RVIA President Richard Coon offers prognostications for 2015 at the Outlook Breakfast

RVIA President Richard Coon offers prognostications for 2015 at the Outlook Breakfast

Every year about this time, the national media start looking for something relevant to say over the holidays and they often revert to a handy “Top 10” listing of news stories from the previous year as a cogent means of filling their pages and looking in the rearview mirror.

So, we’re joining the crowd by listing the “Top 10 RV Industry Headlines from 2014,” leading off with what clearly was — hands down — the industry’s dominant headline reflected in countless RVBUSINESS.com postings over a year in which shipments to date are up more than 10%: “RV Industry Continues to Enjoy Growth in 2014.”

The RV sector’s robust comeback, a consistent trend underscored by the upbeat atmosphere at all five of the industry’s major late year industry shows and conventions, was the main talking point of Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) President Richard Coon’s Outlook Breakfast remarks on Dec. 2 at the 52nd Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky..

“This is a great time to be part of the RV industry,” said Coon, in reporting analyst Richard Curtin’s forecast for wholesale shipments of 361,400 units in 2015, representing a 3.9% hike over the projected 2014 total of 348,000. “We’ve recovered from the recession with five consecutive years of growth, and we’re going to make it six in a row in 2015. Key economic indicators have been shifting in the right direction for the RV industry. There’s still room for improvement in consumer confidence, wages and employment, and home sales, but the economy is strengthening in important ways for our continued growth.”

Coon, of course, is not alone in his positive outlook for 2015.

“The RV industry has reason to feel optimistic once again, with strong shipment and retail registration numbers and a relatively strong economy as we close out the year,” said Tim Hyland, president of GE Capital’s Commercial Distribution Finance (CDF) RV group. “Our inventory financing portfolio is also showing healthy aging and turnover metrics, so overall, a solid year once again for the RV industry, which should carry over into 2015.”

OK, so here’s the Top Ten in a nutshell:

# 1: RV Industry Continues to Enjoy Growth in 2014: RVIA in late December reported total shipments up 10.2% to 329,999 units through November, the strongest November total since 2005 and the 35th consecutive monthly hike since January of 2012.

#2: SSI: Motorhomes Sales up 9.1% During October: The (re)growth of the motorized sector has been a consistent trend. October retail registrations, the latest available from Statistical Surveys Inc. (SSI), grew 9.1% compared to 2013 while year-to-date sales were up 14.8%. Forest River Inc. was the overall leader for the first 10 months, edging out No. 2 Thor Industries Inc. and third-ranked Winnebago Industries Inc. Thor led in Class A’s, while Forest River was dominating Class C’s and Roadtrek Motorhomes Inc. was on top of a resurgent Class B sector.

#3: Thor’s K-Z Purchase Fuels Consolidation Trend: Consolidation continued in 2014 at most every level. So, while we mention here the April purchase by Elkhart, Ind.-based Thor of traditional, Shipshewana-based RV builder K-Z Inc., we could just as easily have mentioned the February buyout of Open Range RV Co. by Jayco Inc. We also could have cited the August acquisition by Lippert Components Inc. of Duncan Systems Inc., the October buyout by Dometic Group of Atwood Mobile Products LLC, the June purchase by Patrick Industries Inc. of Precision Painting Group or the surprising sale of Stag-Parkway Inc. — the nation’s largest distributor of RV aftermarket pars and accessories — to competitor NTP Distribution Inc.’s parent, Keystone Automotive Operations Inc. The end result, in all cases, is the same: More business in fewer hands.

#4: Camping World Buying Tom Johnson, Dandy RV: Whether you’re a competitor or employee of Camping World Inc., there’s no getting around the fact that this growing, wholly owned, dealer network continues to strengthen its hand as America’s RV retailing volume leader – posting an estimated $3 billion in 2014 annual sales through more than a 100 U.S. rolling stock stores. And the latest news out of the company’s Illinois headquarters – that CW has purchased North Carolina’s Tom Johnson Camping Centers as well as Alabama’s Dandy RV Superstore — should underscore the fact that CW and its celebrity Chairman and CEO Marcus Lemonis will probably be an even bigger factor down the road.

RVs cover the grounds at Hall of Fame during Open House

RVs cover the grounds at Hall of Fame during Open House

#5: Open House Generates $1B in Sales for OEMs: No need to dwell on this one, as everyone in this industry is well aware by now of the fact that the Elkhart County RV Open House has arrived, so to speak, as one of the industry’s front-line trade shows. An annual get-together launched in 2009 as a proprietary event for Forest River Inc.’s dealers, the Open House now involves a majority of the industry’s key OEM’s and has cultivated a reputation as a hard-driving, high-discounting, cash-and-carry trade show unlike anything the North American recreational vehicle industry has seen before.

#6: Entegra Coach Growth Prompts Building Plans: To meet growing demand for its high-end Entegra Class A motorhomes and provide more space for production of its more mainstream motorized products in the Middlebury, Ind., company’s existing plant, Jayco Inc. is nearing completion of a 175,000-square-foot facility on the south side of its sprawling campus that will virtually double its motorized production space. But here again, Jayco is only one of several companies, from Grand Design RV Co. to Little Guy Worldwide to several Thor divisions, that is expanding through brick-and-mortar projects to keep up with these upbeat times.

#7: Pump Prices are Under $2 a Gallon in 13 States: No one really knows what the long-term impact of the nation’s dramatically plunging gas prices will be on the U.S. economy or on the “RV Nation” itself. But there are plenty of clear-thinking industry people, like Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) Chairman and CEO Jim Rogers, who believe that a long-term shift toward lower fuel prices may well help erase negative media stereotypes regarding “gas-guzzling” RVs while possibly altering a trend that has swept the RV sector in recent years wherein campers have tended to stay closer — generally a 200-mile radius — to home.

#8: HUD Committee: Grandfather Park Models: Has the RV industry dodged a major regulatory bullet? Two months after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued an October memo posing potential problems for park model RV builders and campgrounds, an advisory committee has recommended that HUD rescind its memo that stated the federal housing agency in April would begin counting factory-built porches as “living space” that count against the 400-square-foot maximum size for park models to be considered RVs — not manufactured homes. The Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee is recommending exempting RVs and park models from HUD regulations if they’re built and certified to certain National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) codes. The recommendation would delay further enforcement until new regulations are adopted and would grandfather existing park model RVs in the field, protecting park operators and consumers from enforcement actions as HUD implements new regulations.

#9: Coalition, Forest River, Address RV Transports: It’s premature to think that all of the kinks have been worked out of the industry’s RV-delivery transportation channels after last year’s widespread snafus that left thousands of units on the ground around the Elkhart area as a result of a tough winter and a lack of drivers. On the other hand, no one could really fault industry leaders – led by RVIA – of not giving it their all. RVIA set up an RV Transportation Coalition to resolve growing issues the RV sector has faced – especially last winter – in finding and retaining drivers to deliver units manufactured for the most part around northern Indiana. Much of the conversation, along with CDL licensing and electronic logging issues, has focused on boosting driver recruitment. Now, we’ll see how this winter goes.

Jim Shields

Jim Shields

#10: RVDA: Shields Focused on Making Things Better. Sad as it was, the untimely Feb. 13 passing of Jim Shields, owner of Pan Pacific RV Centers Inc. and a former chairman of the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) board, was one of the more noteworthy news events of 2014. A long-term member of RVDA’s Board of Delegates, Shields was also a past director of the Mike Molino RV Learning Center board and a founding member of CalRVDA whom RVDA President Phil Ingrassia described as “one of the great thinkers in the RV industry.” Also passing from the scene in 2014 were Blue Ox CEO and President Jay Hesse, a well-known product innovator and avid RV industry supporter; David Garvin, who founded Camping World Inc., Bowling Green, Ky., while also owning and operating a high-profile RV park; and Dan Holt, founder and publisher of the former RV News magazine.