RVIA's rendering of what the new event may look like.

Hugelmeyer and Industry Reps React to RVIA’s Decision

Yesterday, after a unanimous decision by its board of directors, the RV Industry Association announced that it will “cease producing” the 2018 National RV Trade Show and 2019 RV Leadership Conference. In their stead, the association will launch a new event in spring 2019.

The news was released in a joint statement by RVIA Chairman Bob Parish and RVIA President Frank Hugelmeyer which argued that the annual Open House markets itself well as the “premier buying event.” Meanwhile, the statement said, the National RV Trade Show has not succeeded in repositioning itself, and the industry does not need “multiple buying-focused shows.”

“(The new show) is a platform to move the industry forward,” Hugelmeyer told RV PRO in an exclusive interview. “It’s a gathering that’s going to propel the industry from a $50 billion industry to $75 billion to $100 billion.”

Hugelmeyer was attending the Florida RV SuperShow, observing the RV sales continue on its upward trajectory, as news of the National RV Trade Show cancellation was announced. He saw excitement from the people around him firsthand.

“The industry doesn’t need a second buying show,” said Hugelmeyer. “It needs a consumer-interest show – a platform that builds and grows and excites consumers about the new products that are coming out from the manufacturers, the new products showing up at retail.”

Many businesses, he said, do something similar. They have a business-to-business platform that excites the consumer. One example, until it opened to the public, was the annual videogame business event called E3.

“It’s been clear that manufacturers and dealers have seen less value in the annual expo, and I’m happy to see RVIA responding,” said Bethany Grabher, REV Group’s marketing leader for the RV segment. “Very interested to see what they put together in its place and how they create meaningful value for manufacturers, dealers and suppliers.”

Dustin Johns, president of Travel Lite, said he wasn’t surprised by RVIA’s decision to cancel the 2018 National RV Trade Show.

“I think that the writings been on the wall for quite some time,” he said, noting he has consistently sold more product at Elkhart Open House Week events than the RVIA Show for the past several years now. “The Elkhart Show has really taken off; it (costs less) and it’s more convenient for the RV makers.”

Regarding RVIA’s re-envisioned event for 2018, Johns said, "I think it’s a very smart decision and I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with.” He added that he hopes the event is scheduled toward the end of spring, to create some distance between Elkhart Open House Week so that manufacturers have time to develop more new products for the event.

The new show, which will not have the word “trade” in it, will be similar to other B2B consumer-facing platforms. It will take place right before camping season to help inform consumers decision because new RVs don’t get enough pizzazz, reveal, and showcasing, said Hugelmeyer.

There’s a working title for the show that will be revealed as rebranding takes place over the next few months, and where the new location (or locations) may be. As for RVIA’s revenue, the 2018 show would’ve been a 2019 fiscal line item, so a spring event works well for a balance sheet that’s already strong enough to create a fundamental shift.

“There will be an exhibition component that shows only the latest and greatest,” said Hugelmeyer. “There will be future concept of both product design and part design. Design competitions, and all sorts of components that will fundamentally shift and raise the awareness of the industry to the world.”

Among the other top priorities is dealer education and market promotion that connects to consumers. It’s a new way of communicating the industry, making it more vocal.

“The ultimate overarching goal of this is to make it the premier education event, the premier future-focused event, and the premier consumer-facing event,” he said.

For his part, Jerry Sell, vice president of sales for Peru, Ind.-based Vohne Liche Mfg. (formerly Riverside Travel Trailer), said he was a proponent of keeping the RVIA show in late November/ early December – even if it meant the show itself scaled down a bit.

“We had a terrific Louisville show (in 2017)," he said, explaining that more than a dozen independent dealers signed up to carry Vohne Liche’s products at the last event. “It (the RVIA Show) is an opportunity for the smaller, independent RV manufacturers like us to be able to show our products and generate business.”

In contrast, Elkhart Open House Week tends to favor the major, publicly held RV makers. Dealers don’t generally enjoy the same freedom of movement at Open House Week as they do at an event under one roof like the National RV Trade Show, he said.

“The Louisville Show was still an opportunity for the smaller, independent manufacturers to pick up business,” he said. “I can’t imagine any independent manufacturer is saying this is a good thing.”

However, Hugelmeyer said that “part of the value of (the new show) for all members” is that it’s “an opportunity to promote the newest, latest, and greatest, and get it out to the dealerships. It’s also tied with the new model launches, particularly on the motorized side.”

But while RVIA is looking to create another industry event for spring 2019, Sell said he’s concerned about the time frame for hosting such an event, because it’s too late in the season for dealers to place orders for the upcoming summer season.

“The additional dealers and orders we picked up at this last (RVIA) show will no longer be available with a spring event, because dealers will have already made their buying decisions by then,” he said. Additionally, Sell said he’s concerned dealers may be reluctant to step away from their businesses in the February-April time frame when they are preparing for their own selling season.

“What happens when you initially hear of cancelling the show, it’s like losing an old friend,” said Tom Manning, president of Tom Manning & Associates. “Change is tough, but change is needed. The vision going forward is so exciting that you have to embrace it because they’re moving in the right direction.”

Manning went on to compare this new shift to the Detroit Auto Show and its future-forward conceptualizing.

“You have to gear yourself to what the needs are going to be tomorrow,” Manning said. “And I think RVIA is dialed in on that. I think it’s exciting.”

Bob Brammer, president of Stromberg Carlson Products, said that while the Kentucky Show has been “dynamic” for the past 34 years, it took a hit after the Great Recession and competing against Open House Week.

“(Hugelmeyer) and Liz (Crawford) will have a clear idea of a new way to promote the industry,” said Brammer. “We don’t need a buy-in show – we have that in Elkhart. We don’t need to have a buy-in show for the aftermarket – we have that with our distributor shows. We need to be promoting our industry to people throughout the country where they can go and where it should be. That’s what I’m excited about. Let go of the past, and look to the future.”

With all the upcoming changes, it’s a difference, Hugelmeyer said, of what worked 50 years ago versus what needs to work today.

“How are we exciting the consumer about the latest and greatest this industry has to offer, and how do we connect those dots by going on a promotional tour around the country that highlights these new innovations.”

He mentioned a Go RVing tour that will help create more excitement about RVs, and how people can get into the lifestyle.

The new elements seen at 2017’s trade show will be expanded upon, like the educational aspect, customer needs, as well as service via programs like the Top Tech Challenge (the winner of which was recently awarded the key to the city).

“We want to travel around the country with this annual event to create excitement about the lifestyle,” he said.

RVIA has been thinking about the decision for years and the data from research firm Stax Inc. helped inform the decision that they needed a consumer-facing event to excite people before the buying season, according to Hugelmeyer.

In the statement released yesterday, RVIA confirmed that it is indeed acquiring a new venue for the event after having held it at the Kentucky Expo Center for decades.

“The show as we know it, is no longer,” Hugelmeyer said. “What we are building is a new event in concept, in value, and we’re going to work very hard with our members and partners to make sure this becomes the premier platform for promoting RV industry anywhere.”

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