Check out the upcoming issue of RVBusiness magazine for a complete rundown of “RVB Top 2014 RV Debuts,” a list of 20 new recreational vehicles that caught our staff members’ eyes at this year’s trade and retail shows — from Hershey through Louisville — as being among the most polished, inventive and attractive new towable and motorized RVs on the market.
“We pared down the list this time around to only 20 units on the premise that a more exclusive ‘Top Debut’ selection would carry more weight, but realizing at the same time that there are always plenty of other new models out there that are that close to making the list,” said RVBusiness Editor Bruce Hampson, who oversees the annual selection process.
“In addition to recognizing those who excelled in R&D for a given model year,” he added, “our intent is to help track some of the leaders in product development and a few of the hot product-related trends that are afoot each year for both the industry and for thousands of consumers who will inevitably see those ‘Top Debut’ logos in dealers’ displays at U.S. and Canadian retail shows this winter and spring.”
Topping the list is Thor Motor Coach Inc.’s compact Axis/Vegas Class A Motorhome, already named “RVBusiness 2014 RV of the Year,” as well as three other new RVs previously mentioned as “RV of the Year” contenders; Jayco Inc.’s Euro-style Jay Smart Travel Trailer, Keystone RV Co. Inc.’s eye-catching Big Sky Fifth-Wheel and Winnebago Industries Inc.’s futuristic Trend Class C Motorhome.
That, by process of elimination, left room on our “Top Debuts” listing for 16 other units that RVBusiness considers worthy of special recognition for 2014:
• Augusta RV’s Luxe Fifth-Wheel
• Coachmen RV’s Apex Travel Trailer
• Cruiser RV’s ViewFinder Signature Travel Trailer
• Dutchmen Mfg. Inc.’s Aerolite Travel Trailer
• EverGreen RV LLC’s Element Travel Trailer
• Forest River Inc.’s Vengeance Fifth-Wheel
• Grand Design RV Co.’s Solitude 379 Fifth-Wheel
• Gulf Stream Coach Inc.’s Streamlite Travel Trailer
• Heartland RV LLC’s Torque Fifth-Wheel
• KZRV LP’s Durango Gold Rush Fifth-Wheel
• Lance Camper Mfg. Corp.’s Toy Hauler Travel Trailer
• Little Guy Worldwide’s T@G Travel Trailer
• Livin’ Lite RV LLC’s Fifth-Wheel
• ARG’s Monaco Dynasty Class A Motorhome
• Prime Time Mfg.’s Spartan Fifth-Wheel
• Travel-Lite Inc.’s Illusion Truck Camper
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.”
Justin Leighty, a veteran newspaper man who has extensively covered the RV industry as a reporter for The Elkhart Truth, has joined Elkhart-based publisher G&G Media Group LLC as midwest editor of RVBusiness (RVB), the RV industry’s authoritative trade journal, and editor of Woodall’s Campground Management (WCM), the monthly voice of the North American RV park and campground sector.
As such, Leighty, 37, who spent the last 15 years at the Truth, will also contribute extensively to websites linked to both those publications — RVBUSINESS.com and WOODALLSCM.com.
“Speaking for the staffs of RVB and WCM, we’re very excited to have an opportunity to work with a street-savvy journalist like Justin,” said G&G Publisher Sherman Goldenberg. “As the industry gets more sophisticated and the bar of competence keeps getting raised, it’s incumbent on publishers like us to maintain a competitive edge going forward. And we’re convinced that Justin, who did a great job of covering business and the RV industry for a prestigious daily like the Truth, is a strong step in that direction.”
Leighty, who earned a degree in mass communication in 1998 from Greenville College in Greenville, Ill., is a Kansas native who was raised in Colorado and remains actively involved with the family farm in Kansas, which has been in his family for 99 years.
“I’m really looking forward to diving into both the RV and the camping industries,” said Leighty, a married father of three who resides in Winona Lake, Ind. “I have great childhood memories of family time spent in my parents’ RV, and the outdoor lifestyle has been a part of most of my life like the customers of our readers. I look forward to the ride as the RV and camping industries grow and change, and I can’t wait to inform readers about what the innovators in these industries come up with next.”
G & G Media Group LLC has purchased Woodall’s Campground Management (WCM), a trade journal billed as the monthly “voice of the North American campground business,” from Lincolnshire, Ill.-based Good Sam Enterprises LLC.
G & G, a 15-month-old firm located in the RV-building hub of Elkhart, Ind., currently publishes RVBusiness (RVB) magazine and RVBUSINESS.com, the recreational vehicle industry’s anchor website. G & G is co-owned by Publisher Sherman Goldenberg and Vice President of National Ad Sales Beverly Gardner.
Gardner also operates Beverly Gardner & Associates, an independent publisher’s rep firm that has represented WCM in advertising sales for more than 34 years.
“We can’t imagine anything we’d rather do than continue our affiliation with the RV park and campground sector through the operation of Woodall’s Campground Management,” said Gardner. “Our firm has built relationships in this business over the years that are, quite frankly, irreplaceable, and we look forward to extending that role as owners of WCM.”
The sale was finalized July 1, and G & G’s first issue is September.
“Given the synergies of these two business sectors, it made a lot of sense for us to pursue this acquisition,” added Goldenberg, who previously served as publisher for both RVB and WCM as a vice president for Affinity Group Inc., predecessor to Good Sam. “We can foresee both publications — and websites — benefiting from the melding of these two titles.”
Plans are in the works for upgrades to WCM’s print and Internet formats, according to G & G, which also plans to retain the services of veteran journalist Steve Bibler as the monthly’s editor.
Woodall Publications Corp., dating back to 1935, added Campground Management to its growing list of publications serving the RV park and campground business in 1976. In 1995, suburban Chicago-based Woodall was sold to Southern California’s Affinity Group Inc., now Good Sam, an affiliate of Camping World Inc. and publisher of Trailer Life, MotorHome, Highways and Coast magazines as well as the Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory.
G & G Media is co-located with Beverly Gardner & Associates at 2901 E. Bristol St., Elkhart, IN 46514. Phone: (574) 266-7980. Website: Woodallscm.com.
Dominion RV Solutions and RVBusiness are gearing up for their second webinar, focusing on the latest industry news and trends impacting RV dealers across the country. Scheduled for May 31 at 1 p.m. EST, the second webinar will emphasize hot trends in marketing and social media.
According to a press release, guest speakers will include RVBusiness Publisher Sherman Goldenberg, Dominion RV Solutions General Manager Tim Custer, Dominion Social Ventures Director of Social Products Patty Dao, Dominion Enterprises Director of Social Media and Public Relations Matt Paddock and RV Web Services and Traffic Log Pro Marketing Coordinator Megan Brigham.
The Internet is having an increasing impact on the success of a dealership. Nearly 80% of all active U.S. Internet users regularly visit social media sites. The release stated that now is the time for businesses to be actively engaging with potential customers on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+ and other sites. At the May 31 webinar, dealers will be given tips on how to promote their dealerships effectively online through marketing initiatives, social engagement, gamification and more.
“We are launching this second webinar to provide RV dealers with real information about the importance of online marketing and social media in the industry today,” said Custer.
The webinar is free; however, space is limited. Those interested in attending should register online at https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/677638983.
Elkhart, Ind.-based trade journal RVBusiness and RV supplier Blue Ox, Pender, Neb., are working together this spring to launch an industrywide survey that should ultimately help raise the bar in terms of industry intelligence-gathering, the two companies report.
The first “RVB’s All-Industry Survey” goes out today (Mar. 6) and can be accessed by clicking here. Industry people can also register their opinions and monitor ongoing percentage results by clicking on the new survey banner on the right side of the RVBUSINESS.com home page.
Blue Ox CEO Jay Hesse first challenged RVB’s staff to develop a survey format that might ultimately help industry leaders better understand the current thinking of the thousands of North Americans who work daily in the RV arena.
“Every segment of our industry is dependent on the other for success, and we all face changes to varying degrees,” says Hesse, whose company manufactures steering, towing, hitching and braking systems. “I feel that providing a forum where we can obtain opinions from all segments will help broaden our perspective of issues and help all of us – whether as a business owner or board member – to make the best decisions on behalf of our own entity and industry.”
“The end result, if things go the way we think they will, is that we may all benefit to an extent from an improved ability to manage change based on a wider consensus of industry views,” adds RVB Publisher Sherman “Sherm” Goldenberg, who, with partner Beverly Gardner, purchased RVB a year ago. “And that’s a good thing for everyone involved, especially in a post-recessionary era like ours.”
The survey is slated to run for the rest of 2012 and will feature new questions on a regular basis, with weekly reminders on the RVBUSINESS.com news feed, according to the sponsors, who will compile a summary report for RVB’s Louisville Show issue.
Anonymous essay responses will be accepted, although RVB and Blue Ox reserve the right to delete any entries that, in their view, cross the line of civility. Thus, answers will not be live streaming, but will be screened first by RVB’s staff. The essays also can be accessed through the survey banner.
RVBusiness magazine is launching the Third Annual RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards — a quality-focused program that sets the bar for best business practices in the RV industry. A gala reception and dinner at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas will announce the winners Oct. 6 during the annual RV Dealers International Convention/Expo.
This year, RVBusiness expanded the awards to include recreational park model manufacturers, reflecting how significant their contributions have become in a rapidly changing marketplace. The awards name 10 Blue Ribbon retailers, and one organization receives the Dave Altman Award, the equivalent of RVBusiness’ “Lifetime Achievement Award.”
RV manufacturers nominate the best and most professional dealers for aftermarket parts stores, sales lots, service work, F&I departments and personnel matters in addition to civic and charitable contributions. Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), the parent company of RVBusiness and the nation’s largest provider of outdoor clubs, services, media and events to the North American RV and outdoor enthusiast market, then invites nominated dealers to submit applications. Applications are independently reviewed by a panel of industry experts, none of whom are directly associated with RVBusiness or Affinity.
RVBusiness recognizes the Top 50 award winners in the October edition, on RVBUSINESS.com, and in dealers’ local and regional newspapers. Winners also receive RVBT50 window decals, rights to use the RVBT50 logo in their advertising, plus exposure to millions of active RV enthusiasts in the pages — and on the websites — of Affinity’s RV-focused consumer magazines, including Trailer Life, MotorHome, Highways, Coast to Coast and Camping Life.
Supporting the RVBusiness Top 50 Dealer Awards this year are the following “Leadership Alliance” sponsors: ADP Lightspeed, Bank of the West, Blue Ox, Cummins Onan RV Generators, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., RV America Insurance, RV Trader Online and Protective.
“We felt that the pursuit of professionalism and top-notch consumer care finds an even more receptive ear this year than it did during the dregs of the recession, and the Dealer Awards sets the bar for best business practices,” said RVBusiness magazine Publisher Sherman Goldenberg. “Looking around at the state of the industry, we realize just how much we have to be thankful for. The current upbeat atmosphere within the commercial sector beats the heck out of where we all were at this time last year.”
RVBusiness previously announced special celebrity guest, conservative Republican columnist and bestselling author, Ann Coulter, as the keynote speaker during the award ceremony. Coulter will talk about a variety of hot political topics including the “Tea Party” movement and related conservative themes.
The Con/Expo is sponsored by the U.S. Recreation Vehicle Dealer Association (RVDA) and the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association of Canada (RVDA Canada). Tickets for the dinner are $139 ($119 for RVDA members, Con/Expo exhibitors and Top 50 dealer guests), and are available at the convention or at RVBusiness.com.
About the Top 50 RV Dealers Program:
The program’s purpose is to showcase credible role models and establish best business practices benchmarks at the retail level of the RV industry in terms of staff training, performing warranty and service work, managing aftermarket stores, superior consumer care and being good citizens of their respective communities. The dealerships were selected among those nominated as the best by the nation’s RV manufacturers. The program was founded and coordinated by RVBusiness magazine with additional support provided by the Leadership Alliance.
Affinity, www.affinitygroup.com, is the nation’s largest provider of outdoor clubs, services, media and events that service the safety, security, comfort and convenience needs of the North American recreational vehicle (RV) and outdoor enthusiast market. By providing information, insights, and resources, the company champions the fun, freedom, and adventure of recreation in motion. The company works to enhance its customers’ recreational experiences and build the communities that share and promote their fun and adventurous lifestyles.
RVBUSINESS.com has completed more than a year of impressive viewership growth since unveiling its remodeled website in March of 2009.
An independent survey by Compete Inc. (www.Compete.com <http://www.Compete.com> ), a third-party web analytics firm, places the number of unique RVBUSINESS.com visitors in April at 23,792, a 12.2% increase over the previous month and a 113.4% increase over April of 2009 when the redesigned site debuted.
During that 14-month period ending April 30, according to Google Analytics, the site recorded 3.1 million pageviews as the busiest business-to-business site operated by Ventura, Calif.-based Affinity Group Inc., RVB’s parent company and one of the nation’s leading providers of outdoor recreation media and clubs.
“We’re pleased that our industry readers have responded so well to our daily efforts to build up the content and functionality of RVBUSINESS.com,” said RVB Publisher Sherman Goldenberg, who’s based out of the RV-building hub of Elkhart, Ind. “And we hope they appreciate the fact that the site is run by veteran newspaper people who adhere to RVB’s traditional, even-handed approach to industry news and care about the veracity of the news they disseminate
“Central to this whole effort,” he added, “is RVB Web Editor Steve Bibler, a former Elkhart Truth staffer who also doubles as editor of RVB’s sister publication, Woodall’s Campground Management. Bibler handles the hour-by-hour task of posting stories on RVBUSINESS.com as well as WOODALLSCM.com and is backed up by support people in Southern California and Bowling Green, Ky.”
The RVBUSINESS.com site, an offshoot of RVBusiness magazine, typically offers industry readers a selection of 12 Breaking News stories daily, as well as regular, staff-written “News in Focus” and “Retail Pulse” dealer profiles plus video, an industry calendar and an automatic stock ticker.
The redesigned site also distributes timely breaking industry news via RSS feeds and daily e-email and features video links on news postings, a video screen for news and advertising, new interactive ad buttons that drive better click-thru rates to advertisers and enhanced interactivity among websites.