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By Greg Gerber
Editor, RV Daily Report
The entire RV industry gathered in Salt Lake City last week for RVX: The RV Experience, the first version of what the RV Industry Association (RVIA) hoped would be a brand new type of trade show.
Attendance figures won’t be released for several more weeks. The numbers must be “audited” first to ensure accuracy, so we really don’t know how many people attended the event.
It did appear there were more journalists and bloggers registered than there were RV dealers. In fact, at one point there were 227 media people with badges, a significant increase from the 163 journalists and bloggers who attended the 2017 National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.
Reports indicated there were 300 pre-registered RV dealers for RVX. The last Louisville show that I attended saw 2,290 registered dealers.
In fact, attendance at the Louisville show in 2016 totaled 7,674 people, and there was no way RVX came close to attracting that number.
The event lived up to its name for its ability to prepare industry professionals for the demands, needs and desires of future consumers. There were a lot of data-driven presentations that left no doubt that a metamorphosis is underway in the industry.
For example, Freightliner did a great job in telling its story in its booth with displays that highlighted the history of the components as they evolved on their custom chassis. They added a driving simulator to give people and idea of what to expect in future cockpit displays and functionality.
The technology Freightliner has developed and is planning to release will make driving easier, safer and more enjoyable.
I was really impressed with the new In-Command technology developed by ASA Electronics and Keystone RV to weigh RVs in real time to help users ensure they don’t overload units.
A simple display showing the weight on the tires and the weight on the tongue made it really easy for people to know that the loads were balanced and within the RV’s gross vehicle weight rating.
The demonstration showed the tongue weight over the limit at the start. But, when a ATV was driven into the garage of the Keystone toy hauler, the display went from red to green to show the load was balanced. Any consumer should be able to use that feature to their advantage.
I had to chuckle though when the unit went overweight after eight people entered the RV – lending credence to the claim that today’s RVs can hold everything but people.
I did learn later than the RV was set up specifically to go overweight when the people entered just to show what would happen when the unit was over capacity. It was an effective demonstration.
Campground of the future
The best display was Kampgrounds of America’s depiction of the campground of the future. It is the type of innovation I’ve come to expect from KOA, which has an enormous stockpile of data from which to make these type of predictions.
That was evident in CEO Toby O’Rourke’s presentation on Wednesday during which she provided statistical proof that campers are changing in appearance (younger and people of color) and how they use their RVs (short stays, packed with adventure).
The campground of the future envisioned how people would camp in different environments, such as:
- Coastal areas
- Urban cities (I loved the roof-top campgrounds on office buildings)
Granted, some of the models were very futuristic in their appearance. However, the displays really stoked the imagination and proved that camping is changing, too, just as quickly as RVs. Camping is no longer about driving a rig to a campground and parking fingernail-to-fingernail next to your neighbor while sitting under an awning sipping sodas.
KOA’s display showed what we have been reporting for years, and that is that campers desire an experience – a memorable experience at that.
It was complete Imagineering, to coin a phrase from Walt Disney, another visionary who revolutionized the ways families enjoy vacations.
The KOA display showed the focus of RVing and camping in the future will be on making memories, reducing stress, connecting with nature and family bonding. Some of that is underway and has been for years, but the industry will see more emphasis on connecting with nature and making memories in the years ahead.
It was obvious from the KOA display and others that boomers are losing their influence on the RV industry, and that millennials are the driving force for future changes.
If there was one thing that the KOA display lacked, that others in the exhibit hall picked up on, it is that boondocking will become much more popular in the future. Campgrounds that do not provide the experience RVers are looking for and opt to cling to a parking lot business model risk missing out on the new paradigm.
Expensive show for suppliers
More than one supplier had tears in his eyes describing the costs incurred to have a display at RVX. I heard estimates up to $8,000 for suppliers and $12,000 per RV exhibited by manufacturers.
However, most of the suppliers were happy with their investment in that they understood RVX was a new event and they were happy to support the effort.
As many noted, once the Louisville show ended, the RV industry lacked a showcase event that brought together every segment of the industry. RVX certainly did that.
There was plenty of positive feedback by attendees and exhibitors. In fact, I didn’t encounter a single person who said the show failed to meet expectations.
Georgiann Voissen, CEO of the Inspired Group, thought the show was beautifully laid out with supplier displays mixed in with manufacturers.
“The show offered more opportunity for exhibitors to interact with dealers coming to see units on display by manufacturers,” she said.
Mitul Chandrani, with Xantrex, also liked the mixed displays and the ability for his team to connect with dealers who sell aftermarket products, and manufacturers who want to install solar panels and lithium batteries on new RVs.
Derald Bontrager, CEO of Jayco, applauded RVIA for the effort put in to create a showcase event for the industry. He believed it would take a few years for the concept to solidify and work out the kinks. However, he was impressed with the number of journalists and bloggers he spoke with. That should generate a great deal of positive press about the RV industry and lifestyle, he predicted.
Ryan Elias, director of marketing for Leisure Travel, said he didn’t have a problem with a lack of dealers in his display.
“Seven of our Top 10 dealers were here,” he explained. “This week was all about relationship building, so it is hard to put a value on the show. But, RVIA did a good job increasing exposure for the event and the industry.”
Eva Mitic, marketing manager for Go Power, said her team had achieved its goals by Wednesday, She was also impressed with the number of RV manufacturers that were prewiring units for solar panels, and the number who were exploring adding lithium batteries to their new RVs.
“It was a fantastic show,” she added. “The RV Aftermarket Experience was a nice touch and really showed how aftermarket products can improve the RVing experience.”
Mitic also praised RVIA for launching the RV Women’s Alliance at the RVX event.
The Reveal falls flat
The most disappointing aspect of the show to me was The Reveal, an event that was hyped as the “coming out” party for new technology and innovative recreation vehicles.
RVIA spared no expense to put on the event, which included a disc jockey creating musical transitions between scenes.
It was hosted by Rutledge Wood, an NBC racing analyst, who described The Reveal as a “robust dealer-oriented event.” It’s just that the dealers didn’t show up.
RVIA accepted 165 nominations for products to be showcased at The Reveal in nine categories for which RVs are typically used, including:
- Outdoor adventure
- Van life
- City Escape
- Destination camping
- Team tailgating
- Sustainability (environmentally-friendly)
- Luxury living
- On the Horizon (high-tech)
The show was missing two important categories — full-time RVers or extended-stay travelers, as well as people who work from the road.
The Reveal showed promise, until the smoke and mirrors arrived. Nobody revealed who the judges were, other than to say they were “independent influencers.” Based on some of the judge’s selections, I interpreted that to mean the judges were either independent of the RV industry or independent of common sense.
I had to wonder when motorhomes were selected as finalists in the destination camping category. Why would someone spend all that money to buy a motorhome to drive it to a campground and leave it for a summer?
It also appeared that the judges evaluated the RVs showcased in the Reveal based on written applications and submitted photos, although the RVIA staff indicated that some of the judges walked through some of the units.
In fact, some of the RVs selected as finalist or spotlight winners had not been built until days before the event. Knowing that, how could an RV be nominated, let alone evaluated and win a concept sight unseen.
Judges were not paid, but their travel expenses were covered by RVIA. The staff could not tell me how many of the anonymous judges were involved in the process.
Unknown judges evaluating submissions without walking through units just lacked credibility for the event to be taken seriously. Rather than calling the event “The Reveal,” it could have just as easily been referred to as the 2019 Bling Awards.
Don’t get me wrong, there were some incredible RVs selected as award winners. Some featured forward-thinking and practical designs, and we will feature them in RV Daily Report in the near future.
However, more attention needs to be paid to this process to give The Reveal the credibility it needs.
The inaugural RVX was better than I expected it to be. It was a true industry showcase that brought together all segments of the industry.
It offered more educational opportunities than one person could absorb on his own. As Michael Smalley, with Cruise America noted, “I feel sorry for the dealers who missed out on this event. I love the intimacy of RVX.”
Next year’s event is planned for March 10 to 12 in San Antonio.