By Judy Czarsty, F79148
Acting National President
Well, it is now August and time for another FMCA Family Reunion and Motorhome Showcase. I hope you have made your plans to join us for the “Family A’Fair” in Madison, Wisconsin, August 10-13, 2011. It is going to be one great event.
Have you ever thought about what goes into putting on an FMCA Family Reunion (also known as a convention)? Searching for the location begins more than four years before the Reunion date. The director of conventions and commercial services has all sorts of books listing fairgrounds and other large conference/meeting locations. He reviews them and looks for facilities that might meet FMCA’s needs. Leads also come in from members who encounter places in their travels that they think might work for an FMCA gathering. Of course, the Convention Committee also is tasked with recommending sites.
One important consideration before even looking at a site involves investigating the state laws regarding shows such as ours. Does the state allow out-of-state RV dealers to display and sell their inventory? If not, are outside dealers permitted to just show their inventory? Other restrictions may exist as well. Some states prevent a dealer in a particular franchise territory from going to any other area, even though it is in the same state. Now, that really adds a wrinkle to things.
You may think this is all unfair, and from FMCA’s perspective it is. But when you consider the economic impact on franchisees, you may change your mind. I would venture to say that in most states, the laws regarding recreation vehicles are linked with those related to automobiles. If you owned an automobile dealership, you certainly wouldn’t want dealers from neighboring states to come in for a weekend and sell their inventory when you have the same inventory. Plus, we all know that there are (or were) multiple automobile franchises in a given city offering many vehicles. The same does not hold true, however, for recreation vehicles. While there may be one or two RV dealers in a larger town, the inventory of motorhomes is not nearly as great as that of cars “” of course, most motorhomes cost a lot more than cars.
Over the years groups such as FMCA have tended to hold RV-related events at fairgrounds, because they generally have abundant parking; plenty of rooms in which to hold concurrent seminars (up to 12, in FMCA’s case) with seating for 200 to 1,000 people apiece; and an entertainment venue. Of course, it is preferable to have the seminars and entertainment inside in case of inclement weather. We all know that FMCA events in the past have proven to be the cure for droughts. Many fairgrounds were built a long time ago and have not increased in overall size, but new buildings have been added as the types of attractions and technology changed. Dirt barn floors and permanent stable walls have been replaced with concrete floors or temporary walls, which allow for easy conversion to another type of use, such as for seminar or exhibitor space. Grandstand seating for entertainment is being replaced with coliseum-type buildings that can be used for entertainment, conventions/meetings such as our 800-to-1,000-seat Governing Board meeting, or exhibitor space for shows of all types.
So, we now have identified two factors in selecting a site: favorable state laws for display and/or sales of motorhomes and space for seminars, exhibits, entertainment, and, of course, motorhome parking.
Over the years parking space needs have increased as our coaches have grown in length and also width when the slideouts are open. In the 1980s at an FMCA convention, a coach was allotted a 40-foot-by-20-foot space with room to park a car behind or beside the coach. There were 30-foot roads to allow for emergency vehicles and, of course, you could put out one awning, and everyone seemed pretty happy. Then came slideouts. The 40-by-20 allotted space remained the same, but attendees had to decide whether they wanted to put out a slide or an awning. But time marched on, with longer coaches having up to four slides. Yep, everyone began asking for more elbowroom. The size of the parking space has now grown to 55 feet by 25 feet, with room to put out four slides and awnings. The roads also had to be bigger, specifically to accommodate the longer coaches; emergency vehicles haven’t really grown appreciably in size over the years.
Now, what does all this emphasis on coach parking mean? Your coach in the 1980s was parked in about 800 square feet. Now it takes up about 1,400 square feet. Plus, the roads are now another 10 to 15 feet wider. I think you are getting the gist that a facility that would hold 2,500 motorhomes in the 1980s will now hold substantially fewer vehicles.
The crunch with parking led FMCA to look at NASCAR race tracks as potential convention sites. And we tried it with the August 2006 convention at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte/Concord, North Carolina. These types of facilities have some buildings (immaculately clean garages) but not enough to hold all the exhibitors and seminars. So, up go the very expensive tents with ventilation systems. Race tracks also don’t tend to have coliseum-type buildings, but they may have smaller tracks on the property with grandstands that we could use for entertainment. However, the only criteria race tracks tend to meet well in terms of hosting an FMCA event is the need for parking.
Boy, this could be pretty challenging; you can find a site with plenty of parking but no seminar/exhibit space, or vice versa. Surely there is an ideal venue. Think back to some of the places you have been to for conventions.
For instance, consider the August 2000 convention held in Brunswick, Maine, at the Naval Air Station, with all that wonderful runway space. It was really something to see thousands of motorhomes parked along and on the runway. Steve and I used our bikes to get around and, boy, were we ever glad we had them with us. But, do you remember the seminar space? It was kind of a mishmash of locations. How about the entertainment? We had to have two seatings in a large hangar, and it was hot! Were you one of the many people who traded tickets with someone else in order to get the same seating time as your friends? Ideal? No, but it sure had parking! And after the event was over, all we remembered was what a great time we had.
How about the first time we went to Perry, Georgia, back in 1996? The Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter had everything “” beautiful buildings, and lots of grassy space for parking. The weather was another issue. But, Perry was and is perhaps the ideal facility for an FMCA convention. Other states send representatives to see the Perry facility in order to gather ideas for their own sites. Over the years, construction has made the Georgia National Fairgrounds an even better facility. In the early years, they had grading issues, and those could be big issues if your motorhome became an island awash in a sea of mud churned up by trams. But, the state of Georgia realized that they needed to do some work in this regard, and they started regrading the fairgrounds and have kept on making improvements to smooth out as many wrinkles as they can.
The end result is that Perry has gone from a good location for an FMCA convention to a great location. Attendees at FMCA’s recent Family Reunions held there can attest to all the improvements that have been made and the fact that the water is no longer an issue. In fact, the only time water came into play during the most recent event in Perry was when the lake served as a backdrop for a fabulous fireworks display one evening, and as the venue for the fun-filled pedal boat races that benefitted charity. And after the event was over, most remembered what a great time they had.
I am sure you have your own favorite FMCA Family Reunion spot, and if you think about it, the location probably had some type of “wart.” But, you went, and the event accomplished its intended purposes “” to educate you more about the motorhome lifestyle, to entertain you, and to allow you to renew old friendships and make new ones. But, as you look back, the most valuable thing was the memories you made “” memories that will last long after the event is over.
Well, you can see that a lot goes into just selecting a site for a convention. It’s much more involved than this, but that is a story for another column. Meanwhile, since the Madison convention will soon be one for the history books, I wanted to look ahead to FMCA’s next big Family Reunion, scheduled to take place August 27-30, 2012, at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Indiana State Fairgrounds is almost as compact as the Alliant Energy Center in Madison with regard to daytime activities. Approximately four buildings in Indy will hold all the exhibits and seminars, and a wonderful traffic flow exists between them. These facilities are air-conditioned, and there is even a way to travel between most of the buildings without getting wet in the event of rain. Ample parking exists on the grounds.
This sounds wonderful, but it will be only if you come. I realize none of us knows what will happen with the cost of fuel between now and then. Since we have a whole year to plan, one idea might be to go out to dinner one less time each month and put that money into a fuel fund, or to just set up a fuel fund in general. This may not cover the entire trip to Indiana, but it certainly can’t hurt. You might consider thinking in these terms: My motorhome gets 7.5 miles to the gallon and will have to go 3,000 miles round-trip so that I can “make music with my friends,” as Willie Nelson would sing. That means you would buy 400 gallons of fuel. Even if fuel goes up 50 cents a gallon, it would cost you only $200 more.
So, I guess my message this month is that when you come to FMCA Family Reunions, everything may not be perfect, but it will be as close to perfect as we can get. You will have the opportunity to learn more about this wonderful lifestyle we have chosen, to become involved in new activities, to be entertained, to renew old friendships, and to make new memories. Don’t allow something like fluctuating fuel prices spoil the lifestyle you have chosen. Sometimes it is possible to give a little but get a lot. Set up your FMCA Reunion savings account and as the monies grow, so will your fun.
See you down the road.