Boasting a marked gain in overall attendance and a broader, more engaging format, this year’s Recreational Vehicle Aftermarket Association (RVAA) Executive Conference stood as another step toward the organization building a stronger presence in the industry.
“I think there are a combination of things that have helped the aftermarket business become more important to dealers,” said RVAA President Aaron Engberg in the wake of the Aug. 12-16 conference held at the Omni Parker House in Boston. “Interestingly, the downturn may have benefited the aftermarket. Admittedly, our members suffered like everyone else. But dealers recognized that while they couldn’t sell units, they could sell parts and accessories. It became a pretty nice profit center for them.
“At the same time, the association is healthier and has been adding revenue. Last year, we added over 20 new members, which is a record. Plus, we are also communicating better. All that has contributed to putting the aftermarket on people’s radars.”
Engberg reported that the conference’s total attendance rose to 255 people from 208 in 2012. More importantly, the number of companies also increased significantly to 140, which is vital to the “business meeting” format that has marked the gathering over the years. Included in that number were 98 suppliers, 34 distributors and three RV service members.
“This really isn’t a trade show,” said Engberg, director of mobile sales for Burlington, Iowa-based supplier Winegard Co. “People are doing business while they’re here. The suppliers set up in rooms and have one-on-one, closed door meetings with distributors and service companies. This year, there were over 1,275 meetings set up compared to 875 last year.”
In addition, RVAA for the second straight year added a new dynamic, inviting a “dealer council” to participate in the proceedings. Participating retailers included: Ray Miller, director of operations, Colerain RV; Kevin Kafer, president, Pontiac RV; Jeff Hirsch, president, Campers Inn; Ron Shepherd, president, Camperland of Oklahoma; and Wes Snyder, parts manager, Ketelsen Campers of Colorado.
While emphasizing that RVAA had strict rules and was dedicated to a “two-step distribution system,” Engberg said that having dealers involved “only makes sense” for the association.
“We don’t have any interest in having dealers as members,” he said, adding that the contingent paid their own way for the conference. “But our mission is to help grow aftermarket sales. What better way to do that than opening up communication with the end buyer and giving them a better perspective about the aftermarket.”
The conference also included an awards luncheon as RVAA recognized its top performers. Highlighting the event was the bestowal of the prestigious Jim Barker Award to Tom Manning, owner of Manning and Associates.
“The Jim Barker Award was suspended in 2009 but reinstated last year,” said Engberg, who completed his two-year term and turned over the president’s seat to Jim Stark, owner of Dealer Resources Group. “It is really a lifetime achievement award and represents an individual who has devoted many years to improving the aftermarket industry.”
Other awards included:
Distributor Performance Award: Northern Wholesale Supply
Supplier Performance Award: Camco
Product of the Year: TriPod FASTJACK King Pin Stabilizer – BAL RV Products
President’s Award: Dana Nelson, RV Pro