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Opinion: Something’s happening at RV shows

Opinion: Something’s happening at RV shows

By Bob Zagami, Executive Director
New England RV Dealers Association

We have just concluded the Boston RV and Camping Expo and the Northeast Recreational Vehicle and Camping Show in Hartford, Conn., and something is happening here. I suspect all around the country at other RV shows as we kick off the season of excitement for RV enthusiasts and those who want to be part of that group . . . new prospects!

It should be noted that both shows experienced dramatic increases in attendance this year. The Boston show was up 27 percent and we do not have figures on the Hartford show yet.

My “Introduction to RVs and the RV Lifestyle” seminars usually attract standing-room only crowds with show attendees thirsty for knowledge and insight into our industry, and the many benefits the RV lifestyle provides to so many people each year. This year was no exception – if anything, the crowds were larger and they had some great questions.

I changed the title of the seminar three years ago. It was originally titled, “First-Time Buyers Seminar.” One of the first questions I would ask the audience was, “How many of you currently own an RV?” It was always less than 10 percent of the audience.

When I changed the title of the seminar, I started asking another question, “How many of you are attending your first RV show?” I’m not sure why I started asking that question, but the crowds had been getting larger each year. Their questions reflected a desire to learn all they could about the lifestyle and how they could enjoy it along with their friends and neighbors who had already discovered the many benefits that our industry presents to the millions of people who already own RVs.

In each of the past three years, and many seminars later, the answer to that question is reflected in a flurry of arms being raised in the air. The number of people attending RV shows for the first time is significant, and I wonder if this is unique to New England, or if others ask this question in their seminars and if they are seeing the same trend — we are attracting a lot of first time show attendees! I think we are going to see this all around the country this year, and the years ahead.

As an industry, we might want to take a closer look at these statistics and the demographics that match up with this new audience of prospects. I think there are a couple of reasons for this increase and it bodes well for our industry to continue seeing record shipments in the years ahead  if — and it’s a big if — we make their first RV experience all that they expect it to be so that they become evangelists for the RV lifestyle and they become lifestyle ambassadors that spread our message faster, and to more people.

So who are these people who have found their way to their first RV show, and what was the trigger point that got them through the doors of the exhibit hall to see a massive display of RVs that included everything from pop-up campers to 45-foot diesel pushers, and everything in between.

Amazingly, they are not just Millennials and young families. Although there are a lot of them, I was surprised to see many older couples in this group. It’s the number of first time attendees that got my attention – at least one third of every audience I spoke to the past two weekends fit into this group. That’s not a misprint, it’s a fact, and it’s exciting.

I think the Go RVing outreach to Hispanics and Blacks is beginning to take hold. We had a lot of consumers in these groups in the audience this year. I know from a New England perspective, I have never seen this many Black families at these two RV show. Young Hispanic families were well represented as well.

While the targeted marketing to these demographic populations is very important, and critical for future expansion to new buyers, I think our social media engagement for these shows also played a large role in bringing new people into the shows to learn more about the lifestyle and what it offers for everyone.

Whether it is a single person looking for adventure, a young family looking for a safe and enjoyable outdoor experience, an outdoor enthusiast that never thought of enjoying their activities from an RV instead of a hotel room, or a mature couple that wants to see this great country after they retire – we have it all, and we have it now, and more importantly, we have their attention!

Converting these prospects to customers should not be hard now that we them taking a serious look at our products, campgrounds and outdoor experiences.

I don’t think we need help in converting them. We need more programs that will continue to feed the sales pipeline with the next generation of RVers, whether they are 25 years old or 65 years old.

The industry is addressing the key issues that will determine if these new prospects become new customers, and if those new customers become lifelong Rvers – which is what we want and need from everyone of them.

I’m not the first person that says we need to improve product quality, respond quickly to customer service issues, improve our parts distribution and pay dealers fairly quickly for warranty work so that consumers can be serviced anywhere they need service.

We continue to work on our technician training programs and educational events that improve the capabilities of our dealers and improve the customer experience.

I am excited about first time show attendees because it means that our message is getting out to a wider audience, we have them coming to our shows and learning more about our products and how to enjoy them. But — and it’s a big but — it cannot be business as usual in our industry because this new customer will not tolerate a bad experience and will leave the industry as quickly as they came into it.

We do not want people getting excited about RVs and the RV lifestyle, buying an RV, and then having a bad experience that makes them a one-owner RVer and they move on to something else.

I don’t know how many seminar presenters ask this question, “How many of you are attending your first RV show?” If you don’t ask this question, please consider doing so. If you do ask this question, please let me know what you are seeing with your audiences.

We are embarking on what is sure to be another record setting year for RV sales. Some of those sales are going to this new group of people who found their first RV show and bought their first RV at the show.

They are excited about their future in RVing, let’s not disappoint them, and let’s make sure we convert them to evangelists for the lifestyle and not have them turn against us.

Let’s make this the year that we really do change the industry and allow our dealers to sell more units, create more happy customers, service and support them with the full cooperation and backup from suppliers and manufacturers.

We’ve convinced the people to Go RVing, let’s make sure they go and comeback again, and again, and again.

Bob Zagami has been an active RVer almost forty years. He first started writing about the industry with RV News in 1996, eventually becoming the editor of the magazine. Bob has written for many RV publications over the past twenty years and is a popular and enthusiastic presenter at RV events. He also owns RV Insights, a media, marketing and consulting company in the RV industry and serves as Executive Director of the New England RV Dealers Association. Bob can be reached at 617.974.3739, rwzagami@gmail.com or bobzagami@nervda.com.

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About Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber is the editor and founder of RV Daily Report. A native of Madison, Wis., he moved to Phoenix in 2009 to escape the endless winters and wicked humidity of the six-week "summer" season. He's a DODO -- Dad of Daughter's Only -- who would crawl across the desert on his hands and knees for an In-N-Out Double Double. He has visited every state except Hawaii and is anxiously waiting for some RV company to host a conference in the Aloha State.

9 comments

  1. Kevin | RVingPlanet.com

    Always good to hear positive and encouraging news in our industry … thanks for sharing Bob!

    We’ve definately experienced the same thing with folks who interact with us at rvingplanet.com … more and more folks that are interested and curious about RVing which I’m sure so many in our industry have contributed to, but as you allude to there is no substitute for good ol word of mouth from RVer’s themselves sharing rving stories at work, at family/friend get togethers, and through their social digital interactions as well.

    Everyone working together to make awesome products, helping folks make the right buying decisions, that promote wonderful memory making rving adventures for the couple, families, and everyone in between.

    Keep up the good work in our industry!

  2. Thanks for the input Bob. We are also seeing a noticeable jump in younger clientele and a much larger percentage of first timers using our products in the past 3 years. They are eager to learn how to avoid the pitfalls that others have told them can be a part of the RV lifestyle and excited about getting started(which goes right along with your “get em’ and keep em” statement). Very encouraging.

  3. Devon / RVSnapPad.com

    Great article Bob!
    We’ve found our new product SnapPad is doing really well because of the increase in leveling systems becoming standard equipment today. That’s only possible because of the noticeable increase in RV’ers of all ages. Very exciting time for the industry and very heartening to see consumers taking control of their lives and living how they want!

  4. Bob you hit the nail right on the head! We had a record-breaking crowd at the Florida RV SuperShow this year and a lot of them were first time show attendees. We also saw this at our fall show in Tampa as well. Confidence is sky high with our consumers right now and I think part of can be attributed to the election being over. People will not make a major purchase like an RV without the confidence that they can afford not only the payments but can afford to use it as well. We also heard people saying they have stayed on the sidelines the past few years and now they are ready to make the commitment. The stock market is close to 20,000, interest rates are very attractive, gas prices have been fairly stable, and home values are heading up once again. We are in a “perfect storm” of a selling opportunity and now’s the time to strike! We are looking forward to a strong winter show season here in Florida and it sounds like the northern shows are doing great as well. Let’s keep it up all year long!!

  5. While we appreciate all of the interest in the RV way of life, I think these people should also be warned about the state of the industry. That is poor quality and long wait times for repairs. These people should also be warned about the lack of available campgrounds for people who want to stay for a few days and then move on. Parts of Florida are so hard to get into that you have to reserve a year in advance and then commit sometimes for three months in order to get a site.

  6. Walter Cannon / RV Safety & Edcuation Foundation

    Bob after presenting our seminars in Boston and listening to yours I started to ask the same question during my seminar in Tampa.
    I found similar results, from my seat the exciting thing is the want our new customer has for information, weather that be lifestyle or safety. The trick is going to be if as an industry we will deliver and meet their expectations.
    Thanks for all your help in attending the Boston show, hope we do it again.

  7. I’m sure you are right about increased attendance of “newbies”. I’m also reasonably sure one of the reasons you see so many new attendees is the lack of knowledge regarding products at the Dealer level. People are spending big money on a complicated product and are often faced with a salesperson that has less knowledge about the product than the consumer. Consumers are hungry for facts about the products. Sadly, attending Tampa a couple weeks ago, there was still WAY too many “I don’t know”‘s flying around in some of the booths I visited…

  8. Listen up RV Industry, you know what the issues are and how to fix them. The ball is in your court and your future is in your hands. Now get busy and just do it.

  9. I was in a convenience store two days ago and a magazine cover caught my eye. O, The Oprah Magazine’s latest cover, is sporting Oprah at the entry of an Airstream.
    With a chance to win a glamping getaway, the issue wants to tell you, “How to be a Happier Camper.”
    Granted, it was about the trendy clothing and beauty products to have out in the woods, but the mainstream has caught on to the industry.
    Bob, you hit the nail on the head when you said the “new customer will not tolerate a bad experience and will leave the industry as quickly as they came into it.” They are being sold the high quality experience, and the industry must meet the high quality expectations to retain the recreation dollar. This includes the recreational infrastructure along with the products.
    We’re given an awesome opportunity for growth, and now is the time that opportunity will be seized or wasted.

    Thanks Bob for continuing to share and communicate this message.

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