Gaeddert: RV Industry Still Evolving, Improving
Editor’s Note: The following is a column by Doug Gaeddert, Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) chairman and a general manager for Forest River Inc. The article appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of RVIA Today.
Before starting to write this column, I took a quick look back to last year’s. This time a year ago, the topics were industry growth, transportation delays, and the upcoming RVIA Committee Week in Washington D.C.
I was halfway tempted to simply adjust the numbers and dates and submit it!
On the surface, it seems that not that much has changed. We’re still growing as an industry at a phenomenal clip, transportation issues are still a thorn in the side for everyone, and RVIA’s Committee Week is almost upon us again. However, if you take a deeper look, there has actually been a significant amount of change.
In examining the shipment numbers for March and the cumulative total for 2014 so far, the picture is much brighter than even last year’s outstanding numbers! As the weather finally broke and production days weren’t lost, the year-to-year comparables for March accelerated to a 16.4% improvement. This in turn raised the first quarter comparisons to an improvement level of 13.3%, and I’ll bet you right now that the second quarter will continue the trend!
What’s even more impressive is the rate of growth in the motorized sector. Combined motorhome shipments were up an astounding 33.5% for March and 30.9% for the first quarter! I don’t have the data to convert the combined towable and motorized unit numbers into dollars, but my guess is that due to the production mix shifting more heavily into motorhomes combined with the sheer volume in units–this may have been the industry’s fastest growth quarter measured in total retail dollars ever.
Now, let’s consider the “transportation issue.” Yes, we are all still plagued by delayed shipments, but the issue has now been spotlighted by and to the entire industry. Individual transporters, RV dealers and manufacturers are all working hard on their own to see how they can improve their respective situations. Additionally, there is also a collective effort being spearheaded by RVIA to potentially increase the number of drivers and to build a structure and process to assist the RV transportation sector in other areas.
Several of us spent the morning of April 15 at the RV/MH Hall of Fame at a transportation meeting hosted by RVIA and led by Dianne Farrell and Jay Landers. This meeting, which had the hidden benefit of keeping everyone from thinking about tax returns, was attended by the majority of the transporters as well as by many other representatives of the industry including folks from manufacturing, finance, and the media.
The central element of the meeting was a great presentation by Maryellen Adams and Kristy Fallon from The Employment Network that focused on driver recruitment. As I write this on April 26, I don’t know what the results have been as far as drivers hired, but I believe that as many as twelve transportation companies signed up with The Employment Network immediately. I’m not sure whether this will give us much of a quick, small “band aid” effect or not, but it’s certainly an outside-the-box effort and could help long term with this issue.
The coolest part of the meeting to me however was the topics that came up in addition to the driver shortage issue and what result these discussions may have.
This was the first time that the majority of the transportation companies involved in the RV industry had ever been in the same room at the same time. Pretty crazy when you think about it. As everyone became more comfortable in openly discussing some of the additional issues besides driver recruitment, it became clear that everyone was fighting many of the same battles with little chance of success by continuing to go at it alone.
An example was the new emission standards for California. One large transporter shared that they only had five trucks which would be allowed to ship our industry’s products into the state. Individually, this is a tough battle for a company. However, companies working together collectively through the association increases the chances of success on this issue.
I could certainly envision an RVIA transportation committee being formed in the near future that conceivably includes transporters, OEMs, and RV dealers as well as possibly finance and insurance representatives. This would put a process in place to identify, prioritize, and address problems specific to the transportation sector, especially the challenges that are legislative and regulatory in nature at both the state and federal levels.
The third item from last year’s Spring issue was Committee Week in Washington D.C., including the Capitol Hill Advocacy Day effort that has so many enthusiastic participants. I’m not going to elaborate again on the events that occur that week, the process, etc… but I do want to sincerely thank all of the people and companies that volunteer their time, money and energy for the overall good of the industry.
I strongly encourage any member who would like to get involved with a committee or participate in Advocacy Day to get with the right person at the company you work for and let them know. It doesn’t pay well in dollars and cents (in fact, the compensation is zero!), but it’s one of the most rewarding and educational experiences that our industry has to offer. The committees are truly the backbone of RVIA in helping direct the Board of Directors and our talented staff in setting and achieving the association’s objectives.
Finally, I want to touch briefly on the RVIA regional office in Elkhart that opened in early May. Although RVIA hasn’t changed dramatically, the utilization geographically of their great talent has. The new office is located at 663 C.R. 17 in Elkhart. To help you get your bearings, this is in the same development as the “world famous” Lucchese’s Italian Restaurant. I encourage you to stop in and welcome Sharonne Lee, RVIA’s director of education, and Scott Graham, the new national show director. I’d even encourage you to take them to lunch as long as you don’t try to improperly influence Scott as to your show space in Louisville!