With about 1,000 people in attendance and countless more via the livestream simulcast, the 2021 RV Industry Power Breakfast made a triumphant return today (Dec. 2) in a powerful program facilitated by RVBusiness magazine and held at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind.
While the event certainly featured several highlights, perhaps the most notable was Pete Liegl, president of Forest River Inc., being recognized by the RV Dealers Association with the Titan Award, the group’s highest honor. An emotional Liegl expressed his thanks, and said he was humbled to be counted among the esteemed list of other Titan Award recipients.
As mentioned, this morning’s Power Breakfast event was the first since May of 2019. The 2020 Power Breakfast was canceled due to the pandemic, while this year’s event was rescheduled from May for the same reason.
Given that lengthy hiatus, today’s RV Industry Power Breakfast was met with friends and colleagues greeting each other with wide smiles and warm embraces – arguably yet another highlight.
The program itself again featured a slate of industry notables, highlighted by a “Big Three Panel Discussion” featuring the chief executives of the industry’s three largest RV builders, as well as well-known economist Peter Morici, a professor emeritus at the University of Maryland whose appearance was sponsored by Wells Fargo Distribution Finance.
During his presentation, while offering some warnings about inflationary federal spending policies, Morici suggested that the RV industry could be provided with an ongoing supply of new customers because of COVID’s seemingly endless ongoing variants. (See related story.)
The “Big Three Panel Discussion” featured THOR Industries Inc.’s Bob Martin, Forest River Inc.’s Pete Liegl and Winnebago Industries Inc.’s Mike Happe.
Moderated by RVBusiness Publisher Sherman Goldenberg, also the publisher of WOODALLSCM.com, and Bob Parish, of Wells Fargo Distribution Finance, the leaders of the industry’s three highest-volume manufacturers shared their thoughts on the current business climate of record monthly shipments despite supply and labor challenges, when low field inventories might be replenished, the renewed commitment to repair event cycle time (RECT), the looming impact of electric vehicles on RVs, and whether the latest projection of 600,000 wholesale shipments both this year and next was a realistic figure.
“Well, if you ask me, the 57,971 shipments in October (an all-time record for any month) should have been 60,000,” Liegl told an appreciative audience.
All three acknowledged field inventories were lower than what everyone would prefer, but they are improving. The three men also credited their employees with churning out record numbers of units despite ever-changing supply chain disruptions and other pandemic-related issues, including managing labor shortages due to illness.
“In six months, inventory will be at a more reasonable level than what they are today, and what they are today is better than what they were two and three months ago,” Liegl noted.
As far as RECT, Happe’s notion that everyone in the industry, and certainly the three companies represented on stage, must make a tangible commitment to improving product quality, replenishing parts supply and assisting dealers with getting RV’s serviced as quickly as possible.
He related a story of how one dealer provides a “shakedown kit” – duct tape, glue and other products – to its customers to fix their RV’s inevitable breakdowns. That struck him, he said, and the industry needs to do whatever it can so shakedown kits are no longer needed.
Toward that end, Liegl announced that Forest River would be adopting to a streamlined corporate-wide parts identification system by the end of this year.
On the subject of electric vehicles, Martin noted that automotive manufacturers are investing billions in EVs, so the impact will certainly be sooner rather than later. In fact, he suggested the impact will first be felt in Europe, where THOR’s Erwin Hymer subsidiary has been well into development of EV technology for RV applications.
Other presenters were RV Industry Association (RVIA) President Craig Kirby, Kare Redfern of Go RVing, Curt Hemmeler of the RV Technical Institute, Kampgrounds of America (KOA) Chief Franchise Officer Darin Uselman, RV Dealers Association (RVDA) President Phil Ingrassia, 2022 RVDA Chair Mike Pearo, Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston and, via video, U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski.
Kirby celebrated industry unity, saying that by working together RVs and campgrounds were able to emerge from the initial onset of the pandemic with a rapid and record-breaking recovery.
“By working together, we were way more successful at relaunching than any other industry,” he said before citing Go RVing, the Great American Outdoors Act, the RV Technical Institute (RVTI) and the continued opportunity for self-regulation as other successes due to industry unity.
For her part, Redfern said Go RVing, after a year of instructing new RVers how to enjoy the RV lifestyle, are ready to start driving customers into dealerships again. Likewise, Hemmeler said RVTI is looking to recruit more technicians from outside the industry. He also announced a new pricing model that allows dealerships to pay $1,200 per storefront for a full year of training for all of their technicians.
KOA’s Uselman noted during his presentations that the company is expanding rapidly as it works to meet the demand for campsites.
“KOA has 20 new parks under construction at the moment,” he highlighted. “And in 2021 the system added 3,900 new campsites. System-wide, the average KOA has 125 sites, so those numbers are the equivalent of adding another 31 new parks.”
The RV Industry Power Breakfast was sponsored by Airxcel Inc., Cummins Inc., Winnebago Industries, Dometic Corp., Wells Fargo Distribution Finance, Forest River, KOA, Spartan Chassis, RVIA and THOR Industries.