He wasn’t looking to leave, but when his “dream job” came calling Frank Hugelmeyer apparently had to listen. And, at the end of the day, the lure of joining an industry trade group that so closely aligns with his personal passion for boating and fishing ultimately pried him away from the job he’d held since 2015 as president of the Reston, Va.-based RV Industry Association (RVIA).
So, in a rather surprising May 17 announcement, RVIA announced that Hugelmeyer would become president and CEO of the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) — succeeding retiring exec Thom Dammrich — while Craig Kirby, RVIA’s senior vice president of government affairs and general counsel, was named interim-president. Hugelmeyer will remain with RVIA for a yet-to-be determined period to provide guidance and support during the transition.
Hugelmeyer, who headed up the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) for 14 years before going to work for the RV industry’s largest trade group, discussed the new position as well as his time with RVIA soon after his resignation was made public in the following edited conversation with RVBUSINESS.com. (Look for a lengthier version of this article in the July/August issue of RVBusiness magazine.)
RVB: What led to you taking the new position with NMMA?
Frank Hugelmeyer: You know, there’s only one role out there that I would’ve stepped away from RVIA for. I really love the RV industry. I love RVing. I love camping. I appreciate the great bonds we’ve created with members in Elkhart and the industry. It’s just that my passion is boating and fishing, and the job opened up and they came after me. I’m very excited to be going on this next journey. I don’t know if a lot of people know this, but I grew up on a boat. I literally lived on my father’s fishing boat over the summers, so boating was really a large part of my youth, and my family memories are deeply connected to that. This just was a unique opportunity to connect a bunch of dots.
I’ll tell you, this is a very bittersweet thing for me because of all of the great work that we’ve done of growing the market, growing Go RVing, exciting the market to where we could do things like the RV Technical Institute, dealing with the challenges that we faced on technician training and giving our members a good experience. Not to mention the expansion of all of our federal policy work and the launch of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable. It goes on and on.
I’m especially proud of the tremendous work that this team has done and that I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of. I just couldn’t ask for a more supportive board, membership and staff during my time here. It will always be one of the fondest periods of my career.
RVB: You said NMMA approached you. Can you elaborate on that?
Hugelmeyer: They hired one of the top search firms in the country. Their goal was to find the top talent that could fit within a role, and I was on the list of multiple people who the search firm spoke to. They said, ‘Frank’s the guy you should talk to.’ Then, the conversations began and so the rest is history. I was certainly not looking for a next destination. I happen to be, and continue to be, incredibly happy with being part of RVIA. It’ll always have a very fond spot in my heart. It’s just that this is a dream — everyone has their dream job, and this is mine.
RVB: RVIA’s press release highlighted several accomplishments under your watch, including the merger with the RV Aftermarket Association (RVAA), expanding the reach and impact of the industry’s Go RVing program and modernization of the association’s technology capabilities.
Hugelmeyer: I think everybody here in the office would be proud of the digital modernization that we did over the first two years. That included a complete rebranding of RVIA to RV Industry Association, and the digital platform that members now have available to give them — all the great programs and products and member assets at the members’ fingertips. I think that that has been a significant improvement for the members.
I look at our work at Go RVing (the Go RVing Coalition’s national marketing campaign) where we’ve gotten much more in tune with the active outdoor lifestyle segment. That was something that we have worked hard on for the last three years, and I think it’s really paid dividends for the RV industry — culminating this past year in our work with Brody Leven and the ‘Unexpected’ video series reaching 26 million views. That just shows that there’s a real path for the industry to follow and connect more into the active RV lifestyle.
Obviously, that was something that I was very interested in, seeing that it was my old stomping grounds (Salt Lake City), and the association that I came from (OIA). And then when you look at RVX, I really do think that that’s the future of the industry. I think obviously there’s conversation to what a 2.0 version looks like, but that was a proof of concept in my mind. It tapped into a level of consumer excitement and youthful energy that the industry’s needs. It highlighted innovation from the consumers’ point of view. We’re in a market where the consumer is in control, so being consumer-centric is key.
When you see that unity and collaboration — the trade show and RVIA team working in concert with the Go RVing team — that really showed the future potential of the RV Industry Association working together and telling its story in a unique way.
RVB: The pending launch of the RV Technical Institute (RVTI) was also a factor, wasn’t it?
Hugelmeyer: The RV Technical Institute was stuck in a conversation for so many years, and we got that unstuck. We’ve got a great leader in Curt (Hemmeler), and what Sharonne (Lee) is doing to support him.
The extension of our federal work is another big success, where our team has changed its stature on the hill in D.C. in these last few years. Part of that is because RVIA has been so crucial in the formation of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable — along with our partners at RVDA and all the other industry sectors. That visibility has aided the industry in many ways, but also because now we’re being proactive about what we are doing on trade, on HUD regulations, on floorplanning and on all of these issues that are absolutely critical to growth of the RV industry and our members.
I’m very proud of shifting what was more of a defensive posture policy shop into a proactive policy shop. That’ll pay dividends for many years to come for the members of the industry.
RVB: What are some of the unfinished initiatives, or items that you weren’t able to get to during your time?
Hugelmeyer: There is still a good strategic plan here in place. The (RVTI) facility in Elkhart, which has been purchased and will be opening at Open House (in September), will be important because it’s really our critical connection to our members in the most important region of the country. That expansion for both the RVIA and RVTI staff members is an important step.
We’re also upgrading the facility for the (Elkhart) headquarters staff, which honestly has been needed for many years, so that work is going to be completed this year as well.
Beyond those two initiatives, obviously, is where does RVX evolve to for the long term and implementation of the new curriculum for RVTI. Those are the big initiatives that we’re driving right now and will absorb the organization for the next year and a half.
Beyond that, some of the pieces of the puzzle the industry needs to think about are where does corporate social responsibility fit within the industry? This next generation of consumers, 70% of young Americans, are highly concerned about green issues and climate change. How do you stay relevant to that next consumer? It is important for the industry to be asking that question. You can’t start early enough.
Right now RVIA and RVDA have no committees focused on technology, and how technology is going to impact the industry. I think that’s a critical next strategic step for this industry — to get proactive on that front because change is slow until it’s not. We’re in great danger of being caught in a place where we need to catch up. Those disruptions are real and they’re coming. You can see it.