Packer Legends Promote Camping at Wisconsin Meeting
The Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners (WACO) had its biggest conference in history in March, drawing 565 attendees and a record 192 vendors, according to WACO officials.
“This was our best conference and trade show ever,” said Lori Severson, WACO’s executive director, who was honored for her 10 years of outstanding service during a surprise tribute ceremony that WACO board members had organized without her knowledge.
The March 14-18 event, which took place at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Convention Center in Stephens Point, included guest appearances by several former members of the Green Bay Packers football team, including William Henderson, Santana Dotson, Bill Schroeder and Gilbert Brown.
Henderson, who has also worked as a broadcast journalist for ESPN and WBAY-TV, the ABC affiliate in Green Bay, joined Publicist Jeff Crider in a media relations seminar, while Brown and Dotson emceed several WACO events, including a fundraising auction that raised over $68,000 and a PR Dating Game spoof that gave park operators a chance to woo several top campground industry officials who also made presentations at the show, including Wisconsin Secretary of Tourism Stephanie Klett; Sarah Klavas, industry relations and bureau services director for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism; Paul Bambei, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC); and Jim Rogers, chairman of Billings, Mont.-based Kampgrounds of America (KOA).
The Packers also posed for photos with park owners and autographed footballs as a fundraising event for Brown’s charity, the Gilbert Brown Foundation, which organizes football camps and camping trips for inner city youths. Severson and WACO have helped promote the foundation through the WACO website and by holding frequent fundraising events.
Brown also recorded several TV commercials for Wisconsin park operators who were interested in having fundraisers at their parks to help promote his foundation while raising public awareness about their parks in the Wisconsin market.
Secretary Klett provided an update on the Wisconsin’s tourism industry, while Bambei talked about ARVC’s latest member benefit initiatives. Rogers talked about the latest camping trends KOA is seeing in Wisconsin and across the country.
The WACO show featured numerous educational seminars by industry experts, including Bud Styer, who talked about ways to develop ancillary revenue, and ARVC government affairs Director Jeff Sims, who shared “tips and tricks” as well as the best marketing ideas he has gleaned from private park operators over the years.
Dave Ross, Wisconsin’s secretary of safety and professional services, provided a seminar on the ins and outs of applying for licenses for cabins, while Suzanne Mark, a campground writer, talked about Halloween-themed activities and other seasonal events that park operators can use to extend their seasons.
Several speakers provided information to park owners on ways to develop and motivate their staffs, including Patti Larson and Mark Hazelbaker, while Kristen Valk gave park operators tips on how to understand and work with Generation Y. Marcelle Benedicta also held a seminar focusing on how parks can recruit seasonal help using organizations that provide access to international college students.
Rogers also provided a seminar on how park operators can improve what they’re doing with their businesses.
While the WACO show attracted mostly Wisconsin park owners, Severson said the show also drew park operators from neighboring states, including Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota and states as far away as Pennsylvania, New York and Texas.
Vendors said they were pleased with the show, which gave them a chance not only to make sales, but also to socialize with park owners.
Several vendors said they were upbeat about their business prospects as well as anticipated business levels for the campgrounds, including Wade Elliott of Utility Supply Group, who noted that his sales figures for January and February were running ahead of last year’s figures.
Other vendors at the WACO show included Norman Boucher of Windsor, Conn.-based LCN Outdoors, who visited the WACO show for the first time.
Several companies were also on hand promoting products and services to help manage pond and lake water quality, including Wisconsin Lake and Pond Resource LLC and Aquatic Biologists Inc., based in Fond du Lac, Wis.
The trade show itself overflowed the Holiday Inn’s 38,000-square foot convention center, with dozens of vendors setting up their booths and exhibits in the hallways leading to the lobby of the hotel.
Several park model vendors also set up displays on the Holiday Inn parking lot, including North Park Cabins & Park Models, which had a rare opportunity to showcase its products in record 80-degree temperatures.