Affinity Group LLC is exchanging $330 million in senior secured notes issued last year by its predecessor company, Affinity Group Inc., with a new issue totaling the same amount due in 2016, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
On March 2, Affinity Group Inc. converted into a Delaware limited liability company called Affinity Group LLC, which became the obligor under the old notes and is the obligor under the exchange notes.
Affinity Group President and CEO Marcus Lemonis says this required SEC filing (see link below) essentially confirms transactions that occurred late last year. “We filed the registration for the notes that were sold last November,” Lemonis tells RVBUSINESS.com. “The AGI (re)financing was completed last November. This is a followup filing and registration process that happens any time any notes are sold in the marketplace.”
“It’s a post-closing requirement,” he added. “The company was refinanced last November; we’re not raising any new money.”
Lemonis, when asked, said this represents for his company basically good news. “It was good news three months ago,” he said.
Click here to read the entire filing.
Affinity Group Inc. President and CEO Mike Schneider, a veteran industry player who has been affiliated with the Good Sam Club as well as RVBusiness and Trailer Life magazines for some 33 years, has announced his resignation from the helm of the Ventura, Calif.-based company.
Schneider, a director of the company, resigned last Friday, March 18, according to an announcement released by the company.
“My time at Affinity was filled with fantastic memories, incredible accomplishments and a series of remarkable professional growth opportunities,” Schneider said. “It’s been a truly great ride for me both personally and professionally, and I am leaving with nothing but wonderful thoughts of my time with the company.”
Schneider, one of this year’s inductees into the RV/MH Hall of Fame, has set up a consulting practice to offer his services and experience to different organizations and entities as he weighs a number of options available to him. (He can be reached at mschneider@MASassociatesinc.com.)
“I’ve had a remarkable run with this company and the chance to work for some incredible people,” Schneider told RVBUSINESS.com. “Art Rouse, for instance, was the founder and visionary when I started and I’ll never forget his undying passion as an avid RVer for growing the Good Sam Club and the magazines. There was a host of other great leaders throughout my tenure who had a profound impact on my career, such as Alice Robison, Rick Rouse and Bill Estes, to the later years with Joe McAdams and Steve Adams. All in all, a fabulous experience with memories that I’ll cherish forever.”
Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, Woodall Publications Corp. is launching a host of new digital products and services to complement its industry-leading campground directory and website.
“It’s cool to be celebrating 75 years,” said Ann Emerson, vice president and publisher of Woodall Publications Corp. “It’s not only 75 years as a print title – Woodall’s North American Campground Directory – but look at all the digital stuff we’re doing today. The RV lifestyle lends itself to the technology that’s coming out now. It’s all about the digital world.”
“It’s very exciting. There are some incredible statistics out there about how many people own cell phones and are texting. The younger demographic is ripe for the digital channel and we are ready to deliver it,” she said.
For example, Emerson noted that in 2010 Woodalls had 277,000 people visit woodalls.com via mobile devices. In 2009, that might have been around 5,000.
Virtually all Woodalls’ readers have cell phones and 79% own two or more. Average age is 57, average income is $85,000, average nights annually spent in parks is 57. And those campers, on average, spent $1,500 on their last RV trip.
“We had a 33% increase in the number of visitors to our website in 2010,” said Emerson. “We get 15 million page views in a year, twice as much as our nearest competitor gets. That’s why we’re doing the mobile version of our website.”
Emerson and her staff rolled out plans for the 2012 Woodall’s North American Campground Directory and a host of related programs at their annual “rep” conference, a term referring to the teams that travel North America visiting campgrounds on behalf of Woodall’s, which was held Jan. 17-20 at the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel.
The company officially marked its 75th anniversary at a closing banquet attended by an array of industry leaders.
The 27 rep teams, some of whom began their data collection in the field on Feb. 1, were introduced to a host of new cutting-edge digital programs at the Woodall conference to better serve Woodalls’ “affluent, active and tech-savvy” customers, 54% of whom own web-enabled mobile phones.
Packaging its digital assets – mobile and online – is a focus for Woodall’s, allowing consumers to find RV parks and campgrounds through multiple channels and touch points. Many of the enhancements offered on woodalls.com are also available on the mobile application, often optimized for this emerging channel, explained Emerson.
Woodall’s will roll out its first mobile application this spring, which will be available for the iPhone (including the iPad and iPod Touch). This free app will allow RVers to search for campground listings geographically, by name or by nearby attractions. Some of the campground products and features available on the mobile app include:
- Website Link: A direct link from the application right to your website.
- Digital Photos: Up to five digital photos with one’s Listing Details Page.
- Banner Ad: A mobile version of a listee’s state/provincial banner found on the Search Results Page of the application.
- Front of the Line Exposure: Exclusive Woodall feature that “jumps” your listing to the top of the iPhone Search Results Page in a city of your choice.
- Video – A video of your park, optimized for viewing on the application.
- Digital Spotlights: Your story in your own words.
- Visual Tour: This interactive slideshow is located on the Listing Details Page and “paints the picture” of the camping experience you offer guests.
- The above-mentioned products will also be available on woodalls.com, as well as:
- Digital Web Ads: A digital version of a print ad in the campground directory can be activated from the Search Results and Listing Details Pages.
- Instant Email: Customers can e-mail a campground directly from the Listing Details Page.
- Social Media: Accesses a campground’s Facebook and Twitter links from the Listing Details Page
- Rotating Banners: Rotating State/Provincial Banners found on both the Search Results and at the footer of a campground’s Listing Details Page.
- Blogging Opportunities: Three blog posts to draw readers to a given area.
- E-newsletter Editorial Features: Reach the inbox of Woodalls’ most engaged users by telling a story in your own words. Campgrounds may choose the months.
“We are so excited and our rep teams are excited to go out and talk to our campground customers about this technology and marketing possibilities we can all learn together,” said Emerson.
The traditional print directory will include full-color state and provincial travel maps, GPS coordinates and physical addresses on select listings and “One Tank Trip” ideas, among other helpful information for campers.
A scannable QR (Quick Response) Code placed in a campground’s ad connects RVers from their offline print ad to their online Visual Tour via their mobile phones.
The 2011 edition also marked the first year advertisers were able to incorporate an industry-first, four-color process in the listing section advertisements in the Woodall’s directories. “It’s breathtaking, the colors really pop,” Emerson said. “We know for the 2012 edition there will be even more parks that want to do that.”
The 2012 directory will contain ratings of more than 8,000 privately owned and 6,000 public parks across North America.
Woodall’s is the official directory of the Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA), Family Campers & RVers, Camp Club USA and Camping World President’s Club. The Escapees RV Club and the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) are also partners with Woodall’s, while Camping Life is its affiliated family camping magazine.
“We are very optimistic it will be a good year for the industry and for Woodalls,” said Emerson, noting that the deadline for data collection for the 2012 directory is Aug. 31. The directory comes off the presses the week after Thanksgiving.
For information, call (800) 323-9076 or visit www.woodalls.com.
Affinity Group Inc. (AGI) is the parent company of Woodalls and RVBUSINESS.com.
Affinity Group Inc. on Monday (Nov. 15) priced an offering of $333 million in 11.5% senior secured notes due 2016 at an issue price of 97.902.
The funding is scheduled to occur Nov. 30, and the proceeds of the issuance will be used to repay all of the group’s outstanding indebtedness and extend the maturity of all the company’s funded debt for six years, according to AGI President and CEO Mike Schneider.
“This new maturity structure provides for stability and growth as Affinity looks towards the future and continues to serve its customers as the largest provider of products and services to the RV community nationwide,” said Schneider.
“This new capital structure is a testament to the confidence these financial institutions have in Affinity Group,” he added. “We’re excited about the prospects of growth we’ll continue to have in the outdoor recreation markets we so proudly serve.”
Affinity Group Inc.’s (AGI) Affinity Events division has added three new RV shows to its roster in 2011 for a total of 25, including management of the RV component of the prestigious Chicago Boat and RV Show Jan. 12-16 at McCormack Place.
”The RV side of that show has really gone down hill,” said Tom Gaither, AGI Events senior vice president. ”We are taking over the RV pavilion side of the Chicago show, which is a new venue for us. They realize we can make a difference.”
Other new shows include the South Carolina RV and Camping Show March 11-13 at the Greenville Convention Center and the New Mexico RV and Travel Show March 24-27 at the Albuquerque Convention Center. Both shows previously had been organized by local dealers.
In 2010, more than 225,000 consumers attended AGI’s 22 RV shows which spanned the nation from coast to coast.
”We had a 24% increase in attendance at all of our shows last year,” said Gaither, a manufacturers’ rep for 15 years for Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., Pilgrim Inc. and Georgie Boy Manufacturing Inc. ”During the recession as customers went shopping on dealers’ lots, they saw a lot fewer floorplans. At our shows, people can look at all the RVs under one tent so they can compare.”
Gaither predicted that with RV sales on the rise coming out of the recession, show attendance in 2011 will be up across the board. ”I think dealers are finding pretty good leads at these shows — sometimes more than they will see on their lots all year,” he said.
The largest shows are the January Chicago Boat and RV Show, which draws in excess of 35,000 people, the Minneapolis/St. Paul RV, Vacation and Camping Show that brings in some 25,000 attendees and two Denver shows, the Colorado RV Adventure Travel Show in January and the Colorado RV, Sports, Boat and Travel Show, where attendance is in excess of 20,000.
Special programs are available for dealers, including posting RVs in a ”Screamin’ Deals” section on the website set up for each individual show. ”As consumers walk around the show site, they can look for the ‘Screamin’ Deals,” Gaither said.
And dealers participating in shows also can post 30 RVs for free on AGI’s rvsearch.com website for up to 30 days. ”I tell dealers to do it after the show so that they can carry the momentum over,” Gaither said. ”It’s another incentive to help the dealers sell.”
Primarily, AGI shows are staged almost weekly — sometimes more than one each week — between January and early April, and then kick in again in August through October at a somewhat reduced pace.
”The shows are mostly divided between spring and fall,” Gaither said. ”We do the shoulder seasons so that dealers can get a boost. We typically don’t do shows in the summer because dealers usually are busy with their lot traffic. The spring shows set up the summer season and the fall shows help dealers clean out inventory to help them get ready for spring.”
Two types of consumers attend AGI shows, Gaither said. ” There are people looking for RVs and people who have RVs who are looking for things to do with them,” he said.
For consumers buying RVs during a show, Affinity Events awards an ”RV Getaway Gift Package” valued at $500 that includes a one-year membership in AGI’s Good Sam Club along with a six-month membership in the Good Sam Club Emergency Road Service; a dry-camping site at AGI’s ”The Rally;” a one-year membership in Camp Club USA; a copy of the Trailer Life RV Parks & Campground Directory; and a subscription to Trailer Life or MotorHome magazines.
”It’s a nice starter package for somebody who just bought an RV,” Gaither offered.
Also for consumers attending a show, AGI presents educational seminars and activities that promote the RV lifestyle, including the Ultimate Camp Cooking Show with comedians Mike Faverman and Pat Mac; travel adventurer John Holod; and Dave Solberg, the ”RV Handyman” who advises consumers on what to look for when buying an RV, all of whom appear occasionally.
”We want to get people to want to use an RV,” Gaither said.
Here’s a rundown of AGI’s 2011 RV show lineup:
- Jan. 7-9 — 22nd Annual North Carolina RV & Camping Show, Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, N.C.
- Jan. 12-15 — 21st Annual Colorado RV Adventure Travel Show, Colorado Convention Center, Denver, Colo.
- Jan. 12-16 — 81st Annual Chicago Boat, RV and Outdoors Show, McCormick Place, Chicago, Ill.
- Jan. 14-16 — 25th Annual Washington Camping RV Expo, Dulles Expo Center, Chantilly, Va.
- Jan. 21-23 — 44th Annual New Jersey RV and Camping Show, New Jersey Convention Center, Edison, N.J.
- Jan. 27-30 — Mid-America RV Show, Bartle Hall, Kansas City, Mo.
- Feb. 10-13 — 44th Annual Minneapolis/St. Paul RV, Vacation & Camping Show, Minneapolis Convention Center, Minneapolis, Minn.
- Feb 11-13 — 26th Annual Richmond Camping RV Expo, Richmond Raceway Complex, Richmond, Va.
- Feb. 17-20 — 57th Annual Kansas Sports, Boat & Travel Show, Kansas Coliseum, Wichita, Kan.
- Feb. 18-20 — 22nd Annual Las Vegas Sportsmen’s RV & Travel Show, Cashman Center, Las Vegas, Nev.
- Feb. 25-27 — 21st Annual North Carolina RV & Camping Show, Charlotte Convention Center, Charlotte, N.C.
- Feb. 25-27 — 16th Annual Atlantic City RV & Camping Show, Atlantic City Convention Center, Atlantic City, N.J.
- March 3-6 — 54th Annual Colorado RV, Sports, Boat & Travel Show, National Western Complex, Denver, Colo.
- March 4-6 — 18th Annual Rhode Island RV & Camping Show, Rhode Island Convention Center, Providence, R.I.
- March 11-13 — 7th Annual Virginia RV Show Hampton Roads Convention Center, Hampton, Va.
- March 11-13 — South Carolina RV & Camping Show, Greenville Convention Center, Greenville, S.C.
- March 18-20 — 22nd Annual North Carolina RV & Camping Show, North Carolina State Fairgrounds, Raleigh, N.C.
- March 24-27 — New Mexico RV & Travel Show, Albuquerque Convention Center, Albuquerque, N.M.
- April 7-10 — 6th Annual Pomona RV & Travel Show, Pomona Fairplex, Pomona, Calif.
- Aug. 12-13 — Colorado RV Liquidation Super Sale, INVESCO Field at Mile High, Denver, Colo.
- Aug. 19-21 — 17th Annual Summer Boat & RV Super Sale, Richmond Raceway Complex, Richmond, Va.
- Sept. 9-11 — 10th Annual North Carolina Fall RV Show & Sale, Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, N.C.
- Sept. 23-25 — North Carolina Fall RV Show & Sale, The Park, Charlotte, N.C.
- Sept. 30-Oct. 2 — 14th Annual Fall Rhode Island RV Show, Rhode Island Convention Center, Providence, R.I.
- Oct. 28-30 — 18th Annual Fall Atlantic City RV Show, Atlantic City Convention Center, Atlantic City, N.J.
North America’s finest RV dealers were recognized and celebrated during the 3rd Annual RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards program Wednesday night (Oct. 6) during a reception and dinner at the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
Hosted by Affinity Group Inc. President and CEO Mike Schneider, the event — held during the Recreation Vehicle Dealer Association’s (RVDA) 2010 RV Dealers International Convention/Expo — also featured conservative political commentator and author Ann Coulter as keynote speaker.
The well-attended program also was a celebration of sorts for companies that survived the economic downturn of the past few years. “I’d like to remind everyone of this year’s dinner theme, ‘Leading the Country Out of the Recession,’ because, looking at the latest shipment reports and listening to our industry friends, North America’s RV business has obviously come a long way back from the depths of the Great Recession,” Schneider said in welcoming the audience of RV dealers, manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and industry executives and their families.
This year’s program included for the first time recreational park model dealers for award eligibility and, indicative of the event’s growing acceptance in the RV arena, featured as presenters Debbie Brunaforte, chairman of RVDA, and Gregg Fore, chairman of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
“When we set out three years ago to develop the RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards, our mission was pretty clear,” RVBusiness Publisher Sherman Goldenberg told the audience. “To help provide benchmarks for retailers with regard to overall professionalism, customer service, civic involvement and the general spirit and specific recommendations of the Go RVing Coalition’s Committee on Excellence.
“And I must say, sitting here tonight at the 3rd Annual RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards dinner, we seem to have made progress on all fronts. More important, we’ve gained credibility, thanks in no small part to the Top 50 panel of experts. We’ve progressively added Canadian dealers and, this year, included North American park model builders to the mix.”
The Top 50 Award recipients were selected after an extensive process beginning with the dealer’s nomination by a North American RV manufacturer. Dealerships were evaluated by an independent panel that sequestered itself for two days at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind., while winnowing through the applications. In addition to the selection of the Top 50 dealers, five from the group were chosen as Blue Ribbon dealerships by the panel in recognition of performance in one or more categories which exceeded substantially the already high standards of the group as a whole.
During this year’s program, for example, a video was shown detailing the charitable work of the Lazydays Employee Foundation. For 2010, Seffner, Fla.-based Lazydays RV Supercenter was joined as a Blue Ribbon dealership by Altmans Winnebago, Carson, Calif.; ArrKann Trailer & RV Centre, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Bill Plemmons RV World, Rural Hall, N.C.; and Campers Inn, Kingston, N.H.
The highlight of the presentations was the awarding of the Altman Lifetime Achievement Award, named for the late Dave Altman, a longtime RV dealer and industry leader. While the Top 50 awards recognize dealership excellence, the Altman Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to an individual. In presenting the Altman Award to Crosby Forrest, owner of Dixie RV Superstore, Newport News, Va., (a Top 50 winner), Schneider briefly touched on Forrest’s 41-year career in the RV industry.
“The Altman Lifetime Achievement Award is given to someone who, like Dave Altman, embodies the spirit of giving in the industry — from working to make the business better to building long-lasting personal relationships with each and every customer,” Schneider said. “This year, that someone is Crosby Forrest.
“When Dixie Trailer Sales was a fledgling company in 1971, its owner, Crosby Forrest, would have to drive to a factory and pick up one unit at a time to bring it home to the dealership,” Schneider noted. “Over time, he got some help and the dealership evolved into Dixie RV Superstore — but it’s still a family-owned-and-operated business, and is the oldest RV dealership in Virginia. Crosby was a key member of RVDA for 34 years, including its past chairman, vice president and treasurer, and is a current board member. In 2000, he received the James B. Summers Award, which recognizes individuals who make a consistent and outstanding contribution to the association and its members, and was inducted into the RV/MH Hall of Fame in 2006.”
Long before the awards were presented, however, Ann Coulter had galvanized the largely conservative crowd with a sometimes humorous and oftentimes pointed overview of the changing political landscape. As noted by B.J. Thompson in his introduction of the author and commentator, “While RVBusiness is not in the business of endorsing any one political viewpoint, the trade journal’s staff is presenting here tonight a guest speaker who, like the RVB Top 50 Dealer Program itself, is relevant, stimulating and thought-provoking.” Coulter, he said, “is not afraid to speak her mind and is here to spark conversation, invigorate minds and spawn lively debate on the doorstep of the mid-term elections.”
Following her speech, Coulter also gave her assessment on a number of topics in questions posed by the audience. Attendees offered up possible queries on index cards placed on each table and collected prior to Coulter’s introduction, with Thompson taking on the role of moderator.
Along with the naming of the Top 50 dealers, the program also recognized the efforts of the Leadership Alliance, a group of companies who helped underwrite the event. Leadership Alliance Platinum members include ADP Lightspeed, Salt Lake City, Utah; Bank of the West, Walnut Creek, Calif.; Blue Ox, Pender, Neb.; Cummins Onan, Minneapolis, Minn.; Freightliner Custom Chassis Co., Gaffney, S.C.; RV America Insurance, Simi Valley, Calif.; RV Trader, Norfolk, Va.; and Gold member Protective Insurance, Chesterfield, Mo. Additionally, Mannheim Auctions, Atlanta, Ga., co-sponsored the reception, while GE Capital, Tempe, Ariz., was a co-sponser of the keynote speaker.
“I want to extend a personal thanks to the firms that stepped up this year at a time — coming out of the recession — when they could have just as easily taken the low road and not bothered to back a program that helps set the bar for retail professionalism by showcasing dealers who believe that a business, large or small, is more than a cash register, and that a consumer, in the big picture, is more than a simple cash transaction,” Goldenberg noted. “In doing so, these companies have made an overt decision to help upgrade the entire industry beyond the dealer ranks.”
The following U.S. and Canadian retailers are the recipients of the 2010 RV Business Top 50 Dealer Awards (in unranked, alphabetical order):
- Aberdeen RV Center, Aberdeen, Miss.
- Aloha RV, Albuquerque, N.M.
- Alpin Haus, Amsterdam, N.Y.
- Altmans Winnebago, Carson, Calif.
- American RV Sales & Service, Grand Rapids, Mich.
- Apache Village RV Center, Hazelwood, Mo.
- ArrKann RV, Edmonton, Alberta.
- Beckley’s Camping Center, Thurmont, Md.
- Big Country RV, Bend, Ore.
- Bill Plemmons RV World, Rural Hall, N.C.
- Boat N RV Superstores, West Coxsackie, N.Y.
- Bucars RV Centre, Balzac, Alberta.
- Campers Inn, Kingston, N.H.
- Capital RV Center, Bismarck, N.D.
- Carolina Coach & Camper, Claremont, N.C.
- Coachlight RV Sales, Carthage, Mo.
- Coates RV Center, Columbus, Minn.
- Colonial Airstream & Itasca, Lakewood, N.J.
- Curtis Trailers, Portland, Ore.
- Dixie RV Superstore, Newport News, Va.
- Dodd RV, Portsmouth, Va.
- Driftwood RV Centers, Clermont, N.J.
- Dusty’s Camper World, Bartow, Fla.
- ExploreUSA RV Supercenter, Plano, Texas.
- Greeneway RV Sales & Service, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.
- Guaranty RV Supercenters, Junction City, Ore.
- Hilltop Trailer Sales, Fridley, Minn.
- Kings Campers, Wausau, Wis.
- Lazydays, Seffner, Fla.
- Little Dealer Little Prices, Phoenix, Ariz.
- Mike Thompson’s RV Super Stores, Santa Fe Springs, Calif.
- Modern Trailer Sales, Anderson, Ind.
- Mount Comfort RV, Greenfield, Ind.
- Parkview RV Center, Smyrna, Del.
- PleasureLand RV Center, St. Cloud, Minn.
- Pontiac RV, Pontiac, Ill.
- Poulsbo RV, Kent, Wash.
- Richardson’s RV Centers, Riverside, Calif.
- Rick’s RV Center, Joliet, Ill.
- Roy Robinson Motorhome & RV Center, Marysville, Wash.
- Safford RV, Thornburg, Va.
- Steinbring Motorcoach, Garfield, Minn.
- Tennessee RV Sales & Service, Knoxville, Tenn.
- Terrell Camping Center, Terrell, N.C.
- Tom Johnson Camping Center, Marion, N.C.
- Topper’s Camping Center, Waller, Texas
- Veurinks’ RV Center, Grand Rapids, Mich.
- Wilkins Recreational Vehicles, Bath, N.Y.
- Windish RV Center, Lakewood, Colo.
- Woody’s RV World, Red Deer, Alberta
RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Award honorees will be promoted in the national press, in dealers’ hometown newspapers and in the pages and websites of Affinity’s trade and consumer magazines, including RVBusiness, Trailer Life, MotorHome, Highways, Coast to Coast and Camping Life.
Registrations for the 2010 RV Dealers International Convention/Expo are up about 10% overall and 12% for Canadian dealers, according to organizers of the event that runs through Friday (Oct. 8) at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nev.
”Registrations look great,” said Eleonore Hamm, president of the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association of Canada (RVDA Canada). ”We have a few more dealerships than last year.”
Some 500 people are expected to attend the con/expo during which RVBusiness magazine (and RVBUSINESS.com) will host its 3rd Annual RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards tonight (Oct. 6) with a reception and dinner at the Rio hosted by Affinity Group Inc. President & CEO Mike Schneider and keynoted by conservative political commentator and author Ann Coulter.
While the award eligibility has been expanded this year to include recreational park model dealers, the format will include five Blue Ribbon retailers and one individual receiving the Dave Altman Lifetime Achievement Award.
This year’s con/expo is focusing on business processes designed to help dealerships coming out of the economic downturn.
”People are getting out of the survival mode, but everybody still needs to watch revenues and expenses, and that’s what we are going to be talking about in many of the workshops,” said Phil Ingrassia, vice president of communication for the U.S.-based Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA). ”This convention is focused on helping dealers focus on management in all areas of the dealership.”
Most ”Partners in Progress” brand committees made up of dealers who sell specific manufacturers’ brands met Monday and Tuesday and got an early look at the results of the RVDA’s Dealer Satisfaction Index (DSI) that is comprised from ratings surveys completed by retailers.
Aggregate DSI results will be distributed later with DSI awards being presented at the 47th Annual RV Trade Show Nov. 30-Dec. 2 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky. ”We moved up the release of the DSI results so that the brand committees could use them in their meetings with manufacturers,” Ingrassia said.
The five-day gathering, which marks RVDA’s 40th anniversary, will offer about 50 seminars and workshops on subjects that include the RV industry’s immediate future, F&I, employee education, wholesale financing, the use of social media, parts and service and RV rentals. The expo which opened Tuesday night has more than 100 exhibitors,
Dirk Kempthorne, former secretary of the Interior who drove to Las Vegas in his own motorhome, was the keynote speaker Tuesday during the con/expo’s first general session.
RVDA and RVDA of Canada will hold their annual meetings Thursday morning.
Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), the nation’s largest provider of outdoor recreation clubs, services, media and events, announced today (Sept. 16) that the results of major Internet efforts it has undertaken have exceeded expectations.
“We’ve implemented a number of online initiatives over the last 18 months with the mission to become an online-centric company, and the results are far surpassing our expectations,” said Mike Schneider, president and CEO of Affinity, headquartered in Ventura, Calif. “This direction will enhance our extensive line-up of well-established publications, such as 70-year-old Trailer Life magazine, that have enjoyed a great following in communicating to RV enthusiasts nationwide.”
The Good Sam Club (www.goodsamclub.com), a division of Affinity and the world’s largest recreational vehicle owners’ organization with nearly 1 million members, reports that online member acquisition is up 32% and is climbing. Online renewals have also increased by 64% over the previous year.
Affinity’s Ventures group, which includes its road service, warranty and RV insurance units, is showing great online strength as well. Online sales for all three are up over previous years, with RV insurance sales leading the way with a 104% increase.
Helping to bolster these online efforts, Affinity has retained the services of an international business consulting firm to help drive the company’s aggressive efforts in becoming online-centric.
Another major initiative for Affinity is a new Web Content Management System. Affinity has chosen a state-of-the-art system from Ektron Inc. of Nashua, N.H. All of the company’s 54 websites are scheduled to be converted to the new system, with redesigned websites for each planned in the upcoming months.
The first website to go online under the new system is MotorHomeMagazine.com, which is expected go live within 30 days with new interactive, social media features and functions to engage MotorHome’s audience.
Community efforts are strong as well, with Facebook fan pages for the Good Sam Club, MotorHome, Trailer Life, Woodall’s, Camping Life and others gaining thousands of fans and showing increased activity. Earlier this year, the number of fans of the Good Sam Club Facebook page (www.facebook.com/TheGoodSamClub) surpassed 10,000 and it continues to grow each month.
Also this year, Affinity introduced apps in Apple’s iTunes store for MotorHome, Trailer Life and Camping World magazines; its RV Buyers Guide; and will soon release apps for additional titles.
“We’re obviously very excited about the success these online efforts are having and the direction we’re headed as a company,” said Schneider. “We expect to see even further growth with these efforts in the months and years ahead as we continue our goal of becoming an online-centric company.”
AGI is the parent company of RVBUSINESS.com.
Indeed, these awards are quickly becoming an industry tradition – one that’s about to be renewed at the 3rd Annual RV Business Top 50 Dealer Awards reception and dinner on the evening of Wed., Oct. 6, at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas during the Recreation Vehicle Dealer Association’s (RVDA) annual RV Dealers International Convention/Expo, which takes place Oct. 4-8 at the same hotel.
To shed some light on the whole program on the eve of this year’s dinner, tickets for which are currently on sale through RVBUSINESS.com, RVB Senior Editor Bob Ashley interviewed those directly responsible for the program under the umbrella of parent company Affinity Group Inc. (AGI) — RVB Publisher Sherman Goldenberg, AGI Event Coordinator and Sales Director Chuck Lasley and B.J. Thompson, president of northern Indiana public relations agency of BJ Thompson Associates Inc.
Here’s the crux of that interview:
Q: Now in your third year with the RV Business Top 50 Dealer Awards, what are your thoughts about this whole endeavor and how it’s developed?
Goldenberg: We really couldn’t be more pleased with the progress we’ve made, especially taking into account the times — the roller coaster economy and the political headwinds we’ve experienced. That said, it’s gained in prestige, finesse and depth. We’re better at this than we were two years ago and are happy to be doing it again.
Lasley: And I think it’s also important to recognize the fact that we’re accomplishing what we set out to do – helping to elevate the best practices of the dealers. We are receiving more applications than we ever have.
Thompson: The program has gained in integrity, and we as coordinators and purveyors of the program have indeed, as Sherm said, gotten better at what we set out to do. That is, we’ve refined the applications so that they’re easier to fill out and still have pertinent information for the judges to judge. And the dealers in general have recognized the program as supportive of excellence, especially in the area of customer satisfaction.
Q: Why is it important, in your view, to recognize dealers?
Goldenberg: It’s at the very core of what a trade journal should be doing — in this case recognizing dealers for doing well in all aspects of their businesses. In these times, again, I feel that persevering and keeping one’s eye on the ball with regard to professionalism is even more imperative.
Thompson: As more of an industry generalist and industry promoter, I’m thrilled to see anyone or any organization support the industry in making it better. RVBusiness has stepped up to that in a major way.
Q: What should one glean from the dealers who were selected?
Thompson: That they are highly professional and provide excellent customer service, which is recognized by high consumer satisfaction.
Goldenberg: If they’re not doing that – if they’re not taking care of customers – then they may as well get into another business.
Thompson: For the industry to have a good reputation among those we hope to attract, we need to showcase the good dealers, the great dealers who take care of their customers. In any business, there are those who focus only on the sales. This particular program draws attention to excellent customer service practices.
Q: And how does this all correlate with RVDA and its convention?
Goldenberg: It completely overlaps with what the individual members of RVDA are likely to be doing every day in their businesses. The mission of the Top 50 dealer awards is to focus on the daily practices of good retailers. Good practices equal good dealers. It’s that simple. Let me add, we feel our associating the program with RVDA’s Con/Expo is a mutually beneficial arrangement that we hope continues through the years.
Thompson: There is a great synergism here. The RV Business Top 50 awards and dinner is better by being associated and timed with the RVDA Con/Expo, and we’ve talked with a number of dealers who are receiving the award who said that that they will be attending the Con/Expo because they’re receiving a Top 50 Award. So, RVDA in my view is enhanced by the timing of the dinner and awards program. Besides the logistics of tying in the RVDA Con/Expo, the program itself ties into what RVDA is all about: That is, to help its members become better dealers.
Q: What is the Leadership Alliance we see referenced so often in Top 50 promotions, and how does one become a Leadership Alliance member?
Lasley: The Leaderhip Alliance members are part of an elite group of suppliers. Each LA member has decided to be part of a movement helping to promote the best practices we are trying to promote here at RVBusiness. These companies underwrite and sponsor the program, but it’s more than that. They want to be part of a program whose entire purpose is to uplift, promote, enhance and strengthen RV dealers from all over North America. Our hope is that each LA member can be recognized for their contribution to the Top 50 which has had nothing but a positive impact on our industry.
Q: Is this program a big moneymaker for Affinity Group, RVB’s parent company?
Lasley: No, on the contrary, our goal for the RVBusiness Top 50 program is for it to pay for itself. It is our hope that Affinity can play a role in helping this industry grow. When that happens, the entire industry benefits, even if the Top 50 program is only at a break-even point in terms of revenue.
Q: Does the work of the Go RVing Coalition’s Committee on Excellence still play a role in all this?
Thompson: Yes, it does. The Go RVing Committee on Excellence spent a lot of time and effort developing some specific practices. We were able to use the committee report to develop certain questions in the Top 50 application. Thus, there’s a direct correlation from the Committee on Excellence to the application to what the judging panel reviews for the selection of the awards.
Q: How does RVIA, if at all, fit into this?
Goldenberg: While this clearly is a dealer-driven event, it’s part of a bigger universe, and it remains our conviction that the manufacturers, through RVIA, should at least have a seat at the table. Therefore, at this year’s dinner, we plan, for a time, to have the chairmen of both trade associations at the podium.
Lasley: It’s important that we have those organizations and their support of this program because, as we mentioned earlier, this isn’t just a dealer event. It’s an industry event. Everybody benefits when dealers utilize best practices.
Thompson: Manufacturers play a very key role in providing nominations because of their day-to-day contact with dealers. Manufacturers know which dealers are trying hard to do the right things to elevate the satisfaction of customers. So, we have asked them to provide us with the names of their better dealers. The size of the dealership doesn’t matter in those nominations. What we are looking at is quality. If a dealer has just a few employees and their sales are minimal in a smaller market, if they are doing a great job in customer satisfaction, the program is designed to promote that dealer.
Q: What is the purpose of using a third-party format to administer the application process?
Goldenberg: We realized since Day One that we needed to build a firewall of sorts between the industry – ourselves included — and the selection process. Therefore, we have created an independent body, which we call the panel of experts — which is overseen by BJ Thompson Associates — to coordinate the actual selections. As a result, we as a trade journal staff never even take possession of the applications. They remain on the other side of the firewall with BJ Thompson Associates.
Thompson: The process is not perfect, but it’s good and it’s credible. I’m pleased to be associated with a program that genuinely wants to raise the bar of professionalism of the industry for the entire good of the industry.
Q: Who is on the panel?
Goldenberg: They are well known industry people. We don’t publicize their names, but we will tell anyone who really wants to know. Just give me a call at (574) 457-3370 and I’ll tell you who they are. That’s how upfront we are.
Q: You’ve chosen a rather controversial personality for your keynote speaker this year, haven’t you?
Goldenberg: Controversial? Yes, I guess I’d agree with that description. You know, when we talk each winter about what we want in a keynote speaker, our goal more than anything else is to be relevant — to provide food for thought to an intelligent crowd of business people, not just light-weight jokes and dinner chatter. So, on the brink of the national mid-term elections, we thought that bringing to the table a high profile national political commentator — of any political persuasion — would be the thing to do.
Having said that, we can promise you that RVBusiness or its parent company are not in the business of endorsing any one political viewpoint or any named candidates, and that’s even more the case in the upcoming mid-term elections.
With the Tea Partiers and the current liberal administration, with those in favor of more austere spending and those supporting more stimulus expenditures, with issues like immigration and the mosque at Ground Zero, these are indeed wild and crazy times. And we trust that those who join us for dinner on the evening on Oct. 6 will come away invigorated — whether they agree with Ann Coulter or not. As quick and provocative as she is, we can assure you that Ann Coulter’s not going to change anyone’s mind. So, the experience should be fun and worthwhile – like a New England town hall meeting.
The RV Dealers International Convention/Expo, scheduled for Oct. 4-8 at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nev., comes at a crucial time for the U.S. economy in general and the RV industry in particular as both work their way out of the tough recession of 2008/2009.
On one hand, the industry’s rebound has exceeded expectations in many ways, especially for manufacturers, suppliers and retailers aligned with the right towable recreational vehicle brands. On the other hand, however, the aftershocks of the Great Recession are obviously still with us in terms of unemployment, stock market fluctuations and a general discomfort among many Americans with regard to the general state of the economy.
And while most Americans assume that the worst is over, many of the nation’s durable good manufacturers – including RV builders — are still looking to bridge their way to the next year and the next level of recovery and to find a comfort zone in this new post-recessionary age.
“There is a consensus we have to recalibrate our definition of what is a good business environment,” said Mike Molino, president of the Fairfax, Va.-based Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), lead sponsor of October’s annual Con/Expo. “We’re not going to get back to the 400,000-unit years any time soon. We’ll probably never return to that. The next couple of years will be tough, but doable. If dealers stay within the cash structure they have, they will survive. The consumer will come back — slowly. We won’t see a significant increase (in sales) until there is more certainty (about the state of the economy). I’m not so sure the election of 2010 will bring more certainty. That might just bring more confusion.”
But Molino, generally a realist, does tend to see the cup half full.
“The dealers who are still in business, for the most part, are the ones who will survive,” he maintained. “The dealers coming to the convention are in good shape. The shakeout is well on its way to being complete. But it’s not totally over. Dealers are telling me they have inventory but are paying more finance charges on the inventory they have than they used to, and retail financiers are very stringent on who they are lending money to, so the ability to buy a recreational vehicle, the threshold for buying, is higher and the ability to buy is a lot lower.
“Another dynamic is that there is uncertainty among businesses, both large and small, and that drives employment, and employment drives the mentality of the economy,” Molino continued. “When a consumer is hearing levels of unemployment we currently have (around 10%), it’s still not conducive to them going out and buying an RV, even if they can afford to get a loan for an RV. Until unemployment goes down and employment rises, we will have some issues.”
A New Era for the Industry As Well as RVDA’s Con/Expo
The RVDA is tackling this new era head-on with a refreshing revision of the annual convention, which is co-sponsored by RVDA of Canada and the RV Learning Center.
A crowd of between 475 and 550 U.S. and Canadian dealers, with total registrations of about 1,100 attendees, is anticipated for the five-day event.
“I think it’s going to be the best convention ever,” adds Molino. “We’ve got a very, very active committee under (Convention Chairman) Peter Albano. Between him and my staff and the volunteers on the committee, I think they have put together the most pertinent program for dealers and the management level of staff I’ve ever seen.”
As ever, of course, there will be an aggressive educational component including workshops on everything from wholesale and retail financing options to new inventory management strategies and how to reach new customers through innovative marketing communications. And the 2010 convention will again feature an exhibit hall filled with the RV industry’s leading OEM and supplier companies offering products and services to help dealers improve profitability.
But attendees will notice significant changes, starting with the brand committee meetings, closed door sessions in which dealers meet as a group with representatives of the recreational vehicle brands they carry. RVDA’s “Partners in Progress” brand committees, among other things, will work on important dealer-manufacturer issues and address results of RVDA’s Dealer Satisfaction Index (DSI).
“We’ve restructured the brand committees meetings, so they come early in the session,” Molino explained. “We tried to make it so there is no conflict between the committee meetings and anything else they want to do. I think it will enhance the experience for the dealers, especially the manufacturers.”
Before he took on the assignment of chairing this year’s convention committee, Albano confides, he talked with many dealers and asked them what they wanted with regard to the convention. “They said that we need to change and get some new blood into the system and see how we’re running the sessions, break it up and make it new,” Albano, owner of American RV in the Memphis suburb of Olive Branch, Miss., told RVBusiness. “We’ve worked very, very hard at doing that.”
Former Interior Secretary Kempthorne Will Keynote
Albano predicts that convention attendees will especially enjoy the remarks of former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who will serve as keynote speaker at the first general session on Tuesday, Oct. 5.
“Secretary Kempthorne has a track record of developing innovative approaches to meet the outdoor recreation needs of RV travelers and other outdoor enthusiasts,” Albano said. “As a long-time motorhome owner, he is enthusiastic about the future prospects for our industry. He will provide an inspiring message for everyone who makes their living in the RV business.”
Kempthorne continues to champion outdoor recreation and is an active RV traveler and motorcyclist. As Secretary of the Interior during the George W. Bush administration, he brought fundamental relational changes in the environmental, conservation and outdoor recreation arenas.
During his service in the U.S. Senate, Kempthorne led successful efforts to create a sustainable funding source for building and maintaining trails and to promote balance between resource protection and outdoor fun – which is among the reasons he received the 20th Sheldon Coleman Great Outdoors Award in 2008 from the American Recreation Coalition (ARC).
A second general session, on Thursday afternoon, Oct. 7, will feature an “RV Outlook Panel Discussion” for which panelists will include Ron Fenech, president of Thor Industries Inc.’s RV Group; Craig Kennison, analyst with Robert W. Baird, Inc.; and Pete Lannon, GE Capital Commercial Distribution Finance.
Tom Walworth, president of Statistical Surveys Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich., will chair the discussion, which will focus on minimizing risk factors with RV floorplan loans, a manufacturing outlook on the future of RV product development and distribution, financial markets and the impact the issues will have on the dealers’ bottom lines.
“This session is sure to be extremely informative for everyone attending the upcoming convention,” said Albano. “It will provide some important steps that dealers can take to reduce their risk and successfully meet the financial challenges we are all facing today. The Convention/Expo Committee secured an outstanding group of RV industry experts to participate in this event.
RVBusiness HostsTop 50 Dealer Awards Festivities
RVBusiness magazine (and RVBUSINESS.com) will host its 3rd Annual RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards during a Wednesday, Oct. 6, reception and dinner at the Rio hosted by Affinity Group Inc. President & CEO Mike Schneider and keynoted by conservative political commentator and author Ann Coulter.
While the award eligibility has been expanded this year to include recreational park model dealers – just as it was expanded last year to include Canadian retailers — the awards format will include five Blue Ribbon retailers and one individual receiving the Altman Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Go RVing Coalition Convenes at Con/Expo
Concurrent with RVDA’s convention agenda, the pan-industry Go RVing Coalition will convene 8-11 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 6, in the Rio’s Tango Room to continue discussions of topics raised during the coalition’s last meeting June 8 during RVIA Committee Week in South Bend, Ind. This will likely include campaign planning, 2011 funding levels and development of the Go RVing consumer leads prioritization system approved by the coalition in June.
Along with recent shipment and retail data, the coalition will rely on a new University of Michigan RV market forecast and new ad tracking research. “Go RVing’s 2010 ad tracking research will be complete, giving us a better handle on the impact of our media mix and the Ambassadors of Affordability creative,” reports Gary LaBella, vice president and chief marketing officer for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and the coalition’s staff liaison.
Additionally, LaBella says results of the new study of Go RVing leads over the past three years will be reported by The Richards Group, the coalition’s Dallas-based agency. “This study will enable us to better prioritize leads, to provide more information to users about the specific products and price ranges consumer are considering, the lifestyle attributes of our leads and which media are most effective in delivering them,” he said. “All of this information will be helpful to future Go RVing media and creative planning as well as industry marketing efforts.”