By Greg Gerber
Editor, RV Daily Report
I’ll never forget that day in January 2000 when I started my job as editor of RV Trade Digest, which was the No. 1 business-to-business publication in the industry at the time.
I didn’t know where my desk was or even the location of the closest restroom, but I was put on a jet and whisked away to Las Vegas to represent the publication as the new editor-in-chief at a wholesale distribution buying show. I didn’t know the difference between a “drivable” or “pull behind” RV, as I called them, nor did I know the difference between a towbar and a towed car.
But, the industry welcomed me into the new position and has supported me for the past 17 years – well, most of the industry anyway.
After I published the highly-researched series of opinion pieces last summer that became known as the RV Industry Death Spiral, I kicked a hornet’s nest. More than a quarter million people have read that series to date and comments are still being made every week.
I was told the opinion pieces rocked boardrooms across the industry and at least sparked a discussion as to whether Crazy Gerber’s points were valid about serious issues the RV industry was overlooking that, if they weren’t addressed soon, would leave the industry with less than 20 years of viability.
I have also seen remarkable action taken by companies genuinely interested in serving their customers by improving the ownership experience. By the way, people can download the entire editorial series right here.
However, the opinion pieces launched an unprecedented series of attacks on RV Daily Report advertisers by the Priority RV dealership network as well as the upper management of Forest River. We lost six advertisers since January. But, we picked up three so the impact was minimal.
Gloating from their gold ornate offices in Elkhart, I suspect the Godfather and his consigliores are elated about their success at driving out a media member six months before he planned to step down anyway simply because he publicly addressed issues that weren’t normally discussed in polite conversation.
I laugh at the idea because they are powerless to slow the tsunami of public criticism being leveled against them on RV-related forums and social media sites. Time will undoubtedly prove whether the warning was valid or simply hyped-up “clickbait.”
In the series, I noted that 2017 would be the year of the lawsuit, and that has proven prophetic as publicly traded companies in the RV industry are currently defending against more than 2,500 active lawsuits by customers.
Since January, I have spoken to five lawyers whose firms are investigating RV manufacturers for violations of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. The clock is ticking on those companies who bury their collective heads in the sand thinking that as long as people continue to buy products, they must be happy with their purchases.
In fact, if you think about it, the RV industry is elated over the prospect of selling 500,000 RVs per year. In a nation of 321 million people – plus 36 million Canadians – 500,000 represents just 0.0014 percent of the population. As long as RV companies can entice 0.0014 percent of people to buy a product every year, there is no real incentive for RV companies to change.
Yet, knowing the lawsuit prophecy came true, here’s another one to ponder. I believe that 2019 will be the legal turning point for the RV industry as state and federal officials look to pass more consumer-friendly legislation – despite the behind-the-scenes work of the “RV caucus.”
There is a wounded and badly embarrassed political party out of power at the moment with a smug, arrogant do-nothing political party calling the shots. To claw back support of the American people, expect politicians to promise to do more to protect citizens from big monopolies, whether they are cable providers, wireless service providers or even RV manufacturers.
Here’s a note I received last night from a frustrated RV owner, and it is typical of dozens of messages I receive each week from upset RV owners who can’t get dealers and manufacturers to listen to their concerns, let alone cooperate to fix a laundry lists of problems.
“Conglomerates like Thor, Forest River and others take the money, but they do nothing to improve the often expensive RVs they sell to unsuspecting purchasers, who in many cases have saved their whole lives to be able to retire, buy an RV and see the country.
“Unfortunately, because of the greed of the industry owners and the lack of caring by the division managers, purchasers are often left holding bag for bad workmanship, inferior materials, and for very unsafe overrated tires that often explode and cause great damage and even death.
“Since we cannot trust the industry to police itself, we MUST have better oversight from government agencies such as, Consumer Protection, NTHSA, OSHA, and more. I am NOT for big government, but I am NOT for allowing the RV industry to continue to pick the pockets of hard working and retired Americans.
“I am going to be working with my senator and legislator to bring attention to these serious issues which have been swept under the carpet for far too long. A lemon law for RVs must be established/enforced as well as some serious backing to ENFORCE warranties.
“Additionally, the buck will not stop until the corporate owners of these defective RVs are PERSONALLY held accountable for the death, injury, and economic hardships that they have wrought. I’m sure their lobby will grease the palms of the politicians, but we will be there to expose that fact. The coming investigations will surely uncover enough collusion that they will pay a steep price!”
I took a phone call this morning from a frustrated 70-year-old near tears over the fact he bought an RV one-year ago today and has only been able to use it a few weeks during the year. The rest of the time it has been in a repair shop as the RV dealer and manufacturer point fingers at each other — and even at the buyer — while nothing gets fixed and he simply gets older watching his lifelong dream evaporate.
Consumers will be in a better position to demand change as power within the RV industry continues to consolidate around a handful of extraordinarily influential companies. Already this year there have been 37 announced consolidations in the RV industry – 37 once independent firms that have been swallowed up by bigger companies.
As Congress looks at the wrecking ball of monopolistic power behind Google, Amazon, Apple, Time Warner and other monopolies, I suspect other big industries, like the RV industry, will come under the magnifying glass — especially if regulators hear enough cries from consumers.
As I hand over the reins of RV Daily Report tomorrow to new owners and a new editor, I am pleased with what I’ve accomplished over the past 17 years. I have changed forever how information is disseminated within the industry.
In 2000, news was delivered only by magazines which took six weeks to arrive in readers’ mailboxes. Today, news is delivered in six seconds to our website.
In 2005, I started the RV industry’s first blog which allowed Crazy Gerber to spout off regarding critical issues impacting the industry. Best of all, it was the first interactive communication that allowed readers to add their two cents in real time.
Back then, editorial power was essentially consolidated around a gatekeeper who made arbitrary decisions about what to report and what opinions were considered worthy of reading in carefully edited “letters to the editor.” My blog instantly transferred that power directly to readers who finally enjoyed a venue to share their ideas and their voices.
In 2008, I left RV Trade Digest behind and the publication went bankrupt 18 months later because the nearsighted owners and executives didn’t see the Internet headed their way. In 2009, 15 months after attempting to launch a new magazine with an online component with another now-bankrupt publishing company, I ventured out on my own.
RVeNews was launched April 1, 2009, and renamed RV Daily Report in August of that year after RV News threatened to sue me for impeding upon their trademark. What made the publication different from anything else on the market was the fact that everything was online and the day’s news was delivered via email every workday at 4 p.m. Eastern time.
When I started the publication, I was told I was out of my mind because there wasn’t enough industry news produced every day to warrant a daily publication. Well, I proved the detractors wrong and soon each of my esteemed competitors had launched a daily online newsletter as well.
What made RV Daily Report different was that we allowed anyone to step up to the microphone to share an idea or concern with the rest of the industry. Our guest editorials are still popular although I am surprised more people haven’t taken advantage of the opportunity.
The other unique aspect of RV Daily Report was that the publication was the first to pay attention to every major segment of the industry: industry news, campground news and owner news. The newsletters were specifically designed so busy executives could scan the headlines and a summary and keep abreast of industry events and people without a huge investment of time.
People who desired more information could click on the headline to read more and often find a link to an even bigger story. Knowing that not everyone read every issue during the week, the weekly edition featured a recap of the Top 50 most-read stories of the week, also segmented by industry, which allowed readers to see what were the most important stories of the week.
Another first for RV Daily Report took place in March 2014 when we published our first podcast interview. Since then, nearly 145 weekly episodes have aired allowing industry professionals to share their stories in their own words during an unedited 25- to 30-minute interview that went out not only in two consecutive issues of RV Daily Report, but also on Stitcher Radio and iTunes.
Not too long after the first podcast aired, I climbed aboard a 35-foot motorhome and launched a full-time three-year roadtrip visiting all 48 lower states and a few Canadian provinces. To the best of my knowledge, it was the first time an industry-exclusive journalist lived and worked full-time from an RV while reporting on the activities of dealers, manufacturers, suppliers, campground owners and RV owners.
You’d think all that editorial innovation would garner at least an honorable mention from the RV Industry Association in the group’s annual Distinguished Achievement in RV Journalism Awards. But, alas, the association has well-earned reputation for recognizing mainstream media reporters who simply borrow a motorhome for a week and write up a single story for national publication.
Sadly, there was not a single RV industry reporter or editor worthy of being considered “distinguished” in 2016 – not even a fly-by-night “journalist” reporting on a well-scripted experience with a borrowed RV. Again this year, the association has yet to honor a distinguished journalist.
So, in my final editorial as editor, I’d recommend that the association’s awards committee present this year’s honor posthumously to RV Business Midwest Editor Justin Leighty, who was killed in an automobile accident earlier this week.
If RVIA can’t find enough reasons to honor Leighty for his exceptional reporting of the industry for RV Business or of RV parks for Woodall’s Campground Management, then I’d suggest the association honor the work of John and Kathy Huggins.
As the founders of Living the RV Dream, the Huggins produced 408 weekly podcasts promoting the RV lifestyle to thousands of current and prospective owners during an eight-year period. They also formed one of the most active Facebook groups consisting of nearly 43,000 RV enthusiasts.
Grateful for the support
In closing, I consider myself to be tremendously fortunate to be associated with such a fun industry for so many years. I have met some incredible, motivated customer-oriented individuals
I didn’t do it by myself. I had the support of an exceptional group of helpers including long-time sales director Pam Petersen, who is retiring herself later this year. She sold out all available advertising space several years running and was instrumental in finding new companies willing to support the publication that weren’t susceptible to political gamesmanship by RV manufacturers and other large companies.
I am also grateful for assistance from Darian Armer, who served as my assistant editor for several years and is now the happy mother of infant twins — a boy and a girl — born in March.
Most of the stories posted to RV Daily Report over the years were produced by three woman who stepped in to make the publication as big as it was every day. Rebecca Kanable was the first “web editor.” She was replaced by Kelly Cauthorn, who also left to have twins. Finally, my daughter, Rebecca Smith, has posted almost as many stories in the past three-and-a-half years as I have in the past eight.
Finally, none of this adventure would have been possible without the generous support of all the advertisers who have helped to “keep the lights on” day after day. I’d especially like to call out Bert Alanko, with MBA Insurance, who was the first advertiser to come on board, and hasn’t missed a day since we sent out our first issue.
Bob Brammer, president of Stromberg Carlson, is also a founding advertiser along with Sys2K President Carl Sconnely, and Sean Raynor, general manager of Integrated Dealer Systems.
So, to my readers and advertisers, from the bottom of my heart, thanks for your support and encouragement over 17 and a half years. It really has been a wonderful, memorable journey filled with more blessings than I can count. Although I won’t be involved in the day-to-day publication of RV Daily Report, I will still be producing a story or two as well as a podcast as I launch a new career as a public speaker and author of faith-based books.
P.S. As if this day couldn’t be more memorable, I am happy to announce that my fifth grandchild was born at 12:45 a.m. today. He’s a special little guy seeing as though I have been surrounded by women all my life as a dad of daughters only and, until this morning, a grandfather of granddaughters only. I’m not sure what I’ll do with Chase Ryan Wegner, but I’ll have plenty of time to figure that out.