RVDA: Signs of Encouragement
By Phil Ingrassia, president
The RV industry spent much of the last 12 months in a three-way balancing act involving manufacturer production levels, dealer inventory issues and retail demand. The RV market faced some challenging economic headwinds including high interest rates, inflation and volatile consumer sentiment.
The industry will be watching first quarter RV retail show demand closely to gauge how consumers are feeling about their economic prospects as 2024 unfolds. RV dealers and lenders continue to work together to provide as many people as possible with affordable financing options so they can make that first or repeat purchase.
As I write this, the RV industry is expected to experience something of a rebound in 2024, with wholesale shipments projected to rise 20% to 25% over the projected range of 287,000 to 307,000 units delivered to dealers in 2023. RV retail registration is pegged at about 350,000 units.
- Camping Activity Expected to Rise
Despite rising interest rates and inflation, consumer interest in RV travel remains high. Kampgrounds of America (KOA) reports that more than half of active campers have already booked a trip in 2024. Many people work remotely and have more flexibility in their schedules, so the length of stay is also increasing.
For vacationers, RV travel and camping continue to be ideal ways to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and reconnect with nature. It is also a comparatively affordable way to travel, which is appealing during inflationary times. Through Go RVing, the industry is reaching out to prospective RV owners with increasingly sophisticated messaging designed to drive all ages of customers to RV dealerships.
These new RV owners need places to go, and thanks to RVDA and RVIA’s leadership role in the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, the industry is leading the charge for more investment in the nation’s public campground and recreation infrastructure.
- Service Demand Expected to Remain High
Dealers, manufacturers and suppliers continue working on ways to provide customers with a more hassle-free experience through the repair event cycle time (RECT) initiative, which is focused on improving parts identification and warranty processes to improve service after the sale. Dealers across the county are adding service capacity through facility expansion and investment in technician training through the RV Technical Institute (RVTI).
At the same time, the Mike Molino RV Learning Center is also working hard to provide accessible and affordable educational opportunities for front-line fixed operations employees through certification programs and online training for service and parts management personnel.
- Regulatory Issues
So, while industry initiatives to improve RECT are underway, RVDA continues to focus on protecting dealers from outside forces that could negatively impact the business.
These include the proposed Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) CARS Rule (combating auto retail scams) that would significantly affect how dealers market RVs and sell voluntary protection products like service contracts.
RVDA is also working with our partners at RVIA to restore full deductibility for travel trailer floorplan interest for dealers with more than $25 million in annual revenue.
In addition, RVDA provides support for several states that are interested in RV specific legislation that gives dealers and manufacturers more consistency under state motor vehicle franchise laws.
- Keeping An Eye on the Long-term
RV travel remains a great way to see the country, experience the outdoors, and have fun with friends and family.
Focusing on the affordability and flexibility of motorhomes, travel trailers, and truck campers has proved to be a winning and long-term formula for success. As the industry and nation navigate uncertain times, it can be valuable to focus on the foundational appeal of RV travel that millions of Americans enjoy.
RVIA: Advocating for Campground Improvements and More
By Craig Kirby, president and CEO
As we look to 2024, I can’t help but feel optimistic about the direction of our industry. Interest in the outdoors and RVing has exploded over the last few years; the median age of new RV buyers has dropped to only 32 years old; these buyers are more diverse than ever before; and all are enjoying the health benefits of recreating in nature. Our industry also continues to be an economic powerhouse with the latest numbers from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showing that RVing is the No. 1 contributor to the conventional outdoor recreation economy for two years running. To top it off, there is growing consensus that the recent economic headwinds are beginning to subside.
The RV industry has stepped up to meet the needs of new buyers with innovative products to fit every lifestyle and every budget. Even when faced with challenging economic conditions, RVing provides an affordable way for families and friends to experience the great outdoors and create lasting memories and connections with loved ones. This fact was confirmed by the 2023 Vacation Cost Comparison Study conducted by the CBRE Hotels Advisory Group that found RV vacations are up to 60% less expensive than other comparable vacations. This year, Go RVing will continue to weave in the message of affordability throughout our earned media efforts and paid marketing campaign.
While there is much to be optimistic about, we must continue to be vigilant about delivering a first-class experience for RVers. To that end, the RV Industry Association’s Government Affairs Advocacy Team has been pushing hard on our federal policy agenda – with a significant focus on critical issues like campground modernization and expansion, as well as addressing tax and trade issues impacting companies in our industry. Our relationship with the campground industry has never been stronger, and the newly formed RV Campground Coalition will continue the association’s work to unify the entire industry around the importance of campgrounds to the current and future health of RV camping.
On the service side, the industry’s investment in the RV Technical Institute is paying dividends. Over the past two years, the institute has recruited over 2,200 new RV techs into the field and there are currently 15,000 individuals enrolled in some type of technician training. Even more impressive, there are 5,000 newly certified technicians – the largest number of certified techs in the RV industry’s history and over 800 RV dealerships have at least one certified RV technician on staff. Filling the funnel with more highly trained technicians is an incredibly important facet of our continued efforts to improve repair event cycle times (RECT) and enhance the customer experience.
Our Standards Department and its team of inspectors continue to be an extremely valued member benefit, maintaining our industry’s self-regulation and promoting the enhancement of safety by monitoring adherence to the standards adopted by the board of directors for the construction of RVs and park model RVs. This year we are excited to expand the standards training offered to our members, further improving understanding and compliance with changing standards.
Lastly, this year the RV Industry Association will celebrate 50 years of serving the RV industry and the companies and people that build the products that create fun and everlasting memories for millions of people every year. Our past success has come from the entire industry uniting and working together to overcome obstacles – and our future successes will as well. From self-regulation, sustainability and consumer marketing to industry training and advocacy, we’re stronger together than apart.
RVTI: Continuing to Break Training Records
By Curtis Hemmeler, executive director
In just five short years since its inception, the RV Technical Institute’s technician training program has quickly become recognized as the RV industry’s gold standard. By leveraging decades of industry experience and partnering with the top RV manufacturer and supplier leaders in the field, we have developed the most up-to-date and influential RV technician training program ever built.
In a word, the RV Technical Institute (RVTI) is about the future. With millions of new RV buyers over the last few years and millions more planning a purchase, there’s more demand and opportunity for skilled RV technicians than ever before.
To keep RVers happy and on the road, RVTI launched a significant tech recruitment effort in 2022. We partnered with the School Counselors Association to attend events across the country with the goal of educating high school counselors about the RV industry and the current demand for technicians. While we continued interfacing with counselors at events, our efforts have evolved as we focus on implementing our curriculum into high schools – something we did successfully in three states during 2023. RVTI staff are training teachers to become certified RV technician instructors and teach the program to their students. As a result, interested high school students are now able to graduate as a certified Level 1 RV technician.
RVTI is also stepping up our advertising and marketing efforts to attract career changers and job seekers to the RV industry. In 2023, our digital and social ads delivered over 20 million impressions and over 10,000 leads, generating increased awareness about the RV industry, our gold standard training program, and employment opportunities that come with training. Throughout the past year, over 1,000 technicians who were new to the RV industry enrolled in the institute’s programs and over 800 dealerships now have at least one certified RV technician on staff.
2023 also marked new highs with 15,000 individuals enrolled in some type of training and 5,000 newly certified technicians – the largest number of certified techs in the RV industry’s history.
A significant area of opportunity on the recruitment front is attracting more women into the RV technician field. That’s why we have a recruitment campaign specifically targeting women who are interested in becoming RV techs. Additionally, after a successful pilot class in 2022, the RV Women’s Alliance (RVWA) and RVTI took their All-Female Technical Class nationwide in 2023. Six classes were offered across the United States, including classes in Texas, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Florida and Indiana. More all-female classes will be offered this year through the partnership with the RVWA.
Our multipronged approach to recruitment has been very successful, allowing RVTI to reach people from outside our industry who can be trained to fill RV technician jobs now, and people who will fill the pipeline with the RV technicians of the future.
For those technicians who are already in the industry seeking continuing education, RVTI launched the highly anticipated Level 3 training in 2023. Partnering with industry suppliers, Level 3 training in electrical, chassis, electronics, appliances and slideouts helps current techs increase their skills and expertise on specific RV systems and components, focused on advanced diagnostics, troubleshooting and repair. New Level 3 classes are constantly being added to the approved curriculum, and we will also be hosting Level 3 specialty clinics for all five specialties in 2024, allowing technicians an easy way to attain Level 4 Master Technician Certification.
There’s a saying that the best way to predict the future is to create it. If that’s the case, then the RV Technical Institute is well positioned to help deliver outstanding customer service and a better RVing experience for millions of RVers in the future.
RVWA: Continued Growth for Women
By Susan Carpenter, RV Women’s Alliance President
In just five short years, the RV Women’s Alliance (RVWA) has accomplished more than we thought possible. When a group of like-minded women – and men – came together to launch this organization, our goal was to make the RV industry a place where women thrive. With a focus on providing opportunities to elevate educate and promote women, we are thrilled to see the progress we have made. Since 2019, we’ve grown from 200 attendees at our kickoff event to nearly 2,700 members now participating in networking, education, community service and career development activities.
Providing impactful education and networking opportunities is the cornerstone of all RVWA activities, none of which have as much of an impact as the Educational Symposium each fall. For the past two years, the event has left an indelible mark on all those who were fortunate enough to attend. The resounding success and positive feedback from attendees have set the bar high for future events and our volunteer leaders are already working to incorporate attendee feedback to improve the event even more in 2024.
Additionally, our Summer Discussion Series, covering topics like sales, negotiation leadership, and employee development, has become a platform for continuous learning for our members. This series, along with educational workshops, will continue in 2024 with even more opportunities for women in our industry to develop additional skills.
Our members come from every part of the RV industry – from the campground to the corner office. From industry veterans to those hunting for their first role, we learn and grow from one another. Our commitment to mentorship has thrived with the pilot program launched in 2022. The number of mentorship partners continues to grow, and we will be expanding the program even more this year.
In 2023, our focus on empowering women in technical roles within the RV industry has yielded inspiring results. Through six tech classes held in different locations, we’ve witnessed a significant increase in female technicians and an even greater increase in women taking training courses at the RV Technical Institute (RVTI), rising from 5% to an impressive 37% for in-person classes. In 2024, we will continue our partnership with RVTI and offer even more all-female classes this year.
Our annual campout, a hallmark event, has brought together a community of 120 people per day. It has not only fostered camaraderie but also provided a platform for engaging activities, including interactions with local girl scout troops, a Cinco De Mayo celebration and a Kentucky Derby Day. These events showcase the positive spirit and connections nurtured within the RVWA.
Looking ahead, the overwhelming demand from our community has inspired us to announce another RV Build Project that will kick off this year. This exciting venture will further engage our members and contribute to the growth and visibility of women in the RV industry.
Lastly, we have some exciting changes to our leadership team in 2024 with THOR Industries’ Denise Chariya transitioning from chair-elect into the chair role, and Susan Carpenter transitioning from the dual role of president and chair to the role of president. We also recently welcomed Patricia Carrera as the new managing director. Rounding out our Executive Committee is Thetford’s Tracy Anglemeyer as chair-elect, Valley Screen’s Karen Barrnett as treasurer, and NTP-STAG’s Jennet Lewis as secretary.
Thanks to the continued financial support from our partners and donors, we can maintain a complimentary membership experience, allowing women from across the industry easy access to educational and networking opportunities to improve their careers.