The following column is by WCM columnist Peter Pelland, founder of Pelland Advertising.

Peter Pelland

We just returned from the Colorado Campground & Lodging Owners Association’s (CCLOA’s) “Monumental Junction” spring meeting, and it was deemed a great success by everyone involved. Held in Grand Junction, Colo., March 24-26 under the guidance of Executive Director Mary Arlington, this conference was a perfect example of thinking outside the box.

At the typical conference, there is a separate trade show hall, where vendors have to lug their booths, set up, break down, and hope that at least a healthy percentage of participants stop by to visit at some point in between.

CCLOA Executive Director Mary Arlington talks with attendees at this year’s conference in Grand Junction.

At this event, Mary Arlington had a better idea. There were no exhibits or separate trade show hall. All attendees sat intermixed at tables, providing the opportunity to mingle and further the rapport. As one park owner told me, “We have often attended conferences where we wanted to speak with an exhibitor, but there were already five people at their booth. We hoped to circle back later, but that usually does not happen.”

Between breaks for snacks and mingling, each vendor was allotted approximately 10 minutes for an expert session in front of all attendees. Thanks to this format, participants were generally presented with useful information that helped to establish each vendor’s level of expertise, rather than the usual sales pitch.

At the opening night social, Bernie Jwaszewski of Bernie’s Colorado Journeys made a lively presentation that explained how park owners were encouraged to get involved with his popular radio show and series of podcasts. Another vendor, Michael Dustin Youree of WanderWest, is based in New York City and made a live presentation via Skype.

According to Arlington, “On the second day, I actually extended the breaks because of all of the lively discussion taking place. As I walked through, I overheard a small group talking together about lift stations. A few feet away, I overheard words about electric metering, and a few more feet was an office-flow conversation. This was happening in both the meeting room and the hallway. The delightful sound told me that the participants did not need me at a microphone. I had achieved bringing them together and inspiring their relationships.”

In addition to the expert sessions, vendors were encouraged to participate in the campground discussions that covered a variety of topics of interest to members. Nothing was self-promotional, and a pleasant educational environment was the result.

In addition to the expert sessions and campground discussions, there were one-hour presentations from Dick DeWard of The Campground Connection and Jeff Sims from the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), each of which was filled with valuable information presented by experts among experts in their fields. Their presentations kept the questions flying.

DeWard provided some eye-opening information regarding exit strategies, with common-sense guidelines that shattered the usual rules of thumb presented by the typical real estate broker, particularly ones who do not specialize in this very unique niche market. He outlined the importance of timing, expectations, the calculation of valuations, and why going it alone can be a very expensive mistake, all helping to prepare park owners to be adequately armed with the necessary information when the time comes to sell.

Sims, senior director of state relations and program advocacy for ARVC, spoke on a variety of current legislative issues that directly impact Colorado, as well as the best practices that will help both the association and individual members navigate the rocky waters of federal, state, county and local regulations that can often be based upon arbitrary bureaucratic data. Some of the topics included ADA compliance, standards for park model RVs, definitions and requirements for accommodating guests with service animals, and the imposition of arbitrary standards for wastewater discharge.

Lest it appear that the conference was all education, let me explain that there was no shortage of fun. There were fundraising games that involved guessing, powers of observation, and broadly defined demonstrations of “skill.” (I personally won free drinks, newsletter promotional mentions, and a 30% discount on my company’s 2018 membership.) There were also both silent and live auctions, the latter of which was officiated by Sims with yours truly as his assistant auctioneer.

Arlington continued, “The attendees were full of praise. My conference committee cited that some attendees were praising this as the best conference ever. All that matters to me is that we managed to enhance yet another benefit program for Colorado campground owners and managers.”

As a vendor, I look forward to next year’s event and consider my company’s participation in the 2017 event to have been highly successful. I am told that many industry suppliers turned down the opportunity to participate, either due to the lack of a conventional trade show or the perception that the cost was prohibitive. I can only say that they missed the boat.

Perhaps this format would be impractical for a much larger event; however, it seems to fit perfectly for most state associations. Mark your calendars now for March 7-8, 2018, in Denver.