At about this time for the last 49 years, Forest City, Iowa, pretty much doubles its 4,000-person population when Winnebago owners and their families gather for the Grand National Rally (GNR). Under the theme of “Red, White, & W – 60 Years of an American Icon” to commemorate the company’s 60th anniversary, the rally is set to run July 23-28, although prerally activities began earlier this week.
Organized by the Winnebago International Travelers Club (WIT), the GNR is an annual gathering and celebration of Winnebago RVs. Many of the events are what you would expect to find at an RV rally, including food, entertainment, vendors, seminars, tours and plenty of socializing.
That the event is held on the grounds of Winnebago Industries Inc. offers management and staff an opportunity to “interact on a much larger scale with our customers than you’d have on a typical day,” said Chad Reece, the company’s corporate relations director.
“Because we have so many guests who are product ambassadors and enthusiasts here, it’s a great opportunity for us as an organization to go much deeper to visit with them and to get feedback. We have some projects that happen around that, which are very much targeted at making sure that we’re able to capture that information and to get that feedback and input that goes on,” Reece told RVBUSINESS.com, adding that they’ve developed friendships with many GNR attendees over the years.
“I’ve been with this company for 30 years and there are a few faces out there that I’ve seen for many of those years at this rally. We spend time with our customers, but they’ve actually grown past just the typical customer relationship into this tighter bond with much fellowship,” he said. “And then when you take into account the amount of the interaction throughout our company – whether it’s with our executive leadership team like Mike Happe or down to everybody else in this company – we spend a lot of time with the people at the rally. You’ll see Winnebago employees actively involved in the rally process all the time.”
GNR organizers – which include Winnebago Consumer Engagement Manager Denise Hagen and her crew – have developed special seminars and events to commemorate the company’s 60th anniversary for what Reece called a “fun walk down memory lane.”
In addition, two 50-year Winnebago employees, Larry Kearney and Harlan Rodberg, will serve as grand marshalls for the town’s Puckerbrush Days festival. Reece noted that Kearney is still working at Winnebago, and the company has more than 100 other active employees with at least 40 years of service.
For the second year in a row, the GNR will feature “Community Night,” in which the Forest City residents are invited to join in on the rally fun. Entertainment for the evening includes Stephanie Quayle – whose 2017 song “Winnebago” became an instant favorite among fans of the “Flying W” – as well as Lee Greenwood of “God Bless the USA” fame.
“We think we’re going to have a real hit on our hands there. It’ll be kind of a fun evening for us, and we’ll be doing something around our 60th anniversary that evening also to celebrate with the community along with our WIT Club guests. That’s going to be a lot of fun,” Reece said.