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Is this recovery? Check the roads for campers, trailers

A worker at Lance Camper, a recreational vehicle maker in Lancaster, Calif., sweeps out a nearly completed camper on the factory lot. Jolie Myers/Marketplace

About an hour north of Los Angeles, in Lancaster, Calif., a company called Lance Camper makes truck campers and travel trailers. In one very specific sense, they are luxury items: Things you don't need to buy, but things you will purchase when or if you’re feeling economically secure. 

And by secure, we mean pretty darn secure: These campers and trailers can cost upwards of $20,000.


Kai Ryssdal interviewing Lance Camper President Jack Cole. (Jolie Myers/Marketplace)

CEO Jack Cole has worked at Lance Camper since 1966. He says they felt the recession in 2008 immediately, when sales plunged.

“And when that happens, we have to downsize," Cole says. He says they went from 460 employees to 120. The cuts, says Cole, were painful.

But now, they’re feeling the recovery.

"We’ve added new equipment, we’ve added more people," Cole says. "The fact that our business is back, it’s a sign that the consumer is back.”

Cole says he thinks the recovery is real and says, “you’ll see a sign of a really good economy where [interest] rates tick up a little bit and people will still go out and spend" on things like a camper that oftentimes you pay for with credit.


Workers at Lance Camper work together to assemble a camper. (Jolie Myers/Marketplace)

About 360 workers are employed in the factory today, building cabinets into trailers, sewing upholstery, installing windows and plumbing, sweeping the mounds of sawdust that gather on the floor. The trailers and campers are a tight squeeze during construction -- Cole says it’s like “building a ship in a bottle.”

The company was founded in 1965 -- and campers changed have changed since then. Nowadays, top-of-the-line models include double sinks and fireplaces.


(Photo courtesy of Lance Camper)

Many of his customers today are baby boomers, but others are in their mid-30s. He says it’s not uncommon for grandparents, parents, and grandchildren to all own campers and trailers.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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