The Sad Future of RV Shows for 2021 and beyond

 The Sad Future of RV Shows for 2021 and beyond

If you were disappointed that RV Shows around the country were mostly canceled last year, I have bad news for you. There will be many that simply will not happen again.

A leading RV industry expert says in-person RV shows may be a thing of the past. With RV sales booming like never before, RV dealers have discovered they can sell more units – and more efficiently – in their own showrooms.

It's no secret that dealers have long complained about how much work RV shows are. But now, many feel they no longer need big shows. For despite the COVID shutdowns of 2020 that saw almost all in-person RV shows canceled,  RV sales were through the roof.

And they are even stronger in 2021.

As. result, Bob Zagami, the executive director of the New England RV Dealers Association, says in-person events at fairgrounds and convention centers may largely be a thing of the past, except for mega shows like Hershey every fall, and Tampa every January.

Instead, look for more online-only shows, like the one Zagami is organizing for April 10-11 in place of the annual in-person Boston RV Show.

It's a trend he suggests has already taken root in many places. Zagami is our interview of the week of Episode 338 of the RV Podcast. You can hear his interview in its entirety on your favorite podcast app or by clicking the arrow in the player below.' Keep scrolling for an edited transcript of our conversation.

RV Shows are moving online

image for rv shows interview about new england show

Before we present the interview transcript, here are the details of the  New England RV and Camping Expo


Event Name:  New England RV and Camping Expo

Dates:  Saturday, April 10 and Sunday, April 11

Register and buy tickets at:  www.newenglandrvandcampingexpo.com

Discount tickets are available on the event Facebook page:  www.facebook.com/newenglandrvandcampingexpo


Here's the edited transcript:

The Sad Future of RV Shows for 2021 and beyond 1
Bob Zagami

Mike Wendland: Well joining us right now to talk about RV Shows is our friend Bob Zagami from NERVDA, the New England RV Dealers Association. Hey Bob, how are you?

Bob Zagami: Hey Mike. Great. Thank you. Very good to be back with you again.

Mike Wendland: I'm really curious about how online RV shows work. Tell us about it. Yours will be April 10th and 11th, right? 

Bob Zagami: Saturday, April 10th, Sunday, April 11th.

Mike Wendland: How's it going to work?

Bob Zagami: Well if we take a step back, we did manage to get the 2020 Boston show and then COVID hit. As we come to 2021, we had it scheduled for January, rescheduled it for April, then realized we were not going to be able to do it.

RV Dealers don't miss RV Shows

A lot of the dealers, quite honestly, do not miss the in-person shows. The consumers are missing it because they want to touch them and feel them and talk to people and see all the different units.

But there are some shows that are not going to survive.

We came up with a unique platform through an event manager here in Boston, He has a program called Hopin that comes in out of the UK, He studied all of these other programs and several things were missing. But the primary thing missing from most of the commercial programs was the interactivity, the connection with the customer. They could watch a presentation, but they couldn't communicate very effectively.

Then they also lost the networking, walking down the hall and seeing an old friend, catching up or going to the bar and having a drink with your competitor that you haven't seen for a year, those types of things. This platform does that.

Will online replace in-person RV shows?

We were very careful from the beginning to make note that this does not replace the Boston RV show. It doesn't replace any RV show.

At RV shows, you touch, you feel, and you spend a lot of time looking at units.

Online is more educational and information

But we have RV dealers and we have campgrounds as exhibitors, but we put a lot of emphasis on the online video presentations and gearing it towards the many first-time buyers that we all saw come into the marketplace last year, and the many that will come into the marketplace this year.

But this is a good mix for them and for the veterans. We focus on the 18 main stage presentations in the online workshops that all of our exhibitors can do.

Shopping for an RV at an online RV Show

Mike Wendland: Now, can people shop for an RV at this virtual online RV show?

Bob Zagami: That's a great question, Mike. It's the first thing the dealers would ask, “Well, how am I going to sell my units?” Well, you don't have a floor. You don't have a closing booth, but you can sell because the way their displays can be configured is to have show specials, is to have floor plans, is to have video walkthroughs and a link out to the dealership.

While they're in their online display area, there's a camera feature. They can have a live open chat, just like you and I are doing now. I could be here talking to somebody at the dealership and getting information.

Some of these dealers will sell, but we never promoted that as a reason for them to be in the expo.

If they sell is going to be due to their creativity. Some dealers, quite honestly, are having an unattended display. They'll have some videos, they'll have some information about the dealership, but nobody's going to monitor it. Others are full board. 

Mike Wendland: Why would a consumer then want to attend an online RV show if they can't buy?

The limitations of online RV shows

Bob Zagami: Well, they can buy, but it will be a creative buys. It's not like they're going to be able to go from one to the other.

Again, even if it's floor plans or custom videos, they can still talk to the dealer through the chat function or through the networking functions.

The same goes true for the campgrounds that will be exhibiting. People can see and visit with the campgrounds and do a lot of the prequalification.

We expect that a lot of our dealers will have open houses the week after the expo. As we get into April, we always categorize April as RV month in New England. We push a lot of activities out to the consumers during that month. A lot of our dealers will be having open houses.

The benefits of Online RV shows

Mike Wendland: Now you mentioned education. How so? How would a consumer benefit from this?

Bob Zagami: Well, there'll be workshops from the dealers that will talk to them about the buying process. They may do spring openings of their RV, what to do on RV maintenance. There may be teaching about the different types of RVs to pre-qualify them and learn. I'll be doing my introduction to RVs and the RV lifestyle presentation.

Then we'll have people like you and Jennifer on there. You're talking to them about boondocking. You're talking to them about the RV travel guides that you have so they'll be able to learn other resources that are available to them.

We'll have Mark and Julie Bennett, of RV Love talking about what it was like to full-time and things that they wish they knew about beforehand.

Mark Polk will do some educational videos on training and courses, streamlined courses.

We think that a lot of the material that we have is going to be new to those first-time buyers who are now coming into the market.

Mike Wendland: That is what we are hearing over and over again, with so many first-time folks coming in. There's no onboard track for most of them anymore. 

The lack of RV inventory has seen some RV Shows cancel

Mike Wendland: One of the things I've noticed as we've traveled about the country, and as we've talked to others in the industry, is a lack of inventory.

I noticed, for example, just this past week, the Fort Myers, Florida RV show was canceled because they don't have any inventory. The dealers don't have a lot of RVs on hand. Everything's been sold and it takes a long time to be resupplied.

What are you finding up there in New England in terms of this unprecedented demand for RVs, the lack of used RVs coming on the marketplace and the delay in getting new RV's from the factory?

RV dealers question the value of in-person RV shows 

Bob Zagami: Well, you're right, and that is an issue. In fact, when we were still scheduled for the live show in April, I had several of my dealers lobbying me to not have the show. Their argument was, we don't need it. We don't have any inventory. Sales are great at the lot so we don't want to take our people away from the lot.

Those are all valid reasons. That's why I mentioned before, there's going to be a lot of discussion between now and next January on consumer RV shows. Testimony to that is that we broke a record last year with 502,000 new RVs sold. That was a new record.

That was a new record after the year of the pandemic and without shows.

What value did the shows have? They're expensive.

The move to online RV shows is strong nationwide

Bob Zagami: Now, I think what we're going to see is a transition in the marketplace about shows. We're getting to a point now where we have, I would say, five mega dealers.

If we look at Camping World, then we look at Campers Inn, we look at Lazy Days, RV retailers, General RV. Those five retailers in the next three years could own as much as 50% of the dealerships in the country.

That's going to leave a lot of small and medium-sized dealers, which is good. There will always be a place for a small to medium-sized dealers that are a family business, that gives good service, that has multi-generations of customers that keep coming back to them.

Those dealers are still going to want to have a show because that's going to help them promote their business and get more exposure.

The big mega dealers don't need RV shows

Bob Zagami: People like Camping World or Campers Inn, do they really need consumer shows?

I've had this conversation with Jeff Hirsch, the CEO of Campers Inn.

I've had it with the Camping World guys.

There's a possibility that we may never see those large dealers in consumer shows again, minus, say, Tampa, Hershey, and if a group trying to revive the California show is successful. If they revive the California show, we may come down to a point where we have these three mega shows to meet the market demands in the country.

Interestingly enough, I did some numbers. Those three shows together would equate just about to the number of attendees that they get at Caravan Salon in Dusseldorf, the world's largest RV show.

Mike Wendland: Now, we were part of the presentation for Camping World's recent online RV show. They just did a virtual one they called the Ultimate RV Show, which they did for over a month in different parts of the country. I think they were very pleased with the results. They actually sold units online.

New RVers are more comfortable with online RV Shows

Mike Wendland: Are you noticing, particularly with all these new RVers that are coming into the marketplace, that they're not as dependent on the touch and feel of a physical show as they are on getting the education they need to make the buy decision. Are you seeing a difference in consumers these days?

Bob Zagami: That was the driving force in our decision to try to create this online RV show.

I'm not going to kid you, Mike, we're going from the ground up. We're inventing something that we've never done before and an event that hasn't really been held before, because I've taken it out of the realm of a consumer RV show per se.

That's why we say to people, this is not that. But yes, I see that. People say, “Why do you do it all online?” Well, guess where our customers are? Guess where our new customers are? Online.

Bob Zagami: Look at social media, you look at how they interact. Look at the YouTube. They expect to find their information online. As much as we can complement that, we have to meet them online. I think that's where Camping World did a tremendous service and it was highly successful for them.

That's why I don't think you'll see them in a lot of the shows. They have proven that they can do it from beginning to end online.

Camping World's online strategy for RV shows worked

They've got a stated position publicly in their public documents. I'm not saying anything out of school, Marcus Lemonis (Camping World's CEO) wants physical locations in all 48 United States.

The reason he wants that is he wants to have the ability to sell online to anybody anywhere, so they can go online and look at his 173 dealerships, look at the inventory that they have, and he'll deliver it to the customer's backyard. When do you want it and where do you want it? That's totally online. It's contactless.

The Wendland's will be part of the New England online RV Show

Mike Wendland: It's the future of RV shows and you are helping to pioneer that. Coming up, April 10th and 11th, and Jennifer and I are very happy to be a part of that. We're going to talk about some of the must-have items that first-time buyers should think about, not all big things, but there's always some little things and we're going to help them with that process as well.

Thank you for inviting us to be a part of that with some of the other influencers who are out there, Bob, I can't wait. We are all geeked up on this and let's see how this all goes. You have always been ahead of the curve, the NERVDA dealers there in New England and I think you are in this one too.

Bob Zagami: Mike, I appreciate it. It's always a pleasure to visit with you.

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Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at RVLifestyle.com. He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.

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