Opinion: RVIA exposes problems related to groupthink

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By Greg Gerber
Editor, RV Daily Report

Buried in the fourth paragraph of a four-paragraph press release today, news that the RV Industry Association (RVIA) has cancelled its planned RVX: The Experience events scheduled for 2020 and 2021 shows what happens when even big organizations succumb to “groupthink.”

According to Psychology Today, in a groupthink situation, group members refrain from expressing doubts and judgments or disagreeing with the consensus in the interest of making a decision.

If anything, RVIA is well known for two things:

  • Talking about critical issues over and over and over again without taking formal action to resolve them.
  • Diligently working to preserve “unity” within the industry, even if means ignoring the elephants, rhinoceroses and gorillas in the room.

RVX was a good event. It was a nice opportunity for industry professionals to connect with each other to maintain relationships, forge new partnerships and see what others were doing that was new and exciting.

However, I have personally talked with people who did everything but set up a tent to “occupy” the RVIA office in order to get their voices heard regarding some of the fallacies associated with the RVX event.

How many people told the RVIA staff that it was sheer idiocy to schedule a major trade show during the height of RV dealers’ spring shows? But, the “experts” knew the industry needed a “kickoff to the camping season.”

How many people told the staff that traveling to Salt Lake City in winter was a bad idea?

It took me two days to get out of Salt Lake City after a big snowstorm in Denver forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights that had cascading impact on airline schedules across the nation.

Still, the Salt Palace Convention Center is where the Outdoor Industry Association — which at one time employed both the RVIA president and vice president of meetings and shows — hosted its annual Outdoor Retailer show in SUMMER.

Did anyone stop to ask why people would board a plane to fly across the country to attend an event that was being livestreamed to the computer they carry in their pockets?

But livestreaming is hip and cool. Using that technology shows how “woke” the association really is.

Who was the show’s primary constituency?  The exhibitors foolishly assumed the event was designed to attract the attention of people who build or sell recreation vehicles and component products.

In reality, the show was designed to bring in scads of bloggers, YouTubers, social media stars, and traditional reporters. The whole idea behind RVX: The Experience was the EXPERIENCE. The event was all about creating a buzz, not selling products.

It’s obvious that it was always more about creating a showcase event for the industry than it was about actually helping the industry. Did RVIA feel it needed to be like all the other industries with big trade associations and elaborate showcase events?

Personally, I rather enjoyed the intimacy that RVX offered. Everyone was located within an easy walking area, not scattered through 1.25 miles of horse barns, arenas and hallways like it was in Louisville.

I was unsure how successful it would be to have supplier displays sprinkled around the show floor along with manufacturing displays, but it turned out well and exhibitors indicated they enjoyed good traffic from among the people who did show up. They reported making quality contacts in the process.

Yet, RVX was the poorest attended good intention the RV industry every produced. RVX also exposed another flaw in the way RVIA conducts business.

The company hires exceptionally talented professionals and pays them above average salaries to do their jobs. But, then, the organization spends a small fortune every year hiring a bevy of “consultants” to plan and carry out the work.

There were at least four public relations and advertising agencies involved in promoting RVX, and there were still more journalists and bloggers in attendance than there were RV dealers.

Duh!  Who do public relations consultants hang out with most? It’s the journalists and bloggers for whom they are trying to entice to carry a specific message.

It just goes to prove that regardless of how much money PR firms will bill an organization for lipstick, shoes and fashion accessories, it doesn’t make a pig look any better.

In fact, one could argue that all the consultants, experts, public relations firms, and advertising agencies employed by RVIA could be represented by the image of piglets feeding off its mother.  Only the “mother” represents the hundreds of firms that pour money into funding RVIA each year.

For an industry association, it would be practical if the group listened more to its members and people involved in the industry itself and less to the outside “visionaries” hired to tell the industry what it should do.

In fact, it would be a really smart idea to intentionally replace a few bobbleheads within the RVIA organization with some genuine disruptors who make the organization and its staff feel a bit uncomfortable.

Moving RVIA out of its comfort zone is the only way change will ever take place.

Yes, there is a price associated with change. It probably means fewer kum-bah-ya and back-slapping moments of unity, but RVIA will be in a better position long term to lead the industry without requiring the help of outside “experts.”

Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber

A journalist who has covered the recreation vehicle industry since January 2000, Greg Gerber founded RV Daily Report on April Fool's Day in 2009. He also serves as the editor of the publication and website. As an Eagle Scout, he has enjoyed camping for decades and has visited every state except Hawaii. A DODO -- Dad of Daughters Only -- to three young women, he has two grandchildren as well. He currently splits his time between Wisconsin, Texas and Arizona. Greg can be reached at editor@rvdailyreport.com.

Leave a Comment

  • tim says:

    Your comments are spot on! Thank you for some honesty that is rare in this industry. If the powers at be don’t hold another event late this year or very early next year they could just as well forget about it all together. They have not listened for years now. Someone really needs to wake up! Why should I bother writing anything on your website because you actually deal with RV folks. I think I will take my complaints to facebook where the real geniuses hang out and blog about the motorhomes driven by a wind turbines and think a great big huge box can get 100 miles per wind generator revolution.

    • Greg Gerber says:

      I can almost guarantee that none of the RV industry geniuses hang out on Facebook. You certainly won’t see a discussion on topics like this on Facebook with input from industry professionals. How about a new model motorhome with a sail powered by a wind-turbine? 😉

      Editor, RV Daily Report

  • Charles Campbell says:

    As always, your words of honest insight are welcomed.
    I am still amazed that the RVIA & the RVDA don’t put aside any personal and/or professional differences, and come together for one mutual show every year.
    It did send a bit of a shockwave for the RVX in San Antonio to be canceled so quickly immediately following the outpouring of positive PR by the RVIA about the SLC RVX. Certainly makes a person question the “True” success.
    Well, I suppose we shall all simply take a backseat and watch what magic is concocted for the next attempt.

    • Greg Gerber says:

      It was more ironic that the 2020 and 2021 shows were cancelled the same day another publication delivered a magazine to its readers promoting RVX as the best thing to happen to the RV industry. It was an effort marred by groupthink and a strong belief in the need to go along to get along.

      Editor, RV Daily Report

  • NeVelle says:

    I never considered myself as a “brain” but I have been in this industry since the early 70’s. I’ve seen the good times and the bad. I’ve seen manufacturers do some great things and I’ve seen them when you have to ask “what was they thinking “!
    This is the first RVIA show I’ve missed since 1976. I even went to Atlanta the year they thought that would be a good place for a RVIA show and that didn’t work good either. In the RV industry, we find that between Thanksgiving and Christmas….if it doesn’t fit under a tree….people aren’t buying it! So most of us dealers are at the slowest part of our season. I think for that reason, along with the fact shipping and travel expenses was less for the manufacturer, was why Louisville was successful for so many years.
    I think there is a need to have a trade show with all the vendors, manufacturers and supporting entities under one roof where dealers and manufacturers can both benefit but RVX isn’t the answer. It was obvious the leaders of this fiasco was not in tune with the RV industry

    • Greg Gerber says:

      Stay tuned, NeVelle. I plan a follow-up editorial early this week to address what I think needs to be done. There absolutely needs to be an all-industry trade show. But, what will it look like. I’ll identify some options for the industry to consider.

      Editor, RV Daily Report

  • Andy Pargh says:

    Excellent observation Greg. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is glad you’re back in the saddle.

  • Jerome says:

    I’m fairly new to the RVing world so can you tell me when was the last time one of these events was collectively considered successful and what made it a success? I worked a few years helping organizations improve their operations and all too often they had lost their way because of what you called “groupthink” and we used to call “groupgrope!” It is too easy to become accustomed to doing things simply because “we always have” but without serious definition of goals, strategy, etc. I have read so many negative comments about the lack of quality in our RVs – and experienced it first hand too! I look forward to reading your thoughts on what should be done. If something is not growing then it is dying! Thanks for your update.

    • Greg Gerber says:

      The last truly successful all-industry show was the National RV Trade Show in 2006. It was well attended and included good representation among dealers, manufacturers, suppliers and warehouse distributors. By 2007, the RV industry was already feeling the effects of the great recession and attendance dropped. Then, during the recession, Forest River came up with an idea to bring RV dealers to Elkhart, put them up in hotels, feed them great meals and entertain them at night. Thor followed suit the next year. Since then, most RV dealers attended that annual event and ignored the National RV Trade Show. But, the Elkhart event doesn’t include suppliers.

      Editor, RV Daily Report

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