SIC 7519

This category covers establishments primarily engaged in daily or extended-term rental of utility trailers and recreational vehicles (RVs). Establishments primarily engaged in renting motorcycles, bicycles, golf carts, go-carts, or recreational boats are classified in SIC 7999: Amusement and Recreation Services, Not Elsewhere Classified; and those engaged in renting airplanes are classified in SIC 7359: Equipment Rental and Leasing, Not Elsewhere Classified. Establishments primarily engaged in the rental of mobile homes on site are classified in Real Estate, SIC 6515: Operators of Residential Mobile Homes Sites.

NAICS Code(s)

532120 (Truck, Utility Trailer and RV (Recreational Vehicles) Rental and Leasing)

The utility trailer and recreational vehicle (RV) rental industry is comprised of two distinct operations. Utility trailers are rented generally by establishments that also rent trucks for the consumer market, such as U-Haul International. Most of those establishments are automotive service centers or centers affiliated with a major truck rental company. Recreational vehicles generally are rented by establishments that focus exclusively on renting RVs for the vacation market, or by RV dealers for whom the rental market is a sideline to RV sales and service. Some establishments rent utility trailers and camper-trailers, considered the low-end of the RV rental business. In 1996, an estimated 450 establishments rented utility trailers, recreational vehicles, or both. These establishments had sales of $294 million and employed 1,800 people. Annual payroll was $52 million. According to the Census Bureau, in 1997 there were 5,296 establishments engaged in truck, utility trailer, and RV rental and leasing; they generated revenues of more than $10.3 billion and employed about 47,000 people.

Most of the larger establishments renting recreational vehicles belong to the Recreation Vehicle Rental Association (RVRA), a division of the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA). In 1992, 56 percent of RVRA members reported having 10 or fewer recreational vehicles available for rent, while 35 percent said they had fleets of 11 to 50 vehicles. About 8.5 percent had fleets larger than 50 vehicles.

Utility Trailers. L. S. Schoen, the founder of U-Haul International, generally is credited with turning the haphazard rental of utility trailers into an organized industry. In 1945, Schoen, then in the military, rented a beat-up trailer from a service station to move his family's belongings from Los Angeles to Corona, California. That night he made a notation is his diary: "I am intrigued by the business potential of this idea especially from the standpoint of one-way rentals."

Schoen was discharged from the military later that year and moved his family to Portland, Oregon. Within two weeks he had bought his first trailer. He painted "U-Haul Co. — Rental Trailers — $2.00 per day" on the sides. By 1946, Schoen had a fleet of 70 trailers stretching from Seattle to Los Angeles, and in 1948 he decided to go national. He offered one-way rentals from the West Coast to anywhere in the United States. The only catch was that customers had to find service station managers at the end of their trips who were willing to become Schoen's agents. The plan worked, and by the end of the year, Schoen had a fleet of 200 trailers and a network of agents nationwide.

In 1951, Schoen launched a low-risk program for independent fleet ownership as a way to raise money and expand the U-Haul network even faster: investors would buy trailers from U-Haul and would assume full responsibility for insurance, maintenance, and distribution. Each month, fleet owners would receive a report and payment for rental activity on their trailers. Schoen raised $2 million in the first two years. By 1955, there were more than 10,000 U-Haul trailers in 200 fleets scattered around the country, and Schoen was adding 600 trailers a month.

In the late 1960s, U-Haul trailers were available at more than 14,000 service stations. Although the number of outlets declined during the 1970s, when many service stations closed, U-Haul remained the leader in utility trailer rentals. U-Haul also began renting trucks in the late 1950s, and came to dominate the consumer truck-rental industry as well. For 1997, U-Haul had revenues of $1.2 billion. AMERCO became the holding company of U-Haul International in 1997.

In 1999, U-Haul rented its trailers, trucks, and tow dollies through 1,100 company-owed centers and 15,000 dealers in the United States and Canada, and sales topped $1.5 billion. This wasn't enough to top industry leader Ryder System, Inc., who had 199 sales of $5 billion. Penske Truck Leasing placed second with 1998 sales of $1.8 billion. Other utility trailer rental companies include Transamerica Leasing Inc., which had 1997 sales of $734 million, and XTRA Lease Inc., which had 1998 sales of $300 million.

Recreational Vehicles. Recreational vehicles became widely popular in the United States during the 1960s, and, in 1970, RV dealers formed the RVDA. The RVDA worked to enhance the image of RV dealers and to improve warranty programs offered by RV manufacturers. By 1982, RV rentals had emerged as a separate industry, which led to the formation of the RVRA. The group later became a division of the RVDA. In 1988, the RVRA began publishing Rental Ventures (now called RVRA Rental Directory ), a consumer guide to renting recreational vehicles. That was followed in 1991 by the Rental Operations Manual, which provides guidelines and marketing suggestions for RV rental dealers. The RVRA also publishes an annual membership directory.

In the late 1990s, baby boomers, who liked to rent or lease all types of products, were boosting demand for RV rentals and causing the traditional rental season to lengthen. Their most common rental choice was a Class C RV, or mini-motor home. In 1998, fleet owners planned to expand their fleets by 11 percent, as RV rentals were expected to increase 24 percent.

The largest RV rental establishment is Cruise America of Mesa, Arizona, with more than 100 company-owned facilities and satellite rental centers in the United States. The company, as part of Budget Group, Inc., has a fleet of more than 4,300 vehicles, including self-contained RVs, motor homes, camper homes, truck campers, and motorcycles. In 1997, Cruise America had revenues of $95.6 million. Cruise America operates a joint venture with Thor Industries, Inc., a leading maker of RVs, for renting to the public.

Further Reading

Hoover's Online Company Capsules, 20 March 2000. Available from .

"Real Estate and Rental and Leasing — 1997 Economic Census." U.S. Department of Commerce. Bureau of the Census, 20 December 1999. Available from .

Watkins, Ronald J. Birthright: Murder, Greed, and Power in the U-Haul Family Dynasty. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1993.

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