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Attendees check out supplier booths at last year's Louisville Show Attendees check out supplier booths at last year’s Louisville Show

The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) have resumed informal talks regarding the possibility of the industry’s key trade groups eventually merging RVIA’s National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., and RVDA and RVDA of Canada’s RV Dealers International Convention/Expo in Las Vegas.

Those conversations, we’re told, have restarted for the same reasons that existed two years ago when show consolidation first surfaced as a front-burner issue.

“There’s a general feeling among the OEMs, suppliers and dealer associations that there are just too many shows and too much money being spent in that arena, and that there’s got to be a way for us to combine some of that together,” RVIA President Richard Coon told RVBUSINESS.com in the wake of RVIA Committee Week. “So we haven’t given up on that idea. We’ve tried it (discussing consolidation) a couple of times in the past, and that’s a topic where the devil is really in the details of trying to put that together because both RVIA and RVDA have income sources off those shows.

“Neither one of us can afford to lose those income sources,” said Coon. “But the one thing that we can agree to is that there are too many shows, and we can do a much better and more efficient job in having one show for the industry versus two or three. And so there’s a group of people still working on that, trying to make that happen.”

Richard Coon Richard Coon

Indeed, confirms RVDA President Phil Ingrassia, whose trade group is committed to Bally’s on the Las Vegas Strip through 2017, there’s an active but informal conversation underway – no telling where things wind up – regarding the future direction of shows.

“When our board met back in March and we went through our strategic plan, one of the strategies that’s consistently been in place is to talk with industry partners on the show issue,” he said. “The board remains open to those kinds of discussions, and they’re ongoing. But again, it’s all very preliminary and there’s nothing that has been decided. There are no details right now. It’s just a question of whether it can work, and our board has said to go ahead and talk to people about it.

“I mean, nobody’s opposed to the conversations because we want what’s best for the industry, for the dealers, the manufacturers, the suppliers — everybody. It just makes sense to keep everybody’s options open as the industry changes, consolidates and expands with fewer players in some areas of the industry.”

None of these conversations, by the way, seem to involve Elkhart County’s RV Open House, a 7-year-old event that’s popular with most of the manufacturers.

Phil Ingrassia  Phil Ingrassia

“The manufacturers like it,” said Coon. “And I have no problem with that. You’ve got to remember what the heck our (RVIA’s) role is here: Our role here is to sell product, OK? And what we’ve learned is that both the Open House and Louisville Show are doing a good job of selling product, so there’s a consensus now that we need them both. So take the Open House out of this conversation. What we’re talking about is the combination of the dealer meeting and our meeting. If we could figure out how to eliminate one meeting, then we better try to figure out how to make that happen.”

The real key to making this all work, maintains RVIA President Derald Bontrager, is to find the right venue at the right time of year while enabling both associations to maintain their respective identities.

“Times are changing, you know?” said Bontrager, president and CEO of Middlebury, Ind.-based Jayco Inc. “Businesses are run differently today. The consumer is different, and the dealers operate differently. So we need to figure out as an association something that really presents a great value proposition to bring the dealers and the manufacturers and the suppliers together in numbers that we used to see a decade or two ago. We need to figure it out. We can’t be status quo.”