The Outlook 2005 Breakfast delivered its traditional wakeup call to a record crowd at the 42nd Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., imparting a collective toast to the industry’s progress and prosperity.
But amid the slickly produced multi-media presentations and slate of special guest appearances, RVIA President Dave Humphreys delivered his own personal wakeup call.
“We have tremendous momentum, and it’s increasing, not sagging,” said Humphreys, who earlier this year announced he would be relinquishing his post in early 2006. “There has been a change in America and RVs are part of that change. RVs are hot, they’re hip and our industry is admired. People want to be a part of it.”
As Humphreys noted, however, there is always “the unknown” – those unforeseen bumps in the road created by world events, economic challenges or the threat of new competition – that can derail that momentum.
“It’s more difficult to answer questions about where the industry is headed,” Humphreys said. “You really can’t be specific with regard to the future.”
He was specific, however, about identifying the RV market’s “unusual” solution to those unknown elements: industry unity.
“It’s easy to forget how unusual and how fragile industry unity is and it’s easy to take for granted,” Humphreys stressed to the early morning audience.
“Unity means getting our differences on the table and dealing with them in a positive way so we can move forward. If you do that, you’re actually stronger than if you didn’t have any problems at all. But if you let your differences fester, like some of our sister industries, then it totally ruins progress.”
Industry unity, perhaps, stands as the cornerstone in Humphreys’ pending legacy. And he vowed to protect it during his last term at the helm.
“We need to rededicate ourselves to working hard to preserve unity, and improve it,” he said. “It’s my highest priority in the coming year. If we don’t, we’re in deep trouble. If we do, there is no limit to what we can achieve.”
The industry’s ongoing slate of achievements provided the backdrop for the balance of the preshow program.
Topping the list was a record 14,450 people, including 5,681 dealer representatives, registered for the industry-only show at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center (KFEC), where RVIA booked an all-time high of 773,000 square feet of exhibit space for 98 RV, park-trailer and chassis manufacturers and 304 suppliers.
RVIA Chairman Bruce Hertzke, president and CEO of Winnebago Industries Inc., Forest City, Iowa, reeled off some key accomplishments that bode well for the industry’s future.
“In the last three years, the RV industry has achieved yearly gains in shipments of 21%, 3% and 13%, while many other segments of the travel industry are just now beginning to forecast relatively moderate gains in the years ahead,” Hertzke said. “According to Dr. Richard Curtin of the University of Michigan, overall shipments are expected to be 364,900 units – the highest yearly total since 1978.
“Based on the current economic assumptions, Dr. Curtin does expect this growth spurt to self-adjust slightly in 2005 to 352,700 units, representing a balancing of demand in the otherwise robust upward trend of shipments expected in the decade ahead. But here is the important point: 2005 will be the second best year in the past quarter century.”
Those numbers have been supported by strong marketing, public relations and advertising campaigns. RVIA Public Relations Chairman B.J. Thompson and RVIA Vice President Public Relations and Advertising Gary LaBella reviewed some of the more prominent “PR hits” over the past year.
“A burgeoning number of producers integrated RVs into their works – exposing millions more to positive portrayals of RVs,” Thompson said. “RVIA worked to achieve this in two major ways: through the front door, by pitching producers and script writers directly; and through the back door, resulting from the news media exposure we engineered. Art imitating life.”
LaBella noted, “RVs went prime time on top network programs like ‘ER’ and ‘The Bachelor.’ All this exposure means RVs are penetrating America’s cultural landscape.”
The Outlook 2005 program also celebrated the Go RVing campaign – one of the prime examples of industry unity – and its ability to stay abreast and speak to a “changing market.” Recently named coalition co-chairmen, Don Walter and Tom Stinnett delivered some of the highlights from the current “Pursue Your Passions” campaign.
“This year, the Go RVing ads racked up over 2 billion consumer impressions – our broadest year yet,” Walter said. “Surfing the net, watching the tube, relaxing over a magazine, our messages couldn’t be missed by our target customers.
“For the first time, thousands even saw Go RVing written in the skies, thanks to the generosity of our own RVIA supplier member, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.”
Rounding out the program, two Spirit of America awards were presented. John Ratzenberger, best known for his portrayal of know-it-all mailman Cliff Clavin on the popular sitcom “Cheers,” was honored for his series “Made in America.”
Today Show correspondent Mike Leonard was also recognized for his RV road trip series chronicling his family’s cross-country trek by RV.