Brimming with new selling information, market data and innovative merchandising ideas, close to 300 FRVTA members learned about “Taking Care of Business…The RV Way” at the 33rd Annual FRVTA State Convention.
Held at the Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach Sept. 5-8, attendees participated in several days worth of intensive schooling combined with a host of events and activities, according to a press release.
“Certainly the RV Industry in general and specifically here in Florida has seen great growth over this past season,” said FRVTA Executive Director Lance Wilson in a press release. “So our members continue to be successful in their businesses, we strive to make sure attendees learn from the best in the RV Industry.”
Featuring a ‘70s theme, this year’s annual convention provided attendees with an in-depth look at national RV trends via a panel stocked with representatives from all sectors of the RV Industry. Each reviewed the successes and strains they experienced as well as what they see their particular industry segment achieving in the coming year.
Besides a national RV industry outlook, members heard from an informative panel of Florida legislators who provided an in-depth update on Florida’s government and how new mandates from Tallahassee affect RV-related businesses in the Sunshine State.
The event opened Thursday evening with the “We Are Family” welcome reception, followed by a gathering at the “I Will Survive” Hospitality Room located along the Gulf of Mexico.
Friday marked the convention’s official opening, led by Wilson who recognized sponsors, first-time attendees and FRVTA staff. The general session was highlighted by the RV Industry Panel, offering members a broad look at the state of the RV industry and associated sectors in Florida. Speakers included:
• Ernie Shumacher, RV executive for Bank of America’s Dealer Financial Services said that he expects interest rates to rise going forward, but that there is still lots of retail money available and at great rates. He believes the RV industry in general is seeing such great wholesale and retail numbers due to so many RVers holding onto their units during the recent economic troubles that they now are feeling more comfortable buying again as the economy improves. He emphasized that dealers should continue to get money down on unit sales. Additionally, Ernie said that dealers are doing a great job moving product and keeping their aging levels low.
• Jeff Hirsh, CEO of Campers Inn and current chairman of the Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), remarked that he believes dealer anxiety is up due to the changing business model dealers face, marked by “mom and pop” businesses facing competition from national and regional multidealerships with online sales activity. Saying dealers can’t be all things to everyone, he stressed that there is a vast array of opportunity available and dealers should choose their niche and master it.
• Tim Hyland, Recreation/Specialty Vehicles Group president for GE Capital-Commercial Distribution Finance, said all indications point toward continued RV industry growth. He related that dealers should remember the recent past troubles from the Great Recession and work to keep their dealerships healthy. He also warned about rising healthcare costs and regulations in general. Tim revealed that GE’s strategy is to be proactive in dealing with the growing regulation of business, saying they anticipate the process for strategic advantage.
• Jim Musbach, CEO for Coast Distribution Systems Inc. said the Great Recession prompted parts and accessories to become a larger part of a dealership’s business as overall unit sales fell. That’s why he and his business are here to serve the on-time parts delivery needs of RV Dealerships.
• Derald Bontrager, President and CEO of Jayco, Inc., said RV manufacturers are quickly approaching the record shipment levels reached back in 2006. In fact, he believes the RVIA shipment numbers may be on the conservative side. However, there are now far fewer manufacturers than before, meaning larger shipment levels and more business for remaining manufacturers. Derald said RV products are now more affordable than ever with new features and floorplans, all while the average RV buyer age has been trending down thanks to the national Go RVing marketing campaign.
• Pat O’Neill, owner of Camp Gulf in Destin and current Chairman of the Florida/Alabama Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (FLARVC), said dealers should sell the adventure aspect of RVing – the trip, friends, views, overnights – the total RV experience. Pat stressed that attendees should be cautious going forward, watch their numbers, and make sure they have a plan and follow it.
Other highlights included:
• Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) President Phil Ingrassia took the stage to reviewed the association’s principles that strive to treat all dealers the same no matter their size. He said RVDA is working hard to keep the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) from disrupting the current dealer vehicle lending system. He also reviewed the Dealer Satisfaction Index (DSI) that was established years ago to foster better relationships between dealers and manufacturers. With the same idea in mind, RVDA also offers a Model Dealer Agreement that reviews a variety of manufacturer–dealer responsibilities and enables dealers to compare against their own manufacturer agreement.
• James Ashurst, Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) vice president of public relations and advertising also reviewed the Go RVing program goals, including generating consumer leads for dealers to follow up with. RVIA is seeking to do this by stretching budgeted dollars via co-promotions through four sectors: national and local public relations activities; advertising partnerships; digital outreach; and non-RV specific consumer events. Ashurst reported the Go RVing web page upgraded and redesigned for ease of use.
• The final morning session was the annual Legislative Roundtable discussion moderated by FRVTA General Counsel Marc Dunbar. Participants included Sen. Jack Latvala, from District 16 in Pinellas County and a return speaker from last year; Sen. Greg Evers of District 2 in the Panhandle; and Rep. Jake Raburn of Dist. 57 in Hillsborough County.
On Saturday, breakout sessions offered a variety of seminars selected to appeal to all aspects of the RV Industry.
Featured speakers were: Ryan Marlar, specialist with the Florida Department of Revenue who updated tax law; Jerry Mann of Vantage Benefit Solutions detailed how to prepare for Obamacare; Allen Monello of the Automotive Industry Center for Excellence reviewed dealer compliance issues; Musbach from Coast Distribution spoke on establishing a quality parts department; Tom Walworth from Statistical Surveys Inc. outlined Florida RV Industry trends; and Erick Swinson from Morgan Stanley Smith Barney gave a detailed outlook on economic and financial trends.