Frank Hugelmeyer, the former president and CEO of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) who will officially take over as president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) on Oct. 1, said RVs have the “potential to become the ultimate mobile solution for the world’s greatest mobile generation” in a Friday (June 5) Q&A with RVBusiness Associate Editor Rick Kessler. The interview offered insight into his past experience while identifying what Hugelmeyer sees as priorities going forward for the association.
First of all, congratulations on becoming the next president of the RVIA. How does it feel?
I’m obviously thrilled at this opportunity. I’ve admired RVIA for many years. I’ve worked with Richard (Coon, retiring RVIA president) and Dianne (Farrell, RVIA’s vice president of Government Affairs) in a variety of capacities, so it’s humbling to be selected by the RVIA board to work with such a talented and respected team. I’m very excited to be moving into this new role and eager to meet the members.
Would meeting the membership be part of your immediate “to do” list?
That will be one of my immediate goals. I’ll be moving to D.C. in the early July time frame. Right now I have some things to wrap up here in Colorado in June, and then I’ll make the trip out. That drive will give me a great opportunity to connect with some of the members.
My goal in the first quarter of my tenure is certainly to listen to the market – go out and really understand the members, meet the key stakeholders within the industry, and go on an extensive listening tour. The goal of that would be to understand the burning issues that keep members awake at night.
I believe that an association’s value is tied directly to making sure that you’re solving the important and critical issues of an industry. It really does start with an assessment process – both internally with the RVIA staff and what their vision is – and understanding that. But more importantly it’s always all about the members in an association and so I want to go out and listen to them.
My style is to run a trade association like a public company. The members are the shareholders and the staff is responsible for building market equity and a very strong return on investment. When you see me coming to the association you’ll see that type of perspective. I believe that’s a large part how Richard and Dave (Humphreys) before him ran the association in the past.
You’ll be driving from Denver to D.C. in July? That’s a perfect opportunity to get yourself into a Class B and endear yourself to the industry.
I’ve actually thought about that. As I was preparing for the interviews for this role I did a bit of mystery shopping out there. I have to say I’m very attracted to the Class B’s. My wife was ready to drive one off the lot! Those are great vehicles.
Honestly, the prospects for the RV industry are incredibly bright. And you’ve identified one of the products out there that continues to go off and really gain a lot of market share.
There are so many changes happening in the market right now. When you look, all businesses are facing waves of disruption. Whether it’s societal and cultural shifts within consumer demographics, technological innovations and inventions, or overall business processes, these disruptions are accelerating and they’re here to stay. They’re not only impacting members, but they’re impacting associations and how associations need to work now and in the future.
Associations, in my mind, must keep pace with the rate of change in order to remain relevant, particularly at the rate of change the members are facing.
It’s a new day out there. It’s a new normal. The business you are in today may not be the business that you are in tomorrow. Whether you’re an RV company or an RV association, you have to understand that. I think the way to face that is to find those extraordinary opportunities to innovate and expand member value. But it means you have to have a very keen understanding of the consumer market. You need to embrace the new technologies and you have to strengthen and develop the connections with the young executives in the industry. I really see that as a large part of the charge going forward.
What were you able to do at OIA that will translate to what you hope to accomplish with RVIA?
When you look at the Outdoor Industry Association and you look at outdoor retailers, both are very vibrant, they’re growing. But I think the big thing is the youthfulness of that community, and the innovation that’s coming out of the young executives within the industry. I think that’s unique and a model for the future.
Whether it’s trade shows, whether it’s public policy work, whether it’s international trade relations, whether it’s heading off regulatory challenges, education, market research – all of these are areas where I have a deep background. My experience – particularly in the retail supply chain and how it’s shifting – translates and transcends all of the recreation communities. It’s shifting dramatically. There’s a lot of “verticalization” going on.
Again, it goes back to this concept that the business you are in today may not be the business you’re in tomorrow. The association has to help its members evolve and stay ahead of those trends in order to survive and thrive. I think we did a very good job with that at Outdoor Industry Association and the outdoor retailer.
What’s your sense of the makeup of the RVIA membership, in particular the suppliers?
When I look at the RVIA membership – and again I need more time to get my arms around all this – but you look at a very strong supplier portion of the membership. It’s the largest portion of the membership right now. It’s very important to understand their issues. What keeps them awake at night? Certainly, what keeps them awake at night is the health of the industry and the health of the market. If the market is growing, a rising tide floats all boats.
For me, this idea of building greater market equity creates space for everyone. That’s a successful model for a great trade association. So my goal will be to come in and understand all those segments. If you don’t have a healthy manufacturing segment, if the members are not building RVs … it all starts there. Consumers need to be buying and manufacturers need to be building.
What one bit of information do you want the RVIA membership to know about you and your intentions?
There would be two. The first is I couldn’t ask for a better foundation in which to tackle major challenges. That’s a testament to the current board, past boards, the staff and, of course, Richard. It’s clear the devotion, the enthusiasm and the skill of this group has already left a lasting mark on the RV community. I’m excited to build on that foundation because it’s a great one.
The second would be that the prospects for the industry are very bright. I look at the potential for RVs to build on the desire to get outdoors and families to get outdoors, and to tap into the Hispanic market as it continues to become dominant.
But, more importantly, I think that RVs have the potential to become the ultimate mobile solution for the world’s greatest mobile generation. As Americans trend into urban centers more and more – 80% of Americans now live in an urban environment, 50% of the world does, and it’s going to continue – access, convenience and packaged solutions are growing drivers for consumers. An RV is a natural package solution in my opinion for the consumer of the future. So I am very bullish of the prospects of the RV industry right now, particularly because I believe we can make RVs that ultimate solution for the world’s greatest mobile generation.