Editor’s Note: The following is a column authored by Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) Chairman Doug Gaeddert that appeared in the Summer 2014 RVIA Today Newsletter reflecting on his term in the chairman’s seat.
We’ve all heard that old adage, “time flies when you’re having fun”! Well, I must have had a heck of a time the last couple of years as my folically-challenged head feels like I blinked twice and two years were gone!
I turned 55 on Aug. 22, so not only do I find myself reflecting on the past two years as chairman of RVIA this morning, but on the last 33 years of involvement in the RV and housing industries, and frankly on life in general. One of my younger brothers called to wish me happy birthday, and we talked a little about when we were kids camping out at Cedar Creek with the Hershberger boys. We spent most of the time seining for bait and running set lines for channel cat, and hopefully a big flathead or two, out of an old john boat. When we camped out at Cedar Creek back then, it was first in a tent and later in an old 13-foot plywood single-axle travel trailer with no brand on it. Who would have thought that 40 years later RVs, Cedar Creek, fishing, and a lot of people named Hershberger would still all be fun parts of a great life!
I’d like to take a minute to thank some folks who have been super to work with in my time as chairman. I’d like to start by thanking Richard Coon, Mac Bryan, Bruce Hopkins, Dianne Farrell, Craig Kirby and James Ashurst along with their outstanding, talented, professional, and passionate staffs for making the “job” as chairman the last two years a pure pleasure. I’d also like to thank the RVIA Board of Directors, the Executive Committee, the com- mittee chairs and all of our committee members. It’s their selfless efforts and gifts of time and talent that help to make this a productive and first-class industry association that is the envy of other trade groups.
I also want to express my gratitude to RVDA as the relationship with RVIA now is strong and only getting stronger. Phil Ingrassia, Jeff Hirsch and the RVDA Executive Committee have been great to work with and the future for our two associations together is certainly a bright one.
During my years of involvement with RVIA, the chairmen have included; Wilbur Bontrager, Walt Bennett, Claire Skinner, Bruce Hertzke, Carl Pfalzgraf, Jim Sheldon and Gregg Fore. What a great group of leaders to learn from, and I thank each of you. It has been an honor to follow in your footsteps.
I still remember the night I was “selected” to run for the RVIA Board. We were having dinner at a little Italian restaurant in Elkhart, and David Humphreys talked Pete into Forest River becoming more involved with the association by running someone for the Board. If I remember right, it was one of those times where Pete picked on me for being the shortest guy at the table! I’m still not sure whether to thank those two or let Lisa turn our dogs loose on them! Up to her I guess!
Turning my attention to the current state of our industry and the outlook for the future – things look outstanding for all of us! I won’t get into specific numbers as they’re readily available each month and forecasts are periodically adjusted and published, but, suffice it to say, that in the last few years we have basically doubled our numbers, and we’re inevitably going to set new storm-adjusted highs in certain categories. There is absolutely no reason why this trend can’t continue. It may not be at the same torrid pace we’ve grown at for the last few years, but if we all take care of our customers and our businesses, we’ll keep growing solidly and sustainably. I think a few of the broader keys that apply to each of us include:
• Continued investment in the branding of the industry and the lifestyle. RVIA’s public relations efforts along with the Go RVing campaign have been highly effective. The targeted use of various social media platforms has resulted in continually improved results at even better values. It’s now “mom, apple pie, and RVs”! The range of potential customers we appeal to continues to broaden in terms of age, ethnicity, geography and types of use.
• An “always happy/ never satisfied” approach to the quality of the products, services and experiences that we all provide to our customers. If customers are delighted with what we provide them, they’ll continue to be customers. And, they’ll sell the industry as a whole more effectively than any other means or medium possible.
• A unified strategy in meeting both new challenges and opportunities as they present themselves. The past provides many examples (credit, self-regulation, Go RVing, Go RVing Canada funding, length, width, square footage, park model RVs, etc…), and a few current ones would include RV transportation, technician training and recruitment, HUD clarifications/revisions, legislation regarding dealer manufacturer relationships, and code harmonization with Canada to name a few.
To close, I want to share something that I originally voiced at the first RV Business Power Breakfast in 2013 because it is something that I feel as passionately about today as I did then:
Probably the single coolest thing to me about being involved in the RV industry for all of these years is the people. Take a minute to reflect on our industry. Most of us compete with each other, sell to each other, buy from each other, finance each other, represent each other, write about each other, and probably even cuss each other sometimes–but at the end of the day we’re also basically good friends. It’s a close-knit industry that while growing rapidly is also getting smaller at the same time. I’ve always said that the only other things that I could do for a living and enjoy as much, would be to fish or play ball, and I don’t think Pete’s going to pay me to do either one of these! If you love what you do and who you do it with then it’s really not a “job.” It’s just that you sometimes get a check! By the way, there were no checks to me from RVIA for serving as chairman! (About the closest I ever got was a $5 bill from Bontrager on a golf bet that Gregg Fore carried our team on!)
I truly appreciate the support that I’ve had from everyone over the past couple of years and your tolerance in reading some of my rambling and random thoughts! I’ve met and become good friends with many of you and that may not have happened otherwise. That being said, it’s definitely time for me to wind it down and pass the baton on to a good friend, respected competitor, and a much better golfer than me–Derald Bontrager! So if you have any complaints about anything–you can start calling Derald!
Thank you all and best wishes for continued success!