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RV Samborees: ‘The Best Medicine in the World’

September 27, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The Missouri Good Sam RV Club’s annual Samboree festival brought people from across the country to the Boone County Fairgrounds in Columbia, Mo., this weekend, where they ate, played games and visited with as friends while dressed like Jethro, Granny and Elly May Clampett, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported.

“How many times do you see people in their 60s to 80s put costumes on, let their hair down and just be silly?” asked Jane Huddleston of Springfield.

Huddleston has been attending Samborees, annual festivals sponsored by Good Sam RV Club chapters, for the past 16 years. Each year, she says, the festivals feature a theme, and this year’s is the Beverly Hillbillies.

But it’s not the themes that keep Huddleston coming back; it’s the friends she’s made. “The people really make it wonderful,” she said.

The Good Sam Club began more than 40 years ago when a group of RV owners put Good Samaritan bumper stickers on their vehicles. Today, the club boasts nearly 1 million families.

Maggie Brantley, an RV owner from St. Joseph who said she has attended 312 Samborees, agreed that making connections is the main event of each festival.

“It’s the people you meet from all different states,” she said.

“I think I know more people from different states than I do in my own hometown.”

Brantley, 75, has been to Samborees in 28 states and Canada since 1989 with her 89-year-old husband, Art.

Although Art no longer can drive the RV after suffering from numerous strokes, the couple still travels to three Samborees each year to see the people Maggie says are like family to them.

Don Woodard, a “Sambassador” from Texas, says most RV owners come back each year for that exact reason. “It’s like a family reunion,” he said.

The festivities at Samborees are fairly similar from town to town and typically include food, games and live entertainment.

“What people enjoy most is the fun, food and fellowship,” said Jean Gardner, director of the Missouri Good Sam RV Club.

The Missouri club also makes an effort to reach out to first-timers with meetings that include Q&A, refreshments and door prizes — such as gift certificates to local restaurants.

“Merchants have learned that when we give a free meal away, that person will bring three or four or 20 of their friends, so most of them are very willing to give away a free meal,” Gardner said.

Gardner said local merchants benefit a great deal from the event, which she said brought about 570 people to Columbia. By the end of the event, she estimated the RV owners will spend an excess of $40,000 at local businesses.

Gardner said that although food and fun are big attractions, building relationships and helping one another is the most important part of the event and the club.

“If you have tragedy, these are the people that will step up and be there for you,” she said.

Woodard nodded in agreement.

“These people are the best medicine in the world,” he said.

Affinity Group Inc. (AGI) is the parent company of the Good Sam Club and RVBUSINESS.com.

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Travel Writer Experiences the Joys of RVing

August 16, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

2010 'The Rally,' destination for New Jersey travel columnist Jill, Schensul.

A portion of the RVs gathered for the 2010 'The Rally,' destination for New Jersey travel columnist Jill, Schensul.

Editor’s Note: Jill Schensul, a travel columnist for North New Jersey’s The Record, wrote the following story after her 10-day trip in a motorhome in July, which included visits to the RV/MH Hall of Fame and “The Rally” in Louisville, Ky.

I’m getting one.

This was my fourth trip in a rented recreational vehicle, and at the end of every one I come to the same decision (only more decidedly each time): RVs were made for me (or, OK, probably that should be vice versa).

For anyone who loves the adventure of travel, the process of going, the freedom to follow your own schedule, to go where you want and leave when you’re finished and head off to the next oh-I-always-wanted-to-go-there place, what could be better than a house that moves with you? No packing, no stopping the mail, no begging someone to sit your dog (“she really has stopped chewing furniture …”).

Of course, it’s not quite that simple, living in what is basically a box — even a big box — on wheels. One of the missions of my recent 10 days on the road – spending three nights with some 10,000 RVers at The Rally (an annual gathering that was in Louisville, Ky., this year), visiting the RV Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart, Ind., and stopping overnight at campsites and other RVer hangouts – was to get advice and insight into RV tripping and the whole mobile lifestyle.

I met historians, RV manufacturers and accessory-sellers, and guys who organized group RV tours. I met “full-timers” whose only home is their RV, people who hang out wooden signs announcing their names, roll out welcome mats, set up their satellite dishes and flagpoles, and get around on everything from Smart Cars to Harleys to motorized scooters. There were also dabblers, like me. I learned a lot, including information about some basic things I never knew I needed to know. I also got a look at the advances in technology that have made life pretty cushy for RVers who want to go that route.

I don’t need a lot of space. In fact, the “open floorplan/great room house feature” makes me nervous. So a compact rig like my 19-footer was perfect. While many RV manufacturers tout their models as the “widest in the industry” (that being 102 inches, the legal limit or you’d be knocking fellow drivers out of your way), my RV was a foot narrower, which made fitting between the lines easier at parking lots (where you’ll be stocking up on all the basics for your little home on wheels, from garbage bags to coconut ice pops).

There are drawbacks, of course; especially for the overly carefree (or scattered). As Mary Reynolds, whose husband, John, is president of the Watchung Hills chapter of the Good Sam Club, points out: “You do have to be organized because you don’t have a lot of room for clutter.”

The technically challenged or perpetually distracted – as well as the first-timers – will have to deal with all the life-support systems: plumbing, water, electricity. And it’ll probably take a few incidents in which a turn of the wheel results in the flying of paper towel rolls, forks or books from shelves before you start looking at the effects of centrifugal force on your mobile digs.

And on this particular trip, I discovered several new, well, situations I just couldn’t have orchestrated in my car:

  • Having the side door of your rig fly open at 60 mph, and only noticing because, looking into my rear-view mirror for Mere, the pregnant beagle rescue dog I was bringing back to New Jersey, I noticed her lying, paws over the steps down to that door, smile-panting and enjoying the breeze.
  • Pumping so much gas (do I hear $80?) into my tank I had to switch off hands, because they started to hurt.
  • Hooking my sewer hose to the wrong drain opening on the RV (it was just a round storage area), setting everything up to empty the tank, and when I turned the valves to open, releasing the actual tank contents in a different direction.
  • Enjoying a peaceful dawn moment, only to have the silence broken by a monumental, two-minute hissing of gas from the propane tank.
  • Gripping the steering wheel so hard and bracing for an accident every time you change lanes, despite the major-league size mirrors.
  • Speaking of the mirrors, resigning yourself to losing one occasionally – as I did at a sudden narrowing of the road for construction.

But nobody died, or even fell out, or had to go to the emergency room; however, I did seem to acquire more than the usual travel-related bruises. And, most important, I never left anything in a hotel room (or caught anything in a hotel room, for that matter).

And of course if I practice, I will not continue to make such mistakes. I’ll make new ones.

Then again, being in an RV opens up an entirely new world of possibilities and ways of enjoying travels, from meeting like-minded people at campgrounds to being in your own little hermetically sealed nest, unplugged if you want, anonymous, taking a nap, stopping for an hour because you noticed all the stars in the sky and — let’s not forget — not having to pack and unpack (much less pay for each piece of luggage you bring with you).

I sat behind the wheel of my just-rented RV with the air conditioning on the Gale Force setting, blowing dry my sweaty face and wet hair. I’d finally transferred everything from my little car to my big rig in the furious heat. I’d put clothes in drawers and books and maps away, set up my GPS, organized my cameras in the passenger seat, popped in one of the books on CDs I’d rented.

Louisville, here I come.

Still, I sat.

The sun edged lower. The light bathed even this bland square industrial park in Harleysville, Pa., in cinematic light. The last employees got into their cars and pulled away. I remained. Looking out the windshield. Thinking about the next 10 days. Where I was going. What I needed to do for work. How fast I had to drive to get there. Hoping I’d get to provide rescue dogs a ride to new homes.

But mostly I thought about what would happen when I shifted into “D” and began to roll. I had just two definite places to be. I knew the stretches in between would be filled with possibilities. I live for these trips. The motion, the blur of images and signs, quirky attractions and ever-changing skies.

Which may have been why I was just sitting in that parking lot. My inner wheels turning as I looked out the windshield. The anticipation before the movie began, wondering what sort of film it would be. “Ben Hur” or “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World”? “National Lampoon’s Vacation” or “Easy Rider”?

Over the next 10 days, the memorable scenes mounted. Here are some of the stellar RV moments:

Bedroom with a view

I awaken my first morning in the loft bed over the driver’s area of the RV. It’s not much for headroom, but I find it perfect for a cozy sleeping place. It even comes with two little windows. Which have curtains I didn’t bother to close when I pulled into the KOA Kampground in Allentown, Pa., late last night.

So all I have to do is turn my head a little to peer out the teardrop-shaped window three inches from my head. And am hit first by … green, everywhere. I am closer to the trees, which are abundant here. But quickly my gaze goes to my neighboring campsite, occupied by a small trailer pulled by a big SUV. A trailer made even tinier because standing beside it is a boy and his … well, without my glasses I could have mistaken it for a horse.

But it’s a dog. I think a Great Dane. It sits obediently by the open door of the trailer, and at least from this angle it looks like the dog will need to duck to clear it. And then, when he’s inside, how will the boy, a strapping tall kid, fit in with him and what I assume will also be a parent or two?

I climb down from my bed, fast. I have to ask the kid what happens when the dog wags his tail. But by the time I remember which drawers I used for which categories of clothing, encountering boxes of cereal and piles of maps and USB cables stored everywhere and pop open my camper door to step into this first full day on the road, boy and dog have both vanished.

Every dawn, in fact, broke upon a new scene out my windows. And, given the early morning light, the views were usually at least a bit magical, even if my overnight spot was a Walmart or highway rest stop. I remember when The World cruise ship debuted, and people bought cabins and lived year-round aboard the ship as it sailed around the world, how amazing it would be to have those ever-changing views when you woke up. Well, I might not be privy to the minarets of Istanbul in an RV, but then again, I didn’t have to shell out $2 million for my changing views.

Surprise museums

aowlogoThe new America on Wheels Museum just happened to be in Allentown, and I figured it would be an auspicious first stop on my trip. The GPS first sent me down one-way streets so narrow I feared getting stuck or at least clipping the big mirrors that stuck out like cat’s whiskers on both sides. Not to mention the neighborhood was getting progressively more seedy. A museum here? Yes, actually. A big hulk of a building, gray white against the blue sky. An amazing collection of all sorts of things on wheels, not just a lot of cool old cars, but bikes, soap box derby cars, electric cars, a Stanley Steamer (I know, I thought it was a vacuum cleaner, too), and a big exhibit on Mack trucks, which were manufactured in Allentown (lots of bulldog memorabilia).

Leaving the museum when it closed at 4, I found more arty inspiration in the vicinity. America on Wheels is set on a bluff overlooking a wide stretch of the Lehigh River, with a small waterfall spanning its width. And right in the middle of the cascade was … a tire!

The museum is on the site of a former slaughterhouse, a section of which – with a cow’s head sculpture over the doorway – has been incorporated into the new building. The neighborhood features lots of abandoned warehouses (slowly being renovated or torn down) and if you’re into the aesthetics of disintegrating walls and peeling paint – especially in golden end-of-day light – you can have a field day in the area.

Roadside America Museum in

Roadside America Museum in Shartlesvile, Pa.

I got to the Roadside America exhibit in Shartlesville, Pa., only 45 minutes before its closing. Not enough time I suppose to really appreciate the incredibly detailed miniature world created by one man, Laurence Gieringer, who spent the better part of his adult life putting together what is now some 66 village scenes in a huge sort of model-railroad setup. Then again, spending too much time looking at everything would probably be one of those head-exploding experiences.

An enormous Amish couple – statues that might have been Muffler-Man knockoffs – sit with the sign out front pointing to the miniature attraction. Kind of an ironic touch.

Best of the rest stops

I had so many other things to think about I’d almost forgotten one of the best aspects of road trips. The rest stops and truck stops.

While I had to eschew back roads for main highways to get to Louisville in three days, the big highways meant plenty of rest stops. Each state had its own style of take-a-break-before-you-fall-asleep-and-kill-someone oasis. Some were major commercial affairs, some wanted you to rest no longer than two hours, and not overnight. Then again, some of the stops in Ohio not only permitted overnighting, but offered electrical hookups, as well as fresh water etc. for RVers for $15 a night. One also had gorgeous views of farms and crop fields.

But my favorites were the simple ones in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, with a little building for vending machine snacks, air-conditioned restrooms, a wall of brochures, and picnic tables out back. One stop in Pennsylvania provided the most beautiful sunset of the whole trip. Another, in West Virginia, was particularly cozy, probably because I had just picked up two rescue dogs, and we all dozed off together (they snored, I didn’t) in the quiet night, the soft glow of interior building lights providing perfect illumination for a mobile scene of domesticity with passengers of the panting, shedding and tail-wagging variety.

The Rally

Seeing 4,000 RVs in one place is kind of a surreal experience, especially if you’d been in the 102-degree, swim-through heat of Louisville all day.

Everything about The Rally was a little overwhelming, from the schedule of events to the more than 120 seminars on RV-related topics to the size of some of these rigs. In future stories I’ll be getting into the ins and outs of RVing and all the stuff that’s available and what you should know. Not that I could possibly sound like an expert.

What was really coolest about The Rally (well, cool is probably the wrong word) was the amazing variety of RVers and the peeks I got of their lifestyle. My first night, having arrived too late for a campsite, I drove through I don’t know how many parking lots packed with Rally attendees, and under the big halogen lights groups gathered on makeshift patios, with folding chairs set up on big square sisal rugs, the pullout barbecue still smoking, the ladies in shorts and the men in their polo shirts talking and laughing and fanning themselves with paper Rally paddles.

The Tennessee Traveler display in the RV/MH Hall of Fame

The Tennessee Traveler display in the RV/MH Hall of Fame

RV Hall of Fame and Museum

Yes, they really do get 60-plus antique RVs spanning the history of the beasts into this big museum in Elkhart, Ind. The entrance puts you on a literal black two-lane road wending through a century of motorized vagabonding, from a 1915 Model T with 1916 telescoping apartment, bed, drawers etc. included, to tiny tin can-esque Airstreams and variations of the famous Winnebago.

Leaving the museum just before closing, I noticed a display of information on tours offered to various RV manufacturing plants. But I knew I didn’t have the time. I was going back East, along Lake Erie in Ohio, back to Pennsylvania. Time to call it a wrap on this adventure.

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Attendance/Sales Soar at AGI’s The Rally

August 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The Rally 2010 logoThousands of recreational vehicle enthusiasts from every state and province in North America celebrated the RV industry’s centennial at The Rally, a four-day extravaganza at the Kentucky Exposition Center, July 22-25.

An estimated 10,000 attendees – including those staying onsite in 2,867 RVs and 5,000 day pass visitors – demonstrate a boom in the RV industry with consumers showing their commitment to the lifestyle they enjoy. The event also pumped more than $11 million into the local Louisville economy, according to a news release.

Attendees browsed the latest and greatest RV models from 42 RV manufacturers and dealers and enjoyed 350 product booths displaying the newest RV products, gadgets and services.

Fleetwood RV Inc., one of the largest motorhome manufacturers in the country, significantly exceeded sales projections, while Lazydays, a leading RV dealer, sold 20-plus units. Pat Terveer, national sales director for Newmar Corp., another leading RV manufacturer, said the company had good results that included selling six of the seven motorized models it displayed at the show, including its luxury new amenity-packed, 2011 Essex diesel motorhome, a $650,000 model. Camping World, which was an exhibitor in both the RV Sales and RV Accessories areas, reported strong sales results as well.

“All in all, we exceeded expectations and The Rally couldn’t have gone better,” said Mike Schneider, CEO of Affinity, parent company of The Rally’s hosts. “Our exhibitors came to Louisville hoping to have a good show and they had a great show. When you put these folks together with our consumers, it gives us a powerful buying group that spends money on the lifestyle they love.”

For more than a decade, the annual Rally event has been hosted by Affinity, the nation’s largest provider of outdoor recreation clubs, services, media and events. Affinity’s family of affiliated companies, including the Good Sam Club, and Trailer Life and MotorHome magazines, works to enhance its customers’ recreational experiences and build the communities that share and promote their fun and adventurous lifestyles. Headquartered in Ventura, Calif., Affinity is leading the industry’s rebound by connecting consumers directly with manufacturers through The Rally and its 34 other consumer shows held annually across the country.

“The Rally demonstrates what we talk about everyday – we enhance the outdoor experience through connecting our partners with consumers,” said Terry Thompson, vice president of sales for Affinity Media/RV and a key organizer of The Rally. “We provide invaluable services to our members and, in turn, help advertisers connect with their target audiences. We produced a wonderful event for attendees, which created fantastic sales for exhibitors.”

The Rally celebrated the 2010 RV centennial in two big ways.

  • A special living display of 20 vintage RVs was organized in “Vintage Village,” showcasing models from 1937-1978.
  • Bob Livingston, senior vice president of Affinity Media, took 50 families on a sold-out pre-Rally Centennial Caraventure, which gave RVers an inside look into RVs, past and present.

Rounding out The Rally’s extensive event schedule, RV industry gurus presented more than 150 educational seminars, while stand-up comic Bob Newhart and legendary country music artist Tanya Tucker performed during its nightly entertainment program. New this year was “The Rally’s Got Talent” contest featuring a wide variety of acts and interesting talents on Sunday evening, July 25.

The Rally Dog Show, “Kentucky K-9s!” returned for the seventh year. Pet adoptions were also held with the Louisville Metro Animal Services where 12 pets found new homes as a result. Both are popular, recurring events in which Rally-goers showcase their love for their beloved four-legged co-pilots.

For updates on The Rally 2011, taking place in Redmond, Ore. July 14-17, visit www.therally.com, Twitter at www.twitter.com/therally, and Eons by clicking on www.eons.com/groups/group/the-rally. Information and pictures can also be found on The Rally Facebook group page at www.facebook.com/therally.

The Rally is hosted by the following Affinity companies: the Good Sam Club, Trailer Life and MotorHome magazines, Trailer Life and Woodall’s Campground Directories, Camp Club USA, Coast to Coast Resorts and Camping World President’s Club.

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ELS Debuts Non-Toxic Holding Tank Product

July 28, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Nature-ZYME

Nature-ZYME

Within two to three weeks, Equity LifeStyle Properties Inc. (ELS) plans to begin marketing Nature-ZYME, a highly effective environmentally responsible RV and marine holding tank product that eliminates odors and liquefies waste without the use of formaldehyde or other toxic chemicals.

Nature-ZYME is ELS’s private label holding tank product, which is manufactured by BiOWiSH Technologies, a Chicago-based company that has established itself as a world leader in creation of fast-acting, environmentally friendly wastewater treatment products, according to a news release.

“RVers and campground operators across the country have been quietly testing this product for months in a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions and have been amazed at its performance,” said David Kozy, vice president and director of operations of RSI RV, Home & Marine Solutions, the ELS subsidiary that is marketing the Nature-ZYME holding tank treatment product. “We really think we have identified a solution to one of the most challenging environmental problems in the RV and marine industries.”

Kozy said the fundamental problem with most holding tank products is that they use microbial inhibitors, such as formaldehyde and other chemicals, which prevent natural biological processes from breaking down human waste as they would normally do. As a result, chemical-based holding tank products can cause septic systems to overflow, potentially contaminating groundwater supplies.

He said ELS distributed 4,500 samples of Nature-ZYME last week to RVers attending The Rally in Louisville, Ky., and was subsequently inundated with requests from consumers who wanted to purchase the product.

“There is a lot of pent-up demand for environmentally friendly holding tank products,” Kozy said. “People increasingly recognize that chemically based holding tank products can pose various risks to themselves and to the environment.”’

“The new line of products we have developed in conjunction with Equity LifeStyle Properties could revolutionize the RV market and marina industry by reducing the environmental impact of wastewater discharges by these vehicles,” said BiOWiSH Technologies President Rod Vautier.

Nature-ZYME has been tested by more than 100 RVing consumers, including Thousand Trails members, since last fall in addition to being tested at 14 different ELS RV parks and resorts. A second test is underway involving RVers affiliated with the Good Sam Club. ELS also hired an outside firm to test the effectiveness of the BiOWiSH product against competing biodegradable and chemical-based holding tank products and was pleased with the results.

“We’ve been trying to gather as much feedback as possible, both from RV park operators and from consumers, and all of it comes back positive,” Kozy said.

While ELS does not plan to launch a full-scale consumer marketing campaign until this fall, the product will be available for purchase online by late August. For more information on Nature-ZYME, please visit www.Nature-Zyme.com.

Chicago-based Equity Lifestyle Properties is a publicly traded real estate investment trust that owns and operates RV resorts and manufactured home communities throughout the U.S. and Canada, including the Thousand Trails campground membership club. For more information on ELS and its subsidiaries, visit www.equitylifestyle.com and www.thousandtrails.com.

Formerly headquartered in Sydney, Australia, BiOWish Technologies recently relocated its corporate offices to Chicago in an effort to be closer to its key markets in North America and Europe. BiOWiSH Technologies owns exclusive and global intellectual property rights to the development, manufacturing, sales, marketing and distribution of BiOWiSH products that serve the needs of consumer, wastewater treatment, agriculture, aquaculture, agronomy, solid waste management, soil and water remediation and industrial cleaning industries. The company maintains international offices in Sydney and Bangkok, Thailand. Additional information about the company is available at www.biowishtechnologies.com.

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Good Sam Club is Circulating Tire Issue Survey

July 12, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

Good Sam logoThe Good Sam Club, the world’s largest RV owners’ organization with nearly 1 million member families, announced today (July 12) that the Good Sam Club RV Owners’ Advisory Council (RVOAC) has just deployed its annual survey.

This year, the council hopes to gather empirical data concerning RV tire safety. The survey was sent to approximately 250,000 randomly selected Good Sam Club members and will seek to determine the frequency of RV tire failure and RV owners’ knowledge about RV tire selection, care and maintenance, according to a news release.

“We’ve had quite a number of members write to us to express their concern about RV tires. The failure rate of RV tires is simply not known at this point, because there is no data available to confirm or refute those concerns,” said Tom Gonser, RVOAC chairman. “Our survey will involve an extremely large sample size, and should begin to provide answers as to whether a problem with RV tires exists; and, if so, what types, sizes, and brands of RV types might be most involved. Separately, we’ll be collecting significant information pertaining to RV owners’ understanding of issues pertaining to tire safety, and to the need for owner diligence in tire care and maintenance.”

In preparing the survey, the Good Sam Club Council consulted with other interested parties such as the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and the RV Safety and Education Foundation (RVSEF). The survey results will be published in the Good Sam Club’s Highways Magazine. According to Sue Bray, director of member benefits for the Good Sam Club, information collected concerning the state of RV owner knowledge about tire safety issues can also be used by the club to help design future education programs for its members.

To learn more about the Good Sam Club, log on to www.goodsamclub.com or call (800) 234-3450.

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Good Sam Club Convenes in Michigan’s U.P.

June 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Click here to watch a video about the following story.

The largest RV club in the country spent this past week in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The Good Sam Club is a group of nearly million RV’ers from all across the country.

Michigan’s summer Good Sam Rally was held at the Escanaba fair grounds bringing more than 500 people to the area, according to WPBN-WTOM-TV, Traverse City, Mich.

“The whole purpose behind the Good Sam organization is to make it so that we promote family camping,” Good Sam Club International Ambassador Bill Brooks. “We want the people to have a good time and a good experience whether traveling on the road or whether at the camp grounds.”

More than 260 RVs were counted at the event with the majority of them coming outside of the Upper Peninsula. which is proving to be a big boost to the local economy.

People from 10 different states as far away as Texas and Florida have come for the event. Linda Michalski is a Good Sam Club member from Ishpeming. She said the rally gives a real boost to the local economy.

“Everybody’s getting exposure,” Michalski said. “If you go to the National Ski Hall of Fame, some people are going to Pictured Rocks; somebody’s already used Marquette General Hospital for illness. So it’s a big impact on the area.”

The Good Sam Club also encourages its members to spend locally and travel … a big advantage for host cities like Escanaba.

“Well everybody loves the U.P. and with Good Sam you have a 10% discount on a lot of parks when you’re traveling,” Good Sam Michigan Director Joseph Halhober. “A lot of them are going to stay in the U.P. for a week and travel around so we stick around the area too and help out.”

The rally wrapped up on Sunday.

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ARVC Business Forum Reports on Industry

June 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

ARVC Business Forum members gather after a tour of Keystone RV Co.'s Springdale plant in Goshen, Ind.the Keyston

ARVC Business Forum members gather after a tour of Keystone RV Co.'s Springdale plant in Goshen, Ind.

This week’s ARVC Business Forum, held on the campus of Keystone RV Co. in Goshen, Ind., featured a typically lively give-and-take among the leadership of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds and some of the nation’s key campground vendors.

Forum members met in conjunction with the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) Committee Week and Annual Meeting functions held not far away in downtown South Bend. The week’s agenda also included an industry party in recognition of what RVIA has designated in 2010 as the RV industry’s centennial.

The ARVC Business Forum brings together members of the ARVC Executive Committee and key players in the RV parks and campground business to discuss topical issues.

Shane Ott, director of campground relations for Thor Industries Inc., Keystone’s parent company, who helped orchestrate the meeting at Keystone, said the forum meeting at an RV company, a first for the forum, will help narrow “the huge gap” between the campground and RV industries. “There is no reason we shouldn’t do this more often,” he said.

A few forum highlights:

Mark Anderson, former ARVC chairman and owner of Camp Chautauqua Camping Resort, Chautauqua, N.Y., reported that his park and many others in the East “had almost a perfect Memorial Day weekend,” providing “a great start” to the season. The summer’s outlook for the Northeast is good as travel is up, he added. He noted that while the state of New York is “broke,” the governor found funds to reopen the state parks, which Anderson considers “an important baseline to private campgrounds.”

Vic Nolting, vice chairman of Leisure Systems Inc., franchisor of the Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts, Milford, Ohio, began by summarizing, “In general, things look oh so much better than last year.” He then deferred to LSI’s COO, Rob Schutter Jr., who went into greater detail. Schutter echoed Anderson’s holiday observation. He said business in the Northeast is “leveling out” after “a disaster last year,” due to weather.

Schutter, noting that Yogi operators are seeing an upturn in campers’ ancillary spending after a 2%-3% downturn in such spending last year, reported that the rental market at Jellystone Parks is “through the roof,” thanks in part to its non-dependence on good weather and the growing number of visits of campers new to the Jellystone system.

LSI’s rental business was up 8% in 2009 and he expects another rise this year. The rental business, which puts campers into lodges and cabins, is bringing a lot of non-traditional or first-time campers, added Nolting. They explained that many Jellystone Parks maintain good working relationships with area chambers of commerce and hotels, which also spurs business. Cabin rental rates were $145 a night in 2009 and have been raised by $10 a night for the 2010 season, said Schutter, adding that LSI opened its first company-owned park this year in Bloomington, Ind.

Cindy Halley, publisher of the Trailer Life RV Parks and Campgrounds Directory and vice president of Good Sam Club marketing, Ventura, Calif., reported that TL’s rep teams are well underway in their collection of data and advertising sales for the 2011 directory. Team members “are very upbeat and expect a better year overall,” she said. On the club side, membership growth is exceeding forecasts and currently totals about 950,000. Good Sam Club members average 62 years of age and are typically retired, empty nesters. However, she added, the club is always trying to recruit younger members.

Eric Stumberg, president and co-founder of Wi-Fi provider TengoInternet, Austin, Texas, reported that TengoInternet’s acquisition of Nomad ISP is complete with Nomad’s clients integrated into Tengo’s in May, bringing its market penetration to some 800 parks and between 67,000 and 100,000 guests a month, depending upon the season.

Wi-Fi remains a key criteria in RVers’ decision on where to camp, he noted. He sees mobile point of sale terminals, such as an ice cream cart that accepts credit card swipes, becoming the next popular phase in parks and campgrounds. He is targeting 25% growth for 2010.

David L. Berg, ARVC chairman and owner of the Red Apple Campground in Kennebunkport, Maine, said business appears to be “back to where we used to be.” He had sold out his 140 sites for the July 4 holiday by Memorial Day and his tent and popup trailer sites sold out first for the first time ever.

Berg, at the same time, said he remains “boggled” by the growth and popularity of the cabin business. He charges $120 a night for a cabin, even though “the motel down the street charges $29.” He can explain the willingness to pay more because customers “want it all today, the safety, the experience…” He also is getting into the RV rental market, charging about $1,000 a week to rent a unit on-site.

Al Johnson, president of Recreational Adventures Co., an 11-park chain based in Hill City, S.D., reported “an exceptional Memorial Day” and stated that nine of his 11 KOA-affilitated properties are ahead of plan so far this year. He has begun to replace aged cabins with new park models. He is putting on hold an overhaul of RV sites until he can better determine size requirements for the next RV generation. He, too, saw more guests with tents and folding camping trailers last year, but said it’s too early to tell whether that trend will continue this year.

David Gorin, who wore multiple hats to the forum as a campground consultant, ARVC lobbyist, park owner and state association director, reported that his Holiday Cove RV Resort in Bradenton, Fla., experienced a 25% increase in business last year, with his rental business up 20%-25% annually.

Gorin says he sold approximately half of the lots for sale in his park in the last 19 months. As director of the Virginia Campground Association, he said that state’s parks are looking for a good year, but that they’re concerned about whether the Gulf oil spill will make its way eventually up the East Coast. Meanwhile, Gorin says his Best Parks in America network has grown from 22 to 63 parks in the past year, has recently finished a long-term strategy session and will be publishing its first print directory. Finally, Gorin announced that he will be building a new 250-site RV park in Palmetto, Fla.

Ann Emerson, ARVC Business Forum chairwoman and vice president of Woodall Publications, publisher of the Woodall’s North American Campground Directory, Ventura, Calif., said sales consultants are reporting overall that most parks are doing well. In general, parks near metro areas are still faring better than those in remote areas. And there’s a serious concern among tourism-related business operators — parks among them — in many Southern and Southeastern locales regarding the long-term impact of the Gulf oil spill, prompting some owners to defer decisions on marketing expenses.

Emerson began a discussion on the explosion of social media in the campground business. At her parent company, Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), parent company of RV Business and Woodall’s Campground Management, almost all the websites have a Facebook page and each publication has at least one staff member assigned to increase its social media presence and AGI is developing a SmartPhone “app” for both of its campground directories. This discussion elicited comments on mobile marketing, which fueled a wider discussion on the explosion of mobile phone use in society. Some 90% of all U.S. homes have cell phones, and a significant percentage of Woodall customers have SmartPhones, she said. Stumberg noted that one study showed that almost as many people today access the Internet via their SmartPhones as from personal computers.

Bruce Hoster, president of Coast to Coast Resorts, the membership camping wing of AGI, said, “We think membership camping is due for a renaissance.” He cited a number of ways Coast to Coast is attracting new parks and members to the concept. As an aside, he observed that membership campgrounds are finding new revenue streams by developing storage facilities for their members’ RVs while they are not camping. For example, one membership park developed a 7-acre storage facility and realizes an estimated $1 million in revenue in annual storage fees. He reported that Camp Club USA, AGI’s discount camping club, “has come back strong after seeing a slight dip during the recession” with high renewal rates and is up to nearly 50,000 members. Coast to Coast, which has taken membership camping under its wing, sponsored a membership camping conference in February in Las Vegas and will sponsor another in February in New Orleans. He is working to make inroads with developers of hotel and condo complexes to consider integrating campgrounds into their projects, he said.

Pat Hittmeier, president of Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), Billings, Mont., said camping was “soft” over the winter, hindered by cold weather in its Southern campgrounds. But it’s taken off since May and was up 7% through Memorial Day. KOA is projecting an 8% increase through Labor Day, said Hittmeier, adding that use of the Internet to make reservations is up 12% over last year, a reflection of more business in general and the migration of campers to the Internet.

KOA has 4,000 units in its lodging pool and that business is strong, he said. Lodges make up 13% of the total KOA sites, but the company is aiming to raise that figure to 20% at 50% of its campgrounds. KOA also is looking to increase its first-time visits, which now make up 15% to 19% of its total guests.

ARVC loyalist Ian Steyn, owner of Jellystone Castle Rock Campground, Castle Rock, Colo., noted that his business is up 38% year-over-year, and 2009 was a good year for his business. He discussed an integrated approach to promoting the outdoors with other hospitality businesses in his community seeking to make it the epicenter for outdoor recreation in his state.

Larry Weaver, park model sales manager for CrossRoads RV, Topeka, Ind., briefly outlined the preferred park model program his parent company, Thor Industries Inc., has established with ARVC. Weaver stressed that campground owners should make sure they buy “ruggedized” park models for their rental units and refrain from features such as carpeting that will not hold up well under the rigors of long-term use.

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Good Sam Names Welcome Mat Award Winners

June 2, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Good Sam logoThe Good Sam Club, the world’s largest RV owners’ organization with nearly 1 million member families, today (June 2) announced the recipients of its 2010 Welcome Mat Awards, aimed at recognizing RV-friendly businesses for their customer service and commitment to the recreation vehicle lifestyle.

Good Sam Club members chose businesses they see providing RVers with superior customer service and meeting their specific needs. The awards reflect the diverse interests of RV owners, including their favorite sandwich shop, ice cream parlor, fuel and gas station, RV tow vehicle, golf course and favorite sit-down restaurant. Members voted for 23 categories through online ballots submitted on the GoodSamClub.com website.

The awards recognize Cracker Barrel, a casual family restaurant with locations throughout the U.S., as winner of the sit-down restaurant category once again. The restaurant has won every year since the award’s inception eight years ago.

“The Welcome Mat Awards distinguish the quality, value and service of roadside heroes – businesses that understand the needs of RVers and consistently take the extra steps for our Good Sam Club members,” said Sue Bray, director of member benefits of the Good Sam Club. “We congratulate all the award recipients and thank them for constantly going the extra mile and offering exceptional service for RV-friendly places.”

The following is a full list of this year’s honorees:

  • Fuel/Gas Station: Flying J
  • Propane Outlet: Flying J
  • Outlet Mall: Tanger
  • Casino: Hard Rock
  • Fast Food Restaurant: Wendy’s
  • Ice Cream Parlor: Dairy Queen
  • Sandwich Shop: Subway
  • Sit-Down Restaurant: Cracker Barrel
  • Shopping Center: Mall of America, Bloomington, Minn.
  • Dinghy Vehicle: Saturn
  • Tourist Attractions/Amusement Parks/Museums: Disney World, Orlando, Fla.
  • Golf Course: Pebble Beach, Carmel, Calif.
  • NASCAR Event: Daytona 500
  • RV Show: Tampa RV Supershow
  • State/Province to Fish: Florida
  • Good Sam Park: America’s Best Campground, Branson, Mo.
  • Motor Oil: Shell Rotella
  • Pet Supply Store: PetSmart
  • Craft Store: Michaels
  • RV Accessory Store: Camping World
  • State to Visit: Florida
  • Province to Visit: British Columbia
  • Tow Vehicle: Ford

All Welcome Mat winners will be honored in the June issue of Highways magazine and at a ceremonial awards dinner taking place July 23 at “The Rally 2010″ in Louisville, Ky.

To learn more about the Good Sam Club, log on to www.goodsamclub.com or call (800) 234-3450.

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AGS Partners with Top RV, Camping Brand Names

May 26, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

imageAffinity Guest Services (AGS), the industry leader in providing guest services guides to campgrounds and RV parks and resorts, is partnering with three of the most powerful camping brands in the business – the Good Sam Club, Woodall Publications and Trailer Life RV Parks & Campgrounds Directory – to expand its lineup of Internet benefits for customers.

The new partnership will allow campgrounds and RV parks and resorts to display custom AGS site maps as part of the park’s online listing on each of the three major brands’ websites – www.goodsamclub.com, www.woodalls.com and www.trailerlifedirectory.com, according to a news release. In addition, all three websites will showcase area businesses included in AGS guest services guides. This added benefit is available exclusively to AGS Guide customers, offering them an opportunity to reach millions of potential guests, an advantage that only AGS can offer.

“These three websites draw 4.9 million visitors every year,” explained Ann Emerson, vice president and publisher for Affinity Guest Services. “And these visitors are active and affluent RVers who come to our websites looking for places to stay in their RVs, and for things to see and do while in a community. It’s a perfect fit to include AGS site maps for our RV parks and campgrounds, as well as information on our guide advertisers, as a valuable benefit for our customers at no additional cost.”

RV park and campground owners have depended on AGS for 24 years to create custom guest services guides designed to showcase the unique features of their business, as well as the surrounding area, keeping guests for longer stays and bringing them back year after year.

“AGS continues to provide benefits to our customers that bring real value to their businesses. Our ability to package our printed products with the Internet is crucial in today’s environment,” continued Emerson.

In addition to guest services guides, AGS offers a complete range of products and services to the campground, RV park and camping resort industry, including Internet services and promotional products. AGS is a part of Affinity Media, a division of Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), the nation’s largest provider of outdoor recreation clubs, services, media and events.

For more information, contact Kathleen Ferguson at (800) 245-9666 ext. 266 or email kferguson@affinitygroup.com.

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Good Sams to Convene in Lebanon, Tenn.

May 5, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Tennessee Good Sam Club logoOver 200 recreational vehicles will descend upon Lebanon, Tenn., when the Good Sams of Tennessee hold their annual Spring Samboree at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center May 14-16, according to hobnobwilson.com.

This year’s Samboree theme is “Salute to the Military.” All past and present military will be recognized.

A Samboree is a get-together of RVers from across Tennessee and other states. The attendees get together for fun, fellowship, games, entertainment and much more. RV owners and prospective RVers are invited to attend the festivities.

To learn more about the Tennessee Good Sams and the 2010 Spring Samboree, visit their website at www.tngoodsam.com or contact Ron Masterson at (423) 240-4391 or Sheri Spradley at (615) 290-2052.

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