Last week’s California RV Dealers Association (CalRVDA) Conference offered attendees a wide-ranging and vibrant forum focusing on the most pressing issues impacting the state’s RV retail community while also celebrating the industry’s resurgence.
But the Feb. 19 gathering also carried a more weighty message for the long-term, representing a reinstatement of CalRVDA as a significant and viable industry voice following a four-year gap since the last conference convened.
“Last year, the board came to a decision to reactivate the conference,” CalRVDA Executive Director Terrence McHale told RVBUSINESS.com, adding that attendance exceeded expectations as 55 members assembled at the Agua Caliente Casino, Resort and Spa in Rancho Mirage. “It’s clear our industry is back from the Great Recession and is once again becoming a vital part of the California economy. We determined it was important for CalRVDA to be more active and involved, not only in matters that affect California dealers, but for the industry as a whole.”
RVDA President Phil Ingrassia, who delivered an update on the “State of the RV Industry,” applauded the revival, noting that “issues that come up in California often move to other states.”
“I was impressed with the attitudes of the dealers at the CalRVDA conference and their willingness to work together to improve the RV business in California,” he said. “Many current and former CalRVDA leaders are also active in the volunteer leadership of the national RVDA, so it’s important for the industry to have a strong dealer organization in California.”
He added, “The regulatory environment in California makes it imperative that RV dealers work together to protect their interests. CalRVDA has a strong track record of success on show legislation as well as working with the state’s Motor Vehicle Board.”
The conference was highlighted by a roundtable discussion featuring representatives from the industry’s three most prominent manufacturers that included: Bob Martin, president and CEO of Thor Industries Inc.; Doug Gaeddert, general manager of Forest River Inc.; and Derald Bontrager, president and CEO of Jayco Inc.
The session generated a lively give-and-take with attendees on several timely topics, including a candid examination of the disparity on freight charges to the West Coast, particularly for towable RVs.
“There were a lot of things concerning freight charges that the panelists were unable to address, as their hands are tied by legal restrictions,” reported Ernie Friesen, owner of All Seasons RV and Redding RV, who turned over the president’s gavel to Richardson’s RV Centers co-owner Steve Richardson during the meeting. “The primary objection is that Internet discounters in the Midwest and Eastern regions can drastically undercut us because of the added freight charge to the West Coast. It’s not that big of a deal with the more expensive motorhomes, but they kill us on the entry-level and lesser-expensive towables.
“The idea of an equalized shipping charge has been on the table for a long time. We just want to have an even playing field. The OEMs’ response has been to build a production presence on the West Coast, which certainly helps. But that still means we are limited as to what brands are readily available to us.”
Other scheduled speakers included Lenny Simms of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) offering a look at used market conditions, while David N. Ruben, an attorney with Ruben & Sjolander, shared important information on “Buy Backs and Lemon Laws.”
“The new legislation has turned California into the wild, wild West with consumers,” Richardson said. “They are demanding a new motorhome over the smallest problem. If a coach is lemon, then we’ll take care of it, but the situation is snowballing. David talked about ways we can resolve those issues through the negotiation process.”
McHale also addressed the effects of a changing demographic in the California RV market and how dealers need to adapt to keep pace with diversity.
“California is in the midst of its greatest voluntary migration, which has created a brand new marketplace,” McHale said. “A generation ago, RVers were middle class, primarily Caucasian families. Now we’re marketing to rapidly expanding Latino and Asian groups, and a younger audience. Diversity is the new norm and we want to be there to meet these new interests and buying preferences.”
Following presentations a dealers-only session concluded the conference.
“We feel that as a result of this conference, CalRVDA will be stronger going forward,” Richardson said. “It took a long time to get dealers on board. But starting last year, when we planned the conference, and this year with the culmination of those efforts, we can see a real change. Dealers are interested and want to get involved in CalRVDA, and I think next year’s conference will be huge.”