Along with the omelets and pork sausages in the buffet line, Doug Gaeddert, chairman of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and a general manager of Elkhart, Ind.-based Forest River Inc., served up some straight-shooting opinions in his remarks during the RV Power Breakfast, May 9 at the Northern Indiana Event Center, a part of the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart. Here’s a few highlights from Gaeddert, who served with Dicor President Gregg Fore as a co-emcee:
Current shipment vitality: “Total shipments for the first three months of 2009 were approximately 30,500 units compared with 79,422 units for the January through March period of this year. That’s a whopping 160% jump. So, if you feel like you’ve been running faster and working harder – you have been and that’s great for all of us. It’s also great for the local communities in Northern Indiana and Southern Michigan. We’re all somewhat joined at the hip and the positive ripple effect has been felt by nearly everyone – even the local, state and federal governments who seem to be constantly complaining about revenue.”
Hershey Show & the Open House: “Not as RVIA chairman or a long-term Forest River-Pete Liegl guy, but as an industry guy, I think the Open House Week, as it has come to be known, has been a positive for the industry and hits at a perfect time. While negatively impacting the Dealer Days of Hershey, whose wholesale value has steadily declined anyhow over the years, it has more than made up for it by further enhancing the retail portion of the show. With the Open Houses immediately following Hershey, the number of dealers attending the Pennsylvania Show from outside the market who don’t show product has declined, but most, if not all of the products being displayed at Hershey, are now what’s ‘new’ for the upcoming year. This gives retail customers the opportunity to get the first look and actually purchase new industry offerings. This is something that can’t be duplicated anywhere else in North America.
“Becky Lenington and the folks at the Pennsylvania RV & Camping Association (PRVCA) have done an awesome job of developing Hershey into one of the most outstanding retail shows on the continent. They draw people from a wider geographic area and in larger numbers than ever before, and dealers sell a ton of product. This has become, in my opinion, a destination show of the highest quality. I’m not going to get drawn into a comparison though of it versus Tampa or Pomona. They’re all tremendous shows!
“Hershey kicks off the fall schedule and Louisville effectively closes it. Post-Louisville surveys over the last couple of years have shown that the majority of dealers participating will continue to go to the Open Houses and will continue to attend Louisville – and don’t want to change the time frames of either. Seems pretty simple: They like both of the events as well as the timing. Obviously it’s not unanimous, but it’s an overwhelming majority. With that being said, I predict a certain degree of consolidation will occur among these other fall events, just as it has occurred in other sectors of the industry over the last few years. Nature will take its course over time, but nobody will successfully force it.”
RVIA’s Louisville Show: “Although industry shipments have been rising rapidly over the last few years, the number of OEMs, suppliers and dealer/owners has shrunk by around a third. With an approximate 33% reduction of players in these key categories, not even taking the campground ownership consolidation into consideration, why in the world would you expect attendance at this show to have grown? In my opinion, Louisville has hit the leveling-out point, and with possible further industry consolidation ahead, I don’t see it growing significantly, but I do see it remaining steady and continuing to grow in value.”
RV-Specific Legislation: “Cars and RVs shouldn’t operate according to the same rules. As our industry continues to grow, mature and consolidate, I believe it will become even more important that we see RV-specific legislation replace automotive legislation in those states in which we as an industry are governed by car laws. Oklahoma is an excellent recent example of a win/win/win for our industry by everyone working successfully together to get RV-specific law into place. RV manufacturers, RV dealers and RV suppliers deserve to play by rules specific to our industry. We are the RV industry, not the car industry – and proud of it.”
RV Transportation Issues: “One challenge which the industry seems to face every year in the spring is a shortage of finished goods transportation availability. As many of you are aware, this sector is currently struggling to keep up and will be until at least the first week of July. We are attempting a new and different approach by utilizing RVIA’s resources to see if we can’t help smooth it out for the long haul.
“RVIA is exploring several possible strategies in hopes of being able to positively impact the RV transportation sector for both the United States and Canada. No promises at this point, other than we are diligently working on it. If successful, however, it will be too late to affect spring and summer of 2013. We hope to be able to help the industry improve the peak shipping periods of 2014.”
Credit Availability: “I think it is crucial our industry — which includes all of us — remains disciplined in our approach to credit. Solid practices are one of the keys to our growth remaining real and sustainable. If we slip back into the same lax practices the industry utilized in 2008, we’ll end up with the same result. 2009 reminded me of a fastball I once threw that was hit back at me a hell of a lot faster than I threw it, resulting in my second broken nose and a busted tooth! Let’s not throw that same fastball as an industry again!”
Industry Relationships: “Probably the single coolest thing to me about being involved in the RV Industry for all of these years is the people. Take a minute to look around the room. Most of us compete with each other, sell to each other, buy from each other, finance each other, represent each other, write about each other and, yeah, probably even cuss at each other sometimes. But at the end of the day, we’re also basically good friends. It’s a close-knit industry that, while growing rapidly, is also getting smaller at the same time.”