The Life on Wheels program, founded and directed by longtime recreational vehicle lifestyle enthusiast and author Gaylord Maxwell, recently wrapped up its 10th year with over 1,000 “students” learning the finer points of RVing.
What began as a single course at the University of Idaho has evolved into a series of four regional, classroom-intensive conferences conducted by a slate of industry experts covering 100 RV-related topics.
“We cover all aspects of RVing,” said Maxwell, noting that 60 sponsors participated in this year’s program. “Life on Wheels resulted from my own experiences as an RVer. I understood that the average RV consumer needed help. They were not maximizing the pleasure or the use of their RV.”
In addition to the weeklong conference at the University of Idaho, by far the largest gathering, Life on Wheels held three-day sessions during the summer at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Des Moines Area Community College in Iowa and, for the first time, North Hampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pa. In previous years, the Pennsylvania conference was held in Harrisburg during the Pennsylvania RV and Camping Show.
“Each day starts at 8 in the morning, and there are four periods a day,” said Maxwell, a former history teacher and RV retailer. “We offer from seven to a dozen 90-minute seminars during each period.”
Seminars are broken into three categories: Lifestyle, covering topics like full-timing and choosing an RV; Technical, which teaches RVers how to maintain equipment and systems; and Lifestyle Enhancement, offering a broad range of subjects, including cooking tips and the psychological aspects of traveling long-term by RV. “The idea is to have something for everyone, from newbies to your highly experienced RVers,” Maxwell said, noting the tuition fee currently is $199.
Even though the curriculum is geared for those intrigued with the full-timing lifestyle, a significant percentage of registrants have never owned RVs.
“We found that, on average, around 25% of our registrants are not RV owners,” Maxwell said. “We have also found that within a year of attending the program, 100% end up buying an RV.”
Maxwell said that his student roster, like the industry in general, has experienced a shifting demographic base that is gradually becoming younger, more affluent and better educated. To accommodate that trend, Maxwell and his staff are constantly honing the program and considering new locations.
“Steve Savage, who runs his own independent website and is our tech expert, came up with the idea of having a one-day session just before the conference that was strictly for RV novices,” Maxwell said. “We tried it out in Bethlehem, running a session that we called ‘Just for Newbies.’ It turned out to be a big hit.”
Maxwell is also determined to grow the program to new areas of the country, noting, “My long-term goal is to have a conference within eight hours of every prospective RVer.” The groundwork is in place for a new conference in the Southwest, possibly in Tucson, Ariz., with a target date of January or February 2006.
Maxwell’s immediate goals for the 2005 program include increasing attendance by 25%, growing dealer participation and bringing up the number of active sponsors to 100. But the key, Maxwell reiterates, is “educating the industry” about Life on Wheels. “It still surprises me after 10 years the number of people in the industry who don’t know about the program,” he said. “We are absolutely dependent on industry support. It’s an area that we will be working on through a number of different avenues for the 2005 program.”