Trailer Industry Faces Unprecedented Product Bottleneck

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - With businesses slowly getting back up to full-speed after months of downtime dealing with the effects of COVID-19, the entire trailer industry is facing a severe bottleneck when it comes to production.

After months of little to no business, manufacturers and parts suppliers have ordered supplies at a rapid pace to try and keep up with dealer demands. Unfortunately, the products simply aren’t there.

“We’ve doubled our order size,” said Skip Eaton of Indiana-based Waymire Distribution. “And a large part of that is already pre-sold.”

The reason for the shortages, which so far have included lumber, axles, aluminum and mechanical components, can be chalked up to several reasons - from raw material shortages to simple industry backlog.

Many manufacturing plants have been shut down for several months, forced to lay off large portions of their job force to mitigate the economic effects of COVID-19. Now, those same plants are forced to realize orders initially taken with larger capabilities in mind.

The shortages aren’t just in the manufacturing facilities, though, as raw materials have been hard to come by. One Texas-based manufacturer explained there’s simply no wood to be found in its area - not even at Lowe’s or Home Depot. This, in turn, has resulted in a dramatic reduction of trailer-manufacturing speed.

“If we could build them, we would,” the manufacturer told NATDA.

Botkin Lumber Company’s Brian Groves, who deals with lumber purchasing on a daily basis, explained. Groves says that when COVID-19 hit its peak, around “10 to 15 sawmills” shut down permanently. Now, fewer sawmills exist to create the lumber often used. The demand has also worked its way into major lumber treatment facilities and transportation companies, where it can now take close to two weeks simply to find a company to haul the lumber to manufacturing facilities.

According to Woodworking Network, not helping the demand are “homeowners opting to renovate while they’re stuck at home.” While these consumers may not be taking inventory directly from lumber suppliers themselves, they’re eating into possible emergency reserves that the industry could utilize. Groves says an additional issue lies in contractual obligations between sawmills and major purchasers, who are buying more lumber than ever before to account for the country’s current obsession with home renovation and construction.

For many, they’ve chosen something other than renovating - travel. The RV industry, which allows consumers to maintain a socially distant way to get around the country, has seen record numbers. In a recent article, RV Pro announced “towable RVs, led by conventional travel trailers, totaled 37,439 units for [June], a gain of 12.9 percent compared to last June’s total of 33,171 shipments.”

Suffice it to say, there’s a battle for any remaining part remnants as RV manufacturers and suppliers, largely based in Elkhart, IN, fight against trailer manufacturers and parts suppliers with similar product lines and material necessities.

Additionally, for companies who export raw materials into the United States, imports have been severely delayed as countries around the world have struggled to re-open their economies. From border shutdowns within the country to slower export travel times, shipments are still struggling to play catch-up.

Regrettably, these shortages are passed on to local trailer dealerships, many of whom have sold any remaining inventory and are struggling to keep up with consumer demand. Some dealers have even been forced to create “waitlist” for their clients, promising contact once more inventory becomes readily available.

Unfortunately, confidence in the market’s ability to self-stabilize ranges when it comes down to an actual time frame. For some, the prospect of schools opening, forcing many to stay home and limit recreational activities, provides some hope. For others, the country has several months before the effects of COVID-19 start to slow on the already at-capacity industry. However, another round of stimulus checks, currently being discussed, could further backlog an already jam-packed schedule.