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Michiana residents make big purchases as states reopen

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ELKHART COUNTY, Ind. -  As states are reopening more people are getting comfortable getting out of their house and making big purchases again.

ABC57 is working for you and continuing our coverage on the lasting impact of the coronavirus on different industries and businesses post-pandemic.

Tuesday, we’re focusing on the local car, boat and RV dealers and why they are all seeing their sales spike now that people are getting out of the house.

The coronavirus has kept people inside away from friends and sometimes family, yearning to get out and have fun again.

That may be just one of many reasons several car, boat and RV dealers say they are seeing their business boom.

When the coronavirus hit and states started to close, all industries were affected, even the ones considered essential like car dealerships.

“We were looking at and projecting probably 50 to 60% decline in sales,” Brandon Byrum, the General Manager of Michiana Chrysler said.

And boat sales.

“I would say we're probably down 30%,” Andy Peterson the owner of Starboard Choice Marine in Edwardsburg

Even RV’s.

“It pretty much stopped the sales for about two weeks,” Steve Showalter, the owner of Showalter RV said.

Folks, stuck at home, socially distancing and not making any sort of big purchases.

But as Michiana starts to rebound, these same businesses are seeing some changes.

“A spike in sales, new boat sales have taken off in the last couple days,” Peterson said.

“We're definitely in an upward trend right now. Seeing a lot of more used boat sales than what we typically see,” Jamie Haradine, the General Manager of Wakeside Marine in Elkhart said.

“We’re way up from where we were. So, it's yeah, it's pretty huge right now,” Showalter said.

“During let's call it the COVID period, we were really struggling to do three and four cars per day,” Byrum said. “So, in the last week, we've been able to be probably an average of six to eight cars per day through the week.”

Boat, car and RV dealers tell ABC57 they are all seeing the same thing. Folks just want to get outside.

“We're seeing more and more people that want to instead of going on vacation, they can't travel. They want to buy a cheaper boat, get on the water, spend time together and have some fun… salvage summer,” Peterson said.

ABC57 reached out to a local travel agent to see if they are seeing any rise in the number of people booking trips. However, they are seeing quite the opposite - a slowdown. It could be one reason why we are seeing an increase in people heading to staycation destinations

“They’re going to be vacationing more locally instead of flying,” Showalter said.

And it shows as these dealers are seeing that now more than ever - first-time buyers are at an all-time high.

“We were really having a lot of people coming in that are first time buyers to boating,” Haradine said.

“We're seeing a lot of first time RV buyers and they're ready to have their own bed and have their own living space and just do their own thing. It's a great way to social distance and still get out and enjoy your family,” Showalter said.

Sales didn’t just slow down either, but inventory as well. Forcing businesses to play catch up.

“We're six weeks behind a start and just a little bit of a backlog so we don’t have a jumpstart like we normally do the season,” Peterson said.

But now that the demand is high, dealers are trying to sell out on their inventory to get more stock in.

“I think we've had maybe two new cars delivered since March,” Byrum said.

It also means there are more deals going around.

“No payments or four months lease great lease payments, first-time buyer options, employee purchase packages. So, they really, really, really helped us try to keep some cars going out to help us generate revenue,” he said.

But does this rise in sales make up for any of the time lost?

“A little bit, but it's going to take a lot to make up for everything,” Peterson said. “This is the busiest part of our season up until Memorial Day is a hectic time of the year and we were so far behind.”

“I don't know that we're going to make up any losses. We feel like we're just getting back to normal. So, getting back to normal is kind of where we're headed,” Byrum said.

But normal isn’t going to be the same. So, what does the future of the travel vehicle industry look like post-pandemic?

These owners have no clue. Only hoping this rise in sales continues.

“I'm sure at some point it will level out but I do you see a spike for the next year or two at least,” Showalter said.

“Early March, we were on an incline. Maybe one of the best inclines we've seen within the past five years in sales. So, we would like to really take off from there, and keep going up,” Byrum said.

It’s not just here in Michiana, but if you check out RV, boat and car sales for May you’ll see this is true across the board.

And all of the businesses I spoke to say with all the deals out there, this is a good a time as any to make those big purchases.

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