Editor’s Note: The Florida RV Trade Association (FRVTA) recently sent out to members a recap of its annual convention. The following is an excerpt focusing on an industry outlook panel held during the gathering.
Over 250 members gathered for the 31st Annual FRVTA Convention at the Harbor Beach Marriott in Fort Lauderdale Beach, September 8-11.
As part of the event, which included an address from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, FRVTA again hosted an industry outlook panel featuring representatives from all sectors of the RV Industry.
The following offers some key points from the participants.
• Rick Compton, senior vice president and general manager of BB&T’s Recreational Lending Division in North Carolina, thought this next year would be a bellwether for all businesses since it would be an election year. Additionally, Rick believes high fuel prices will make 2012 a challenging year, but he nevertheless is expecting slow and steady growth.
• Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) President Mike Molino said he believes these past several years have been among the roughest he’s ever seen due to the economic uncertainly. With some economic certainty, he thinks consumers would feel more comfortable spending money. “It was a credit problem earlier, now we’re into a credibility problem,” he exclaimed. Not to be too downbeat, Mike did say that RVs are being used, just not being sold as readily as needed. Nationally, he said the industry is still losing dealers either through closure or consolidation. And, while retail sales aren’t currently pretty, he does expect things to stabilize and improve following the 2012 presidential elections.
• Martin Street, Stag-Parkway Inc.’s COO, related that he joined the company in May 2008 just as the “Great Recession” was firmly taking hold of the nation. Unlike many retailers, his business was going great through the first quarter, but slowed dramatically once April hit. He attributes much of this to the weather extremes the nation suffered this past spring that reduced customer traffic. Sales picked up however, once July and vacation season started. Saying it’s hard to predict future sales activity, Martin believes 2012 will be flat due to the uncertain presidential elections and the European economic problems that affect the stock market. He also stressed the effects of a change in consumers buying habits. “Consumers are using the Internet to price compare,” he said, “so we must offer items to distinguish ourselves from competitors.” Citing personal service as a winning strategy, Martin believes the RV Industry should stress the positives the industry offers consumers in order to drive sales changes.
• FLARVC President Bobby Cornwell told member that “flat is the new up,” adding that most of his RV park and campground members are stable. However, a big change in his industry is the increased presence of corporate park ownership versus the traditional “mom & pop” ownership. “I’m also seeing increased demand for tent and park model camping, probably as a result of the economy,” he said. Saying “buddy sites” are increasing in popularity within campgrounds, Bobby believes parks are seeing more campers in their 40’s, which is down from previous years when campers in their 60’s dominated. Additionally, long weekend trips with reservations made at the last minute are more likely. Campgrounds have responded to all this by upgrading their sites with 50-amp service and a variety of high-end amenities.
• Mark Schroeder, senior executive/credit products manager of the Bank of America Merrill Lynch, offered members a comprehensive overview on commercial RV lending, the loan process and what’s needed/required to obtain a commercial loan. Schroeder said credit consideration is based on three years of business and personal tax returns, audited business statements and inventory aging reports, among other items needed. Good capitalization is a must, he stressed. “Avoid high leverage in your business to remain flexible,” he said. “High liquidity and good cash flow are important to making sure the dealership is strong and able to pay bills adequately.”
• Winnebago Industries Inc. Chairman Bob Olson, who also serves as co-chairman of the Go RVing Coalition, praised the national Go RVing marketing campaign as a way to increase physical activity, which in turn promotes a healthy lifestyle. He said that thus far the campaign, targeting 30 to 64 year-old-adults, had achieved 2.4 billion impressions nationally. Bob also informed members about the new “Away” marketing campaign that will stress the affordable travels aspects of RVing for families. Three new TV spots will be unveiled at this year’s National RV Show in Louisville and are scheduled to begin airing in 2012. “This new campaign will keep the RV Lifestyle in front of American consumers,” he detailed.
• Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) President Richard Coon spoke discussed the problems concerning economic and political uncertainty and how it has affected consumer sentiment. But, he remains positive saying that due to pent-up demand for RV products and election year efforts to “juice up” the economy that 2012 “may not be all that bad.” He also exhorted dealers to push their technicians toward certification via the new “RV Career Ladder.” One major issue Richard said RVIA is carefully monitoring is government efforts to increase the CAFE standards for trucks up to an average of 35 miles per gallon. “Since medium- and heavy-duty trucks are used as RV tow vehicles, this has the potential to have a major impact on the RV Industry,” he explained. Richard also announced that the 2nd Annual RV World Conference would take place in Tampa Jan. 17-20, 2013 at which he expects speakers from throughout the world to present their views and opinions on RVing. He ended by saying he hoped the conference would produce “world standards” for RV manufacturing as the lifestyle’s appeal grows globally.
FRVTA also named its slate of executive officers that included: President Larry Schaffer, Vice President Sam Abdo, Treasurer Rob Rothenhausler and Secretary Ryan Hollan. Donnie Davis remains FRVTA chairman.