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Ellis Travel Trailers focuses on service
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    Even though the economy has put a damper on the sale of recreational vehicles of all types, one local company is managing to weather the storm as people take to the roads to enjoy one of the simpler pleasures in life – camping.
    “My husband Mike and I used to love to go camping, and we bought a camper,” Alethia Ellis said. “We sold our first camper and made a profit. Each time we would buy one for ourselves and sell it, we made money on it. So, we decided to turn our passion into a business.”
    Twenty five years later, the Ellis Travel Trailer company on Highway 80 East has over 50 recreational vehicles for sale on its lot, four full-time employees in the service department, and four others working in parts, supplies, and sales. What began as a family business has remained one.
    Both Alethia and Mike Ellis, founders of the company, continue to work there. Their daughter Jessica also works for the company as well as their son-in-law Robert Collins who oversees the service department.
    “It is true that we aren’t selling as many units as we have in last several years, but our parts and service departments are very, very busy,” Collins said. “In those areas, our business is up over 30 percent from last year.”
    Collins said that people are holding on to their RV’s instead of trading up for newer models.
    “People are taking really good care of the RV’s that they have, performing a lot of maintenance and general upkeep,” he said. “If you take good care of your RV and do the things that you should, they typically don’t require a lot of heavy maintenance.”
    Alethia Ellis said like the car industry, obtaining financing right now is very difficult. While national funding sources have  become less and less available, Ellis said local opportunities to obtain a loan are still present.
    “We refer interested buyers to our local banks and credit unions,” she said. “With good credit, and other considerations, many people have been able to obtain a loan. But, it isn’t nearly as easy as it has been.”
    As one might imagine, the variety of trailers on the Ellis’s lot ranges from a small modest unit, to a much higher end “fifth wheel” trailer stretching 36 feet in length with three pullouts on the sides increasing the square footage inside.
    “The sky is limit,” said Gordon Burns, who oversees the parts department for the company. A seasoned RV enthusiast, Burns enjoys explaining the differences and nuances between a motor coach and travel trailer. “A travel trailer is hooked to another vehicle and towed, the motor coach is one unit that is driven. There are positives for both, but for ease, comfort, and price, you can’t beat these.”
    Parkwood RV Park owner Harry Wachniak said the “snow birds” are still coming to Statesboro, but he is projecting a dip in business that will mirror the slowdown being felt in RV sales across the country.
    “We estimate that we lose about ten percent of our repeat customer base each year to attrition,” he said. “For whatever reason, they quit traveling around in their RVs. That ten percent is usually replaced each year by those just buying and getting into vacationing in an RV. If they aren’t out there buying, then I expect we will see a notable slowdown in the next year or so.”
    Right now, there doesn’t appear to be a major drop-off in the rental of RV sites at local campgrounds. Park ranger Tim Allmond said the RV camping sites at the George L. Smith state park in Twin City have remained booked.
    “We have 26 sites that are staying filled up,” Allmond said. “We aren’t always filled up completely during the week, but we are generally to capacity on the weekends. We are typically really busy in the spring and fall, and this year has been no exception. I have to admit that I haven’t noticed a lot of very new trailers coming in, but I have seen a few. You can also tell that people are really taking care what they have.”
    Collins said the stereotypical picture of an RV owner being older, and without children at home is a misconception of the industry. “The majority of our clientele are families with children still in the home,” he said. “RV’ing is a family event, and we can tell that our customers really, really enjoy that.”
    To learn more about Ellis Travel Trailers, you can go to their website at www.ellistraveltrailers.com.