Hundreds of people who make their living in the recreational vehicle business will again convene with the industry’s national and regional leadership as well as area civic leaders on the morning of May 8, for a fortifying breakfast and a thought-provoking business agenda during the 2nd Annual RV Industry Power Breakfast at the Northern Indiana Event Center and RV/MH Hall of Fame in the RV-building hub of Elkhart, Ind.
This year’s Power Breakfast, featuring a 7 a.m. buffet and a 7:15 a.m. program emceed by Dicor Corp. President Gregg Fore, immediate past chairman of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), is facilitated by Elkhart-based RVBusiness magazine and sponsored by Dicor, Dometic Corp., Forest River Inc., Thor Industries Inc., Jayco Inc., GE Capital, Kampgrounds of America Inc. and Spartan Motors Inc.
The mission of this annual event, developed in an era when a revitalized and somewhat consolidated industry has circled its wagons around Elkhart County in a big way – with 85% of the nation’s wholesale RV shipments now originating from the greater “Michiana” area – is much the same as last year’s successful inaugural event, reports RVB Publisher Sherman Goldenberg.
“There’s a sense among some industry people in northern Indiana’s RV-building zone not only in Elkhart, but in other communities like LaGrange, Shipshewana, Topeka, Middlebury, Millersburg, Syracuse, Bristol, Goshen, Wakarusa, Nappanee and Decatur, that we could all do a better job of working together as a cohesive force at times here and that it wouldn’t hurt any of us to slow down for a moment – once a year — to showcase the dynamic, job-generating power of this industrial sector,” says Goldenberg.
“At the same time,” he added, “we’ll bring home some of the industry-specific intelligence that’s available from a national advocate like RVIA, which recently held its annual meeting in San Diego.”
RVBusiness teams with Elkhart-based BJ Thompson Associates in coordinating the May breakfast, which also spotlights representatives from the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), the Go RVing Coalition and Kampgrounds of America Inc. as well as the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce and, schedule permitting, teleconference remarks from first-term U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind).
“The RV industry last year took another step forward in terms of recovery, posting a 12.4% gain in 2013 wholesale shipments thanks in part to the upswing of the general economy and outdoor recreation in particular, and we’re looking for more of the same in 2014 and beyond,” noted BJ Thompson, veteran chairman of RVIA’s Public Relations Committee. “Having said that, the RV sector tends to ebb and flow with the American economy and we need to keep people – including rank-and-file personnel here in northern Indiana – apprised of the trends, obstacles and opportunities that exist now and down the road.”
Among those stepping up to the Power Breakfast podium will be RVIA Chairman Doug Gaeddert, a general manager for Elkhart-based Forest River, as well as RVIA President Richard Coon and KOA CEO Jim Rogers – all three of whom will be available after the 7-10 a.m. breakfast program for an off-the-record “RVIA Breakout Session” covering any number of topics that attendees might choose to bring up.
Meanwhile, the breakfast program will include two anchor segments, the first being an updated look at the industry’s Go RVing marketing program led by James Ashurst, vice president of communications and marketing for RVIA, with an assist from RVDA President Phil Ingrassia and Go RVing Coalition Co-Chairmen Bob Wheeler, president of Airstream Inc., and Tom Stinnett, principal of Tom Stinnett Derby City RV Center.
Anchoring the program’s second half will be a fast-paced panel discussion featuring a roster of six influential manufacturers and suppliers in addition to Gaeddert, including Thor Industries President & CEO Bob Martin; Jayco Inc. President & COO Derald Bontrager; Lippert Components Inc. CEO Jason Lippert; Patrick Industries Inc. President & CEO Todd Cleveland; and Airxcel Inc. President & CEO Mel Adams.
Look for an announcement shortly regarding tickets, which will be available ($30 for singles or $225 for a table of 8) online or by visiting the RV/MH Hall of Fame or RVB’s (2901 E Bristol Street) Elkhart office.
Editor’s note: The following is a summary of an NPR interview with Elkhart, Ind., Mayor Dick Moore discussing the city’s recovery, driven by a rebound in the RV industry. To hear the entire interview on NPR’s Here & Now click here.
While Congress debates the budget, President Obama is traveling to North Carolina to deliver a speech about the economy at North Carolina State University.
As reported by NPR, he’s expected to continue his push for an extension of long term unemployment benefits. Another place he’s visited several times is Elkhart, Ind.
Elkhart is famous for it’s production of recreational vehicles, but RV sales took a hit during the recession. As a result, Elkhart’s economy also declined, reaching an unemployment rate of 20%. President Obama even visited Elkhart in 2009 to highlight the need for an economic stimulus bill in Congress.
But for the past year, RV sales have been going strong, as the economy and housing markets rebound.
Elkhart’s mayor Dick Moore says that the tough times during the recession would be a lesson for the future.
“I think we got through that, and we learned a lot of lessons,” Moore tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson. “I don’t think these things will have the same effect on us again if they happen again. We’re not going to go without because of the same things that happened before.”
When Tom Walworth and his wife planned a weekend getaway to Traverse City, Mich., earlier this year with friends, they didn’t book a hotel. Instead, they rented an RV.
Bloomberg reported that in addition to saving about $100 on food and lodging, Walworth got a taste of an activity he’s analyzed for more than 30 years as president of Statistical Surveys Inc., a research company based in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“We were hooked; we had an absolute ball and would do it again,” he said.
More Americans are taking to the road in recreational vehicles as sales of towable RVs approach pre-recession levels and shipments of motorized models gain speed. The total for RV wholesale shipments is projected to rise about 11% from last year to 316,300, Walworth said. Meanwhile, 2014 looks like “another good year,” as shipments could top 335,000, the most in six years.
“All things are a go for the RV industry again,” he said.
That’s good news for manufacturers Thor Industries Inc. and Winnebago Industries Inc. It’s also encouraging for the U.S. economy because RV demand has a “strong relationship” with household confidence, and these vehicles are “very discretionary” purchases, said Richard Curtin, director of consumer surveys at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who has analyzed the industry for more than 30 years.
To read the entire article click here.
James Ashurst, vice president of public relations and advertising for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), presented a compilation of public relations and Go RVing highlights from the past year during the Louisville Show’s Outlook Breakfast.
After the breakfast, Ashurst shared with RVBusiness future marketing strategies for 2014 and beyond.
“Our goal remains simple: grow and expand the RV market. Do what we know works, while constantly seeking out new and innovative approaches such as better utilizing social media to drive the entire industry forward,” he said. “Clearly, the numbers show that extending our promotion later into the fall and focusing on activities like tailgating, whether at a college football game or your daughter’s soccer tournament, really resonated with consumers. Further, bringing the RV product directly to the consumer to walk through and experience first-hand proved very effective in terms of showcasing the versatility of today’s RV.”
Ashurst elaborated on new partnerships slated for 2014, including Go RVing serving as a premier sponsor at Live Nation’s Jamboree in the Hills, a huge, multiday country music festival that draws tens of thousands of consumers, as well as top-tier talent like Toby Keith, Miranda Lambert and Tim McGraw. “We will set up in the campground area where consumers can experience not only the latest and greatest in RVs, but watch acoustic sessions from today’s top artists,” Ashurst said.
In addition, RVIA will continue to work with top-tier cable networks like the Travel Channel to “not only showcase our advertising, but to work RVs into their shows and series over the course of the year.”
Ashurst also reported that Go RVing would continue with the popular “Away” ad campaign, determining that the message was still effective and carried weight with target audiences. “Historically, every three years Go RVing would roll out a new advertising push,” he said. “However, after talking with the Go RVing Coalition, we think the ‘Away’ campaign strikes the right chord with consumers, and as demonstrated this year, ‘Away’ can be executed in a variety of ways to appeal to the consumer.
“So in 2014, we will create yet another ‘Away’ advertising spot. It will allow us to evolve the messaging, while drastically reducing our creative costs, thus allowing for more dollars to be spent on our promotional efforts across PR, advertising and partnerships.”
Addressing consumers’ compulsion with social media and the Internet, Ashurst noted, “We will continue our push in the digital space. You have to be where the consumer is, and today and tomorrow’s consumer is online. Go RVing has the largest and most-engaged profile in the RV space on the web — whether through our Facebook page, our Twitter activity and increasingly through Pinterest.
“As consumers spend more and more time online in both researching and shaping their opinion of products, it is imperative that Go RVing continue to be a leader in information, compelling, engaging content, as well as the conduit that drives business directly to your dealerships.”
The popularity of recreational vehicles grew significantly in 2013, leading RV dealers to look hopefully toward the new year, according to survey results released by GE Capital’s Commercial Distribution Finance (CDF) business.
According to a press releas, one-third of survey respondents said they expect sales to rise 10% to 15% next year, and an additional 37% expect RV sales to grow 5% to 10%. No respondents expect declining sales in 2014.
“The overall mood of the industry is upbeat,” said Tim Hyland, president of CDF’s RV group. “Industry shipments are up nearly 13% this year and retail registrations are keeping pace. Sales of towable units have nearly recovered to pre-crisis levels and motorized units are improving nicely. CDF’s increase in wholesale financing volume year-over-year is consistent with these trends as well.”
Respondents predicted that consumers will continue to favor travel trailers (50%), followed by motorhomes (31%) and fifth-wheel trailers (17%). This shows more variety in demand from last year, when travel trailers were predicted by 70% to be consumers’ first choice.
“Sales of motorized units continue to grow as the economy improves,” said Hyland. “This is very encouraging for the industry as consumers are investing in units with higher price points and re-committing to the RV lifestyle.”
The most common business concern in the RV industry is consumer demand, cited by 27% of respondents. The next concern is the availability/stability of retail finance options, selected by 19%.
The RV industry survey of 130 respondents was conducted Dec. 3-5 during the annual Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky. Two-thirds of the respondents were dealers and 26% were manufacturers.
Times change, and RVBusiness is changing along with them, which is a backhanded way of saying that the staff and contributors of RVBusiness and RVBUSINESS.com are dropping their annual “Best of Show” format in favor of a concept that looks instead at the entire model year: The “RVBusiness 2014 RV of the Year.”
Why? Because today, as most everyone knows, North American RV builders are introducing new models all over the calendar starting in September – from the Pennsylvania RV and Camping Association’s (PRVCA) Hershey Show to Elkhart’s RV Open House to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) Louisville Show and even the Florida RV Trade Association’s (FRVTA) Tampa Show in January.
So, faced with all these trade-worthy venues, we’re opting to keep the ball rolling in an inventive way by instead combing though the hundreds of new or upgraded models released for the current model year in an effort to select one of them as the most interesting, inventive and/or eye-catching new unit of the model year while naming three others as viable contenders.
In our January/February print issue, moreover, we’ll add an array of “Top 2014 Debuts” that should amount to a pretty provocative look at the model year when all is said and done.
“It’s not a task we take lightly,” said RVBusiness Editor Bruce Hampson, who oversees the selection process. “But it’s a process intended to showcase the extraordinary authenticity, originality and creativity in design, styling and engineering that’s fast becoming the hallmark of contemporary recreational vehicles. What else did we consider? Innovation takes precedence over amenities — and a unit’s potential impact upon the marketplace carries more weight than a 16,000-pound GVWR fiver.”
And it didn’t take a protracted debate among our staff and contributors to come up with our inaugural “RV of the Year” — Thor Motor Coach Inc.’s unusual “Recreational Utility Vehicle,” the Axis and Vegas Class A, one of a number of new cutting-edge North American recreational vehicles that exhibit smaller dimensions and a distinctly European flavor in a market still populated by plenty of big towable and motorized RVs.
Among the “RV of the Year” contenders – units that drew enough praise from the staff that they prompted us to pause before making a final selection:
• Winnebago Industries Inc.’s Trend Class C Motorhome
• Jayco Inc.’s Jay Smart Travel Trailer
• Keystone RV Co.’s Montana Big Sky Fifth-Wheel
Why TMC’s Axis, Vegas?
Elkhart, Ind.-based TMC, a division of Thor Industries Inc., is actually not the first motorized manufacturer to introduce a contemporary 25-foot Class A coach — nor is it the first to build a motorhome on the Ford E-series chassis.
However, the Axis/Vegas is the first in the modern era assembled on a Ford E-350 commercial platform that not only helps to keep the unit’s $93,675 base MSRP well below six figures, but also provides nearly limitless repair facilities should a problem crop up on the road.
The Ford chassis also allows for higher gross vehicle weight ratings (12,500 pounds) and gross combined weight rating (18,500 pounds), allowing TMC engineers and designers to better equip the coach, while it’s wide stance, long 188-inch wheelbase and narrowed (by 7 inches) front clip further improve stability.
TMC combines that with attractive exterior styling that would put the coach right at home on any European highway. And there’s a profusion of space inside, including an electronically actuated bunk over the cockpit and a unique double-hinged “extender-room” door that essentially turns the mid-coach bathroom into a virtual changing room, which drew the overall kudo’s of RVB’s staff.
As for the contenders?
Jayco Jay Smart: There’s no denying the impact that European design is having upon the American RV industry. The Jay Smart is less a U.S. travel trailer built with a smattering of European influences as it is a European caravan “Americanized” for domestic use. That’s not surprising, given that one of Jayco’s design and engineering consultants on this project, Brian Donat, has been working in Europe for three years. By reconfiguring the trailer’s center of gravity — the engineering team modified the chassis and hitch and extended the A-frame — the Jay Smart is designed to have a hitch weight of between 100-150 pounds. With four floorplans in the works from 19 to 26 feet, the Jay Smart weighs in at between 2,400 and 4,100 pounds. Other innovations include a friction pad on the front and back of the hitch that locks down tightly on the coupler to prevent chucking, an optional maneuvering system attached to the axles to enhance maneuvering into tight locations and acrylic windows throughout.
Winnebago Trend: While dealers got their first look at Winnebago Industries Inc.’s compact Winnebago Trend Class C motorhome at the Iowa manufacturer’s May Dealer Days, it was quickly evident from the “mob scene” that developed at its retail debut in September at PRVCA’s Hershey Show that U.S. consumers were intrigued by the Trend, the first U.S. Class C motorhome built on Chrysler’s Ram ProMaster van chassis – an Americanized version of Europe’s popular Fiat Ducato. Now it’s up to Winnebago, which has also introduced a Travato Class B motorhome on the Ram ProMaster, to determine over the long haul just how well current and new American motorhome buyers like the downsized, 9,350-pound GVWR Trend and its Itasca Viva! companion line. The four-sleeper Trend/Viva!, with its easy-access cab equipped with a powered StudioLoft bed, is available with MSRP’s of $88,650 in two floorplans with a fuel-efficient V6 Pentastar gas engine getting 14 to 16 mpg.
Keystone Montana Big Sky: Beyond all of the standard amenities available on Keystone RV Co.’s upscale 40-foot Montana Big Sky fifth-wheel — like its 12-cubic-foot Dometic fridge, 8,000-pound axles, 48-inch by 30-inch shower and outside entertainment centers — what really caught our eye was a hard-to-define aspect called eye appeal. The interior of the fifth-wheel — now a stand-alone Montana brand versus an upgrade of existing lines — simply looks that good, thanks to the combined efforts of Joe Kalil, director of interior design, and Mike Mack, product manager for the nation’s top-selling high-profile fifth-wheel line. “On the road there are 65,000 Montana owners, and they were wanting something to step up to, and that’s why this Big Sky was created,” says Director of Marketing Jim Mac. “And, yeah, it’s beautiful. I mean, that’s the first thing you see, and with a starting base MSRP of about $89,000, it’s quite competitive with some of the best known higher priced brands on the market.”
Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) leadership expressed a growing appreciation for — and desire to work with — the campground industry during the 51st Annual National Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., which concluded Thursday (Dec. 5).
“They really are the missing leg of our three-legged stool,” said Matt Wald, RVIA park trailer executive director. “The manufacturers build RVs, the dealers sell them and the campgrounds are where people take them and use them.”
While RVIA and the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) work closely, including on the industry’s Go RVing marketing campaign, RVIA is learning more about the campground side. “We don’t know what we don’t know,” Wald said. “We’re coming to appreciate the difficulties that campgrounds face, especially dealing with growing seasonal camping. The RVIA wants to help tackle zoning, taxation and environmental issues.
“It’s all of these issues where the customer’s impacted. It’s not the OEMs’ problems, it’s not the campground’s problem, it’s the customer’s problem.”
RVIA’s desire to work with campgrounds, Wald acknowledged, is “a different way of doing business. It’s what’s good for the industry.”
He thinks there’s a huge market of people who don’t realize the variety of accommodations available at campgrounds today, and that RVIA can help change that.
In addition to the association’s hopes to work with campgrounds, the RVIA and the former Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) are about 18 months into a two-year trial unification. Wald reported that park model RV makers are pleased with the progress.
“I think the transition’s been well received,” said Tim Gage, national vice president of park models, cabins and specialty products for Cavco Industries Inc. “RVIA’s resources are great and Matt Wald’s done a phenomenal job for us.”
Gary Duncan, who heads Forest River Inc.’s park model division, echoed Gage’s comments, saying park models fit in with the RVIA. “That’s what this product is, it’s an RV.”
Curt Yoder, vice president of Kropf Recreational Park Trailers, said he’s pleased with the services the RVIA provides for park model builders and he’s happy with the transition. Looking ahead, “we’d like to see more exposure” as part of the industry’s advertising efforts.
John Soard, general manager and national sales manager of Fairmont Homes Inc.’s park model division, said, “we have some overseas possibilities that are creeping up on us here,” including opportunities in the Japanese market. “RVIA’s really been helping us with that,” he said. “There’s a lot of benefits to being part of RVIA.
Dick Grymonprez, director of park model sales for Champion/Athens Park Homes, one of the leaders of the mothballed RPTIA and now a member of the RVIA’s leadership team, added, “It’s been excellent.”
Attendance at this week’s Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., was on a par with last year’s totals.
As reported by RVIA, the Tuesday through Thursday event attracted 7,751 attendees, representing a 1% gain from 7,658 last year. Included in that number were 2,874 “buyers,” down 3% from 2,978 in 2012, along with 2,548 dealer personnel, also down 3% from last year’s 2,623. RVIA noted that it had not yet calculated how many dealerships were represented at the show.
A further breakdown showed:
• Manufacturers exhibitors grew 3% to 1,761 from 1,705 in 2012.
• Non-member manufacturers totaled 32 compared to 57.
• Supplier exhibitors rose 6% to 2,092 from 1,966.
• Non-member suppliers were down 9% to 429 compared to 471.
• Accessory store representatives dropped 8% to 218 from 238.
• Campgrounds owners rose 8% to 28 from 26.
• The warehouse distributor category fell 12% to 80 from 91.
• Advertising press representative totaled 15 compared to 11 last year.
• Editorial press representatives rose 5% to 60 from 57.
• The finance category, including guests, fell to 74 compared to 84.
Industry leaders have touted the international expansion of the RV market as one of the indicators of the industry’s recovery. But, according to a report in the Elkhart (Ind.) Truth, local manufacturers and suppliers are mainly still in the “getting-to-know-you” stage with many foreign companies and haven’t seen a real influx of international products into the domestic market.
That’s not to say that local companies aren’t paying attention.
At Tuesday’s (Dec. 3) Outlook Breakfast of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) 51st Annual National RV Trade Show, RVIA President Richard Coon presented statistics that showed growth in several international markets including Australia, New Zealand and China.
The biggest overseas market, Europe, was actually slightly behind where it was a few years ago, but the strides made in other markets has the industry hopeful.
Coon said more than 700 individuals from overseas had registered for the week’s show. That total included personnel from the 13 international exhibitors, as well as many others attending the show simply to check out what U.S. manufacturers and suppliers had to offer.
Foreign suppliers littered the show floor, including furniture suppliers Tecnoform of Italy, Crespo of Spain, Fiamma of Italy and Truma, a German company that recently opened an Elkhart location.
Lippert Component Inc.’s director of marketing Jarod Lippert said the Louisville Show has become the most significant time for Lippert to connect with potential international partners.
“The international guys, this is their one time of the year to come here and get ideas and see things and talk to us,” Lippert said.
Lippert said they’ve recently hired people specifically to handle international sales. “That’s something that we’re really pushing forward in the next year and beyond.”
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There has been some question the last few years about attendance at the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) National RV Trade Show. But, according to a report in the Elkhart (Ind.) Truth, many say the Louisville Show remains vital no matter what the numbers say.
The emergence of northern Elkhart RV Open House in September has raised questions of how the two shows will coexist as both develop and change.
Bob Martin, CEO of Thor Industries Inc., said he hadn’t received any sales or attendance numbers as of Wednesday (Dec. 4) afternoon but agreed that the Louisville show is no longer the big selling event for Thor’s companies that it was in the past.
“Dealers have started to buy a little bit more at the Open House, for us,” Martin said.
That doesn’t mean the event doesn’t serve a purpose, however. Louisville still provides a good chance for traffic and exposure.
“Actually, it’s been very positive so far,” Martin said. “Yesterday was very busy. I think Louisville may be a bigger show for some of the smaller manufacturers.”
And though many dealers may have already made purchases prior to the show, a strong market still has them looking for more product.
“Overall, dealers have been very optimistic,” Martin said. “They’re happy with where their inventory is at and very happy as they look at the year to come.”
Forest River Inc. General Manager and RVIA Chairman Doug Gaeddert sees the two shows interacting together to actually make things easier on the industry.
“The Open House was obviously awesome; Louisville is a beautiful follow-up to that Open House week,” Gaeddert said.
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