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Power Breakfast: RVIA Eyes Other Show Sites

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May 9, 2014 by   Leave a Comment

James Ashurst (L) and Scott Graham discuss possibility of moving National Trade Show venue

James Ashurst (L) and Scott Graham discuss possibility of moving National Trade Show venue

The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) is looking at other venues for its National RV Trade Show, but officials stopped short of saying 2015 will be the last year Louisville will host the industry’s main event.

The revelation was made Thursday (May 8) at the RVIA Town Hall Meeting, which followed the RV Industry Power Breakfast at the RV/MH Hall of Fame’s Northern Indiana Event Center. 

RVIA officials were quick to add that the association is simply performing its due diligence and this doesn’t mean the show will be leaving Louisville. “Please don’t leave this room and say we’re leaving Louisville in two years,” said RVIA president Richard Coon.

A number of concerns surfaced following last year’s National RV Trade Show, notably traffic flow issues as well as registration difficulties. 

James Ashurst, RVIA vice president of communications and marketing, and Scott Graham, RVIA’s new national show director, presented their concerns to Louisville officials and are awaiting their response. In the meantime, they have looked at Indianapolis and Cleveland, among other places, as potential venues once the contract with Louisville expires in 2015.

“Nothing’s concrete,” Ashurst said. “But it’s incumbent on us to look at things we can do differently.”

One obstacle, no matter the venue, is the size of the show, Ashurst said. For example, if the show were to relocate to Indianapolis, it would completely fill Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indianapolis Convention Center. However, those facilities’ tall ceilings and wide concourses are appealing, he said.

Another obstacle is the two weeks it takes for manufacturers, suppliers and other vendors to move in and set up for the show. This poses a problem because other venues aren’t likely to set aside that amount of time, especially Lucas Oil Stadium that houses the NFL’s Colts as well as several high school and college football teams.

“We’re just kicking the tires,” Ashurst said, adding he expects Louisville will address all their concerns. “This helps to keep Louisville on their toes and be proactive in listening to our needs.”

Other topics addressed at the RVIA Town Hall meeting included the RV service technician training pilot program, trends in extended stay camping, RV transportation and legislative and regulatory developments.

Mel Adams, Airxcel Inc. president, said the RV service technician training pilot program was sorely needed since there are 3,000 fewer technicians now than there were prior to the recession.

“As dealers build back their business, there’s a great need for training new technicians,” Adams said.

Sharonne Lee, RVIA director of technical information, said the pilot program was successful because it provided one-day training at the dealership rather than pulling the technician away for an extended period of time.

Phase I of the pilot program trained 850 technicians at 180 dealerships, while Phase II trained 500 technicians at 36 events with the support of five suppliers. Also, a password-protected online technical library has been established that’s growing daily.

The pilot program will expand into three areas initially before it grows nationwide. Field representatives will be available in the northwest (Washington, Oregon and Idaho), south (Texas and Louisiana) and Minnesota. The challenge to expanding, Lee said, is that more suppliers are needed to support it. In addition, while the pilot program was provided at no charge, an analysis will have to determine the costs going forward.

“We need to ask the dealers “What is this worth to you?’ and then balance that with how much it actually costs to deliver it,” Lee said.

Jim Rogers, Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) chairman and CEO, told attendees a growing segment of campgrounds are seeing a rise in extended stay campers, especially seasonal, or destination, campers. 

“The market is changing dramatically,” he said. “And campgrounds have to offer food service, entertainment and various activities for these people who are staying longer. This is the next evolution. This is still people camping, but now dad wants to be able to go to work or the family wants to hit the soccer game on Saturday.”

Coon added that as people discover the campgrounds they truly enjoy, they choose to purchase a park model and simply set it there for the season. He added that some people who don’t own a tow vehicle will have the dealer or another company transport the RV to the campground for them, and often the campground will store the unit for them during the winter.

“And if they don’t like that campground, then next year they’ll just take it to a different one,” Coon said.

During the RV transportation update, Jay Landers, RVIA director of government affairs, said the association is looking to attract more drivers as well as working to provide a CDL exemption for motorhomes and towables that fall within a specific dry weight range. The exemption request was filed May 11, he said, and he hopes to hear back soon.

The problem is the RV transportation companies can’t keep up with the demand. Related to this is the fact that RV transportation companies lost the equivalent of six weeks of work in the first three months of the year due to the harsh winter conditions.

Maryellen Adams and Kristy Fallon, Employment Network account executives, told attendees that at least 12 RV transport companies so far have been able to fill vacant positions using their online employment recruitment site. Adams said the benefit to their network of sites – including www.findtherightjob.com – is that companies only pay for active candidates, and that those candidates must go through a screening process first. Companies can customize the screening process to meet their needs.

“We’re young to the RV industry, that’s for sure. But we’re learning,” Fallon said. “And we’re responsive. I had one person from an RV transport company tell me that we improved 1,000 percent in the last five days just with the few tweaks that we’ve done.”

Dianne Farrell, RVIA vice president of government affairs, said the association is trying to effect change on several fronts with regard to legislative and regulatory developments, including getting all 50 states to have RV-specific legislation. So far, 17 have legislation that is specific for, and favorable to, the RV industry.

Another legislative issue has to do with Generalized System of Preference, or GSP, which mainly deals with import taxes. Specifically, Farrell said bringing in luaun plywood from overseas costs each manufacturer an average of $138,000 per month, or $1.7 million a year. Farrell said the RVIA is trying to convince the government that the GSP needs to be retroactively renewed to ensure favorable return for manufacturers.

Finally, Farrell said the RVIA is trying to convince all 50 states to pass legislation that identifies park models as vehicles rather than manufactured housing, which has zoning and tax implications not only for the owner but for the campground as well, she said. The goal is for three states per year to pass such legislation. 

– Rick Kessler, exclusive to RVBUSINESS.com

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