Feedback on the 2019 Rally Event

(Bob Perciaccante, 10/24/2019) It amazes me that as I look at the calendar, it has been only a week and half since we all parted ways and headed home after what I consider one of our best events to date, weather conditions considered. That said, I did want to share some personal feedback and thoughts, respond to a few common requests that were in the survey responses, and let you know what we are looking to do to make things better for next year.

Signing up – getting your site and tickets.
This is always a difficult one, because there are two processes that are in place – and neither can talk to the other. When a reservation is made at Massey’s, we have no visibility into that until we get a periodic report, then its a scramble on our end to see what has changed, and reconcile that manually with the ticket information we have from our system.

In an attempt to make things easier, Massey’s gave us a single contact to funnel our requests through. This was an attempt to avoid the universal call center and to make things easier for everyone. Unfortunately, more than half the calls made to Masseys were on the wrong number, and calls were going to the wrong destinations.

We are working hard to make this process much easier in 2020, but the fact remains that the two systems are still not connected, and a lot of manual work will have to go into the reconciliation of tickets and sites – we are working to make this easier, but have not had the opportunity to work with BethPage as closely as we have with Massey’s, so this will take some time. Hang in there. Trust me when I tell you that when it doesn’t go smoothly for you, we hear about it, early and often πŸ™‚

And as it goes for the tickets themselves, the amount of time you have to enter all your information has been significantly extended to make this process easier this year!

Communications – staying in touch before the event.
The results of this section frankly caught me, and the others, by surprise (and this is why we do the surveys, to see what we are missing). We were not aware so many people who had signed up were non-Facebook users or would prefer email as a communications medium. There is a little bit of background into this just for your sake:

We are all full time employees, parents, spouses, etc so this is an “as time allows” sort of endeavor. In order to get the information out there, we had our website, several Facebook sites, several web forums, plus emails all to be updated/maintained and sent in a timely manner. I will tell you from pesonal experience, this is not an easy task (from a technical perspective). Once the message is written, which can sometimes take over 30 mins, it typically takes an extra 45 minutes to put all the updates in all the other places. Then once posted, we then have to monitor and respond to feedback on each of these platforms. When you are thrashing to get the event details together, travel for work, spend time with the family, plus all the other responsibilities, this is something that can easily get ahead of you. To address all this, to make it easier for us and for you to keep up to date with the latest info leading up to and through the event, we will be putting all our energy into updating THIS website, and sending updates to the other locations, pointing here. This will aggregate the info, make it more continuous for those looking to keep up to date, and be a better reference over the course of the year. Obviously since we are only 12 days from the end of the event, it will only get better from here, but understand that we do hear you. Now, incremental and non-critical updates will likely end up in the Facebook group more quickly, since a few sentences can be fired over quickly, but meat-and-potatoes content will go out through the main platforms, pointing back here. For the email newsletters, I expect them to be largely quiet until there are announcements worth making.

Arrival, site layout, and event flow
Overall, the concensus was positive on the arrival process, with the exception of a few snags with the site reservation changes (extending/changing dates). We thought that overall, folks did a great job getting into and out of the Welcome Center, and finding (or being escorted to) their sites. With regards to the “swag bags” this year, we definitely need to plan better for next year, now that we have made some better contacts where items can be purchased in bulk (remember, the cost of the swag items comes out of the ticket price – and that effects everything in a chain reaction from there).

A big bone of contention was the tent. I agree that it was somewhat darker than last year, but this year the tent did not have windows to let extra light in (I didn’t even think of that when we were working on the contract). Add to that the fact that the weather was miserable, there was not a lot we could do, but keep the propane heaters running (we went through almost 800lbs of propane). As for being somewhat limited in space – that is literally the biggest tent you can rent, that is why we had the second tent for the activities that needed it. We are just too big even for the biggest commercial rental tent. The hope was to be able to pull up the sides to let extra light in, but as you know, that would not have been a great idea (they would be picking the tent up from the Chesapeake bay, after it blew away…) This is one of the main reasons we are moving to Bethpage – they have the facilities to support the larger groups, and their staff have a lot of experience in handling large crowds (no kidding, they are hosting 5000 people next weekend for their Oyster Fest). The tent was also the biggest drain on resources (guess how much it costs to rent the setup we had this year? LOL)

We are working to improve the communications to all members during the event itself. I am not a morning person, as is evident in my scatterbrained morning announcements (all before coffee). We are looking to make the schedule changes easier to announce (we did not advertise the text message service well) as well as easier to view schedules, etc. We think that the online approach worked very well (for those who asked for the, printed ones were available at registration) and are working on a better way to keep the digital signs updated (it was a last minute idea, so it defintely needs some tweaking). With the combination of text message service, online schedule updates, and website use, it should make things a lot easier (if you look, the new layout works much better on smartphones than the previous layout – trying to make it as easy to use as possible!)

Food and Service
This year we had three meals, as we have had in the past – the Friday pot luck, the Saturday dinner, and a Sunday brunch. As you all know, Michelle Sheckler, Culinary Goddess, is a phenom when it comes to food and feeding lots of people quickly. She will be in charge of the food service in 2020, with the authority to make the changes she thinks need to be made for each of the meals. Michelle is also sensitive to food allergies, and already has a number of changes in mind around that specific topic. That said, please remember that we cannot control what folks make, and if they don’t label their meals, we can’t really do anything about that (that we have thought of so far, but we are still working on that)

Lets break each meal down.

Pot luck
This one is typically the hardest to control because we are not making the preparations ourselves, but there are several changes we are going to be making for next year – better table selection process that is quicker (but more structured – unfortunately you can’t let folks wander around and expect to get the group through quickly), better flow through food lines, and better breaking up of the meal types (we will shift so you don’t have the same meal every year) so there is a better mix of entre/salad/dessert. We are going to go through the numbers and see what that might look like, but we have some great ideas just based on your feedback. Unfortunately, there was not, and likely will not be, enough power to run crock pots, but we will see what facilities are available in 2020 and see if we can make some adjustments. The topic of food sensitivities is covered in the previous paragraph, as it covers all food services.

Saturday BBQ
Oh boy, this is a tough one, for reasons that are not obvious. First, let’s start with the budget. It is not easy to find a caterer able to feed a crowd our size, at our remote location, for a reasonable price. We did what we could with the budget we thought we had going in – and it turned out we had more available than we initially thought. We were approximately 500 people, and at $10 for BBQ, that’s $5,000. The next closest caterer was something like $22/pp ($11,000) for a pasta, a salad, and a roll. You can see where this is heading. It is important to note that Grand Design does sponsor the meal, but the choice of vendor is up to us. We will obviously be putting more effort into this next year (and we have a lot more options at the new location). The same changes/enhancements to the table selection and moving through the food tent will apply here as well.

Sunday Brunch
OK, so if breakfast is at 8am and lunch is at 12, what do you call a meal at 10:00am? Well, brunch πŸ™‚ Hands down, this was the highest rated meal, and highest-rated activity of the entire event. There was talk about making it a breakfast, since it was a lot of “breakfast” food, but it took Michelle and her volunteers 2+ hours to prepare all of that food, it was not fair to ask them to get up at 6am. So maybe this was more like “breakfastish lunch”? Regardless, I’m very proud of Michelle and her team, they knocked it out of the park! The part you don’t necessarily see is that she coordinated all the volunteers, all the cooking surfaces, all the overns, griddles, and all the food, AND supervised it all. She was not responsible for the coffee, that was volunteers bringing in their coffee pots, donating coffee, etc – it went over well, but none of us have ever run a restraunt, so we will need to figure out just how many scoops go into a 60cup vs 100cup for next year.

Social Activities
This is one of those things you just can’t please everyone, so we try to do different things to cover different demographics. Some were put on my Massey’s (snow cone social, movie night, and several crafts), some were organized by us (sunset/boat cruises, wine and cheese, etc), and some were run entirelybut attendees who wanted to do something fun and asked us to get the word out (poker run/camper crawl, cornhole tournament, PJ’s, coffee and donuts). For our part, I think we did pretty well considering the weather – there are more off-site options next year, so that will make it easier to mix things up. We DEFINITELY need to fix the Open Homes/Walking Tours process – that is obvious based on the confusion and the feedback in the survey. Special thanks to Lila Acker who tried to step in and get some process around it… Memo received, we will get that figured out for next year for sure.

The poker run was by far the highest attended activity in our 4 years. And that started off as a conversation between Big John and one of his friends. So we added it to the mix, and 64 people pre-registered for the event. You can imagine my surprise when Big John gets on the radio, 15 mins after opening up registration, panicking for more poker sheets – he had run out of 200 of them! We will be figuring out a better way to manage that process, as well as how to make it easier for the hosts (all of whom were volunteers, and paid for all their things out of their own pockets) to be able to weather the invasion πŸ™‚ Maybe set a group size and stagger them? I don’t know, but I trust John to figure it out for sure!

This is a tougher topic than you would think. Who is an expert on a topic that is willing to come to a rally and speak on it? That’s really the crux of the matter – most of the folks willing to talk with authority (remember, we need to make sure that you are getting good information, not someone swinging from the hip) on different topics? Typically, it is the vendors/sponsors who have the intimate knowledge folks are looking for. But what about general topics, like maintenance? Solar hookups? Decoration ideas? None of these things are easy to find an expert on. One thing we are looking at expanding next year are the “Birds of a Feather” sessions – no one person is in charge, but we facilitate folks interested in a common topic being in a place where they can share their experiences. A common concern was also audio support – we hope to have microphones for folks to ask questions as well as for the speakers, ensuring that everyone has the chance to be heard by everyone. Before the registration is opened to the public, we are going to add a section asking who may be interested in speaking on a particular topic (it may be held as a BOF session) just so we can share the load and get a wider pool of possible speakers.

In closing
Honestly, I really do like doing this, working on events for folks and supporting a good cause. I am super proud of my team who really stepped up this year and forced me to delegate (for all the right reasons) and I’m super pumped about some of the changes we will be announcing going forwards. Thank you, especially if you read this entire document and didn’t just skip to the end πŸ™‚ I know we will never please everyone, but we’re sure as hell gonna try πŸ™‚