The following is a transcript of a speech delivered by U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., to the House of Representatives paying tribute to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) former vice president and chief marketing officer Gary LaBella. Donnelly, whose district encompasses part of RV industry hub Elkhart County, worked closely with LaBella on several important industry issues over the years.
Mr. Speaker, today I pay tribute to an outstanding American citizen who has made significant contributions to northern Indiana’s economy through his work on behalf of the recreational vehicle industry, Gary LaBella.
For more than three decades, Mr. LaBella was instrumental in enhancing the recreational vehicle industry’s image, contributing to the RVIA and the industry’s success. The efforts he led in the marketing of RVs has helped unify this industry and transformed the way consumers think about RVs in this country, now and for the future.
Known for his creativity, Mr. LaBella launched an aggressive industry-wide initiative gaining acclaim throughout the travel and recreation communities. Under his direction, RVIA and industry partners launched the Go RVing national advertising program in the mid 1990s, which is often referred to as one of the most successful programs in the industry’s history.
In 2010, Mr. LaBella organized a celebration for the RV Centennial, culminating with a widely attended June party on the grounds of the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart, Ind. Elkhart is often referred to as the heart of the RV community and the RV Centennial Celebration focused on saluting the workers who made the industry great.
RV Business, an industry trade journal, saluted Mr. LaBella in 2010 as one of the industry’s 100 most influential executives of all time. Mr. LaBella received a similar honor in 2005, the year he was inducted into the RV Hall of Fame.
At a celebration of his career on December 1, 2010, he noted there were “two overriding emotions—pride in what we all accomplished together to elevate this industry’s image, and happiness that I leave RVIA with only friends.” Today I rise on behalf of the citizens of Indiana’s Second District, to salute his character, his personal achievements and his contributions to the RV industry.
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.”
Five men who played key roles in the development of the modern day RV industry were among those inducted into the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind., Monday night (Aug.2) as part of the RV/MH Heritage Foundation Inc.’s Class of 2010.
During a 90-minute ceremony that featured equal parts of entertainment, nostalgia and inspiration, the new inductees reminisced before an audience of nearly 350 people.
Heritage Foundation Chairman Lon Larson welcomed the audience and received an award in recognition of his service, while B.J. Thompson, chairman of the Public Relations Committee of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) spoke briefly on the RV Centennial celebration held on June 7 at the Hall of Fame and encouraged the audience to continue to mark the centennial throughout the rest of the year.
And in a surprise turn of events prior to the induction ceremony, as RVBUSINESS.com reported earlier, the foundation presented its Spirit Award to Gary LaBella, RVIA vice president of communications and chief marketing officer, who took the opportunity Monday night to announce his early retirement after 32 years with the trade group.
Here’s a few highlights of the inductees’ remarks:
Rex Floyd, Floyd’s RV, Norman, Okla., joked at the outset,” I thought you had to be dead to get in it!” He said the RV industry has treated him well over the 40 years that he has been part of it and thanked the staff of the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) for its hard work through the years. Floyd served 12 years on the RVDA board and was a leader in the early years in organizing a national marketing program which evolved into today’s Go RVing campaign. He was the first dealer to receive RVDA’s Jim Summers award.
Jim Fogdall, Ace Fogdall RV, Cedar Falls, Iowa, said the first award he ever received was “a cherry pie from a satisfied service customer.” He said his parents, who started the company, “stressed customer care and hard work” as keys to success. Now run by the third generation of the Fogdall family, the dealership has been profitable in each of its 77 years. He thanked the RVDA, The Spader Co. and praised the 20 Groups that allowed him to interact with – and learn from — other successful dealers.
Don Lougheed, RV Group Inc., Austin, Texas, thanked “God and thousands of friends and associates since he started his business in 1963.” Loughheed gave credit to a number of RVDA pioneers, such as Hilton Fitt-Peaster and Jim Summers, and the late Bill Gorman, an industry consultant whoLougheed called his “idol who taught dealers how to sell RVs.” He also recognized manufacturing legends such as Winnebago Industries Inc.’s John K. Hanson, Holiday Rambler Corp.’s Richard Klinger and Airstream Inc.’s Wally Byam.
Carl Pfalzgraf, Atwood Mobile Products, Elkhart, Ind., recounted his early years as “a troubled teen” who built cars and drag racers and told how he joined Atwood in 1965 and spent his career as “an apprentice,” soaking up knowledge from those around him. He served 18 years on the RVIA board, the last two as board chairman, and called his industry service “a career within a career.”
Clarence T. Yoder, Carriage Inc. Millersburg, Ind., an Elkhart County legend who was sporting his trademark hat, lived up to his reputation as a man of few words. One of 15 children in an Amish family, he quit school at an early age and went to work sweeping floors at a nearby factory. He led his company, Carriage Inc., for 30 years and had a primary role in research and development. He pioneered seamless fiberglass end caps, motorized slideouts on fifth-wheels and developed the first flat floor for fifth-wheels with no step up to the bedroom. He holds several patents.
Inductees from the manufactured housing industry were Raymond F. Bassett, Jim Boyts, Jerry Haggadone, Morris Hylton Jr., Jess Maxcy and Jeff Wick. Bassett and Boyts are deceased.
A total of 14 foursomes competed earlier in the day in the charity golf tournament. The shotgun tournament was won by the team of Doug Bassett, Steve Bassett, Brian Younkin and Rick Grise.
The leaders of the RV industry’s marketing communications program reported how Go RVing advertising and the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) public relations are working hand-in-hand to protect the image of RVing and build RV demand at the association’s Annual Membership Meeting Wednesday (June 9) in South Bend, Ind.
In a presentation during RVIA Committee Week titled “Go RVing: We’re Back in the Saddle Again,” Go RVing Co-Chairman and CEO of Winnebago Bob Olson, and RVIA Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Gary LaBella told RVIA members that investing in Go RVing’s new “Ambassadors of Affordability” ads was a wise decision during the recession, according to a press release.
“We were under severe economic constraints last year,” said Olson. “Continuing to advertise and deciding to develop new creative in such a year were bold moves to keep our industry on the offensive.”
The new ads emphasize savings, which research shows is a smart move given how the economy has affected consumer thinking.
“We’ve always promoted value and affordability as big advantages of RV ownership,” said LaBella. “But dramatic changes in consumer behavior due to the recession have now made value and affordability even more important to purchase decisions.”
Following the “Back in the Saddle Again” report, LaBella was joined by B.J. Thompson, chairman of RVIA’s Public Relations Committee, to present “The New Consumer and the Road Ahead,” a look at RVIA public relations activities, as well as an overview of findings from a new communications planning survey conducted by Harris Interactive.
LaBella and Thompson reported that the image of RVing has remained strong, and that media has widely reported core RVIA messages.
“The key to our successful outreach is the industry’s continued investment in PR,” said Thompson. “An investment that has protected our image and deftly positioned in the industry to capitalize on our nation’s growing economic recovery.”
After showing an 11-minute video of news and entertainment programs featuring RVs, the duo provided analysis of the new Harris Interactive research.
“Among the findings, the survey showed that statements focused on family togetherness and cost savings rate equally with RV owners and non-RV owners alike,” said LaBella. “Messages that mention families saving money while enjoying a great outdoor experience will appeal to a wide cross-section of consumers.”
What a difference a year makes.
Last year, the RV industry was reeling with its lowest sales since 1991 and some companies were being forced out of business, according to the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune.
But this year business is looking up, what with shipments projected to increase by 39% in 2010.
With a better mood for a party, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) will celebrate 100 years of RVs this summer.
The biggest of the events will take place today (June 7) at the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart. Everyone from workers to factory owners will be feted along with the product at a 100th anniversary party, which will include video tributes, a band, food, fun and fireworks.
The festivities will be part of June’s monthlong RV Centennial Celebration.
But the entire week will feature various committee meetings and events as more than 200 RVIA members come to South Bend for committee meetings plus the group’s annual meeting — all at the Century Center.
The annual meeting is typically held in more exotic locations, but it’s coming to Michiana this year for several reasons, including the fact that Michiana is where much of the industry is located.
“Because of the centennial, we felt it was important and proper to celebrate the event at the museum in Elkhart and have the weeklong event in South Bend,” said Gary LaBella, RVIA vice president and chief marketing officer. “Because of the economic situation, we are trying to make it easier on our members.”
And central to a two-hour festival at the museum on Monday, will be a “Salute to RV Workers,” with some on hand at the invitation-only event.
“This is an industry full of entrepreneurs and self-made guys and interesting people who built the industry up in their own garages,” LaBella said. “It’s important, and they all recognize it. Our RVIA and our manufacturers and supplier members certainly recognize that the industry will only go as far as the work force and the integrity of the work force takes it.
“I don’t know how it compares to other industries. But we feel that the craftsmanship and the quality of work that comes out of our RV factories, and obviously the Elkhart and South Bend area factories are a big part of (the reason). The work is extremely well-perceived nationally.”
Included in the video salute to workers will be interviews with some of the workers as well as owners talking about how much the work force means to them.
The party in Elkhart is expected to have 500 people in attendance.
Another part of the yearlong celebration, that actually started back in December with the 47th National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., was RV historian David Woodworth’s tour this spring to showcase the old and the new of the RV industry.
Besides celebrating the 100th anniversary, the RVIA also hopes the public recognizes that the RV industry has bounced back from bad times before.
“Given the year that the industry just went through, it’s just a fantastic time to have something that everybody can rally around and feel good about,” LaBella said.
“It reminds everyone that we have a long storied history that is full of ups and downs.
“We have been through wars and times of peace, and fuel lines and all kinds of fads and the cyber revolution, and yet the industry is still going strong.
“We feel bad about last year, but it’s nice to be reminded that there is no doubt we will be back strong.”
LaBella made the comments in an interview well ahead of the recent news that April’s wholesale shipments being up 85% over a year ago and 2.5% over March of this year.
“The recovery is robust the first third of the year,” RVIA spokesman Kevin Broom said.
History is indeed on the industry’s side.
“An industry cannot be around 100 years unless it can absorb a few bumps in the road along the way,” LaBella said. “We have had many bumps in the road and always come back stronger than ever.”
Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine and a regular panelist on the business show ”Forbes on Fox,” will be the keynote speaker at the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) annual meeting June 9 during RVIA’s Committee Week at the Century Center in South Bend, Ind., according to RVIA Express.
In a talk titled, “U.S. Outlook: Is the Recovery Durable?” Karlgaard will give an outlook for stocks, home prices and asset classes while also discussing which sectors of the economy will benefit from increased government intervention and which will lose ground. He will examine how the results of the 2010 midterm elections might change the business landscape and which products and services, growth models and economic regions are likely to perform best in the immediate future and in the long-term.
Also at the meeting, RVIA Chairman Jim Sheldon and RVIA President Richard Coon will discuss the state of the association and speak on a wide range of topics including government relations, standards, industry education and RVIA-sponsored trade shows. RVIA Treasurer Bob Olson will detail the association’s finances.
In a presentation titled, “RVIA Public Relations: The New Consumer and the Road Ahead,” RVIA Public Relations Committee Chairman B.J. Thompson and Gary LaBella , vice president and chief marketing officer, will provide an analysis of the post-recession consumer, examine the new Harris survey findings on the factors that influence RV purchase decisions and give an overview of the media exposure created for the RV industry through the association’s public relations programs.
In “Go RVing: We’re Back in the Saddle Again,” Go RVing Co-Chairman Bob Olson of Winnebago Industries Inc. and LaBella will provide a briefing on the award-winning ad campaign. RVIA will also honor industry and association leaders by presenting a host of awards.
At a luncheon immediately following the membership meeting, economist Richard Curtin, director of the Consumer Research Center at the University of Michigan, will provide his outlook for the RV market for the upcoming year. Curtin has directed RVIA’s RV Consumer Demographic Profile research for 30 years and authors the association’s quarterly RV Roadsigns newsletter.
For more information on the RVIA Membership Meeting and the industry forecast luncheon, contact RVIA’s Meetings and Shows Department at (703) 620-6003 ext. 305 or visit www.rvia.org.
Innovative new ”Ambassadors of Affordability” animated television commercials and a redesigned website staged to re-energize consumers as the economy recovers will debut the weekend of February 12-14 in conjunction with the 2010 Winter Olympics and Daytona 500 pre-race programming on the SPEED network. The coordinating, redesigned Go RVing website launches Feb. 12.
”Higher RV shipments being forecast by the University of Michigan for the new year will allow us to invest $8.25 million in advertising as Americans are starting to feel more secure in their spending decisions,” said Gary LaBella, RVIA vice president and chief marketing officer. ”This is great news for the campaign as it’s more than double the 2009 budget, although still only half what we were able to spend in 2007. The increased funding is allowing us to develop a far-reaching campaign that spans many market segments.”
The Winter Olympics buy, targeting a huge family viewing audience, includes 105 spots during Olympics programming starting Feb. 13 on NBC plus ads on MSNBC, CNBC, USA and live daytime coverage on Universal Sports. The first SPEED spot airs Feb. 12 on the popular ”Trackside” program, along with the premiere showing of a new Go RVing travel vignette featuring NASCAR personality Rutledge Wood and his family.
An additional 454 spots will air during Universal Sports’ programming coverage of World Cup Alpine Skiing, the Track & Field World Championships, American Cup Gymnastics, US Freestyle Ski Cup and more. For the first time, Go RVing will also have courtside signage during 29 regular-season NCAA basketball games and 118 postseason tournament games televised on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2. ”Spots on continuing coverage of NASCAR, Triple Crown horseracing, Xtreme Bulls and professional bowling return to our media line-up, joined by major league baseball advertising on FOX Sports Net,” said the coalition in a release. ”MLB exposure continues through the season with an ad buy on regional cable telecast coverage; this is in addition to the arena media advertising Go RVing has sponsored in 26 MLB stadiums across the country for the past several years. Research shows that sports viewers are a fertile audience for Go RVing.”
For the fourth year, Go RVing has renewed its advertising partnership with the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) with ads running on ESPN-televised tournament events throughout the spring. Go RVing will sponsor 165 30-second ad spots, on-screen billboards, lane signage, and the Go RVing Match Play Championship in Norwich, Conn., with televised finals on March 21. This season’s Go RVing PBA team consists of motorhome traveler Walter Ray Williams Jr., the top all-time money winner, along with Mike Machuga and Mike Wolfe. They’ll wear the Go RVing logo on their shirts and play with specially designed Go RVing spare balls.
New to the Go RVing 2010 television lineup is major league baseball on FOX Sports Net. MLB exposure continues through the season with an ad buy on regional cable telecast coverage in addition to the arena media advertising Go RVing has sponsored in 26 MLB stadiums across the country for the past several years.
Go RVing, meanwhile, will reach non-sports TV audiences with two important new buys as well as many returning buys. A cross-platform media partnership with cable’s History network provides an integrated blend of TV, print and web exposure throughout the spring and summer. Go RVing will run TV spots during History’s popular ”Modern Marvels” and the new reality series ”American Pickers” in addition to ads in five issues of History magazine; and custom content in a 32-page pull-n-save Top Ten Destinations guide.
On the Travel Channel, seen by avid travelers in some 90 million households, there will be a special National Parks Week sponsorship this spring through which Go RVing spots and billboards will promote RVs as the best way to visit the national parks as part of a special National Parks Week sponsorship this spring.
The rest of the $4.1 million television buy remains in cost-effective direct response ads on proven cable networks like Discovery, TBS, TNT, USA, Food Network, The Weather Channel, TLC and more. With time-strapped viewers recording programming to watch at a later time, Go RVing has also teamed up with TiVo to provide customized content from the Getting Started consumer information video.
”The ‘Go Affordably. Go RVing’ print ads introduced in 2009 — the inspiration for the new TV spots — will appear in 27 major consumer magazines that have a strong history of delivering leads plus a good editorial environment for our ads,” the Go RVing Coalition release stated. ”Emphasis was placed on reaching readers with a strong propensity to travel and a passion for spending time with family. Top publications on the plan include Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, Better Homes & Gardens, Sherman’s Travel, Ladies Home Journal, Woman’s Day and Good Housekeeping.”
The total print budget: $2.5 million.
Internet advertising — the most cost-efficient source of leads — will include banners on Google, Yahoo, National Geographic, WeatherBug, Sherman’s Travel, Dogtime.com and Weather.com, on a total budget of $1.6 million.
In addition, Go RVing will continue its low-cost, high-impact investment in social media in 2010, using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to generate millions of impressions for almost no cost. In 2009, Go RVing’s Facebook page was viewed more than 100,000 times.
”Over the past tough year, Go RVing successfully maximized media for the dollars available and helped the RV industry build demand in a down market,” said LaBella. “With an increased budget in 2010, Go RVing will be able to stimulate even more consumer demand.”
The Go RVing Coalition, formed in 1994, consists of RV manufacturers, component suppliers, dealers and campgrounds. Go RVing works to provide the public and media with pertinent information about the benefits of RV travel.
Editor’s Note: Lary LaBella, vice president and chief marketing officer for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), sent this memo out to RVIA members this week seeking their input on a project that will culiminate at the Outlook 2010 Breakfast on Dec. 1 that kicks off the RVIA’s National RV Show in Louisville, Ky.
Last year, a best-selling book titled “Six Word Memoirs” compiled the submissions of both famous and everyday people who were asked to simply describe their life in six words. This proved to be a very popular concept that provided readers with a cascade of entertaining, insightful and compelling quotes.
As we prepare for Outlook 2010: Let the Sun Shine, we thought it would be a great idea to use this same concept within the RV industry and ask you to project the future of the RV industry in six words. For example, one could write “Sun will shine. We’ll be fine,” to play off the theme of the Outlook program.
Please e-mail your six-word statement for the RV industry in 2010 and beyond to me at email@example.com. We will review each submission and select some of the best ones to be read on stage as part of the Outlook 2010 program. We ask that you provide your six-word statement by Oct. 15.
Thank you for your help with this effort. We believe this is going to provide some great perspective to the Outlook 2010 event. We hope that you will be on hand at Outlook 2010 to hear these short-but-sweet forecasts in addition to the many other entertaining and informative presentations.
Outlook 2010: Let the Sun Shine takes place at 6:45 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 1, in the South Wing Ballroom at the Kentucky Exposition Center. I look forward to seeing you there.
Editor’s Note: The following column was provided by Gary La Bella, vice president and chief marketing officer for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
Every day seems to bring new and divergent economic reports that either point to signs of a recovery or reinforce that we are still not out of the woods.
As the analysts and pundits pore over data and debate the condition of the general economy, let us look at how the industry’s dual marketing efforts — the Go RVing national advertising campaign and RVIA’s public relations initiatives — have helped the RV industry during the past year in a very fluid environment.
Recently, a string of good news (increasing home sales, slowing job loss, rising manufacturing hours and improving productivity) has been countered by continued weak consumer confidence and reduced spending. Looking at the RV market, July’s wholesale shipments hit their highest monthly totals in nearly a year. That news, combined with reports of RV manufacturers bringing back workers and improved traffic at the nation’s dealerships and campgrounds, points to a somewhat brightening horizon for the RV industry. These rays of hope are certainly welcome.
Since the global financial crisis plunged the economy into recession, the RV industry has suffered through some of its darkest days ever. Days that required all of us — manufacturers, suppliers, dealers, campgrounds, and, yes, trade associations and advertising coalitions — to make critical spending decisions that carefully took into account current conditions while also considering the long-term implications of cutbacks. In my opinion, one of the wisest choices we made as an industry was continuing to be as aggressive as possible over the past year in promoting RV travel to consumers and the media by funding the Go RVing national advertising campaign and RVIA’s public relations initiatives.
Even on severely reduced budgets, we were able to maintain our industry’s presence in the marketplace and build demand for your products. This strategy has paid dividends in two very important ways. First, our image has remained untarnished, and RVs remain very much on the public’s radar screen.
Despite gloomy economic conditions and a negatively charged news environment where RVs could have come under attack, our public relations efforts are producing positive national media coverage that depicts RV travel as popular, affordable and relevant in today’s economy, as well as becoming increasingly eco-friendly. Over the summer, we’ve seen many positive stories covered by an impressive list of national media outlets including ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC Today, USA Today, the New York Times, MSNBC, The Associated Press, Fox Friends and CNNMoney.com, as well as major daily newspapers and top magazines.
These stories have largely adhered to messages promoted by our public relations team to sustain our industry’s positive image. These priority messages center on several themes: that RVing provides value and now is the time to buy; that RVing remains popular; that RVing is family friendly; that the RV industry is made in America; and that RV travel is environmentally responsible. Secondly, the one-two punch of the Go RVing campaign and the public relations efforts is positioning the industry for faster recovery as economic conditions improve and consumers begin to relax the grip on their wallets.
Though Go RVing is operating on less than a third of the funding level of 2008, we are still running ads on major cable television networks, in top national consumer magazines and on highly-visited websites and search engines. The magazine and Internet ads — the main source of our leads — all carry the theme line “Go Affordably. Go RVing.” That’s a powerful message for the current times. We are also employing aggressive — and cost-effective — social media outreach utilizing Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogging to promote RVing to the online public. This is all yielding great results for the industry:
- By the end of 2009, Go RVing ads will have been seen over half a billion times just this year.
- Over 55,000 new consumer leads have been created since the beginning of the year — over 10,000 per month in May, June, and July. These are valuable leads with two-thirds saying they are very or somewhat likely to visit an RV dealer or show within the next year.
- Participating dealers, campgrounds and manufacturers have downloaded roughly 4 million leads in total this year, giving the industry an important sales tool.
- Over 1.5 million consumers have visited the GoRVing.com website so far in 2009 and been exposed to the campaign’s value and affordability messages. Web visits this July surpassed last July by nearly 20 percent. This is a strong indication that there is considerable pent-up consumer demand for RV products.
Granted, these results do not approach the performance achieved in past years when we had much larger media budgets driving more response. However, this data is impressive considering the economic environment we are operating in and shows that the campaign is helping the industry by maintaining exposure and keeping us ahead of the competition. It is also important to remember that as we move forward in 2010, we will be armed with new Go RVing creative. This will include new television commercials and an updated online video and website, highlighting the latest models and innovations while focusing on the value of RV ownership and travel. Working in tandem, the new creative will help re-energize the advertising campaign as the economy recovers over the next year, emphasizing current affordability messages while maintaining the emotional appeal that has been at the heart of Go RVing’s success.
We hope you will be on hand to enjoy the debut of the new ads and video at Outlook 2010, the breakfast program kicking off the National RV Trade Show on Tuesday, Dec. 1, at 6:45 a.m. in the KEC South Wing Mezzanine Level Ballroom. This year’s theme is Let the Sun Shine: A Message of Optimism. As we look back over the past year, we can take pride in what we accomplished in a very difficult economic climate. Just keeping the marketing programs going at all in these circumstances was an achievement, but we did much more than that. We kept RVs in the news. We avoided being labeled irrelevant or obsolete. We helped stimulate demand and positioned ourselves for a faster recovery. We are moving once again toward a bright future with new Go RVing creative and an RVIA budget for proactive public relations. As we begin to travel the road to recovery, let the sun shine.
Editor’s Note: Gary LaBella, vice president and chief marketing officer for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), offered RVIA members an update on the status of the Go RVing campaign in a recent letter. Excerpts follow:
At this critical time for our industry, when consumers are slightly relaxing their grip on their wallets in response to deep discounting, we need to keep fighting for people’s discretionary dollars. Go RVing can only spend what it has, but within this year’s limited budget, we are doing as much as possible to maintain our industry’s presence in the marketplace through advertising, public relations and social media.
Obviously, because of industry conditions Go RVing spending has been drastically reduced. New unit assessments are expected to be only 24% of what they were in 2007. Media spending has fallen from $15.5 million in 2007 to $3.5 million in 2009. Go RVing’s total available revenue has shrunk from $23 million two years ago to an anticipated $7 million this year, if our forecast holds.
Overall, the Go RVing program is now running on less than a third of the funding we had in 2007. You get what you pay for, so naturally, audience and leads have fallen along with spending. But Go RVing is still using your money effectively, and the campaign is still doing a lot of good for the industry, both short- and long-term.
Here’s an update on recent campaign activities and their results.
2009 National Media – Making an Impact The year began with Go RVing television spots on ESPN bowling, followed by ESPN bull riding and NASCAR programming on SPEED. Approximately 37 million consumers have seen these spots thus far. With March came the launch of the Go RVing print campaign – the main source of consumer leads. We continue to have a presence in 20 national magazines, among them: AARP The Magazine (the largest in circulation), Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, Better Homes Gardens, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, National Geographic Adventure, National Geographic Traveler, Southern Living, Sunset, Midwest Living and Yankee. These are big names, with big impact. Though we can’t run as many print ads this year,the ones we’re running had already delivered over 10,000 leads through March. Being an advertiser helps open doors to editorial coverage, too.
Unexpected improvement in Go RVing new unit assessments in March allowed an early start for the remainder of cable TV and Internet advertising in our plan, originally scheduled to begin this summer. We seized this opportunity to invest your money now and help this industry get back on its feet sooner.
Go RVing direct response cable advertising – the least expensive way to buy TV time – began the week of April 13 on The Weather Channel, Travel Channel, Outdoor Channel, History Channel and DIY Network. Our National Geographic Channel ads began this month too, including spots on the network’s April 22 Earth Day programming block. We’re excited about partnering with National Geographic to promote environmental consciousness and responsibility by sponsoring such programming. Our buy also includes the “Preserve Our Planet” specials Great White Odyssey in June and America’s Wild Spaces in July. Go RVing Internet ads begin running May 1 on Google and Yahoo’s search engines and on Advertising.com (a network of websites reaching nine out of 10 people online), followed by the websites for Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, Better Homes Gardens, Ladies Home Journal, WeatherBug and Hallmark. These sites are cost-efficient lead producers offering guaranteed impressions.
Positive Industry Publicity Despite all the dire economic news this year, the image of RVs has remained highly positive in the business and consumer media. Publicity depicts RVs and RV travel as popular, affordable, relevant in today’s economy and increasingly green. Reporters mainly link the downturn in RV sales to tight credit, rather than lack of demand. These are the top messages being communicated through the public relations outreach by RVIA’s PR staff and agency (Barton Gilanelli), funded in part by Go RVing assessments. With the start of the spring travel season, we’re seeing more family RV vacation stories emphasizing the value of traveling and camping in RVs.
Major national coverage this spring included a “Go RVing and Go Green” live report April 18 on FOX News with RVIA’s Richard Coon, showcasing examples of new, fuel-efficient, eco-friendly RVs. Also as a result of our efforts, USA Today is working on a feature story about a retired military family’s RV travels to introduce their children to America.
Going Viral with Social Media The third leg of the Go RVing marketing communications tripod is social media – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and innumerable outlets in the blogosphere. As a result of a promotional e-mail sent to consumers on the Go RVing list, our Facebook “fan” page has enjoyed an amazing 500% spike in registered fans since Jan. 1. We are communicating directly with these enthusiasts, and they are sharing information with each other. This peer-to-peer interaction has been overwhelmingly positive, and it’s being leveraged by Go RVing at little to no cost. Go RVing also launched a Twitter feed recently, on which we’re posting links to industry releases, news clips on YouTube, blog entries and events. We are reaching out to reporters who cover our beat and inviting them to follow our regular “tweets” for story ideas and background. Go RVing’s family travel blog, “You Are Here,” by longtime media spokesperson and travel author Brad Herzog, has been viewed roughly 12,000 times so far this year. The Go RVing e-newsletter based on Brad’s family RVing experiences is scheduled to come out of hiatus in May for three summer issues. RV journalist Chris Jackson, who writes for African-Americans on Wheels and other automotive publications, will join Brad Herzog as a regular contributor. Chris is writing timely articles about reasons to buy now, how to finance an RV purchase in this economy, and the affordability of RV travel. There are 208,000 Go RVing e-newsletter subscribers.
How Is All This Go RVing Activity Helping You? The times continue to be trying. In the face of business challenges confronting the industry on a daily basis, it’s not easy to take the long view. But for 13 successful years, Go RVing has been all about investing in our future. There continue to be many reasons to believe that this industry is pursuing the wisest, most effective long-term marketing strategy by investing in the program to the maximum extent possible, even in these tough times.