“RVillage Rally One – the Connected Road,” the first-ever gathering for members of social online platform RVillage.com, got underway Thursday (May 17) at the Elkhart Campground in Elkhart, Ind. Curtis Coleman, the networking website’s founder and CEO, greeted the nearly 300 rigs and their owners as they made their way into the park. (To view a slideshow scroll to the right side of the RVBUSINESS.com home page. Photos by J. Tyler Klassen).
“I’m greeting every single person that’s coming here at the gate and the reason I wanted to do that is they’ve come a long distance for the same reason that I wanted to throw this: This is an opportunity for us all to get together and enjoy each other for four days,” Coleman said, mentioning that people were first notified of the rally only 90 days ago. “Part of our message, too, was they could also be a part of our first rally, because we know that if people come to this and there are stories that they tell, where are they going to talk about it? Within social networks. They’re going to talk about it in RVillage. They’ll talk about it on Facebook. Then we’ll know that more people will want to come to the other ones.”
Coleman founded a beta version of RVillage.com in 2014. Since that time, it has grown to include about 100,000 members. Once RVers join and create a profile, RVillagers can find other travelers, based on their current location, at any destination along their route and remain connected through geo-mapping technology and social interactive tools. Active special interest groups within RVillage such as full-time RVers, boondockers, snowbirds and others communicate with one another on a regular basis. The true “magic” of RVillage, Coleman emphasized, was its geo-mapping feature.
“They go to Murfreesboro, Tenn., check in at that location, and they start getting notified when other people arrive in the area and they click and look at their profiles,” Coleman explained, adding that every two to three minutes, someone joins RVillage. “And what happens is, as more people are joining it and they’re ‘friending’ each other in RVillage, then they start getting notifications saying ‘Your friend has arrived in your area.’ And it’s ‘Oh my God, Joyce and Bob are five miles away!’ And they never would have known that otherwise.”
For the rally, which is set to run through the weekend, participants are able to enjoy a number of seminars, events and entertainment including folk singer, jazz bands, along with RV/MH Hall of Fame and RV manufacturing plant tours.
Among the first day’s seminars was one hosted by RVBUSINESS.com, which featured two special guests: AJ Jones, senior general manager at Heartland RV, and Pat Carroll, director of product development at Entegra Coach. The two discussed the state of the RV industry, and talked about what goes into developing an RV, and answered several questions from the audience.
Nightly entertainment also includes firebirds, which are towering sculptures created with forged steel by artist Charlie Smith. Standing 30 feet high, each of the two firebirds has a mesh grate body loaded with about half a cord of wood. Once ignited, the fire burns hot enough for the sculpture to glow red with heat – hot enough, Coleman pointed out, to keep the rally-goers warm while enjoying the outside entertainment each evening.
Coleman added that, this being their first rally, he’s letting everyone know that not everything will go exactly as planned – and that’s okay. The overarching goal is for people to simply come together, get to know one another and become friends.
“I’ve gone to rallies – I’ve gone to a lot of them – and mostly, they’re trade shows, which is what people expect. They want a big vendor hall and with a lot of seminars and a lot of coaches to look at and walk through,” he said. “But it seems that, as everybody’s walking around with a bag of tank deodorant, they’re kind of staring off into space. What’s really stimulating, more stimulating than a bag of tank deodorant, is human interaction. That’s the most stimulating thing on the planet and we’re going to create environments where that can happen. That’s why people have come so far, because they are hungry for it.”