Jim Stark RVAA Outgoing President Jim Stark

As the Recreation Vehicle Aftermarket Association (RVAA) readies for its annual Executive Conference, which is Aug. 17-21 at the Pinnacle Hotel in Vancouver, its outgoing president, Jim Stark, paused to reflect on his tenure – including the pending consolidation of the RV industry’s three largest distributors of aftermarket parts and accessories.

In July, LKQ Corp. and The Coast Distribution System Inc. announced that it has signed a definitive agreement for LKQ to acquire Coast for $5.50 per share in cash. LKQ is parent to Keystone Automotive Operations Inc. and NTP-Stag.

When asked about the consolidations, Stark, managing director of the Tampa-based Dealer Resources Group (DRG), said it’s “too early to tell” how much this will affect RVAA’s Executive Conference. He mentioned that there’s a representative from Keystone NTP-Stag on the association’s board, and the conference is “still a very viable way for them and the other distributors to meet with key executives of the suppliers and see new products and programs and sort of help one another to do business more effectively.”

In the big picture, Stark said, consolidation has been going on in the RV industry for as long as he’s been a part of it, and it’s just as common in other industries as well throughout the U.S. Stark agreed that the year-old NTP-Stag consolidation and pending acquisition of Coast do represent an opportunity for the regional and smaller distributors, but pointed out that it also represents an opportunity for NTP-Stag-Coast.

“When this all sorts out, they’re going to be a better customer for their suppliers and a better supplier to their dealers,” Stark explained. “When the logistics of everything comes together, volume is the name of the game for the distribution business. It’s what it takes to be able to order on a regular basis, and keep things in stock more easily and be able to move it around the country.

“So, I think it’s a great opportunity for them (NTP-Stag-Coast) and it’s also an opportunity for some of the other regional distributors and some of the other distributors located around the country,” he added. “They have an opportunity to get more market share, too, not only from people who just don’t want to salute, but just from growth in the market in general. When things are growing like they have been, everybody benefits.”

An industry veteran, Stark began his RV career more than 40 years ago with Valley Industries, a towing products company located in Lodi, Calif. He then went to work for Faulkner Mfg. Co. and later moved in to the distribution side of the business with Mohawk Trailer Supply in Schenectady, N.Y. When Mohawk was sold to Coast in 1990, Stark was transferred to Tampa and became vice president and general manager of Coast’s Tampa distribution center. In 1994, he was promoted to senior vice president of sales and moved to Coast’s San Jose, Calif., headquarters. In 1999, he returned to the Tampa area and joined forces with David Jones to form DRG, which he described as a “contract sales company.”

With its partner, The Shepherd Group, Stark said DRG is the largest company of its kind and is fortunate to have a top-notch staff of professionals.

Stark, who has been a member of RVAA for about 20 years, including the last 10 consecutive years, will officially step down as the association’s president at the Executive Conference, which for the first time will take place outside the U.S.

He reported there is about the same number of registrants for this year’s conference as last year’s, and it’s always a great format for distributors and suppliers to meet in a series of private sessions while conducting business and strengthening relationships.

Recipients of the Jim Barker Award, the association’s highest honor, and the Product of the Year are also recognized during the conference.

“It gives distributors an opportunity to meet with their suppliers with less time and effort obviously than if they were to try and go out and meet all the decision-makers, which would be a heck of a trip,” said Stark. “From both sides, it’s a great way to wrap up programs and discuss how the year has been going and so forth.”

“Sometimes we have new members come in and have programs or products that are new and different and that’s a great place to introduce those as well,” he continued. “We typically have several new members pretty much every year. It does give them an opportunity to meet with all the distributors and let people know what’s going on with their product and introduce their product and programs. That happens virtually every year.”

As his tenure as RVAA volunteer leader winds down, Stark said his two years leading the association have been very rewarding. He’s thankful for the friendships he’s made and feels that the association itself is in a good position in all respects – financially and membership-wise – and he’s excited about its soon-to-be-finalized strategic plan moving forward.

“It’s been two very good years for the industry. The unit sales have been improved markedly over the last two seasons – that continues this year – and the aftermarket pretty much follows the path of the unit sales,” Stark said. “Over the past several years, dealers have improved their stores and expanded. They’re offering more products, some have redone their stores completely with new fixtures and what have you; some have actually built new dealerships. It’s been a healthy situation certainly for the past several years, so that’s helped create a better shopping experience for the retail customer and more access to more items.”

He added that the RV industry in general and the RVAA in particular have gone through their ups and downs, but are in “the best position we’ve been in in a number of years.”

“I’m thankful for that,” the Midland, Mich., native said. “I sincerely appreciate the people that I’ve served with me on the board over the past several years and all of their efforts on behalf of the organization, and the membership who’ve supported the organization through thick and thin. I’m just pleased to be hand it off to someone else. It’s been a very rewarding experience to be part of this organization and work with them on the board. I’ve made a lot of good friends – I had a lot of good friends to begin with, but it’s been a rewarding experience.”