Supplier exhibits at RVIA’s Louisville Show

The industry’s quest for a more logical, efficient and timely approach to national trade shows could well lead to the consolidation of all three key current industry events as soon as 2013, RVBUSINESS.com has learned.

Much of the buzz among trade groups and key manufacturers like Thor Industries Inc., based in Jackson Center, Ohio, and Forest River Inc., headquartered in Elkhart, Ind., centers around a relatively early fall date in a centrally located city like Indianapolis.

Could it actually come to pass?

Well, it’s all talk at this point, we’re told, but it’s reportedly more than a casual conversation, as representatives of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), sponsor of the annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville; the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), host of the annual RVDA Con/Expo in Las Vegas; and manufacturers supporting Elkhart County’s Annual RV Open House Week have formed a joint committee to look into the matter.

And there seems to be an atmosphere of compromise in the air.

“The way I look at it is that it’s a lot of peoples’ votes here, you know, and I’m open to whatever’s good for the dealer,” said Forest River President & CEO Pete Liegl, who spearheaded the first Open House Week four years ago. “Obviously, the dealer comes to the Open House. He goes to Louisville. He goes to RVDA. He’s got other functions, 20 groups and all that, and he or she is probably traveling a little more than they want.

“So, whatever we do, I want it to be good for Forest River. I also want it to be good for the dealer and I also want it to be good for the industry.”

Both associations apparently are taking an active role in these preliminary discussions. And while neither is saying much at this point, both agreed to issue written statements in response to RVBUSINESS.com’s inquiries that tended to confirm the perception that both trade groups are keeping an open mind with regard to a topic that only months ago would have been widely viewed as a hot potato.

“Clearly, the role of the trade show is evolving in our industry and in many others as well,” says RVIA President Richard A. Coon. “It is incumbent upon RVIA as an association to play a leadership role in shaping and protecting the RV industry’s future, and one such area is the national show.

“Findings from our research indicate that the industry feels strongly that a national show is a benefit to the industry,” he added. “That said, we realize that some changes are needed to ensure we are best serving our members and the industry as a whole. Therefore, RVIA is having conversations with executives from across the industry to examine the potential size, scope, timing and location of an all-industry event that would better serve the industry’s needs.”

RVDA President Mike Molino sent a similar signal in his prepared statement.

“RVDA is a dealer-driven organization,” said Molino. “The volunteer leaders and staff are truly committed to doing what is best for RV dealers and the industry. More and more dealers are telling us they want us to be as efficient as we possibly can with their time and money. We are listening. We believe we would be negligent to our obligations if we did not look for better ways to schedule shows and make our RV Learning Center programs accessible to more dealers. We look forward to exploring opportunities with our industry partners at RVIA.”

Bob Martin, president of Keystone RV Co., Thor’s largest division, says he’s “definitely open” to considering alternative approaches after comparing notes with a wide variety of industry factions – keeping in mind that, due to current facilities commitments, the soonest a real change could take place would probably be 2013.

“You know, it actually came up at RVDA in our Partners in Progress meeting,” said Martin. “The dealers are throwing out many different ideas of whether you combine one or two of the venues or change the time of year. So, for us, we’re going to do what’s best for the dealers, and if there’s a way to combine, we’d definitely be open to it because it (the current situation) is a huge drain on us financially, a drain on our time – having Louisville, Open House and RVDA. And, you know, I was gone all of this past fall (at shows), and it just makes it very tough on your family life as well.”