during the pandemic has also hit the RV industry hard, stalling efforts to get more vehicles to dealers. 

Microchips are used in a variety of applications in RVs, including boosting fuel efficiency. Garrick says the chip shortage is making it tough for manufacturers to ramp up production to meet demand. 

In addition, he says the industry is plagued by other supply-chain issues, including a shortage of the resin that’s used to glue the fibreglass exteriors of motorhomes. Some factories have been forced to temporarily shut down production as a result.

Garrick, who oversees 11 RV dealerships in eastern Ontario, says the business has been able to keep up with orders so far, but he’s not sure how long that will continue.

“We’re concerned,” he says. “We’ve done what we can to better our position as far as receiving inventory, but we’re just going to have to take it day by day. It’s going to be a serious challenge a month or two from now.”