Anyone who thought that the best days for America’s brand-name RV clubs might be in the rear-view mirror ought to have stopped by the 2nd Annual Forest River Owners Group (FROG) International Rally this week (Aug. 4-10) at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds in Goshen, Ind.
The place was cooking – literally and figuratively – as some 730 members of one of the nation’s youngest and fastest growing RV owner organizations converged in 354 towable and motorized units at the popular fairgrounds located in close proximity to Elkhart County’s RV-building hub and within easy driving range of several divisional facilities operated by Forest River Inc., a Berkshire Hathaway Inc. subsidiary and the nation’s second-ranking RV builder.
While those attendance numbers may not have set rally records, they take on a special meaning when considering that the club was launched – at the suggestion of Forest River President & CEO Pete Liegl – less than two years ago.
“It was an extremely successful week all the way around,” reported FROG Executive Bob Byrne on Friday night (Aug. 9) as he prepared for the rally’s finale concert. That’s pretty much the way things have gone since Day One for the upstart FROG Club.
“It’s been unbelievably rapid growth,” exclaimed Forest River General Manager Doug Gaeddert, current chairman of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) board of directors, “I mean zero to 120 mph in about four seconds.”
“We’re really excited,” said Byrne, who, with support from his wife, Cindy, and a host of volunteers oversees the club’s rallies and other activities as a full-time Forest River staff member. “We’re just a little over a year and a half old and, as of last week, our membership had rolled over the 20,000 family member mark already. Last year we had our first rally here in Elkhart. We had 208 units, so we’re up about 70% over that this year, and we’re just really excited about that number.”
Fact is, the FROG Club’s members pretty much took over the sprawling fairgrounds for the week as they socialized at daily breakfast buffets and attended seminars on photography and quilting as well as proprietary sessions led by companies like Lippert Components Inc., ASA Electronics, Girard Systems and Blue Ox. They took chartered buses tours to Forest River plants as well as some of the area’s Amish tourist destinations like Middlebury’s Das Dutchmen Essenhaus restaurant before returning to the fairgrounds for Nelson’s Golden Glow chicken.
“We pretty much took up all the space (at the fairgrounds),” reported Byrne, who plans to lead 15 to 20 couples on an RV-style caravan out West before returning in mid-September in time for Elkhart’s 6th Annual RV Open House Week.
“We had to move into the largest building on the fairgrounds for our dinners and entertainment,” he told RVBUSINESS.com. “We also had a big variety of seminars, over two dozen of them. We’ve had about 32 or 33 vendors and the really key thing that we’re doing as far as Pete’s (Pete Liegl’s) and Forest River’s commitment to service is that we’re providing free factory service to anybody who let’s us know that they have a problem.
“When they registered,” added Byrne, “they had a chance to submit information about issues about their RV, and then they could add to or modify those lists when they got here. And we’re taking care of those people at absolutely no cost – warranty or no warranty — it doesn’t matter. It’s a phenomenal service. It’s something that Pete committed to last year and we’re expanding and broadening it this year. We have 50 to 60 techs from all of our plants around northern Indiana on the fairgrounds every day throughout this week. Plus, a number of vendors are also contributing technicians and services to make sure that all of our members are taken care of.”