Is RV industry president out of touch with RVers?

Is RV industry president out of touch with RVers?

By Chuck Woodbury
We posted an article earlier this week from a periodical called SGB Executive. It quotes the president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), Frank Hugelmeyer. 

In the article, Hugelmeyer offers his thoughts about the 2018 North American Camping Report, a survey commissioned by KOA that shows that more than six million new households have taken up RVing in the last three years. Using my basic math skills, I calculate that means two million new RV families a year or about 5,500 a day. That’s roughly 228 an hour or just shy of four per minute.

frank rvia
Frank Hugelmeyer

Now let’s figure there’s perhaps a net gain of a few hundred RV park spaces per year. That comes to less than one a day.

Now, if I’m the president of an association that is paid a fee by manufacturers for every single RV product it sells, then I am pleased as punch that my organization is getting a cut on every one of the half million RVs sold in 2017. What the heck do I care where the buyers go with them?

This could probably be labeled “camping” according to some definitions.

What do I care that many of the impulsive buyers buy the “bling” and finance their new, often cheaply built rigs for 20 years — an insane plan on a quickly depreciating asset. Wait until the next economic downturn, when they lose their jobs or their stock portfolios nosedive and they can’t afford their payments. They’ll need to cough up thousands, maybe tens of thousands of dollars to pay off their upside-down loans.

The following statement from Frank is what really got me riled up and prompted my appearance here on my soapbox. In the SGB article he said: “Camping obviously is what everyone in an RV is doing.”

Huh? Obviously?

I emailed him. I could not hold myself back. I had to know — did he really say that?

“Camping obviously is what everyone in an RV is doing,” said Hugelmeyer. Does someone really “camp” in this RV?

Dear Frank,
Did you really say this in the article I saw today from SGB Executive? “Camping obviously is what everyone in an RV is doing. . .”
 
You think someone in a 40-foot diesel pusher; or a two bedroom, two bath fifth wheel with a wine cooler, residential fridge, built-in vacuum, dishwasher, heated floors, washer-dryer, cell phone booster, four TVs with a satellite receiver on the roof, stereo system. . . etc. — you really believe they are “obviously camping.” Please!
 
Do you ever get away in an RV and see what it’s like out there, where Baby Boomers, contract workers, the working poor, college students, traveling nurses, work campers and full-time millennials are clogging up RV parks?
 
You need to deep six the “go where you want, when you want” Go RVing slogan. It’s not true anymore. Try getting a reservation within a month or two at any National Park. Try maybe a year ahead, and you might get a space if you’re lucky.” (end of letter)
 
Seattle RV park: Not camping. RV living.

* * *
BY THE WAY
, check out Frank’s Facebook or Twitter pages. You won’t see any evidence of him in an RV, I couldn’t even find a photo of an RV. I’d be surprised if he owns one or ever spent more a day or two in one (I could be wrong, of course). Does he realize that a crisis is coming where there’s simply no place to stay with a big ol’ power hungry RV except in the off-season or by making a reservation months or even years ahead?

Common Campsite. Not!

Of course, there’s always a Walmart parking lot. I dare the RVIA to run an ad showing RVers “camping” in parking lots. It’ll never happen. Instead they show RVs camped on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Yeah, common practice, right?
 
Like I said, Frank didn’t answer my email. No surprise. It’s rare that anyone in the industry ever does — not just me, but other writers and bloggers with a voice to thousands of RVers, even tens of thousands, or in my case hundreds of thousands. The RV industry is the worst I have ever known at basically ignoring writers. Its PR people aren’t even wise enough to comprehend that forming good relationships with journalists can come in handy during times of crisis, when those journalists may be more understanding.
 
Here’s what I think:
There are still plenty of people who “camp” with RVs. They stay in state parks, national parks (ones off the beaten path because the popular ones are packed), and Forest Service and BLM campgrounds. Some head off on a dirt road and plop down all alone in the desert or forest. But almost nobody, I suggest, who buys a 40-foot RV with an all-electric residential fridge and all the other things I explained to Frank, is camping. No way!
 
In the crowd where I hang out, which amounts to hundreds of thousands — if not a million people who live in their RVs full-time or seasonally — we do not camp. We “live.” In my park here in Wichita Falls, 29 sites are occupied by long-term residents working on a local construction project. Are they camping? What about the other two dozen or more here who are full-timers like me? We are not camping, Frank, we are living in mobile homes that your RVIA member friends make more like transportable mansions every year! Who needs a bloody campfire when you have a built-in fireplace?
 
My RV is not an RV at all. “RV” stands for recreational vehicle. My RV is an “LV,” a living vehicle. “Mobile home” works, too.
 
It’s time for the industry to start treating RVers who camp and those with LVs differently, and try to do things to improve how we use their products — like lobbying local city councils who nix new RV park projects because they “don’t want no trailer trash in the neighborhood.” Treating me, and others like me, and young families who spend a weekend here and there in a small travel trailer alike is like lumping together a guy with a bass boat and a multimillionaire with a 70-foot yacht. Yes, they’re both boaters, but what else do they have in common? Not much.
 
So what’s my point? Not sure yet. I’ll get to it one of these days. I think I need at least 500 hours to think it through. And then I’ll write a book. First copy goes to Frank, my compliments. 

 

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24 thoughts on “Is RV industry president out of touch with RVers?

  1. Matthew Hofmann

    Hey Chuck,

    My name is Matthew Hofmann, First off, I want to thank you for your insight and apt critique of the current state of the RV industry. Housing in our home state of California is deeply impacted and there are millions of mainstream, working people who are forced to compromise on the quality of their living experiences. A significant portion of consumers are using RVs for a purpose that the units they call “home” were fundamentally not designed for – Living. The RV industry is not set up for this kind of demand and for a variety of reasons, companies have been slow to adapt.

    We are actively working to create a new industry that offers mobile living solutions for all income levels – designed from the ground up for full-time Living. I am the designer and creator of a company called Living Vehicle™ from Santa Barbara, CA and I was pleased to hear your use of our company’s name after describing our exact mission. With nearly a decade of experience living full-time in trailers, motorhomes, boats and vans, my wife (an LV co-founder) and I felt the need to design a product and customer support model that would support folks who live in their mobile spaces – without constant compromise.

    The greatest challenge at this point, is influencing widespread zoning regulations to permit this kind of housing. The reality of this is actually quite easy from a barrier to entry standpoint – zoning and regulation issues aside. I celebrate your choice to write a book on this topic and I would be very interested in contributing, or at least continuing this conversation.

    All the best,

    Matthew Hofmann

  2. Ed Killgore

    It’s unfortunate that in today’s business climate that so many respected industry leaders and CEO’s have little to no personal involvement with the products they produce or their intended customers. It seems that a MBA, the ability to read a P&L, or the ruthless actions of a hatchet man somehow and someway insure success without the love of industry, pride in product, or family legacies and loyalties that existed just a few years ago. The age of the arrogant accountant is here today but will be gone tomorrow when it’s realized that they lack the experience to reliably predict industry trends, product innovations and most importantly governmental regulations. Change is on the horizon and their inability to recognize it will be their undoing thanks to industry leaders such as you, Chuck.

  3. Curtis Dowds

    Not sure where to leave this comment but could RV Travel organize protest of the industry association’s absurd assessment of what RV life beyond “camping” is for I would guess even the majority of people who own RVs. I spent four entire hours driving streets east of downtown L.A. two days ago trying to find safe places to do overnights when I’m in L.A. either for business or pleasure. Scarce hardly describes the places I found in an area where I grew up and know like the back of my hand. Whether my use of my RV (Winnebago View on a Sprinter chassis, pulling a Ford C-Max Energi) is typical I’m sure not but isn’t the point. The point is that parking overnight for people on the road doesn’t come close to matching the need. And we need to express that as a group person by person to the industry association as well as prospective buyers. If the numbers you’ve cited are correct, I’d guess something like 90% or more of new owners have utterly no idea that you just can’t head out and expect to stop where you want and spend the night. Not happening anymore. Another industry association with total disregard for consumers. How can we make our protests public?

  4. Mark Birnbaum

    Sad, but true. If you look at the facebook posts for selected RV industry folks, outside of the trade shows, you see them on sugar sand beaches outside the country, in Greece, Italy or elsewhere in Europe. If I could afford it, I’d go there too. Especially, because there aren’t enough RV spaces available in many locales.

    I am contemplating what sort of business model would allow you park your RV on a river/lake for a few days or more and your dinghy would be a rubber raft to run for supplies if needed. Barges ‘R Us?

  5. Ralph

    After reading this article.i could careless if people call it camping/rv/full time. People that have DP are no better than someone that has a tent,I have a 38′ 5th wheel iand I stay in nothing but state parks, federal parks,CEO,blm land I will never go into an RV park that will not let you in just because of what you CAMP in

  6. Cecilia

    I just purchased my very first TT. While waiting at the dealership’s lobby, I happened to meet the rep for the brand of RV which I purchased. He asked me if I was new to camping. I replied that I was not new to camping, I’m new to RVing. In spite of the fact that my choice to purchase a small RV was to enhance the camping experience with some modern conveniences, it is easy to see there is a distinction between the different purposes for using an RV. This rep does not own an RV, but has used one as their company allows their employees to “camp” with their products.
    My impression is that the generalization that all RVers are obviously camping seems to have trickled down to the mindset of the manufacturers and reps. Possibly most of those who work in the industry who have not owned nor experienced the other side which is ownership. This is my educated guess. I wonder where Frank Hugelmeyer gets his info from to come to his conclusion?

  7. Downfall

    You know, back when you part time RV’d in a small rig I felt the same way about you and your viewpoints as you do this guy today.

    I’m glad you now see the other half. Now you understand full timers and our way of life.

    Glad to see it! Welcome to the club!!

  8. Captn John

    Then there are those like my wife and me. We are explorers! We find a new area to spend 2 weeks or 4 months and explore. Campfires ~~ maybe light the propane, probably not. Camp– no way!

  9. Road Scribe

    His comments are as out of touch as the bankster’s who finance the purchase of our RV homes on wheels. Oop’s did I say that? Remember we are not supposed to be LIVING in our RV’s but TRAVELING.
    So it’s hush, don’t say a word.
    Anyway, there is another subject for you to write about. Look forward to reading it.

  10. Steve Saint Martin

    The RV industry has to update the heating and cooling controls of RVs . My house thermostat is programmable RVs should be to its not new technology. Also voice control of lights and shades with a Alexa should be standard on my Allegro bus in 2018 just adopt Coach Proxy.

  11. Jan K.

    LVer – love the name. It fits.

    I think Chuck should submit the acronym to Mr. Webster for an addition to the 2019 dictionary. Hey wait a minute, does anyone use a dictionary anymore? Hey Google, what does ‘recreational’ mean?

    So when I asked Google “What does ‘living’ mean?”, the answer came in two parts. The first answer was a little off the wall, but the second answer hit the target. LIVING – noun – ‘the pursuit of a lifestyle of the specified type.’ As an adjective – ‘alive.’

    So how does a new word (or acronym) become popular? Use it! Tell your friends and spread the word. Next time say “Our truck is parked next to our LV” or “Our LV is towing our car.”

    Who now knows, by the end of 2020, LV may be more popular than RV.

  12. wayne whelan

    I tried to contact rva about the quality in rvs. Nothing Then if you see rving on tv most its all about huge motor homes. I went to a camp ground in southern Me. Was told the price was forty seven dollars., Passed a motel price forty five. Yea for Walmart

    1. Lori

      Lol, most motels in my area that are 45.00/night are what my gramma would have called “rooms you wouldn’t want to walk around barefoot in” the beds? **shudder** and the bathrooms? Blech!
      At least for 47.00 I would have my own bed, bathroom and kitchen to live in.

      1. Lori

        Add:
        I am traveling in a little 18 ft trailer

        1. Ed Killgore

          Lori, you are banging on the door to truth , and that’s a good reason to sleep in your own bed at night, have the ability to prepare meals, and not have to pack or wonder what to take on a trip. As a full-timer, I can choose to visit which of my five kids I want to visit and then I can leave after I make them mad, LOL.

  13. Robbie

    We’re full timers for 12 years LIVING in a 36 -foot diesel pusher, now, we spend 90% of our time boondocking. We’ve seen so many changes in attitude by all in the RV industry, and most of those are contributed to the whims of social media. When we first started, information came in those big hard-to-use big telephone-type books. Social media and technology have made our research very easy and much easier to find what we need to survive.

    We’ve also learned that because of those attitudes, social media, and the sheer number of newbies, we only give our favorite boondocking spots to our friends with a promise to only share with their friends. We wish everyone finds a spot in their favorite RV parks.

    Calling our home a camper is truly insulting.

  14. Booneyrat

    People who live in glass houses should not throw stones…and that is exactly what Hugelmeyer did. One day his glass house will get shattered and he may wish he had an RV so he could “camp”. In the meantime the rest of us “campers” like what we do.

  15. Kern Stafford

    Right on! For several years we towed to Colorado and stayed in one park for the summer, doing festivals on weekends in the little mining towns. Last year the price doubled, and we no longer can afford that. We have to figure out staying in state and national parks for the 14 or so day limit and figure out sewer dump and water. of which water is not readily available there. Not travelling this summer until later in the Fall. We are 25 foot Pioneer, no slideout (no room in older campgrounds), 30 amp,pulled by Chevy 3/4 ton Diesel. Lotta mileage on the diesel. Thanks for the into . hope the RVIA gets some sense. Probably not.

  16. Dawn McCarthy

    Hi Chuck, you are spot on. There is also another type of RV user that doesn’t camp and that is the tourist. We bought our 25′ Navion in August 2015 and have spent 72 weeks here, on and off touring North America. We normally spend 3 months in America at a time then pop home to New Zealand to see our grand children. Our aim was to see all the National Parks and we have been quite successful. We love to stay in National Parks and National Forest campgrounds but after our 1st summer was enough to dissuade us from ever trying to tour in season. So we go home in late June and return in September. We don’t stay more than two or three days anywhere but we like the freedom of coming and going as we please. It is not possible for us yo book a year ahead as we don’t know where we will be on any given day. We have done 55 thousand miles and seen the coast of America from Alaska to Maine and all the National Parks along the way.
    Thank you for your magazine it has been of tremendous value to us.

  17. Robert Pulliam

    You are absolutely correct in your assessment of declining camp sites. We are currently in a park in St.Augustine, Fl. It has over 100 sites but only 6 RV sites. The rest are permanent/seasonal residents in park model trailers. We had to extend our stay in Avon Park a week before we could get into this park due to the prior party being on the site. We have made reservations for next October for south Texas for 4 months, we did that in February.

  18. Eric Meslin

    My observations exactly. I am semi-retired and spend several months each year on the road. We still camp, usually not spending more than 5 nights in one location. Most of our traveling is done off-season whereever we are, but not this year. I’m worried about having places to stay which has led to locking our trip into a “fully reserved tour”. Keep up the good work Chuck.

  19. P. Hudson

    We certainly are not camping anymore. That is what we did 20 plus years ago. Two sleeping bags a tent and a motorcycle. Now we climb into our recliners, coffee in hand and watch the news, sometimes turn on the seat warmers in the chairs and turn on the fireplace. We spend six months dodging winter and then return to our beloved finger lakes for six months. Camping would be when we gather around a campfire with our neighbors at our summer digs and get toasted.

  20. Jim Anderson

    CHUCK,
    As Usual YOU are again,
    RIGHT ON!!!!!!!
    We are retired, part timers traveling in our 38 foot diesel pusher on average of about 3-4 months a year.
    A month every winter the Arizona Desert not to far from home here in Prescott and then again when we go exploring.
    More and more were finding the National Parks plumb full.and many NFS the same.
    Were pretty good at finding alternatives, but still end up using commercial campgrounds about 30% of the time…
    Biggest advantage for us is summer here in Prescott is pretty nice so we try to do our traveling on the shoulder or off season.
    I used to be a strong advocate of RV’n and but today It’s hard for me to even want to tell a friend how great it is,
    Heck they might decide to give it a try. and there goes my favorite secret camp site…

  21. Curtis Dowds

    His comments are even more out of touch if you consider people like myself who when traveling for either work or pleasure tend to spend overnights on city streets which are increasingly embargoed with various forms of no parking signs. It might be important to also remember that the poorest of us who might have acquired one of those rapidly depreciated RVs are a second form of “LV” RV’ers, namely, the homeless in urban areas with high priced housing who don’t have the money to pay for an RV park in a major urban area.

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