By Connie Pool, F140306, National President
This month, I wanted to take a minute to reassure all FMCA members that Family Motor Coach Association is financially sound, although these are very challenging times for the motorhome industry and the economy in general.
The October 2008 issue of RV Business magazine, an industry trade publication, has an article by Bob Ashley called “The Shape “” And Size “” Of Things to Come?” The author of the article interviewed a number of industry leaders about the future of RVs. One focus of the article is on changes being made by motorhome and towable manufacturers to develop RVs that are more fuel-efficient and more environmentally friendly. Some industry leaders quoted speculated that the trend is toward smaller, more lightweight coaches that consume less fuel, are more aerodynamic, and look more like their European counterparts. The author noted that European Type A motorhomes normally don’t exceed 30 feet in length, aren’t as wide, and don’t have air conditioning, generators, or slideouts; plus, Europeans don’t usually tow vehicles with their motorhomes.
Other industry leaders quoted in the article weren’t so sure the North American RV industry will parallel that of Europe anytime soon. It was noted that narrow roadways also play a role in the size of RVs in Europe, along with licensing regulations, conditions that don’t exist in North America. The American consumer may not be ready to accept the European-style motorhome because, as a general rule, Americans believe bigger is better and want all the amenities. And the North American RV industry has been able to provide the desired livability. Of course, as it always has, consumer demand will determine “the size and shape of things to come.”
The article noted that in response to recent concerns about fuel prices, this year several more manufacturers introducefd new models built on the fuel-efficient Dodge/Freightliner Sprinter chassis, which achieves an estimated fuel economy of 16 to 19 miles per gallon. Manufacturers also are said to be looking for a new RV-worthy chassis that might provide improved fuel economy but also the right kind of carrying capacity.
Included in the same magazine is an article by Bob Ashley showcasing Born Free Inc., manufacturer of Born Free Type C motorhomes. John Dodgen, president and chairman of the company, reports he is pleased with how things are going for his company and noted sales of his motorhomes are up 25 percent for the year. In fact, by August 2008, the company had surpassed its 2007 production. Mr. Dodgen states, “We may be the only RV company in America that’s adding employees right now.” It appears Born Free has the right-sized motorhome at the right time.
As the motorhome industry is evolving and changing to meet the demands of consumers in this recessed market, fewer dollars are available for advertising. Advertising income generated by Family Motor Coaching magazine has provided the majority of the funding for many of the benefits FMCA members receive. With fewer advertising dollars, FMCA also will have to evolve and make changes to remain a viable association for the members. FMCA will survive this lean period as it has several times before.
In 2001 when I was first elected as FMCA national treasurer, FMCA was experiencing a steady growth rate in memberships and had a healthy number of advertisers for the magazine. By the time I completed my last term as treasurer in 2004, the growth rate and the magazine advertisements had begun to decline. The Executive Board and the FMCA staff began looking at the causes for the reductions and what we could do to reverse those trends.
The RV industry has been eagerly anticipating the influx of baby boomers reaching retirement age in hopes that they will look toward the RV lifestyle as a way to spend their time and resources. The question has been whether boomers will be interested in joining social-based organizations. Many of them use their motorhomes to pursue other passions “” such as NASCAR, horse shows, dog shows, and tailgating. And it has also been noted that boomers have different expectations. This led the Executive Board and FMCA staff to look at benefits, events, and activities that might attract them to FMCA, and some changes have been made along the way.
FMCA also was faced with changes taking place in the motorhome industry with the consolidation of several manufacturers, resulting in a corporation that buys fewer ads than the individual companies had purchased in the past. Also, some manufacturers and dealerships started producing their own publications, thereby reducing advertising dollars spent in Family Motor Coaching. FMCA hired a sales director to concentrate on generating new advertisers for the magazine and sponsorships for the conventions from all aspects of the motorhome lifestyle. You should be proud of our magazine with all that has happened in the motorhome industry, because it remains competitive, considering what advertising dollars are left in the industry.
What additional changes will FMCA have to make? How will the changes affect the membership? These are questions that the Executive Board and FMCA staff are currently working to answer. The advertising revenues FMCA enjoyed in 2000-2001 likely will not occur again. FMCA needs to determine what level of support, services, and benefits our current and projected revenue will sustain.
By the time you read this, the November 2008 Executive Board meetings will have taken place at FMCA headquarters in Cincinnati. We planned to take a harder look at all aspects of FMCA’s operations and what changes need to be made, with the goal being to position the association so that we can weather this downturn while keeping the association strong and serving its membership now and into the future.
The retention rate of our current members is constant from year to year at 85 percent. While most associations would envy a retention rate of 85 percent, when we do not recruit sufficient new members to replace the 15 percent who are leaving the lifestyle, membership numbers decrease. Each of us needs to work on recruiting members. I thank you and commend those of you who have been focusing on this effort and would encourage others to spread the word about our great association. To ensure FMCA’s continued success, we must keep member recruitment at the forefront, as existing members have always been FMCA’s best source of new members.
In the first half of 2008, FMCA was facing another issue. Attendance at many area rallies and at the two international conventions, in February and July, was lower than normal, primarily because of higher fuel costs. Just recently fuel prices have dropped. Not long ago, the price for a barrel of crude oil was $149, but as I write this, it is down around $61. From my own records, during the summer of 2004 we paid around $1.55 per gallon of diesel fuel in Texas, and this past summer in 2008, we paid $4.60 per gallon. Since the drop in crude oil prices, as I write this diesel fuel is around $2.80 in Texas, close to what we were paying in 2007. Gasoline prices have dropped even more, with unleaded fuel selling below $2 a gallon locally.
I am happy to report that the area rallies held later in 2008 “” in the Northeast (August), South Central (September), and Rocky Mountain (October) “” all recorded higher than anticipated attendance. It appears most motorhome owners are actively using their vehicles; some of them may just be making shorter trips.
I do not believe interest in this wonderful lifestyle has diminished. Once the economic woes that have been impacting the industry have been resolved, sales of motorhomes will recover. I also believe a continued drop in fuel prices will stimulate current owners to get on the road again.
As we headed north in early November toward Cincinnati and the meetings there, it was very encouraging to see so many motorhomes on the road. We also noticed that the southern migration of “winter Texans” had already commenced. It’s another sign that the RV lifestyle continues, no matter what.
I wish all of you a very happy and safe holiday season