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Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) President Dave Humphreys recounted the industry’s “then and now” metamorphosis during Thursday’s (Feb. 24) Annual Business Luncheon at Indiana’s Goshen College.
Speaking to around 300 attendees – including a strong RV contingent from Elkhart County – Humphreys traced the industry’s past from the “dark days” of 1979 to last year’s 25-year pinnacle in terms of RV shipments.
That period also corresponds with Humphreys’ tenure as the industry’s prime spokesperson in his role as president of the RVIA.
“Our success is no accident,” he said. “There were a lot of tools that were cleverly devised, implemented and are still in use today that led to that success.”
Humphreys contends that even greater things are on the horizon. Citing the prognosis by RVIA consultant Richard Curtin of the University of Michigan, Humphreys said he expects shipments “will level off” in 2005,” nearly matching last year’s output.
But he assured the audience that the next 25 years will be strongest in the industry’s history. “You haven’t seen anything yet,” he said.
That lofty goal will have to be carried out without Humphreys at the helm as he plans to retire on Jan. 30 next year – his 70th birthday. A search committee led by RVIA Chairman Bruce Hertzke, chairman, president and CEO of Winnebago Industries Inc., Forest City, Iowa, has narrowed the number of candidates to four and his successor will be announced March 1 at the association’s upcoming board of director’s meeting in Arizona.
During the Goshen luncheon, Humphreys identified the “toolbox of strategies” that were put in place when the industry quite literally tanked during the 1979 energy crisis.
“We had a serious image problem,” he said. “People were waiting in these huge lines for gas, and an RV pulls up with a 100-gallon tank. RVers were viewed as unpatriotic.”
Humphreys pointed to the industry’s ongoing public relations program as being vital to the turnaround while also “laying the groundwork” for the launch of the highly successful Go RVing advertising campaign. But, according to Humphreys, the real key was industry unity.
“Following the energy crisis, all areas of outdoor recreation banded together to form the American Recreation Coalition (ARC),” he said. “I’m proud to say our industry led the way.”
ARC was able to shift government from being an adversary to becoming a proponent, while also leading to the formation of several initiatives designed to promote the outdoor lifestyle.
Humphreys said that sense of unity still exists in the RV industry, and would continue to be the key component to future success.
“Unity is our greatest weapon,” he said. “It’s the foundation of our success. If we overlook it, we will be in trouble.”