Kempthorne Brings Strong Advice to RVDA

October 6, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

Dirk Kempthorne

Dirk Kempthorne

Speaking before a capacity crowd of RV dealers, manufacturers and suppliers, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne opened the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) 2010 RV Dealers International Convention/Expo as keynote speaker of the general session Tuesday (Oct. 5) at the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

During her introduction of Kempthorne, RVDA Chairman Debbie Brunaforte noted that the former Idaho mayor, governor and U.S. senator was “an outstanding national leader who also has first-hand experience with RV history as a longtime motorhome owner. In fact, he drove here today in his RV.” Kempthorne served as Secretary of the Interior from 2006-’09 during the George W. Bush administration.

“He brought fundamental changes to the relationships of our national interests in environmental, conservation and outdoor recreation,” she said. “During his service in the U.S. Senate, Secretary Kempthorne led successful efforts to create a sustainable funding source for building and maintaining trails to promote the balance between resource protection and outdoor fun.”

Brunaforte noted that in recognition of his work, Kempthorne received the 20th Sheldon Coleman Great Outdoors Award from the American Recreation Coalition (ARC) in 2008.

Kempthorne, who noted that not only did he drive to the event in his motorhome but so did his brother, Mark, regaled his audience with humorous stories of camping with his family and his travels in his Fleetwood coach before his remarks took a more serious focus.

“There’s a lot of things happening in the world today,” he pointed out, “that makes briefs respites in the great outdoors that much more necessary. It helps to replenish our perspectives. We’ve all experienced the worst recession since the Great Depression. Perhaps few industries have felt it so much as yours. We’ve all read recent headlines that the recession is officially over — whether it feels like it or not. Many Americans are still out of work. The Wall Street Journal recently carried an article about your industry. It gave signs of hope and recovery, but many of you say it really doesn’t reflect what you’re personally experiencing in your businesses.”Kempthorne 2

Kempthorne, who noted that “I am no economist, and I’m not a member of your industry,” spoke of relying on close friends within the industry to gauge conditions.

“One of my barometers is one of your members and my friend, Tom Nelson, Nelson’s RV in Boise. I check in with Tom periodically to see what’s happening in his world. Through him, I’ve seen some of the trends and what his current experience is — and it’s beginning to be encouraging. But it’s encouraging because it’s doing things differently in this economy. Tom always says ‘I’m just an old trailer salesman’ — but I’ll tell you what: he’s a darn canny businessman. He’s ridden out this recession because he’s not afraid to innovate.”

The flexibility of innovating — recognizing trends and capitalizing upon them — was a main theme of Kempthorne’s speech, and he buttressed his remarks with figures provided to him from the National Park Conservation Association that showed that even as the country was beginning to emerge from the recession, the slight downward trend in visits to national parks had reversed.

“In 2009,” Kepthorne said, “there were nearly 286 million recreation visits to the parks — the highest since 2000.” He also noted dramatic increases in camping reservations through such sites as “Americans still want American visuals, and your industry has continued to play a key role in helping them to get outside and enjoy it. You really are great stewards of the outdoors.”

However, Kempthorne also raised a cautionary note with his audience, pointing out that the quest for higher-mileage tow vehicles would impact their towing capacity. “In the years ahead, as these fuel-economy requirements phase in, there are going to be fewer and fewer vehicles that can be the family car during the week and still tow the family trailer of boat on the weekends.”

He warned that some people will have “a singular focus on an extreme ‘green’ agenda who do not care about your industry,” he continued. “They may not own RVs, they may not know anyone who does. They operate on their own agenda and view your products as something that nobody needs. But they are very influential in Washington; they know how to play the media game well and they understand the legislative process. The political climate in Washington is now favorable to them and they know it. But I’d like you to consider a different way of thinking about dealing with these threats.

“The strategy that will put your industry ahead of the curve and make it less likely that Congress or special-interest groups will put a ‘bulls eye’ on your products comes down to this: you can effect change on your terms, or be effected by change on someone else’s terms. You’re at a fork in the road, and as the noted philosopher Yogi Berra once said, ‘When you come to a fork in the road, take it.’

So here’s my take: why not, as an industry, commit to offering your customers smart green alternatives — not for the sake of symbolically made green but for three very good business reasons. One, customer satisfaction. These alternatives are available, viable and can make the RV experience more enjoyable for our customers. And isn’t that what it’s supposed to be all about?

“Number two is profitability. All of the various green enhancements — things like solar panels, inverters, fuel cells — can be profit centers for your dealerships. I’m talking about additional sales, the installation, maintenance and repair revenues for your dealership.

“Number three is ‘narrative.’ Narrative is one of the newest Washington, D.C., buzzwords. It means that when issues affect your industry, your industry needs to have a credible, constructive narrative; a story to tell. For example, about innovative steps you’re taking to contribute to energy conservation or whatever issue is ‘in play’ at the time. When a reporter comes knocking, you want to have a compelling narrative about your industry.”

As an example, Kempthorne noted the changes he made to his own 2003 Fleetwood motorhome to allow him to dry camp “off the grid,” without tapping into onshore energy supplies.

“I have a fuel cell,” he said. “It uses methanol as a source of energy. In essence, this is wood alcohol, and it’s what NASCAR racers use to fuel their cars. Its purpose is to keep my house batteries charged so that as I use appliances I’m constantly replenishing the batteries. I found that the ideal situation is to partner the fuel cell with a solar panel; they have a synergy of two different power sources. So I added a solar panel. Solar panels just make great sense. I also upgraded my inverter. So with the combination of these three items I can now camp off-grid and enjoy the comforts of my RV and not live in austere conditions.”

As Kempthorne noted, however, many dealers overlook the profitability of such items. “When my brother, Mark, bought his new motorcoach, he drove it off the lot with no inverter and no solar panel. No one suggested the advantages of having these items added. The financing option makes the additional monthly payment really negligible.” His brother lost out on the components’ versatility — but more importantly, Kempthorne stressed, the dealer lost out on the sale and future maintenance and repair revenues.

“I love this industry,” Kempthorne said. “And I think that while sales will continue to return for new rolling stock, there is much that we can do to strongly suggest — and in fact, I would say that we must do — to remain viable. When it comes time for narratives, you have a strong one — to tell about embracing 21st century technology … keeping you on the leading edge and making it better. Lifestyle and experience in the outdoors.”

“The bottom line, you are all survivors, Kempthorne concluded. “And therefore, you are leaders. Everyone in this room is a success story. You have demonstrated that you know how to adapt and achieve great things … I think you have a golden opportunity to seize this. You are already stronger; you’re stronger because of what you’ve had to come through. But you have come through it.”

Kempthorne was preceeded to the dias by Rick Horsey, chairman of the RV Learning Center board of directors, who updated the audience on educational opportunities available to dealer personnel year-round through the RV Learning Center. In introducing Horsey, Brunaforte noted that the longtime chairman will be stepping down later this year after 10 years as head of the RV Learning Center board, but added that Horsey will continue as a volunteer leader of RVDA and will remain a member of the RV Learning Center board of directors.

The 2010 RV Dealers International Convention/Expo continues through Friday.

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Dirk Kempthorne to Head Insurance Group

September 8, 2010 by · Comments Off on Dirk Kempthorne to Head Insurance Group 

Dirk Kempthorne

Dirk Kempthorne

C. Robert Henrikson, chairman of the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI) and chairman, president and CEO of MetLife Inc., announced today (Sept. 8) the appointment of Dirk A. Kempthorne as president and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI) effective Nov. 3.

Kempthorne will succeed Frank Keating, who has led ACLI since January 2003, according to a news release.

Kempthorne, who will be a featured speaker at the upcoming Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) Convention/Expo in Las Vegas next month, has a distinguished public servant, Kempthorne was appointed the 49th United States Secretary of the Interior in May 2006 and served in that capacity until January 2009. Previously, Kempthorne was elected governor of Idaho in 1998 and 2002. He represented the state of Idaho in the United States Senate from 1993 to 1999 and was the mayor of Boise, Idaho, from 1986 to 1993.

As governor, Kempthorne chaired the National Governors Association and the Western Governors Association and served as the president of the Council of State Governments and a member of the Homeland Security Task Force.

“The members of ACLI are excited about Dirk Kempthorne taking the reins of our dynamic organization,” declared Chairman Henrikson.

“Life insurers help provide financial and retirement security to 75 million families. Dirk will be a tremendous asset in advocating for an industry that plays a vital role in Americans’ lives,” he said.

“Dirk’s excellent reputation in Washington, coupled with his understanding and appreciation of state regulation of insurance, is a unique and valuable resource for the industry and regulators alike during this time of evolving regulatory relationships in the U.S. and around the world. He will be an effective representative of an industry that invests over $4.5 trillion in America’s economy and is one of the leading sources of job-creating investment capital,” Henrikson said.

“I’m extremely honored to be associated with the more than 300 distinguished companies that provide life insurers’ products and services for Americans in every state,” Kempthorne said. “ACLI is well regarded in Washington and in the states for the ways its member companies help families protect their assets today while planning for the future. A healthy, vibrant life insurance industry was a key partner as I led the State of Idaho through the last economic downturn – while maintaining Idaho’s highest possible bond rating. It is even more critical in today’s challenging economy for insurers to maintain open communications and promote understanding with our national and state leaders, and I’m excited to lead that effort.”

“Dirk will have very big shoes to fill. Since joining ACLI, Frank Keating has made significant contributions to the life insurance industry. He dramatically increased membership, CEO involvement and the overall effectiveness of the organization. He has been a first-class advocate for the life insurance industry during one of the most eventful periods in life insurers’ history,” Henrikson said.

“Governor Kempthorne, with his unique background of having served in both the legislative and executive branches of the federal government as well as governor, is widely respected on both sides of the aisle. His vision, common-sense, and pro-business philosophies make him an excellent choice to lead ACLI,” said Dennis L. Johnson, president and CEO of United Heritage Life Insurance in Idaho and a member of the ACLI Board of Directors. “As an Idahoan, I am very proud to have one of our own leading up this dynamic organization. Insurance companies invest more than $14 billion in Idaho’s economy and more than half a million Idahoans carry life insurance.”

Kempthorne and his wife Patricia are residents of Boise and both are University of Idaho graduates. The couple has two grown children, Heather and Jeff.

The American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI) is a Washington, D.C.-based trade association with more than 300 legal reserve life insurer and fraternal benefit society member companies operating in the United States. ACLI members represent more than 90% of the assets and premiums of the life insurance and annuity industry. In addition to life insurance and annuities, ACLI member companies offer pensions, 401(k) and other retirement plans, long-term care and disability income insurance, and reinsurance. ACLI’s public website can be accessed at

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RVDA Con/Expo Comes at Industry Juncture

August 30, 2010 by · Comments Off on RVDA Con/Expo Comes at Industry Juncture 

Expo LogoThe 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.RVDA logo

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.

Mike Molino

Mike Molino

“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

RVDA of CanadaThe 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.”

Peter Albano

Peter Albano

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.

Dirk Kempthorne

Dirk Kempthorne

“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

Ann Coulter

Ann Coulter

RVBusiness magazine (and 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/ExpoGo RVing logo

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.

Gary LaBella

Gary LaBella

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.”

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Kempthorne to Speak at Dealers’ Convention

April 29, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Dirk Kemthorne

Dirk Kemthorne

Former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne will be the keynote speaker for the 2010 RV Dealers International Convention/Expo at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nev., Oct. 4-8.

Secretary Kempthorne will deliver his remarks to attendees at the Tuesday  (Oct. 5) General Session. The convention is sponsored by the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Assocation (RVDA), Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association of Canada (RVDA Canada) and the RV Learning Center, according to a news release.

Kempthorne continues to champion outdoor recreation and is an active RV traveler and motorcyclist. As secretary of the interior, he brought fundamental changes to the relationships among national interests in the environmental, conservation, and outdoor recreation. 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.

He received the 20th Sheldon Coleman Great Outdoors Award during Great Outdoors Week from the American Recreation Coalition (ARC) in 2008.

“Secretary Kempthorne has a track record of developing innovative approaches to meet the outdoor recreation needs of RV travelers and other outdoor enthusiasts,” said RVDA Convention/Expo Committee Chairman Peter Albano of American RV in Olive Branch, Miss. “As a long-time motorhome owner, he is enthusiastic about the future prospects for our industry. He will provide an inspiring message for everyone that makes their living in the RV business.” 

Themed “Go to Grow – Innovative Ideas, Revolutionary Results,” the RV Dealers International/Convention Expo will be filled with vital information that will prepare RV dealers and their employees to take advantage of new opportunities in today’s RV market. The education program will include workshops on wholesale and retail financing options, new inventory management strategies, and how to reach new customers through innovative marketing communications.   

The 2010 convention will also feature an exhibit hall filled with the RV industry’s top companies offering products and services to help dealers improve profitability. RVDA’s Partners in Progress Brand Committees will also meet to work on important dealer-manufacturer issues and the results of RVDA’s Dealer Satisfaction Index (DSI). 

To make the convention as affordable as possible, RVDA is offering special registration plans including an “Easy-Pay”  plan of four payments and the ability to “lock-in” early bird savings for additional employees with one paid convention registration submitted by May 31. 

Companies interested in sponsorship opportunities and exhibitor information can contact RVDA at (703) 591-7130, ext. 103 ,or send an e-mail to

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