Mike Tassinari of the North-East Truck Camping Jamboree shares his hard-earned experience and advice on how to run a successful camper rally. It all starts with a campground.
Mike Tassinari is probably responsible for more truck camper rallies than anyone in history. Not only is he instrumental in organizing the truck camper rallies for the North-East Truck Camping Jamboree, but he often consults with other truck camper rally organizers across the United States. He even approached us with the idea of writing this article.
Of course there’s much more to starting a rally than just announcing it in Truck Camper Magazine. It’s critical that you choose your location, campground, and time of year carefully. You also want to make sure that the rally has the organization and events that will make your rally a success. Mike’s article addresses all of these points, and many more.
Arranging the Campground
When anyone suggests a campground for a rally, I have four very quick questions.
First, is it a private campground? Reservations at State and Federal campgrounds are often done through Reserve America. Making reservations through Reserve America so that everyone in the rally is camping together would be a logistical nightmare. For this reason, I strongly recommend private campgrounds for rallies.
Second, does the campground want a large group? Believe it or not, not all campgrounds do. It’s important that the campground is interested in hosting a rally.
Third, does the campground have some type of enclosed pavilion? You can almost guarantee that one of our rallies will have rain at some point, so it’s important to have an enclosed pavilion available.
That said, don’t bypass a campground that works for you just because it doesn’t have a pavilion. Jayne and Rob McCullock ran a rally in Massachusetts a few years ago at a wonderful campground with a safari field, but no pavilion. We adapted by lashing our 10×20 carport style tents together and added two large tarps over the roof to prevent rain from leaking inside. Presto; an almost instant pavilion (and yes, it rained one day). The following fall I purchased a 20×32 tent. Our group is very versatile and adaptable.
And finally, although by no means a deal breaker, having a safari field is awesome. A safari field is an area at the campground where multiple rigs can camp in an open field setting. Some campgrounds call these areas group campsites.
It’s never too early to reserve the campground, especially if the campground works with us and wants our business.
How to Get a Campground Group Discount
Click to enlarge the above group photo from the 2012 Gettysburg North-East Truck Camping Jamboree.
Most of the main North-East Truck Camping Jamboree rallies are before Memorial Day and after Labor Day. This is the off-season for most campgrounds. The reason for hosting rallies in this off-season is that it’s the best time to ask campground owners for a discount. It would not be fair, or sometimes possible, to get a group discount during peak season.
When approaching a campground owner for a discount, I like to stress that we will be bringing at least thirty to forty truck campers for the four days and three nights of the rally. Plus, they can expect twenty-five to thirty arriving on a Thursday. At an average price of $30 per night, the owner will realize a gross profit of around $750 just for that Thursday night. Compare that to the one or two campers that might have arrived that Thursday. That always puts a smile on their face.
As rally organizers, we are bringing a lot of business to a campground to use sites that would otherwise go empty. Let the negotiations begin.
How to Plan Rally Dates
The dates that we hold our rallies on has evolved as the North-East Truck Camping Jamboree has evolved. My original intentions were to have one rally in the spring of each year. We would have some seminars, meet some new people, check out their camper modifications, have a nice potluck buffet dinner, and go home. The hope was that everyone would have a great time and want to come back next year.
I give 100% credit to a Dick Carpenter, also affectionately known as Trapper Dick, for throwing out the idea and putting together our second rally in the fall of 2007. Sometime in August of 2007, Trapper started a thread on RV.net that asked, “We had so much fun at our Spring rally, why couldn’t we do a fall rally?”
After that post, I sent Trapper a private message via RV.net, and we exchanged phone numbers. I basically told Trapper that I would fund his rally as long as he could find a campground with a pavilion. He did. Thus was born the multiple rallies a year that the North-East Truck Camping Jamboree is currently known for.
Again, rally dates are often determined by what’s available from campgrounds in their pre-Memorial Day, post-Labor Day off-season in order to get substantial group rate discounts. Prior to 2011, all of our rallies were scheduled accordingly. The thought was that between the two holidays people travel long distances and camp with their families.
Of course there are always exceptions to the rule. In July of 2011, we had a gathering for the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Rhode Island. I didn’t call it a rally, just a gathering. It was so popular that we did it again in 2012. Thus, for 2013, we will have our very first full blown summer rally in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
How to Handle Attendee Campground Reservations
Above: Rallies are great for hanging out with fellow truck campers
I have a pretty straight forward two-step approach for handling the attendee registration and campground reservations for our rallies. First, I have the rally attendees call the campground and tell the campground that they are participating in your rally. For example, our rally attendees will tell the campground that they are with the North-East Truck Camping Jamboree.
Second, to reserve a campsite the attendee gives the campground a one night payment. They will pay the remainder when they arrive at the campground. Using my master email list, I always let everyone know what the negotiated discount rate is ahead of time so they can ask for the discounted rate. Otherwise they will pay full price.
When Campgrounds Ask You to Collect the Attendee Reservations
I have had one recent rally where the campground insisted that we collect all the reservation site fees. To handle this, I had my computer whiz make individual envelopes with the names of those who had notified my WagonMaster they were coming. Each envelope had their name and the amount owed. I also had some blank envelopes for those last minute arrivals. When the rally was over, my WagonMaster just turned in all the envelopes to the campground.
In addition to collecting the campground reservation fee, we had to collect a $10 fee for the shuttle van rental. The van brought our members into Newport, Rhode Island to view the Tall Ships. Additionally, we had a $10 rally registration fee, and we sold tickets for the 50/50 raffle and the Saturday night raffle table. That made for one hectic registration weekend. But, as usual, I just drafted a couple of volunteers and we made it work.
Registering Rally Participants
Above: Mike Tassinari and Don Kingfield at the 2012 Gettysburg North-East Truck Camping Jamboree
Prior to the rally, I contact the campground for a list of attendees. I then email the people on that list a Calendar of Events for the rally. I also bring printed versions of the Calendar of Events to give to each attendee as they register at the rally.
Usually the WagonMaster and I will discuss where we want our registration table to be when we go and visit the campground. For instance, sometimes I will bring my small ten by twenty foot tent and set it up for registration between two truck campers. Sometimes we will use the campground pavilion or, if I am using my big twenty by thirty two foot tent, we will just go under the big tent.
The Coffee Pot Registration Trick
One of the most effective things that I have done at our rallies is set up a fifty-five cup coffee pot each Friday and Saturday morning, with all of the fixings. This works well because most folks like a cup of coffee in the morning. A good trick is to set up the registration table next to the coffee pot and let the attendees come to you to register and to get Calendar of Events.
Just don’t make the mistake I made for the Rhode Island Hot Air Balloon Festival rally last year. I set up the coffee pot the night before so the early birds could get their cup of joe. My rally attendees know to plug in the coffee pot when they wake up. Well, we were all sitting around the table waiting for the red light on the coffee pot to tell us it was ready. Finally, someone got their first cup and it was extremely light. I said an, “oh s#$%” and knew immediately that I had not put in the pound of coffee. So we all had to wait another sleepy forty-five minutes to brew another batch. Note to self, don’t forget the coffee.
How to Make Each Rally Fun and Unique
Making sure a rally is fun and unique is the number one thing that will make or break a truck camper rally.
A lot of the events you see at a North-East Truck Camping Jamboree rally come from the WagonMasters who host the rallies. I pretty much give carte blanche to what a WagonMaster wants to do. If they have a specific idea, we do it. If they come up with something new, let’s do that!
For example, 2012 Gettysburg Rally WagonMasters Lee and Beth thought a Battlefield Tour would be a nice event to schedule during their rally. Lee and Beth met with a tour operator who was recommended by the Gettysburg campground owner. I sent off a check for $500 with the balance due and the tour bus showed up.
Above: Entertainment at the 2012 Gettysburg North-East Truck Camping Jamboree
So how did we come up with a per person price for our members to take the tour? Lee, Beth, Cathie and I had a chat and what we decided was we would base the price per person on assuming thirty-four or more people would want to take this tour. The bus could seat forty-four people. That was going to be our break even point. Anything additional would support future North-East Truck Camping Jamboree rallies.
Other events to make rallies fun include bingo, beer and wine tastings, cutest pet contests, movie nights, and crafts.
Above: Mike Olesnevich giving a truck camper seminar.
We have seminars on campers and camper systems, modification seminars, group campfires, and ice cream socials.
We’ll also have camper open houses where members can take a look at each other’s campers. When Truck Camper Magazine attends a rally, they usually ask the attendees to participate in a camper rally review.
Above: Mike performing a propane leak test.
Above: A newbie seminar in the pavilion.
We’re up for just about anything social. Over the course all our Jamboree rallies, there have been many well attended events. We keep bringing the more popular activities back and reuse them from time to time.
Dick and Elizabeth, our WagonMasters for one of our September jamborees, came up with an event where we gave out prizes for the best outside sign. If I remember correctly, the only criteria was that names of the camper owners had to be included on the sign. Cathy and Jim Crisafulli won that event.
We have had a “Westminster style” dog show and of course the large “dawg maze” that I made for the 2012 Gettysburg North-East Truck Camping Jamboree. That will be back for 2013, bigger and badder.
Rally Gear and Supplies
Above: Mike always brings a popcorn maker along. You can’t have a rally without popcorn, right?
For my first few rallies, I brought three large plastic boxes; one for paper goods, one for prizes, and one, “everything else” box. After each rally, I would buy anything I needed that I didn’t already have and put it in the “everything else” box. It has staplers, tape of all sorts, scissors, emergency name tags, stickers for the raffle, pens, markers, and more. The list is endless.
That brings up another good story. As the rallies progressed, I was stuffing my truck camper to the gills and have even resorted to using a front carrier. Still, there wasn’t enough room for everything. That’s when members of the North-East Truck Camping Jamboree stepped up and helped me purchase a six by twelve foot trailer that I pull to every rally. If you can build a group that loves to rally together, they will help you financially with whatever you need.
Getting Rally Prizes
Almost everybody loves the raffles at our rallies. We put all of the prizes out on long tables with red cups in front of each item. Then we sell raffle tickets and people can put tickets in the cups with the items they want to win. It’s always big fun when we have an attendee pick a number without looking, and give away the prizes.
Raffle prizes come from three categories: rally attendees, truck camper companies, and prizes we purchase ourselves.
1. Raffle Prizes from Attendee Donations
Don’t be shy about asking attendees to bring prizes for a raffle drawing. For example, rally attendees can put together themed baskets from their area. Attendees have brought themed baskets from Maine to Michigan to North Carolina. The baskets make for incredible raffle prizes.
I would not even know where to start in thanking people for their prize donations. What is even more interesting is that most folks don’t even want acknowledgement for what they have donated. I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one who has donated to our raffle table at one of our rallies.
2. Raffle Prizes from Manufacturer Donations
Many truck camper and truck camper gear manufacturers have donated prizes for our raffles, but one in particular has been supportive since we started, Torklift International. Torklift may not be able to send prizes to every rally, but they are well worth contacting and have been consistently supportive of the North East Truck Camping Jamboree.
If you have the time, my advice is to contact the manufacturers, let them know about your rally, and that you would enjoy giving away a raffle prize from their company. You may be very surprised when you receive an assortment of raffle prize goodies in the mail a few weeks later.
I also ask the campground where we are holding the rally to donate a couple of camping weekends. I now make that part of my campground negotiations.
3. Raffle Prizes We Purchase
Raffle prizes are probably the most difficult thing to predict and budget for. I try to dedicate the money generated from the 50/50 raffle to cover those expenses. I also like my WagonMasters to put their personal touch on the raffle prizes. With a base of at least thirty truck campers attending, you can expect approximately $400 to $600 in raffle ticket sales. You can base your raffle prize budget from there.
I am always on the lookout for things that I think people will want to take a chance on winning at our rally raffles. Everywhere I travel, I’m looking. I probably have $1000 in prizes down in my cellar as I type this. Having the prizes ready ahead of time makes it easy when we run the rallies. It’s already done.
How to Get Others to Help
Above: Helping out with the Sunday breakfast
I have always been surprised at the willingness our group has had for helping out at our rallies. People really enjoy the rallies and want to help make them a success. Don’t be afraid to ask those who are participating to help out. For example, ask for volunteers at the events like cleaning up after a potluck meal, or delivering prizes at the raffle, and cooking breakfast on the last day. Not everyone will accept, but there are volunteers out there who are ready to help. I couldn’t run a rally without them.
I usually have a few words to say on my portable PA system following our buffet dinner. One of the things I always bring up it that I am always looking for new people to help and volunteer. I also ask if anyone is interested in running their own rally. Lucky for me, we always have new WagonMasters and volunteers coming along.
Take Beth and Lee who ran our 2012 Gettysburg rally. I cannot even think of how many hours we spent on the phone planning various events and talking about budgets and what not. But, when all was said and done, Beth and Lee had so much fun that they requested to be WagonMaster’s for our 2013 Gettysburg rally. That’s really saying something when you consider that we had over eighty truck camper rigs at our Gettysburg rally, and this was Beth’s and Lee’s first time organizing a jamboree.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of my WagonMasters who have run truck camper rallies for our group and, although they may kill me for mentioning them, I would like to especially thank Anne and Joe Brown.