An audience of 400 gathered this morning at the “RV Industry Power Breakfast” in the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind., to hear a blue ribbon group of speakers tout the RV industry and provide a glowing forecast for its future.
The first-time event, organized by RVBusiness magazine and co-sponsored by a number of RV industry firms, drew speakers from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), GE Capital and local and national government. Their message was upbeat and well received by an appreciative audience, which represented a cross-section of representatives from the industry’s hub.
Richard Coon, Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) president, noted that while membership has contracted 30% to 35% since a highpoint in 2006-2007, the conventional travel trailer business – “the heart of the industry – is coming back and has never been better.”
Wholesale shipments for the first quarter of 2013 were up 7.5% over a year ago, giving cause for a likely upward revision of the 2013 forecast when the industry gathers for Committee Week in early June in Washington, D.C.
“Times are good, really,” Coon said, while conceding that “this does not feel like a banner year” because the rest of the industry is not doing as well. “Motorhomes are coming back and business is going to get better,” he said.
Coon noted the growing market in Canada, where one in every five RVs built today are sold, and the RVIA’s ongoing effort to develop a common building standard for both the U.S. and Canada.
In other timely topics, Coon said the annual National RV Trade Show held in Louisville, Ky., remains a viable show and attracts the size audience that can be expected given the industry contraction.
He also supported RVIA’s efforts to work with Chinese RV manufacturers because “without RVIA, China will end up with European standards, not U.S. standards.”
Robert M. “Mac” Bryan, RVIA vice president of administration, noted that at current annualized growth rates, 10.9% of American households will own an RV by the year 2020. To support that anticipated share, the industry will have to ship an average 350,000 units per year.
James Ashurst, RVIA vice president of advertising and public relations, quickly reviewed the Go RVing Coalition efforts and noted the “Tailgating Initiative,” an RV promotion in cooperation with Sports Illustrated at six major college football stadiums this fall.
RVIA Chairman and Forest River Inc. General Manager Doug Gaeddert said he expects the industry’s “fall schedule” – beginning with the show in Hershey, Pa., and ending in Louisville – will continue but with some consolidation. He said he doesn’t see the Louisville Show growing but instead “staying steady.”
His predecessor as chairman, Gregg Fore, president of Dicor Corp., projected that the RV industry is at production levels that “can be sustained over the long term, given a reasonable economic environment.”
“Certainly we are still adjusting to the downsizing of our industry – fewer manufacturers, dealers and suppliers. At the same time we are seeing the continuation of geographic shifts in our industry, not just in the retail marketplace, but in the manufacturing and supplier sectors as well.”
Keynote Speaker Jim Rogers, chairman of Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), suggested ways the RV industry and outdoor hospitality (campground) industry could work together to increase the percentage of Americans who camp each year. That total in 2011 was just under 15%, with over a third of all campers using an RV.
“We are an adventure that is yet to be discovered” by most Americans, Rogers said. He said the RV industry would be well served if it would consider sponsoring RV shows at campgrounds.
Other speakers included:
• U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., described as “a friend of the RV industry” who previously served Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District for three terms spoke via Skype from Washington, D.C. He praised the RV industry for helping Americans “hit the road.” He said one of his goals as senator is to help eliminate government regulations “that make no sense and make life difficult” for American businesses.
• Dorinda Heiden-Guss, president of the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County, who noted that the 30 RV manufacturers and 100-plus suppliers in Elkhart County account for 25,000 to 30,000 jobs and $1 billion in annual payroll.
• Tim Hyland, president of the RV Group of GE Capital, who said the RV industry’s firms sit squarely in the center of the nation’s “middle market” of manufacturers – those who generate between $10 million and $1 billion in sales annually. Firms in Elkhart County and eastern LaGrange County produce an estimated 83% of the nation’s RVs and 75% of the nation’s shuttle buses. He noted that GE Capital has launched a “road show” over the next six months, which will take company representatives via an RV to meet with middle market companies in 20 cities across the U.S.
• Darryl Searer, president of the RV/MH heritage Foundation, conducted a ceremonial “burning of the mortgage” symbolizing the April 30 payoff of some of the Hall’s outstanding debt to a lender and the Ingram family. The Hall’s debt now stands at $2.6 million, down some $840,000 from 16 months ago.