The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) today (June 9) wrapped up the open aspect of its strategic Committee Week and Annual Meeting sessions at the Century Center in downtown South Bend, Ind.
While the national trade association’s Executive Committee met in closed session Wednesday afternoon and RVIA’s full board meets Thursday behind closed doors, the general meeting clearly finished on a strong note with RVIA Chairman Jim Sheldon telling about 100 attendees that rising tides in the U.S. economy and the RV industry are lifting prospects after two “challenging years” for this winter year’s 48th Annual National RV Trade Show Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in Louisville, Ky.
B.J. Thompson (left) and Gary LaBella address RVIA audience on Wednesday.
With shipments forecasted to top 230,000 units this year, a 39% increase over 2009, 73 manufacturers through April had reserved 670,000 square feet of display space for the Louisville Show vs. 59 manufacturers and 490,000 square feet a year ago, he said.
This, however, is roughly half the show space the industry had utilized at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville a few years ago.
It’s too early to make forecasts for the association’s retail California RV Show in Pomona, he added, but reservations already are 70,000 square feet ahead of the 2009 show, he added.
An above-average turnout of RVIA’s membership at this week’s meetings, in turn, convinced RVIA’s leadership of the wisdom of holding its strategic annual meeting this year near the Indiana RV-building center of Elkhart County — even if next year’s Committee Week plans already call for a return to Washington D.C. and the format that the annual association has followed for years.
Sheldon, who hands over his chairmanship this fall, was among the speakers Wednesday in addition to RVIA President Richard Coon; Bob Olson, president, chairman and CEO of Winnebago Industries Inc. and Go RVing co-chairman, who gave the treasurer’s report, then later teamed with Gary LaBella, RVIA vice president and chief marketing officer, to update members on Go RVing; and B.J. Thompson, who, with LaBella, gave a report on “The New Consumer and the Road Ahead.”
Here are some excerpts from those presentations:
- Sheldon praised the RVIA’s staff, though reduced by budget-induced cutbacks the last two years, in representing RV industry interests in a number of fronts, including the formaldehyde debate, CAFÉ standards and standards and education.
- Coon said RVIA membership, which fell from 540 as of June 2008 to a low point of 389 in May, is on the rebound, especially on the supplier side, where the number had fallen from 315 to 218. RVIA will remain “manufacturer driven,” Sheldon pledged, though manufacturer membership has fallen from 101 in 2008 to just 77 this year.
- In reviewing RVIA board resolutions during the past two years, Coon noted that reunification talks with the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) are continuing with a vote from the RPTIA board likely in January. Reuniting with the recreational park trailer builders is important, Coon said, as “destination camping is becoming a bigger deal” with American consumers. Coon also said the RVIA may want to consider adopting ISO standards as RVing becomes a global business.
- In a presentation titled “Go RVing: We’re Back in the Saddle Again,” Olson and LaBella told RVIA members that investing in Go RVing’s new “Ambassadors of Affordability” ads was a wise decision during the recession. “We were under severe economic constraints last year,” said Olson. “Continuing to advertise and deciding to develop new creative in such a year were bold moves to keep our industry on the offensive.”
- The new Go RVing ads emphasize savings, which research shows is a smart move given how the economy has affected consumer thinking. “We’ve always promoted value and affordability as big advantages of RV ownership,” said LaBella. “But dramatic changes in consumer behavior due to the recession have now made value and affordability even more important to purchase decisions.” In the new ads, the “Ambassadors” — the charming critters already familiar to consumers from several years of national print exposure — were given new personalities and starring roles in four new TV commercials to air throughout 2010 and 2011. The Ambassadors will also appear on new web banners for Internet advertising, and are hosts of a new, more interactive experience at GoRVing.com. Web visits and leads have already surged as a result of the new ads and increased media exposure this year.
- Following the “We’re Back in the Saddle Again” report, LaBella was joined by Thompson to present “The New Consumer and the Road Ahead,” a look at RVIA public relations activities, as well as an overview of findings from a new communications-planning survey conducted by Harris Interactive. LaBella and Thompson reported that the image of RVing has remained strong, and that media has widely reported core RVIA messages. “The key to our successful outreach is the industry’s continued investment in PR,” said Thompson. “An investment that has protected our image and is deftly positioned in the industry to capitalize on our nation’s growing economic recovery.”
- After showing an 11-minute video of news and entertainment programs featuring RVs, the duo provided analysis of the new Harris Interactive research. “Among the findings, the survey showed that statements focused on family togetherness and cost savings rate equally with RV owners and non-RV owners alike,” said LaBella. “Messages that mention families saving money while enjoying a great outdoor experience will appeal to a wide cross-section of consumers.”
- The PR presentation closed with an entertaining video titled “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Our Centennial,” which showed RV news and entertainment highlights from the past several years.