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Reliable RV Director Ken Coleman says half of the lot's RV customer traffic is there to look at the Airstream line. The dealership is expected to sell at least five units a month.
Reliable RV Director Ken Coleman says half of the lot's RV customer traffic is there to look at the Airstream line. The dealership is expected to sell at least five units a month.

Reliable Imports nabs Airstream line

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Reliable Imports and RVs has joined a select group of dealerships selling Airstreams, the silver-skinned trailers and motor homes that have held a piece of Americana for 80 years.

“This is big news,” said Reliable RV Director Ken Coleman, pointing to the distinction as Airstream’s 62nd distribution site.

For such a significant corporate marriage, the courtship was quick.

Coleman said he attended a national RV show in Louisville, Ky., in November where he met with Airstream officials and discussed adding the line.

Jackson Center, Ohio-based Airstream Inc., a division of Thor Industries Inc. (NYSE: THOR), has sold the easily spotted, cigar-shaped aluminum trailers through few dealerships, mostly on the coasts.

Airstream CEO Bob Wheeler said several factors – including Reliable’s knowledgeable service staff, its financial résumé, a lack of nearby Airstream service centers/distributors and the Ozarks’ reputation for outdoor activities – led the company to select Springfield and 30-year-old Reliable Imports and RVs, 438 S. Ingram Mill Road.

“It’s a wonderful recreation area. There’s lots of great destinations within an easy drive of the Springfield metro area,” Wheeler said, noting other Missouri dealerships are in Kansas City and St. Louis. “We think it’s a great opportunity for us to introduce people to the Airstream trailers and Airstream lifestyle.”

The company expects Reliable to sell between five and seven units per month, Wheeler said.
Reliable sells 15 Airstream models ranging in price between $39,000 and $90,000, and since sales kicked off in January, about 30 people a day visit the lot to view the Airstream trailers, Coleman said. He declined to disclose sales figures for the Airstreams but said sales are beating the company’s expectations.

“We don’t overpopulate the market with dealers. We want every dealer to have a fairly big territory to support their retail sales,” Wheeler said.

Reliable, only the second dealer Airstream added within the last year, is now one of seven dealerships in a nine-state Midwestern region, according to www.airstream.com.  

Reliable also is an authorized service provider for the brand, which has something of a cult following. One online Airstream group, www.airforums.com, boasts more than 50,000 members and 296 bloggers. Coleman said Airstream’s popularity is due in part to its construction: low center of gravity, curved design and light-weight but durable aluminum exterior.

Wheeler declined to disclose Airstream revenues but said production – roughly 1,200 trailers and motor homes a year – has paralleled national industry shipments.

According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, RV shipments were up 8.7 percent in first-quarter 2011 compared to first-quarter 2010. Last year, shipments increased 46 percent to 242,300. The industry reached a peak in shipments in 2006 at 390,500, according to RVIA spokesman Kevin Broom.

Broom said RV shipments are frequently regarded as a leading economic indicator, and the solid recovery made by RV manufacturers last year is thought to be a positive sign of consumer confidence.

“There has been a correlation. (During) the last several economic slowdowns, RV shipments will drop preceding a recession and RV shipments will recover before the recession is declared over,” Broom said, noting a 9.5 percent drop in RV shipments in 2007. “When shipments dropped in 2007, it suggested that there would be an economic slowdown, which happened.”

He said while recently rising gas prices are a concern, the latest study conducted by industry analysts Campfire Canvass found that 53 percent of RV owners plan to use their vehicles more this spring and summer. Only 9 percent of survey respondents intend to use their recreational vehicles less. Broom said what may be affected is the distance that RVers travel.

“What they do is they just adjust. Instead of driving the cross-country trip, they’ll go to the campground closer to home,” Broom said.[[In-content Ad]]

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