Frank Hugelmeyer, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) president-elect since joining RVIA on July 13, will take the helm as the association’s new president on Oct. 1. He succeeds Richard Coon, the longtime RV industry veteran who has served as president for the past 10 years.
During his opening weeks at RVIA, Hugelmeyer has been working closely with Coon as well as meeting with staff and members to become more familiar with the pressing issues facing the RV industry and develop a deeper understanding of the broad spectrum of association activities conducted on behalf of the membership.
Hugelmeyer was the longtime president and CEO of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), the trade association for the outdoor recreation industry and title sponsor of the Outdoor Retailer tradeshows. In this capacity, he worked with the world’s premier outdoor brands and business executives including The North Face, Patagonia, Timberland, Columbia Sportswear, L.L. Bean, REI, Cabela’s and Amazon, along with numerous governmental agencies, non-profit groups and foundations. In addition, he has served on a wide variety of boards and advisory groups including the Outdoor Foundation, National Forum on Children and Nature, Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Western Governors’ Association Recreation Task Force and President Obama’s Partnership for America’s Great Outdoors.
Hugelmeyer sat down with RVIA Today to provide his thoughts and observations on the association and the industry as he prepares to assume the top staff position.
RVIA Today: RVIA Chairman Derald Bontrager writes in his column that “you have hit the ground running.” What has been your primary focus since coming on board?
Frank Hugelmeyer: “It is vital for any association to deeply understand what is keeping its members awake at night. If you can help address a member’s greatest business challenge, your relevance as an association increases significantly. So since I’ve joined RVIA, I’ve been on an extensive external and internal listening tour. I’ve been to Elkhart twice in the past month to meet with members and discover what their burning issues are. These sessions have been highly informative and my plan is to visit Elkhart every month for the foreseeable future. I have also spent a lot of time with Richard and all levels of staff throughout the organization learning more about RVIA. At times, it has been like trying to drink from a fire hose, but the information and feedback from the membership and staff has been invaluable to me. This guidance has provided a tremendous starting point to begin to mesh the visions of both groups so that we can work collectively to move RVIA forward.”
RVIA Today: What is your impression of RVIA now that you’ve had the opportunity to meet with members and staff?
Frank Hugelmeyer: “The first thing that comes to mind is the strong financial position and deep reservoir of talent at the association. What I’ve learned confirms the external opinion I had of RVIA when I was in the outdoor lifestyle segment of the industry….RVIA is a strong organization that is highly valued by the members and respected, deservedly so, throughout the outdoor recreation and association communities. That position in the market is a testament to an engaged, dedicated Board of Directors, members who volunteer time and expertise as committee members, and a talented staff. An organization like RVIA doesn’t happen by accident so I would be remiss in not recognizing Richard Coon and his leadership for the past 10 years. He steered the association through extremely challenging economic times during the Great Recession and leaves a tremendous foundation on which to build upon his legacy. Personally, I’m thrilled with the opportunity to serve as president. From government affairs, to marketing and promotion, to providing market data and research, to industry education, to the industry’s self-governance through the standards program, RVIA is providing outstanding value to our members across a wide swath of functions. But as with any organization, there is room to grow and improve, naturally.”
RVIA Today: What is your outlook for the RV market?
Frank Hugelmeyer: “I am very optimistic. The industry has thrived with RV shipments rising dramatically to 356,700 units in 2014 from the market bottom of 165,700 units in 2009. We’re heading for our sixth consecutive year of growth with shipments expected to exceed 370,000 by year-end. In addition, the industry has a strong, healthy manufacturing base that is designing and building innovative products with great appeal to consumers. The largest segment of RV owners are those between 45 and 54 years old while the fastest growing segment are those between 35 and 44 years old…that is good news for the industry. Beyond the research and the data, it is my sense that the general consumer market is swinging our way. Hispanics are chasing the American Dream like no other demographic and fueling the growth in suburbia. They are very family focused, camping inclined, and generating surges in motorcycle sales, which is contrary to the “drive less” mindset of many millennials. This is also good news for the RV community. The rise of urbanization as a dominant global lifestyle will influence America’s fundamental approach to outdoor recreation. Comfort, ease and convenience are becoming market drivers, which suggests demand for packaged solutions and easier access to every recreational experience will be on the rise. At the same time, transitioning to cities has not diminished the consumer’s strong desire to travel and live a life-well-lived. This too bodes well for RVIA members. RVs are the perfect vehicle in which to downsize and the ultimate packaged solution for exploring the outdoors. At the same time, RV travel and camping allows people to connect with family and friends at a deep level. It provides an experience that is really very fulfilling and appealing to people of all ages and backgrounds. These are some of the reasons I’m so optimistic right now.”
RVIA Today: You mentioned that you’ve been talking to members to find out “what keeps them up at night.” Turning that question to you…what keeps you up at night?
Frank Hugelmeyer: “There are multiple issues that members would like to see addressed…finding a viable solution to the fall show schedule that works for all parties involved is top-of-mind to many. From a consumer standpoint, understanding changing demographics and positioning the RV market so that it appeals to more diverse audiences outside of our core market, including Millennials, Hispanics, urban consumers and digital natives, is frequently mentioned. And, the same is true when we talk about attracting emerging leaders to the association. Of course, the federal and state regulatory environment and its impact on business continues to be top-of-mind for our manufacturer and supplier members. So it is important that RVIA maintains its leadership in the areas of self-regulation and public policy as the RV market and its products evolve. Dealing with the incredible pace of change in our businesses that dictates how we interact, how we communicate, how we gather information is also impacting members. These trends will have a huge influence on businesses and associations. As an association, I hope to better leverage new technologies so that we can better manage change and communicate more effectively to broader audiences. These are all areas of extraordinary opportunity for RVIA to help our members adapt, evolve and stay ahead of the curve. That is ultimately how we will be successful as an association, and I’m energized to begin that journey.”