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Outdoorsy RV rentals boom as COVID-19 heightens fear of travel

Outdoorsy CEO & Co-Founder Jeff Cavins joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the growing RV rental market.

Video Transcript

BRIAN SOZZI: All right, while most are working from home during COVID-19, some are going the extra distance and working in the great outdoors and on the road. RV rental platform Outdoorsy is seeing demand like never before. The business has grown 4,500% from March to June of this year. Labor Day weekend rentals are already up 220% from last year.

Now, all summer long, we've been covering leaders in the outdoor industry with stories such as this. And now let's bring in Outdoorsy CEO Jeff Cavins to discuss the RV boom. Jeff, I was on your website last night. My first thought was, wow, this is cool. This business has to be rocking, clearly, it is. How has the pandemic changed what you do?

JEFF CAVINS: Good morning, Brian. Thank you. The pandemic has changed the way Americans think about travel. And in terms of mass market hotels, mass market cities, airports and the like, they've chosen to hit the road. And recreational vehicles, camper vans, travel trailers primarily is a way to avoid the pressure of life and lockup.

And importantly, because you can travel in one of these vehicles where you're maintaining disinfected environments. It's a socially distant activity by design. And it seems to have become a national pastime in the last 90 days.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: It really has. And you've got Labor Day, big holiday, upon us, when people are usually traveling. Tell us what business is looking like for you. Because, we'll make clear, you're a rental platform, right? People come to you to not to buy these RVs, but to rent them. You have a ton of different ones to choose from.

JEFF CAVINS: That's right. It's a similar model as Airbnb or other internet marketplaces. In the period from the major lockdowns in the United States, we saw 10 million people come to our site. 93% of them, 93% of these Americans are first-time renters. So there's a lot of things for them to learn as they're renting RVs and hitting the roads.

But 66% of all of our customers are Gen X and millennial. So we skew very young, which is not common when you think about RVs. You think of them as something that appeals to older people, maybe retirees or boomers. But in our case, almost half of the platform are under the age of 40.

And we've just seen an enormous amount of activity in the business. We've been growing fast. So the company's been around for six years now. 5, 6-- 5 1/2 years. And we've been growing rapidly, 400% year on year growth from last year. But from the lockdown to the end of June, we grew 4,500%. 10 million people coming through the platform.

And as a matter of fact, Brian, you mentioned the Labor Day stat. The team just updated me, we're at 240% year on year growth as we head into Labor Day, which will probably exceed 300% year on year growth as people are planning for their alternate travel plans now using recreational vehicles and camper vans.

BRIAN SOZZI: Jeff, business wasn't always, I guess, easy, such as this. Not that the situation is easy. You, in fact, had trouble raising cash in the early going. A lot of folks in Silicon Valley thought you were crazy. Have you been-- are you out there raising more money now? And what's the next growth frontier for a business like this?

JEFF CAVINS: Yeah. Yeah, I think they may still think I'm crazy. But when we first-- what happened was, when we were raising money for the company, no one believed it. They didn't like the story, they thought it was stale and it was uninteresting. And what happened was, when we came back after my partner and I, Jen Young, spent seven and 1/2 months, we sold everything we owned.

Spent seven and 1/2 months in an Airstream crisscrossing America seven days a week for seven and 1/2 months. And I came back and told investors, I said, guys, we have discovered a multi-billion dollar industry that was hidden right before our very eyes. And of course, no one believed. Now they all believe because the numbers are bearing that that is true.

But now we're seeing this new renaissance because of this, you know, we have a biological pandemic. We have somewhat of a psychological pandemic going on as well, kind of the mental health of our country. And we just launched a survey called Road to Wellness to learn about how people are thinking about travel and how do they think about their vacations.

Baby boomers now feel vulnerable for the first time medically, so their fear of travel is-- in airline travel and so on is heightened. And so it's driving this massive appetite for this type of travel. And as a result, investors have been approaching us. I get-- I get inbound investor calls every single day now.

But the company has a lot of cash, company is profitable. We're throwing off cash. We don't need to raise. If we do raise, it'll be because we want to, not because we have to.

DAN ROBERTS: Jeff, Dan Roberts here. It appears, amid the pandemic now, and, of course, it varies state by state, that road trips are the first, kind of, socially acceptable form of travel. That if people are beginning to venture out and take a trip, it is a road trip. I'm sure that's helping you guys.

In many cases, it seems like it's young people. And they're starting to finally share that on Instagram, and they like sharing it on social, in some cases, it's an Airstream, maybe it's an RV. So I'd love to hear about the demographics. And what I really mean is the age demographics of your customers right now.

Is it more families that are doing this? Is it young married couples who don't have kids yet? Is it single people? Or is it groups of friends who are renting these RVs right now?

JEFF CAVINS: Yeah, good morning. It's actually all of the above. And it will dictate-- the demographic will dictate what type of vehicle they rent. So for example, young people with no kids will typically take camper vans. Right now they've become very popular with the celebrity crowd in Hollywood. We've got Zoey Deutch, we have Rosario Dawson, we have Cami Mendes.

And they're out doing these boho chic camper van trips and on their Outdoorsy road trips. For a family with kids and a dog, you need more sleeping area. So they'll typically pick a larger vehicle, usually a Class C or a Class A. We have high net worth people that are rolling around America in these 45-foot Prevost coaches with a professional driver.

And they're using it-- it somewhat is their way to roll around the country in their personalized Uber. But they can cross state after state after state. So it typically is dictate-- those demographics will dictate what type of vehicle they take. Young people like the small footprint stuff, solar powered, they want to be off the grid.

Older people tend to like to go into the camp sites where they can hook everything up, electrical powered water. We just announced a partnership with Encore Resorts and Thousand Trails. We're now-- when you book on Outdoorsy, you can also book your campsite, so it's all inclusive when you book through the site.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: OK, so you talked to us about demographic. What about geographic considerations? Where in the country are people taking these RVs right now?

JEFF CAVINS: At the initial onset of the lockdowns, the states started to open up. People were pent up. They were trapped in their homes, they were pent up. And so the states such as Texas and Florida, we saw a boom in business there. But then the states that maintained long protracted lockdowns, such as California, it forced people to even feel even more pent up.

So my partner and I, Jen, we've been living on the road in a camper van for the last six and 1/2 weeks. We wanted to get out and travel to meet all these new travelers to understand how the new norm of travel is working for them. What do they think? What do they want? And we've always found that that's the best way to get your business insights is to get in front of the customer.

Steve Jobs always taught that. And so we're seeing that from California now. California is maintaining more of an aggressive lockdown position. And as a result, it's forcing people out of California but in RVs and camper vans. So we're seeing them in the Mountain States, we're seeing them in the Gulf Coast states.

As the winter starts to come in, you'll start to see more of that travel move like an elevator. It'll move south to the warmer climates. And then in the summer when it's hot, it'll move north to the cooler climates like Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, national parks, and so on.

BRIAN SOZZI: I'll leave it there for now. This is real cool stuff. Outdoorsy CEO Jeff Cavins, good luck on the road ahead.

JEFF CAVINS: Thank you, Brian.