If there’s one thing we’ve learned in Frank Hugelmeyer’s brief term as president of the RV Industry Association, it’s that he’s not afraid of changing things up if it will benefit the Association and its membership.
So when RVIA announced last spring that it was working with research firm Stax Inc. to try to figure out if it would make sense to move the location and date of the annual National RV Trade Show, my reaction was less one of surprise and more one of, “What took so long?”
Not that any change to the traditional show is going to be easy, but the show’s descent on the relevancy chart has been happening for a while and has been on display for everyone in the industry to see.
But more recently, a trip to Nashville for the Jayco Dealer Homecoming brought all of this back to the forefront of my mind.
It was my first extended visit to the city and it struck me as the absolute perfect location for RVIA’s National Trade Show.
Whereas Louisville’s facilities at the Kentucky Exposition Center are aging and not really close to the downtown area where suppliers and manufacturers like to host evening events, Nashville’s Music City Center is sparkling new, within easy walking distance of any number of music establishments and hotels, right across the street from the Bridgestone Arena where the Nashville Predators play hockey, and just across the river from Nissan Stadium where the Tennessee Titans play football.
KEC lists its available space at 1.3 million square feet. Music City Center is 1.2 million square feet. If it was deemed to be too small, the Nashville Convention Center a few blocks away offers another 310,000 square feet. And who is to say the Bridgestone Arena wouldn’t offer display possibilities if the timing was right?
During the Jayco event, there were two other events – a Southern brewer’s conference and a medical conference – being held in the Music City Center at the same time and it was possible to not even see people from the other shows if you didn’t venture far from your assigned exhibit hall.
The arrangement of the MCC exhibit halls make it so that suppliers and other vendors could easily locate booths in the naturally lit, broad walkways between halls and not have to get lost by being placed in the dark, out-of-the-way location that Freedom Hall has become in Louisville.
For companies wanting to treat guests to a night on the town, as typically happens in Louisville, Broadway is the location of a number of music venues – OK, honky tonks – that often host big-name acts. During the Jayco event, the RV manufacturer rented out the top two floors of the Wildhorse Saloon and brought in country act Parmalee.
A block or so from that is a Hard Rock Café, which is a popular location during the Louisville show. There’s even a Bar Louie not too far away – a venue made famous by Grand Design during Open House Week events.
But probably more importantly for everybody concerned is location.
Nashville is less than 200 miles from Louisville, directly down Interstate 65, making it not that much more difficult for manufacturers to get vehicles from their Elkhart plants to the new destination. Manufacturers also could choose to bring slightly fewer physical models to the show and make more use of virtual reality to show dealers features of other models.
And to get to the Nashville airport, you don’t necessarily have to run the risk of flying through Chicago in November/December, when you never know what kind of weather to expect. From RV PRO’s home airport in Denver, for example, there are several daily direct flights to Nashville.
Direct flights from Denver to Louisville usually involve arriving at 1 a.m. or being one of the last flights out of Louisville coming home and hoping there aren’t plane problems like we had last year when several of us who had attended the show feared we were going to have the first annual RV Industry Sleepover in the airport that night.
Louisville is a nice enough city in and of itself and to find the size of venue for what I imagine is a bargain basement price can’t be easy. But I remember my first visit to the RVIA trade show four years ago. I was stoked, because I’ve been a lifelong college basketball fan and remember watching Denny Crum’s Louisville Cardinals playing in Freedom Hall on TV in the 1970s and early ’80s. When I finally set foot in the arena, all I could think was, “What a dump.” I’m sure it wasn’t a dump in its heyday, but these days it is more likely to smell of the previous week’s stock show like it did during the RVIA show a couple of years ago than it is to glow in its former glory.
It may take a bit of negotiation to get the kind of deal from Nashville that RVIA may have in place from Louisville, but it has been my experience that Hugelmeyer is an extremely engaging and, when necessary, persuasive person.
As the industry grows and seeks to present a new image to a new generation of customer, a new location for the industry’s premier event would inject some new life into everybody.
Other options, such as Indianapolis and Chicago have been weighed and somewhat dismissed for a variety of reasons – weather, cost, NFL games filling up the venue and hotels. Nashville just might have the right mix of facilities, new hotels, entertainment venues and easy-access location to make it a realistic option.
It would get my vote.