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RVAA Officials Supporting Alignment With RVIA

June 28, 2017 by   Leave a Comment

The Recreation Vehicle Aftermarket Association (RVAA) announced Tuesday (June 27) in a letter to its membership that, pending a referendum, the group would come under the auspices of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).

If approved by RVAA’s some 120 supplier and distributor members, a vote could take place as soon as mid-August during the group’s RV Aftermarket Executive Conference in San Diego, Calif. One of the more visible changes would be that  the current RVAA board of directors would make up a newly formed RV Aftermarket Committee within RVIA, reporting directly to RVIA’s board.

RVAA officials told RVBUSINESS.com they feel the primary reason for the proposed change is because it would strengthen the voice of the aftermarket segment within a more unified RV industry.

Susan Carpenter

In fact, RVAA President Susan Carpenter, who also serves as president of Clarence Center, N.Y.-based JR Products, told RVBUSINESS.com it was an informal conversation back in August 2016 with RVIA President Frank Hugelmeyer and James Ashurst, RVIA’s senior vice president of communications and marketing, that first piqued the interest of the RVAA executive committee.

“We knew something like that would be asked of us; it’s been asked before,” she said. “Me, personally, I had kept on thinking of RVIA as the ‘old RVIA’ and, I’ve got to admit, when I actually sat down with Frank and James in the room and they described what their vision of RVIA is going forward and what they’ve done to make strides to start getting there, I was extremely impressed. It’s not the ‘old RVIA’ anymore, it’s something new. Something refreshing. I think Frank’s vision of one industry is way overdue and it makes us stronger as an industry. Once we heard that, we started communicating with them.”

Further discussions ultimately led to a “Memorandum of Understanding,” which has been approved by the boards of both associations, that outlines key stipulations to the proposal including:

  • RVAA members in good standing would have full access to RVIA member benefits. RVAA membership dues would remain intact for two years, at which time they would convert to the RVIA fee structure.
  • RVAA’s Executive Conference — a uniquely formatted trade event in which RV industry distributors and suppliers hold a series of business-minded private meetings — would remain intact for three years. During this period, RVAA stakeholders and RVIA’s Tradeshow & Events Committee would evaluate the event and make recommendations for the future.
  • RVAA committees would be dissolved and its members encouraged to join existing RVIA committees and sub-committees.
  • At the end of two years, a Safe Harbor clause allows RVAA to opt out of the alignment.

Although a vote could come at RVAA’s Aug. 14-18 Executive Conference, where RVIA officials will make a presentation and be available for questions from the membership, Carpenter said a referendum date and mechanism have not yet been determined. The board wants to give members sufficient time to digest the proposal, she said. To help in that regard, in addition to the letter issued to its membership, RVAA has created a FAQ sheet (https://www.rvaahq.org/files/public/RVAA_RVIA_FAQs.pdf) and its board members are reaching out to members to further explain the proposal.

“We don’t want to push something too fast, too hard. We want to make sure everybody is educated before they actually make that move,” Carpenter said. “As we are making our phone calls to our members, we really want their input on that as well. Depending on what we get back from those phone calls, that will be the direction we decide to go. They’re really the one steering the ship right now. It’s an important subject; it’s an important decision. And we want to make sure membership knows they have the control to decide.”

Perhaps the biggest obstacle for members, Carpenter acknowledged, would be overcoming the notion that the RVAA would lose its “voice.”

“For a lot of people, I think that’s the first thing that comes to most peoples’ mind: ‘Are we going to lose a voice because we go from an actual independent association to becoming a part of something larger, something bigger?’ Will we lose our voice? No, because I believe our voice becomes stronger because we have a lot more resources available through RVIA that we can’t do now,” she said. “Whether through legislative, through education or through Go RVing, these are the type of things that we can become a part of. Yes, we will be a committee now, not a board, but the way RVIA has their committees structured, really it’s the committees that are the ones doing all the groundwork to begin with. It just makes it that much more lucrative for us.”

Incidentally, Carpenter reported that membership levels of RVAA, a suburban Chicago-based trade association made up primarily of RV distributors and suppliers with product earmarked for the aftermarket arena, has been relatively stable over recent years at 120 or so companies, of which roughly 30% are also members of RVIA.

Craig Floyd

As mentioned, the RV Aftermarket Committee would be comprised of the current RVAA board for at least two years, and its co-chairmen would be Craig Floyd, the OEM/RV general manager for Industrial Finishes & Systems in Eugene, Ore., and RVAA Vice President Steve Johnson of Northern Wholesale Supply Inc.

Floyd — who is in a unique position as he’s a member of the board of directors for both RVAA and RVIA, where he also is the chairman of both the Supplier and Membership committees — said the proposal helps to “solidify the ongoing effort to unify a one-voice approach to the industry.”

“It’s a good thing. We have some areas to work through, but we’re able to retain a voice for the aftermarket segment under the RVIA umbrella,” Floyd told RVBUSINESS.com.

“You solidify your financial strength, your overall message to the industry. I think for RVAA and our distribution channels, it’s fundamentally, foundationally and financially sound. It eliminates us as an outside entity, but we don’t lose our points. We become a committee under RVIA, we continue going forward with our conference, and I think we openly work together as a group to improve on those channels. We all are trying to find that magical key to education and support, and I think if we work collectively as a group we become a stronger entity and we become a better industry. I just honestly believe that, sincerely.”

Ellen Keitzmann

Ellen Keitzmann, president and CEO of Blue Ox, a hitch and towing products supplier based in Pender, Neb., supports the proposal, saying simply the time has come for RVAA to embrace change.

“Right now, we’ve done the same thing forever. I’m president and past president, and that was probably eight, 10 years ago. We’re still doing the same thing that we’ve done for all my 23 years in the association,” she told RVBUSINESS.com. “I think it’s a great time to change, and a great opportunity to embrace what RVIA is offering. I just think when you look at RVIA, there are a lot of opportunities for a lot of additional resources, additional services, and for the first time, the aftermarket has some representation.”

In the letter sent to RVAA members and, later, RVIA members, Hugelmeyer promoted the notion of a unified industry, saying that by joining with RVIA, current RVAA members can be “directly and actively involved in RVIA’s ongoing federal and state efforts to protect their business interests against onerous legislative and regulatory overreach, and to assist in our work to ensure a favorable business environment for all of our members. The competition is not ourselves – and together we are stronger.”  

James Ashurst

Following up on that, Ashurst told RVBUSINESS.com that RVIA is looking forward to the “synergy” that would be created with the addition of RVAA.

“The aftermarket segment is very much attached to the end consumer that we all share, so there’s a lot of great synergy there in terms of how we better service the customer, how we stay on top of what their needs are, how we can roll more aftermarket product into some of our Go RVing promotions. The fit has just felt really good from both sides,” Ashurst said. “We’re really excited about what the prospects of this group arrangement could look like. It really helps to pull the industry together, which really strengthens our position when we’re working to protect the interests of the RV market at large.”

Carpenter said she broached the subject with her father, John Roba, a former board president for RVAA, an association that traces its roots back to a concept developed by Jim Barker in the late 1960s.

“I was really curious because I know he and his team really pulled this association out of really hurtful times back in the 70’s. He has a lot invested in this association,” Carpenter related. “I was really kind of curious to say, ‘Hey, you know, this is what’s going on. What do you think?’ I explained RVIA’s mission at the time. It was kind of a ‘not your father’s Oldsmobile’ type of deal where it’s not what it used to be. I said, ‘How do you feel about that?’ He said, ‘You know, sometimes, change needs to happen to make you stronger. This is the time; it’s the right thing to do.’ If one of our legacy people actually believes in it as well, then I think that speaks volumes.”

 

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