Bob Byrne, director of the Forest River Owners Group (FROG), distinctly remembers the directive handed down by Forest River Inc. CEO Pete Liegl when the organization was formed in January of 2012.
“Pete told me FROG was one of the ways that Forest River could express appreciation to our owners and customers,” Byrne told RVBUSINESS.com. “He said that all of our members had bought their RVs from us and the goals were to make sure they bought the next one from Forest River and to have them tell their friends.”
Judging by the record numbers gathering at the Elkhart County Fairgrounds in Goshen, Ind., this week for the FROG International Rally, those goals have indeed been met.
“We couldn’t be happier,” Byrne said of the event which opened Sunday (Aug. 9) and runs through Saturday. “We have right around 700 rigs and 1,385 people which is close to maxing out the facilities. The interesting thing is that we opened registrations the last week in March and had to cut off them off the second week in May. I am certain that if we would have been able to handle more people, we would have hit 1,000 rigs this year.”
Byrne reported that the head count for the rally, now marking its fourth edition, had been growing around 40% every year. That growth coincides with overall membership which Byrne said currently stood at 44,000 members families and was increasing by 1,200 to 1,500 families a month.
“Our membership represents every state in the U.S. and all the Canadian provinces,” he added. “At the rally we have people from 40 states and two of the provinces.”
The format for the rally is fast-paced with busloads heading out daily for plant tours along with separate trips to attractions around the area including popular Amish-related venues. In addition, members are being treated to 10 meals, live entertainment, vendor displays and seminars during the rally.
Byrne said that a key facet of the annual FROG rally is to provide free service to members for problems they may be experiencing with their RVs. “People can submit a service request in advance,” he said, “and then we go ahead and take care of problems, within reason, at no charge. We have about 300 service technicians on the grounds along with representatives from several component suppliers including Lippert, Dometic and Dexter.”
One of the highlights was a Monday night buffet dinner that included an appearance by Liegl.
“A little history on Forest River. We began in 1996 and have grown to be the No. 1 selling brand of travel trailers and fifth-wheels. We’re also the No. 1 selling brand in motorhomes, buses and cargo trailers,” Liegl said. “Many people ask us how did we get there, and, quite honestly, the simple truth is our top priority is customer satisfaction. We have the responsibility to ensure customer satisfaction, and we live by that. The rally gives us an opportunity to talk to people, to listen to them because we’re working and we don’t have the option of camping full-time, although we would like to. So, even though we make the RVs and we try to do the best job we can, we rely on people like you to tell us what you like and what you dislike. And we’re trying to concentrate on improving the likes and cutting down on the dislikes.”
In a recent interview with RVBusiness, Liegl indicated the rally was a vital forum for connecting with customers.
“There are several reasons why FROG has been such a success. First of all, the person who runs it, Bob Byrne and his wife, Cindy, do a very good job,” he said. “At the same time, the national rally is a fun event. People who come in for it get to see our plants and at the same time we spend a lot of time with the customer, talking to them about their units, what’s good with them, what’s bad with them. It’s so important to us.”
Byrne reported that according to member response, the rally is also an important date on their schedules.
“The feedback has been phenomenal,” Byrne said. “On our Forest River Forum, we have received high marks on everything from parking to the overall atmosphere. It’s been a great start and I look for that to continue throughout the week.”