It’s been five years since FMCA congregated on the expansive grounds of the CAM-PLEX Multi-Event Facilities in Gillette, Wyo., for its annual International Convention & Expo. And, as officials engaged in final preparations Tuesday for a projected 1,550 to 1,600 rigs at the July 18-21 98th convention, Executive Director Chris Smith reflected on the organization’s upward path during that pivotal period that has resulted in increased membership and a sharpened focus on its roster of benefits and services.
“We’ve had 17 straight months that have shown positive membership growth,” Smith told RVBUSINESS .com, noting that the Cincinnati, Ohio-based nonprofit organization now comprises 77,000 family memberships and 142,000 individual members. “We’ve also seen growth in 27 of the last 29 months. And everything on the event side is going up. The Gillette show will be our biggest summer convention since 2013 and we drew around 2,500 coaches for our event in Perry, Ga., in March, which was outstanding. That’s a significant turnaround because we went through some lean years.
“I think one reason for the growth is the market itself,” he added. “Motorhome sales are up so that correlates to more potential members for FMCA. But we’ve poured a lot marketing dollars into getting our name out there. Across all platforms on social media sites our followers are up 400% and we also instituted a complete redesign of our website.”
The association’s vote last December to include towable owners is also sparking new interest in FMCA. “This week we crossed the 2,200 mark for towable owners,” Smith related, adding that 25 to 30 towables would be in Gillette. “Any time you penetrate new markets it takes time to grow. But we anticipate those numbers will go up by the end of the year.”
Smith reported that two new member benefit programs would be announced during the Gillette event, including “FMCA University” along with a health care package.
“Our goal is to be the No. 1 RV education source. The university, which is free of charge, will offer members a massive library with 500-600 RV-related topics ranging from technical to lifestyle,” he related. “Users can read articles and take tests and there’s also a very advanced phase two program. We’re launching the site first while we’re still working on the curriculum.”
The health care program is designed to “take care of full-timers who have to go into the marketplace for insurance,” Smith said. “It’s for people that don’t work for a company that provides health care. We’ve already signed some members up strictly through word of mouth. But once we announce it in Gillette, we’re going to get a lot of people coming on board.”
The plan is offered through RV Insurance Benefits, a Texas-based insurance agency, and underwritten by Philadelphia American Life Insurance Co.
The Gillette convention will again reflect FMCA’s focus on education which Smith related is the primary reason members attend the event.
“Of course they come for the camaraderie,” he stated. “I had a first-time motorhome owner tell me after he parked that everybody came up and really made him feel welcome. There’s no doubt that a big part of the convention is to see old friends and make new ones. But surveys of past events showed the No. 1 reason they come are the seminars.”
The agenda includes a broad selection of instructive sessions covering topics ranging from RV driving/towing and RV maintenance to microwave-convection cooking and technology for travelers. Approximately 100 different sessions will be held, Smith noted, along with “RV Basics” conducted by Gary Bunzer, the “RV Doctor,” and representatives from the RV Technical Education & Safety Conference (RVTSC).
“This will be our third year presenting ‘RV Basics,’” Smith said. “It has been well attended every year and we’ve had tremendous feedback.”
Serving as the centerpiece for the event, FMCA will host the RV Expo, as major RV manufacturers and dealers present the latest product lines while hundreds of companies will set up booths with RV components and accessories, home products, and RV-related services.
“We sold out of exhibit space this year, and will have around 250 indoor and outdoor displays,” Smith related. “It provides our vendors with a high-profile selling venue and gives our members the opportunity to get the first look at a lot of newly introduced products.”
He added, “The CAM-PLEX is really a great facility for our conventions. It’s a beautiful space and is very well maintained. We’re looking forward to a great show.”