The Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners (WACO) 2013 Convention & Trade Show, the 50th edition of which took place Mar. 20-24 at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Convention Center in Stevens Point, has somehow developed into the nation’s largest state gathering of independent campground operators, drawing an impressive weekend crowd from several states.
In fact, WACO set records this year, reports Executive Director Lori Severson, by registering 642 attendees representing 127 parks, topping last year’s attendance of 595. “It’s up just a bit from past year’s on campgrounds,” Severson told Woodall’s Campground Management, “but way up on the number of people.”
How this particular show has been able to gain so much growth and momentum – providing a venue for 194 exhibitors in the process — apparently boils down to two basic techniques that, curiously, the campground arena itself tries to do at successful parks across the continent every day of the year: Get everybody engaged, and give them VIP treatment.
Severson says WACO has harnessed these two concepts for the benefit of the association and trade show through initiatives that keep costs down while increasing benefits received. Rather than raising prices for exhibit space or attendance, Severson said an essential lynchpin is finding different ways to pay for operations, such as certification and speaker sponsorships and openly encouraging attendees to buy from vendors instead of just browsing.
Thus, WACO becomes a buying show, which keeps the vendors happy enough to want to return each year.
“It’s both a personal appeal and a little incentive program,” says Severson. “On Saturday night after attendees have made all their purchases, they bring in their receipts and we draw from all the vendors at the show and the campground owners that are there. If the two match, they get $3,000. If we don’t pick a match, we continue to pick until somebody goes home with $1,500 cash in their pocket.”
At the same time, Severson says that WACO’s staff goes to extra lengths to take care of their vendors by doing little things like placing goodie bag in each booth and bigger things like negotiating for low prices at the host hotel. WACO provides plenty of help in carrying equipment in and setting up and hosts a vendor luncheon before the booths open and an appreciation dinner on Friday evening. “We know how it is,” she noted. “We’ve been there, done that. We do RV shows just like everyone does.”
With that kind of sales potential and that kind of treatment in mind, it’s no surprise that WACO’s trade show was oversubscribed this year. Fact is, the state trade group actually turned away about 15 companies for lack of space. Booth space is available on a first-come, first-served basis, Severson noted, except in the case of presenting sponsors, who are assured a spot at the trade show and may pick their locations.
About 15% of this year’s vendors were WACO first-timers, which Severson said is “unusual for us.”