RVIA & FRVTA at the Florida RV Super Show.



Power Progression: Frank Hugelmeyer & Lance Wilson

The Leaders Of RVIA & FRVTA Respectively Discuss Industry  Evolution & Strength Of The Business At The Florida RV Super Show

Frank Hugelmeyer of RVIA & Lance Wilson of FRVTA at the Tampa RV Super Show. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

Bringing into two powerhouses of the RV consortium in US together for an interview is always a unique progression because each personality has a different view of business in certain ways and how it’s evolving in others. Florida RV Trade Association Executive Director Lance Wilson and Recreational Vehicle Industry Association [RVIA] President Frank Hugelmeyer sat down with MRV: The Buzz Editor In Chief Tim Wassberg at the Florida RV Super Show in Tampa to talk about trends, evolution and the business power of the RV Industry.

The Buzz: The interesting thing is about the balance with the Super Show, which is billed as the biggest show in the nation.  But also with RVIA there is a nice blending because you guys help set and move forward the industry standard. But it is important to see everything with people on the ground. Can you talk about the importance of both?

Frank Hugelmeyer: I will go first. Collaboration between RVIA and FRVTA is so critical. The two organizations have a long and really storied working relationship that's helped grow the industry. We've got the best trade association, state association, in the country right here.

Lance Wilson: I appreciate that.

FH: Lance deserves a lot of credit for making that happen. So it's really important for the industry to be down here to support this event. It's also the kickoff to the selling season so we all get a good feel for what's about to come at us..and that's the reason to be down here. So in next couple of days, everyone's going to be real excited to see how many people [show up], what the folks look like and [what the] energy is when someone's coming through the door. And it's going to set the tone for the year.

LW: The RV industry really, kind of, looks to the Super Show to get a mark for the rest of the year. It's very important to us, certainly. It makes possible everything that we do during the year for our members and for the industry. And as Frank said, we've always had a great working relationship with RVIA. We work closely on projects, and we try to help where ever we can. And they certainly set the tone for the industry. And along with the Dealer's Association, we all work together. And then we just kind of, along with the other State Associations, try to do the best we can to follow through with what's going on in the industry. We're very fortunate in Florida. I wish I could take credit for everything. But (laughing) I tell people all the time, it's a great big funnel and people up north jump in it, and they come out the bottom end and they've landed in Florida. And, luckily enough for us, a great many of them come here to the show. We've had great response. And it's grown every year. This is the largest [turnout] we've ever had. Hopefully, with good weather, we'll set a new attendance record which is great for us. But it really is important that the manufacturers and the dealers sell product, and get a gauge on what's going to happen in the next few months, and what to do with their production, and all of those kinds of things. Everybody's going great guns right now and, certainly, we want to be the show that continues that trend.

The Buzz: Now, how has the strength of the dollar, you think, impacted RV sales in Florida? I would think it grows it in many ways, or is that just a national thing?

LW: You’re probably over my head with that one (laughing). I'm not sure. But I think, probably, what we go by more than anything else is the feel that we get from the people that walk in the door. If they're not throwing roadblocks in front of the salespeople with, "I'm not getting enough interest on this," or "The stock market stinks," or, "My real estate's down," or, "Boy, gas is really high!” (laughing)… all of those kind of things. And we have not had that for a couple of years, to be perfectly frank with you, given the political climate. I mean, there was an opportunity for our industry to suffer, but I don't think we did. I think we pushed through it. And I think people recognize what the RV industry's all about, what the RV lifestyle is all about, and they don't care what's going on with the rest of it.. to be perfectly frank with you. I mean, they're going--

Buyers Looking At RVs at the Tampa RV Super Show. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The Buzz: I mean, the economy's booming under the RVs, and that's on many different fronts. It's on the sales front, but it's also on the industry front.

LW: Sure. Well, Frank will tell you that.

FH: Yeah. And not all of the economic indicators are in our favor. If you're looking at the interest rates, If you're looking at consumer credit availability, if you're looking at prices, if you're looking at the attractiveness of the lifestyle…I think that all of those economic indicators are in our favor right now. And as long as that climate stays strong and we also have low used vehicle inventories out in the dealerships, we're looking at a very strong year. I think the biggest and most important trend is that the lifestyle is becoming more and more popular at all different ages. We're seeing  in the RV industry, consumer [ages] going down from their 50s into the 40's, and it's continuing to decline. We're hearing at the shows last year that you see a lot of young families, first-time buyers coming into the market. And I think that's a trend that's going to continue. People and consumers in the world of the United States? They expect comfort, they expect convenience, they expect access, and they want to go and play. We're what people do when they don't work. And] that's how important we are because most people don't want to be at work (laughing). They want to be playing, and that's the industry we provide. The whole market is swinging our way, and I see that continuing through the next couple of years unless there's some unforeseen incident that's out of our control.

The Buzz: I mean the one thing that's come out in the past couple of weeks is about the US GDP -- the outdoor hospitality industry is becoming a big part of that and I know also they're trying to get people like the US Travel Association to include that in their projections. The big thing is that you're having a lot of new RVers coming in from outside the country. Does that figure in with you guys in terms of how you have to look at outdoor hospitality? Does it take on a broader perception now?

FH: It is and first off, you've got a lot of the American public vacationing in America, and largely because there are so many great places to see. We have an incredible infrastructure. And whether you want to go tailgate at your favorite NASCAR or football game, college ball game, or whether you want to go see the iconic national parks or go to a music festival or a RV rally, [it’s all there]. Basically, with RVing, if you've got a generator on board you can create your campsite wherever you want it, and that's the great and strategic advantage that we have as a collective industry. There is no better way to see this country than renting an RV if you're coming from outside of the country. We have such incredible grandeur and natural resources, and fortunately, we have a lot of investment in that infrastructure. I mean, America's best idea was being able to have public lands for the public to enjoy. And  there's a lot of ways you can do it very affordably, and as long as we keep that ecosystem healthy, we're going to be a strong industry.

LW: I mean, I've been using RVs for like 40 years, and you have to be able to justify them. We used to go to the dog track. Take a couple couples with us, we'd go sit out in the parking lot, have a couple cocktails. We'd go in and do that, come back out, we'd sit there until the traffic cleared, and then you leave. You can make it do whatever you want it to do, and you can make an RV fit your lifestyle and not the other way around. And that's really important.

The Buzz: Now, at the Super Show here, there's such a diversity, as we were talking about, because it appeals to young people as well as old people, and everybody wants different things. Can you talk about how that reflects in the diversity of the manufacturers here, but also the diversity of the suppliers?

LW: Well, the manufacturers are smart. They know what the public wants and they have a way of giving it to them. Not everybody builds the same thing. You're going to have small tear drop trailers all the way up to Prevosts, and everything in between. So, when you come to an RV show, you're not going to be disappointed. I mean look at the size of this one we are sitting next to. I mean, there's smaller ones where you don't get all of that. But I mean, we are able to get all that in one spot. And we had to go to a two-day ticket because they can't see it in one day. So, we give them a two-day ticket for 10 bucks, it's like the best bargain in the world. And they can spend two days here and they can see what they want to see. And the diversity comes from the manufacturers.

More Buyers Checking Out At RVs at the Tampa RV Super Show. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The Buzz: Is it a challenge administrating this space at some points, because there is so much material.

LW: Yes, and Frank knows, with the national show in Louisville, and then the show in California. We work on it all year round.

The Buzz: What I am saying is that it's just so many different things. Like in Hershey they were saying that you have all these bigger manufacturers but you had to split them up so that smaller manufacturers could be seen. That's what I'm sort of talking about.

LW: We do it a little differently. We have a grandfathered draw, so it doesn't matter if you're the largest or the smallest, whatever your draw order was --

The Buzz: That's you.

LW: -- that's where you are. You can pick any space you want. So we don't differentiate between the largest and the smallest.

FH: I think the point that you're bringing up of what are the different products for a different consumer type is something that the manufacturers are smart see. They're starting to look at that, they're starting to segment. But I think there's a lot of opportunity in the US right now, and in North America in general to look at different target markets and be even more segmented because there's a whole version of young professionals who are mobile, who are now using class Bs as mobile offices. That's just one example. So when you look at whether it's a teardrop, whether it's a trailer, whether it's a fifth wheel, whether it's your big class As, whether it's your class Bs and all of the different varieties…we're going to continue to see that segment. That’s the beauty of the health of this market. It goes back to what your lifestyle is. You can find an RV to fit and it just is -- we're enabling people to have meaningful experiences in their lives and what's more beautiful than that? That's what a great industry does.

The Buzz: But there are always specific points that need to be addressed. For example, with RVIA there was the discussion of the standard with the power pedestals at campgrounds, the Wi-Fi, all these kinds of elements that are coming into play. You guys have to sort of take the lead, and evolve where everybody's going, and see where the trends are coming from to help everybody sort of make their way through, and sort of navigate. Can you sort of talk about that from your understanding?

FH: I think the research the industry has invested in, whether it's on-the-go RVing in the consumer side, or whether it's in new materials production, autonomous vehicles, whatever the trend is--

The Buzz: Even legislation.

FH: And legislation. Same thing. The market is moving so quickly. We've never been in a market that has moved as fast as business does today. And so everyone has to be looking at the future, and how they're going to navigate that future, both as a business and as a leader. And it's a key part of what RVIA is looking to do and continue is to expand training and expand our research so that we're making our members smarter, faster, better, quicker. All, at the end of the day, to serve the customer and make sure they have a great experience.

The Buzz: And from a show standpoint?

LW: You have to upgrade. We have to upgrade. We have to do a better job. We have to build better units because the people that are in the business now, they're not going to stand for it. They're driving Lexuses and they're driving Audis and they're driving cars where they drive it to the dealership, drop it off, they give them one just like it to drive and it's fixed the same day. We have to go point-to-point for that, and it's more difficult for us because it's so much. It's like you took your house on the road…you put a frame underneath and drove your house away. So we have a lot of challenges there, but it all boils down to education. As long as we continue to educate our members and to get to the right spot and give them the right information to do their jobs, we're all going to be successful.

Tim Wassberg

A graduate of New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct craft beers among other things.

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