RVIA’s Crawford Evaluates the National RV Show

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December 5, 2017 by   Leave a Comment

Liz Crawford

Editor’s note: Coming out of last week’s (Nov. 28-30) Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) 2017 National RV Trade Show — a busy exposition that continued to ride the crest of a resurgent RV industry and reportedly posted incremental attendance gains — there was again plenty of talk in industry circles about where the show might go next in terms of events, features, size and even timing and location. RVIA Senior Vice President of Trade Shows and Events Liz Crawford, a trade show veteran now in her second year with the association, is well aware of – and comfortable with – the whole conversation about the changing role of the Louisville Show to the extent that she agreed, at the request of, to pen the following column:

My thoughts on the National RV Trade Show:

When I first attended the National RV Trade Show last year, I was both overwhelmed and underwhelmed. I was overwhelmed with the array of product on display, the abundance of RVs for what seemed like miles, and also the beauty and appeal of the vehicles. I was also underwhelmed by the lack of excitement on the show floor and in the aisles. I remember thinking that there was some sort of arms race on how many RVs could fit into that convention center, and I asked myself “why?”

Having been in the trade show business my entire career, and having seen hundreds of shows (and managing them) I was troubled by the event. Now, that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen lackluster trade shows before, but this was troubling, especially given the growth the industry is seeing right now. That phenomenal growth was not reflected through excitement at the industry trade show.

Sure, it’s a mature market. There is a lot of consolidation among dealers and manufacturers, but the product is sexy and the opportunity is even sexier. Of course, most mature trade shows struggle. In fact, a lot of trade shows struggle with relevance and value.  

If you think about trade shows in general, they all started as “buyers meet sellers,” and that has been the nature of most all shows I’d say until the growth of the Internet. Now, you go to any trade show and everyone is dealing with online competition. And in most mature markets, the “buy-sell cycle” has done a complete 180 from years past. Buyers can buy all year long, and sellers can sell all year long.

Most shows, believe it or not, are not order-writing shows anymore. They are showcases of innovation, new products, networking, learning and education, media unveiling and experiences. They are gathering places for all the industry to come together at one time under one roof to engage with peers, colleagues and make new connections – to be seen. The key is relevance and value. This show is no different. What’s different is the expectation of what it was, and what it should be.

This past year, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting great people and seeing great products. I’ve been on a fact-finding mission to find out how OEMs, suppliers, dealers, campgrounds and consumers find value. The answers are very different depending on whom you talk to.

One of my favorite sayings is “Change is slow — until it’s not.” While this show changed this past year, probably a lot more than it had in 55 years – its rate of change is still slower than I think we would all like.

We did have some wins this year and, more importantly, we created a little more value. The Top Tech Challenge was a big win in terms of what this means to the unsung heroes of service technicians and the value they provide this industry. The “40 Under 40” program was a win, which recognized emerging leaders. The RV Industry Awards program was a win, as was the dealer sales training and the industry party.

But, was this enough to change the perceived value of the show for all? No. But now, with a year under my belt, the gloves come off and we promise to disrupt the proposition of what this show has been versus what it can be. In a very short amount of time, we’ll be ready to announce sweeping changes that we hope will move the needle enough for all stakeholders to stop and take notice, deliver more value and step in line to sell more RVs. We need to ensure that all stakeholder groups – from OEMs to suppliers to dealers as well as campgrounds, the media and others — have a strong and improving value proposition for participating in the show.

It might be radical. It might not. Either way, all will be unveiled soon enough. In the process we hope to truly ignite the RV industry.

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