When all is said and done, people will remember this year’s RV Dealers International Convention/Expo, Oct. 3-7 at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, for how upbeat it was in spite of the rampant negativity of today’s newspaper headlines, says Mike Molino, president of the Fairfax, Va.-based Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA).
Fact is, looking back at everything that transpired at the Con/Expo, from the pulse of the whole event – from the workshops to the trade exhibits, the Partners in Progress Brand Committee meetings and the all-industry gala at which RVDA presented its Quality Circle Awards for the first time — Molino suspects that the industry may well rebound from the nation’s current economic lull much quicker than a lot of people think.
RVBUSINESS.com touched bases with Molino this week regarding the Con/Expo, an event that was co-sponsored with RVDA of Canada and drew almost the exact same attendance as 2010 — a total of 1,078 registrants, half of them dealers. Here are the highlights of that conversation:
RVBUSINESS.com: So, Mike, now that you’re back in D.C. and have had a chance to reflect, how did the Con/Expo go in your estimation?
I was surprisingly pleased. It was much better than I expected as far as attendance. I knew we were going to have a good program. I knew we were going to have good speakers. I knew the change in the format and delivery was going to be very strong and make it a much better event. But I was pleased that we had almost as many people there this year with all the diversions. And, actually, from a business perspective, things were better than last year. And that pleased me very much.
RVBUSINESS.com: We particularly heard good things about the “Partners in Progress” brand meetings, a series of sessions involving manufacturers and their respective dealers that has become an RVDA industry exclusive – and one that seems to be gaining favor among industry players.
Yeah, they went well. They were better staged, better organized because of the efforts of the brand committee chairmen and my own staff people. The brand committee chairmen have much more experience now. I also think there’s a much better understanding between dealers and manufacturers on issues. The give and take that we had hoped for at many of the brand committees has started to take place and is moving along very well. You know, I don’t think it’s universal and that everyone unanimously feels the same way about the brand meetings, but I know it’s better in almost all of them – much less adversarial.
RVBUSINESS.com: The new Wednesday night dinner gala certainly brings a new twist to the Con/Expo, keying as it does on manufacturers’ Circle of Excellence awards.
It went well. You know, we had the same sort of growing pains that any new venture has as far as the presentations and how we staged it and that sort of stuff. But all in all, I think it was a good event. I was impressed by the number of people who paid extra to come to it. That was almost a surprise to us because with the cost of food in Vegas, it gets very expensive to include the dinner into the registration fee. So, we made it a separately ticketed event. We didn’t charge the full amount of the dinner if you were registered (for the convention), but we charged part of the amount for the dinner, and we were pretty well sold out. We couldn’t have done that without the support of the convention sponsors. They actually sponsored the dinner as well.
All in all, I think it went well. I think it showed a lot more respect for the manufacturers who won those awards (versus the way RVDA used to present the awards at the Louisville Show). And having that many recipients is really a testimony to the improvement that’s gone on.
We should point out that we didn’t raise the bar (for qualifying Circle of Excellence Award winners). We kept the bar at 80%. The first time we did the awards, we only had one manufacturer get over 80 (percent). And now, having 32 brand award winners based on at least 15 dealer reports each at 80% — and having the dramatic increase in participation this year — that shows me that the DSI (Dealer Satisfaction Index) program, the Quality Circle program, is very valuable.
Dealers consider them very important, and I know manufacturers are really beginning to consider them important, too. It’s helping to improve those things that the dealers deem important in a relationship, from the quality of the vehicle, vehicle design and also in the after sale service that the dealer has to be involved with. When we do it (the event) again, I would change some of the ways that we do it. But I think that the idea of making a presentation at a dinner at the dealers’ convention is a good idea that we intend to continue.
RVBUSINESS.com: What’s your sense of the industry’s general outlook right now with regard to 2012 and beyond?
Hey, let’s face it: No economist has ever predicted a boom in the RV industry, even though they’re pretty good at predicting downturns before they begin. And they’re not predicting one now. I mean, you’re not going to get that, although most would tell you after the fact that if you’d read between the lines you’d see that they had in fact predicted an upswing.
You know, we brought in (to the Con/Expo) two of the brightest young economists that GE Capital has, and the outlook reflected in their presentations at the convention was pretty dismal on the short term. On the long term, though, it was very, very optimistic.
Well those long term optimistic indicators may kick in earlier than people think and, before you know it, we’ll have manufacturers not able to keep up with the pipeline, not having product on their lots when the customer’s in there demanding it.
So, I see that could start happening tomorrow. It could start happening in the spring, and it certainly will happen by 2013. When it’s going to start, nobody’s going to predict that. You know, conventional wisdom – and I said as much recently in my presentation at the FRVTA convention in Florida – is not to expect anything next year because it’s an election year. And, right now, everybody’s expecting next year to be pretty bad or maybe pretty steady and normal. And I still think that this thing’s going to turn around a lot quicker than anybody’s predicting right now.