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VP Of Governmental Affairs At RVIA Talks Seeing The Bridge

INDUSTRY EDGE

TRADE SHOWS & CONFERENCES

Seeing The Bridge: Jay Landers [NaTIONAL RV SHOW]

VP Of Governmental Affairs Discusses Evolutions, Standards & Issues At Annual Confab In Louisville, Kentucky.

An Aisle Of RVs At The National RV Show In Louisville, Kentucky. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

Keeping on top of the standards and practices of the RV industry is no easy job. RVIA [Recreation Vehicle Industry Association] keeps on eye on the consistent permeation of legislation of interest to manufacturers and, by extension, their constituents. Jay Landers, RVIA’s new VP of Government Affairs, who has been with the company for over 26 years, sat down with The Buzz at the National RV Show in Louisville, Kentucky to discuss perception, standards, expansion and evolution.

The Buzz: Being the new VP of Governmental Affairs at RVIA, you have to be aware of a lot of different things going on at the same time and how they're going to affect both the manufacturers but how you have to deal with it on The Hill. Can you talk about sort of the balance of that from your point of view?

Jay Landers: Let’s first make sure we're clear that RVIA does activities at the federal level [which includes] US Congress, the federal agencies, [and] the White House in fact sometimes. Then we are very active in the states but we don't do any local things. I say that with a caveat because every once in a while I'll get a call or one of my guys will get a call and they'll say, "San Jose is about to pass a parking ban on RVs. What should we do?" My first reaction is to get in touch with Good Sam or FMCA or Escapees or something like that. So we don't really do any lobbying at the local level. Over the history of RVIA, at least while I've been here, most of the activity on government affairs side has been at the state level. We react to driver's license issues, registration issues, tax issues sometimes [and we are] particularly aware or careful about what we call “rifle shot taxes”. For example, in the state of Washington, [and] this is probably eight, ten years ago, they decided they were going to upgrade their state parks on the backs of RVers. So, for any RV that went into a state park, they were going to charge another-- I forget the number…10, 20 bucks. And we're going, "Oh, wait a minute. We'll all for upgrading the parks but not on the backs of just RVers. What about the campers? What about the snowmobilers in the winter?"

The Buzz: The day users…

JL: Yeah. So we got in touch with some of the folks and we started a little letter writing campaign. After about two weeks, were getting calls from the legislatures going, "Okay, okay. We give up. We're not going to do that. We're going to back off." Those types of issues, like the rifle shot. If it's just directed at the RV industry, then we are really concerned with that. If it were a tax for example, a $5 tax on everybody who goes in the park, okay. We're not going to touch that. There are also franchise issues. We work with our dealers. So at the car industry level, they are always constantly fighting. At the RV industry level, we're much more engaged with our dealers…much more friendly. So with probably 80 to 90% of the things that go on legislatively we're in lock step with the dealers. There's a small caveat. Sometimes we don't agree on franchise issues. We just agree to disagree and take our course.

The Buzz: And how has the evolution of the manufacturer affected that? Because, basically, you have a lot more artisan creators coming into play beyond the big major manufacturers.

JL: It doesn't. What I always have found interesting is the fact that the barrier to entry in the RV industry is outrageously low for both manufacturer and dealer. So we're booming now, right? So [let’s say] I've been working at a RV factory for a year or two. I see how it's done. It's not that hard, really. So I'm going to grab a couple of my guys and we're going to start our own company. And that's really all it takes.

JL: And on the dealer side, all you have to do is go to the DMV, get a license, and you're in business as an RV dealer. Might cost you 100 bucks. And so how does that relationship play out? Well, the small manufacturer needs dealers -- smaller dealers who are willing to take their product. It might be taken on consignment. They might say, "I'll take two, but I can't pay you until I sell one." And the manufacturer wants his product out there as soon as possible so he's like, "Okay. Let's start our business relationship that way." A lot of the [big manufacturers] started small and they've grown to be big. So that kind of barrier to entry issue I've always found just fascinating in our industry. And the small manufacturers? We embrace them. As long as they build to the right standards.

Banner Proclaiming The National RV Show In Louisville, Kentucky. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The Buzz: But the evolution of standards has continually increased because you're dealing with technology. Does that come into play at all?

JL: You know, it hasn't. It hasn't as much as you would think because the federal government, specifically NHTSA, has their federal motor vehicle safety standards. So all the RVs have to be built to the FMVSS, okay? So every three years the NFPA 1192 ANSI code gets updated and all our manufacturers play-- and the suppliers play an active role in that. And Bruce Hopkins, who's our VP of standards, he's the facilitator for all that. And so it’s every three years. I think in '17, the next edition will come out. So between the FMVSS standards, which really don't change very much…they're pretty static…and then the ANSI code updates we're in pretty good shape as an industry.

The Buzz: Right now what has been the biggest challenge? Has it been the whole thing with the tiny houses and how that works? Or something else?

JL: Tiny homes are a particular challenge. And, frankly, our membership department group is working hard to try to make sure…the difference between a tiny home and a park model is sometimes  a fine line. What standard is it built to? That'll determine whether it's housing or whether it's a vehicle. [That will say] whether you're a member of ours or you're a member of MHI. So, let's see…we're wrestling with that a little bit.

The Buzz: Not a lot of little campgrounds, but more RV owners, and then RV manufacturers, know a bit more is how the legislation works and how that progresses. And I think that's an interesting thing because it's constantly changing.

JL: Well, so, what is tricky, again, is the bifurcation between who's trying to regulate. So HUD regulates federal housing. Okay. States have their own regulation, and then the locals. So you’ll get a situation…I think it's in San Jose, California…where San Jose's trying to figure out, "What do we do with a big chunk of our homeless?" So their plan is, I believe,  to buy a bunch of tiny homes but take the axles off, take the wheels off, and put it on a slab. Okay, that doesn't make it an RV. That makes it housing. Okay, so how do you get around that? Well, the local San Jose city council or whatever is ready and poised to create a new rule, a new law, a new whatever, to allow that to happen. [Now would this be] in violation of the state statute or the federal? Who knows? But they're trying to be innovative. You've got to applaud them for that.

The Buzz: We're here at the National RV Show that RVIA puts on in Louisville every year. The great thing about here is you get face time with a lot of these people that maybe you don't see all the time but you have to see. Can you talk about the importance of that?

JL: It's huge. It really is huge because we're right on the heels of the RV dealer convention. I got to meet up with a lot of new dealers and older dealers that I've got established relationships with, and that's fun. And then you get here, and while I can easily get out to Elkhart for meetings and for visits, it's not as easy to get down to Red Bay for the Tiffin folks or to California. It’s nice to see some of my own members and then even more,  it is the state associations. There’s like five or six big state associations: Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas, California. In fact right now, they are in a meeting downstairs and they're talking about exchanging ideas. "What went well for your show? Oh, I loved that idea. I didn't know that. I'm going to do that next time." Or, "This was a real problem. Oh, that wasn't a problem for us and here's why." So it's an awesome exchange of information. I've got some folks down there. They're going to report a little bit on the changes that are going on at RVIA. RVDA is also there. It's an annual meeting that we have at the state associations and it's a great way to catch up and learn from each other.

The Buzz: Can you talk about that bridge? Between the RVIA doing what they need to for the dealers but also in dealing the state associations and what they need in order to perfectly satisfy their customers.

JL: Maybe this is a good example…this past year we commissioned a study that we entitled “RVs Move America”. The results basically are saying that the RV industry throughout the United States is worth about 50 billion dollars. So then we had that broken down into each state so we now know what the economic impact of the RV industry in any given state and then we had it broken down into the economic impact in any congressional district. So, why don't we go up to Capitol Hill? Those guys are starved for that kind of information. They love it. We do some things at the district level and then up on Capitol Hill. I think four or five of the state associations said, "Oh. That stuff is awesome but is there a possibility of getting it into state…not congressional…state districts." And we said, "Hey. You pay anybody a certain amount of money they'll do anything for you.” So a bunch of them got together and they paid us and we just kind of acted as the funnel. And so now Florida, Indiana, Pennsylvania,and  a couple of others -- they can break down what the actual impact of the industry is in any state representative's district. And we're happy to share that information. We didn't even charge anybody for that information. Our show department has undergone a big change [also] over the last year. Liz Crawford has come on. And she's great in terms of sharing the show business that she knows with some of the states. I think Michigan runs 12 shows and Florida runs 12 or 15 shows.

RVs Line The Floor At The National RV Show In Louisville, Kentucky. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The Buzz: But RVIA has to keep those standards…and that takes a lot of experience from the staff at the top.

JL: A lot of experience. For example, I was in Mississippi negotiating a franchise bill. And if I go into a state like that, I'll tell the dealers, “We want to work together on this, and I'm not trying to force anything on anybody.” We started brushing up against some deadlines. So I was like, "If you're going to run this bill, you've got to get it filed." And we just weren't there, but they said, "Okay, go ahead and file the bill because we think we're close." But we couldn't get close enough and they got real nervous I think. They said, "Would you pull the bill?" I said, "Absolutely.” Really? Okay. Because again I want to work with these guys and not against them. There've been other states where we couldn't come to an agreement. Okay. Nice doing business with you. I'll move on to another state or do something else on another issue. And I think that's just government affairs.

The Buzz: Speaking on states, Indiana has become an undeniable focal point of the RV industry.

JL: Yeah. 85% of the product is coming out of Elkhart. That's almost too concentrated really. It is. And so I think that's why you're seeing a little bit of…more companies are looking at Idaho. And they're looking at Oregon, and even California, God love them with the tax structure out there (chuckling) but they-- in order to facilitate the west coast consumers -- I think companies are starting to expand. Not only [because of] that, but there's a labor shortage in Elkhart, and Northern Indiana, as you probably well know. And our guys are struggling to get qualified workers.

The Buzz: That leads to my last question about the evolution of RV industry, since we have so many people coming from outside the country. The thing is, I've seen more Chinese suppliers at this show than ones before.

JL: It’s interesting because, just for a background, there have been three world RV conferences that have taken place. 2008 in Germany, the CIVD folks did theirs, and then in 2013 RVIA sponsored one. And actually, I was the chairman of that whole conference. And then in 2015 it was in Australia. So about an hour ago I got out of a meeting with our little steering committee and so the Chinese are interested in hosting the next one, which we want to do and we think it should be done in '18. They have been on kind of a two-year cycle, but after more thought, it really should be a three-year cycle. The Chinese are anxious to do it in '17, so there's a little push and shove there.

The Buzz: Because their infrastructure isn’t…

JL: It's not as developed, and it's -- there's a whole host of issues.

The Buzz: Licenses…and all that kind of stuff, yeah.

JL: But you're right when you said that it is becoming an international industry because we've got Craig Kirby as our Senior VP of Government Affairs and International Business, and he's in China two or three times a year. Bruce Hopkins goes to China two or three times a year. Frank Hugelmeyer, our president, just got back. And we have a fellow who spends almost six months a year over there so we are working hard to help them develop campgrounds. We're working hard to get certain standards in place, and we're also trying to work real hard with the Germans. There’s an association over there. Again it's called the CIVD…but they're the RVIA of Europe. They’re very active and we try to stay close to them.


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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