Vendors saw steady traffic as RVDA reported a 22% increase in attendance Vendors saw steady traffic as RVDA reported a 22% increase in attendance

The status and future of the RV industry’s late year trade events was a popular topic a year and a half ago until the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) essentially stood its ground and moved its 2014 RV Dealers International Convention/Expo from the usual Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino to Bally’s on the Las Vegas Strip.

That, along with a shift to a later date, pretty much iced the conversation for the time being about whether the industry should realign and/or consolidate any of its key trade events – September’s Elkhart County RV Open House, November’s RVDA Con/Expo in Vegas or early December’s RVIA National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.

But coming off the latest RVDA Con/Expo, a rather impressive Nov. 10-14 convention that drew an estimated 1,200 attendees – 22% more than last year — it was clear that the whole debate is still a pretty hot topic among the industry’s movers and shakers.

While some saw this year’s RVDA Con/Expo as an affirmation of the viability of RVDA’s show as one of the industry’s leading networking events, others would still prefer to see the key associations combine efforts in the future in some sort of all-industry week that would enable their companies to trim time and resources dedicated to trade shows. Here, for the record, is the crux of what we’ve been hearing about the RVDA Con/Expo – and related issues – from an array of vocal industry executives:

Bob Parish, GE Capital’s vice president of manufacturer relations, Tampa, Fla.: “I thought it was the best RVDA Con/Expo in years. Attendance and dealer enthusiasm were both off the charts.”

Bob Martin Bob Martin

Bob Martin, president and CEO of Thor Industries Inc., Elkhart, Ind.: “Attendance was definitely up – you could feel it – officially they’re saying about 20%. But even more interesting to me is the fact that the classes were jammed. I mean, some of them were standing room only. I’ve never really seen them attended like that and the venue change for the convention seemed to have been a good move. We really liked the guest speaker — he was a Thor motorhome customer — and we felt our Thor sponsorship lounge was good for networking. So, overall, I was pleased.”

Jeff Rank, president of Prime Time Mfg., Wakarusa, Ind.: “The RVDA Con/Expo for our company continues to represent an opportunity to get out and see our dealers. The brand committee meeting (“Partners in Progress”) for Prime Time is something that we get a ton of value out of, and that for us is certainly the highlight of it. You know, how many opportunities do you have to visit with your dealers, whether it’s in a formal site setting or less formal setting or going out to dinner with them? I mean, any time you can meet with the people you’re doing business with, we think it’s a good thing.”

Ron Shepherd, president of Camperland of Oklahoma, Tulsa, Okla.: “I heard nothing but glowing reviews from the dealers – and I asked a lot of dealers since I volunteered to be the chairman of the Con/Expo for next year and possibly beyond. People like the change in venue, getting away from the Rio and moving onto the Strip. They were all thrilled to death with the education tracks. People weren’t just there to party. They were there to take advantage of the education and, yes, have a good time.”

Ron Fenech Ron Fenech

Ron Fenech, co-owner, Grand Design RV Co., Middlebury, Ind.: “It’s always fun and it’s a chance to connect with our dealer friends, and, for us and our group, that’s always a blast. But I do think that as an industry every fall there are too many shows, and I’m not sure it’s the most efficient thing for our business on the dealer side or on the manufacturer side. And I’d like to see those three big meetings turn into two. I would love to see the Louisville Show and the dealer expo combined into one if there’s a way to make it work for both sides. I think it would be a lot more efficient for us as manufacturers and also with respect to the dealers’ time. Yet, the reality may be that the dealer meeting, as it sits from a dealer perspective, may be the most value the way it’s set up. And if that’s the case, then it should remain. I think some dialogue about this would be really healthy.”

Michael Peay, president of Holiday World of Houston, Houston, Texas: “Well, I think there was great attendance, and there were valuable seminars for dealers to attend with quality content and dealers were introduced to an array of new good ideas that are going to help move us forward. So, I pretty much agree with RVDA’s decision to stand by its show, realizing there’s different purposes for attending RVDA versus the Open House in Elkhart or the RVIA show in Louisville. You know, RVIA and the Open House both focus on rolling stock and this convention is based around learning, education, and different kinds of business-enhancing products for dealers. Can they do these shows together? I don’t know how. If there’s a way to have it at the same location, it would be a very lengthy convention.”

Dan Pearson, president of Pleasureland RV Center Inc., St. Cloud, Minn.: “It reminded me a lot of the RVDA Convention/Expos that we saw in ’04, ’05 or ’06 from an attendance standpoint in terms of the upbeat atmosphere. I think RVDA did an outstanding job of knocking it out of the park with their education events. I also think that bringing back the Top 50 was critically important. It helped for both the attendance and attitude. Another aspect is general business. You know, people are upbeat again and feeling good about things, and I think that combination – along with the fresh location and the new (later) date – really created the kind of show that I haven’t seen personally because of the recession for a number of years. There were really a lot of ingredients that made this really an outstanding convention – one of the best I’ve been to in 10 years.”