‘The Rally’ Gives Industry ‘Shot in Arm’
Amid strong economic headwinds more than 9,000 people in rigs — including walk-ins — attended Affinity Group Inc.'s (AGI) ninth edition of The Rally March 14-17 at the renovated Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter in Perry, Ga.
"It is a fabulous facility and it went very, very smoothly," reported Sue Bray, executive director of Affinity's sponsoring Good Sam Club. "They (the state) put about $1 million into renovations, and parking went very well. People were in good moods and excited about being there."
The owners of 3,439 towable and motorized RVs registered at The Rally and, with walk-ins, about 9,200 people attended the accompanying RV show and expo, which by most accounts exceeded expectations, particularly with the economic climate in mid-March.
That, however, is about 1,300 fewer coaches than when The Rally — formerly known as the Great North American Rally — last visited Perry in 2001.
Bray said that The Rally received about 500 reservations in the final month leading up to the event. “That isn't what usually happens," she said. “They were just waiting. Peoples' attitudes seemed to be that they are going to continue to RV, but that they are going to be more careful about their trips and do more planning."
More importantly, she said, reports from manufacturers and dealers who brought 737 display coaches — and many of the 478 suppliers who set up booths — were that sales were better than expected.
“It was a shot in the arm for the industry," said Terry Thompson, Affinity vice president of sales. “Given the market, we were pretty happy with the attendance. And the best thing was the people were buying. Dealers like Lazy Days (Seffner, Fla.) told me they had a great show, and Fleetwood was exceedingly happy, particularly with their American Coach — same thing with Gulf Stream."
The Georgia weather cooperated — for a change. Bad weather at the popular Georgia venue has almost become a tradition and it looked for a time as if that tradition would persist when tornadoes struck downtown Atlanta just over 100 miles north on The Rally's opening night causing major damage to the CNN Center and the Georgia Dome where an NCAA basketball tournament game was being played. “We had some wind and rain and we were on tornado watch, but we were just fine," Bray said.
The extended weekend featured more than 30 seminars on topics that included pet care, campground safety and RV insurance. Nightly entertainment was provided by bluegrass musician Ricky Skaggs and singer Bobby Vinton, who was a last-minute addition after former Four Seasons singer Frankie Valli canceled.
And the Good Sam Club organized a dance that broke a Guinness record for the most people dancing at the same time. Some 1,128 couples danced the fox-trot to “Fly Me to the Moon" by the Michael Andrews Big Band during “Prom Night in Perry."
AGI President and CEO Mike Schneider said The Rally has matured in the nine years AGI has staged the event. “It brings together all the right factions of the industry — a very large collection of consumers coupled with a very large selection of manufacturers and dealers," he told Woodall’s Campground Management.
On the public relations front, Schneider said the entire RV industry came off well in a balanced feature story about The Rally in USA Today's weekend travel section. “It portrayed the industry in a very realistic and positive manner," Schneider said.
The USA Today piece that ran the Friday after The Rally concluded quoted Schneider, Bob Livingston, Affinity senior vice president of publishing, and a number of RVers who turned out to be strong RVing advocates. Reported USA Today: “Hard core RVers … will tell you an RV isn't just a vehicle. It's a lifestyle. And a little thing like $4-a-gallon gas isn't going to put the brakes on a way of life."
The Rally in 2009 is scheduled for April 17-20 in Albuquerque, N.M., at Expo New Mexico, home of the New Mexico State Fair, as well as the nearby Balloon Fiesta Park. The Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky., is the planned venue for 2010.
"We'd like to have a rotation of Redmond (Ore.), Perry and Louisville and move Albuquerque into the mix," Bray said.