Mar 022009

There is a subculture of the RVing community made up of the vendors and seminar presenters who make our living by speaking at RV rallies, and selling our products to the people who attend those rallies. Most of us are fulltime working RVers. Some have a retirement income to help cover their expenses on the road, while others, like Terry and myself, earn all of our income from our speaking and publishing activities.

There was a time back when we started this gig almost ten years ago, when people were standing in line at RV rallies, begging for an opportunity to get up on stage and give a seminar. Many of those people were vendors hawking their products in what are known in the business as “buy me” seminars, while others were presenting educational seminars in the hope of making a name for themselves and eventually getting paid speaking opportunities at the larger RV events, or getting picked up for the Life on Wheels circuit.

Back then, fuel was inexpensive, and it was how you paid your dues. If you were a vendor offering educational seminars, and also selling products such as our books and subscriptions to the Gypsy Journal, you could offset some of the costs of traveling to a rally to speak.

Those days are in the past. It’s a new world, and the old rules have changed. But somebody forget to tell the folks putting on RV rallies.

These days it costs a lot more to travel to rallies, and just breaking even at a vendor booth can be a challenge. And as anyone who has taken Basic Business 101 can tell you, simply breaking even is not enough. To survive, a business must make a profit, be it a traditional fixed location business, or an on the road operation.

I bring this up because of two things. I talked to a seminar presenter yesterday, the acknowledged expert in his field, who left our rally in Casa Grande and drove all the way across the country to speak at a couple of RV rallies, only to discover upon arrival at one that they had decided that he could not sell his products at the rally. They were not paying him to speak, so to even cover his expenses, he needed those product sales.

Last year the FMCA asked me do a seminar at their Vermont rally. I’m a professional speaker. My seminars are my products, and I normally get paid for speaking. They said they could not afford to pay me, but we had not been to New England in several years, so I suggested that if they gave me a free vendor booth and free camping, I’d come and present two seminars. Their response was that they had never done that before, and could not afford it.

Huh? What does it cost to stick an extra table in the vending area and let me park in a corner of the fairgrounds? Needless to say, we did not go to Vermont.   

Last week a nationwide RV club held a rally in Casa Grande right after ours, and I visited with some of their advance crew. The subject of me doing a seminar came up. But again, they could not afford it. Nor would they swap us a vendor booth for a seminar.

They did ask for a free story about the club’s upcoming 60th birthday, which will be in the new issue of the Gypsy Journal. They also proposed us trading an ad in our publication for an ad in their club magazine. Okay, what the heck, why not? However, in looking over their info packet, we have 2½ times the number of readers they do, and they expected me to pay a commercial member fee to qualify for the ad in their publication!  Not to be rude, but why in the world would I want to do that? Even a straight trade would not be to my advantage, let alone me paying for the privilege. I told them I’ll pass.

This same group was bemoaning the fact that, like most RV clubs, their membership numbers are declining, and they can’t attract new blood, including new vendors. I pointed out to them that we charge vendors at our rallies less than half of what they charge, and we include free camping in that fee.

If we can do that as a business, and still make a profit, a non-profit club can do it too. I suggested that maybe if they were more reasonable to the vendors and seminar presenters, they’d have more of them, which would attract more rally attendees. Of course, that fell on deaf ears because “This is the way we’ve always done it.”

 Thought For The Day – He who laughs last, thinks slowest.

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Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  8 Responses to “The Rules Have Changed”

  1. Nick,
    Your latest Blog entry certainly resonates with your vendor friends. Thanks for your comments. I couldn’t put it better. Our very worst show in nearly 10 years was in Casa Grande by a national RV Club. Probably the same club you mention. Your Blog entry made comparisons between your Gypsy Journal rally and theirs but forgot to mention the biggest difference….respect. Mutual respect. We felt respected by you, the volunteers, and the attendees. We’ll be back.
    Tim and Crystal Ryerson
    The Shady Boat Dealer

  2. Nick,
    Long time reader, first time poster.
    I like the way your business mind thinks. If others in the RV fields would rationalize then maybe there would not be so many doors closing.

  3. You have hit the nail on the head. That is why the only Rally on my schedule for this year will be your Eastern Gypsy Rally in Ohio. Most of the clubs and rally promoters are asking vendor fees that are unrealistic. The attendance at rallies will most surely be down this year due to the horrific economy and the price of fuel is reportedly going to increase this year.

    You are about the only one out there who understands how to put on a rally that has the best interest of the attendees and the vendors at heart. I will market my products on my website for now.

  4. Until recently, my wife and I were part of this subculture of vendors.

    We “retired” when the Escapees Camping Club moved their eastern rally from its usual haunts in Goshen, IN, or Van Wert, OH, to DuQuoin, IL. This move meant additional travel expenses and raised our initial vendor costs to over $700 — 1500 miles round trip, camping fees there and back, fuel, licenses for that new (to us) state, the rally fee, the vendors’ fee. Given the number of selling hours within those 3 1/2 selling days, we calculated what we would have to sell per hour just to break even. It couldn’t be done.

    On top of those costs, the Escapees wanted “door prizes’ to support their four nightly give-a-ways. While not required, these “gifts” were expected — OK for the big box stores…a bit harder for the mom and pop vendors.

  5. I quit going to rally’s a few years ago. Going to a rally I expect to see vendors selling things pertaining to rving not jewelry,neckties,glass figurines and the like.

  6. Joe,

    Thank you for your comment. The good news if rally/event organizers start seeing a continued downturn in attendance because the RVer wanting to attend is not getting what he wants, perhaps they will cease to exist. Maybe just not fast enough!

    However, if they do, it will leave a void for the RVing comunity. The good news is that in the long run, maybe the good guys will return.

    Nick, your rally appuroach shold be the model to follow in the future. I think its sucess and history speaks for everyone involved, vendors and the public.

    I miss being on the road, but to be honest I do not miss the “chasing the buck” as Berni & I use to call it. I can sympathize with this issue you venders have and hopfully it will change.

    Rocky & Berni Frees

  7. I know who you are refering to. It was a retiree rally. We belong on that orginazation. I agree with what you said about we always do it that way. This orginazation has gott so clique that we almost dropped our membership. We enjoy camping with our club. But some of the higher ups think that they are better than others. This was probably the worst attended rally they have ever had. I think they will lose money on it. Really like your blog and paper.

  8. Hi,
    I’m not a full timer nor a person trying to sell anything at a rally but I’ve gotta say that what you say makes sense. My folks ran a small store in a small town in Iowa; in that environment you either go out of business or quickly learn what sells.

    Demanding stuff from your vendors isn’t the way to go; requiring that they adhere to good business practices is tough enough! There are lots of cheats & crooks out there; buying at a rally would be dumb if you couldn’t at least complain to the rally organizer. I’ve never attended one of your rallies but at least I’d feel comfortable buying from one of the people you allowed into your rally.

    I really don’t care what is presented for sale. If I don’t want it; how difficult it is for me to walk past the booth? Jeez, is this rocket science? BTW Rick, if you want lessons in political correctness, check my blog! (Love yours when you are bad!)

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