Organizing the boler 50th Anniversary Event
The Story behind Organizing the Largest Fibreglass Trailer Event Ever Held
By Ian Giles
454 Moulded Fibreglass Trailers | 930+ Participants | 5 Days | Tons of FUN!!!
Organizing the boler 50th anniversary event, the largest fibreglass trailer event ever held, was a daunting task and not for the faint of heart. Knowing from the start this could not be like a typical fibreglass event, participants would be coming from across Canada and the USA, some travelling thousands of km (miles) over several weeks just to attend. The event had to be something special, something participants would enjoy and remember for a lifetime, realizing a dream was about to begin.
I am not an event planner so I looked at this just like any project I managed during my career; develop a plan; break it down into manageable tasks; execute those tasks within a budget and time frame. Planning for the event started four years prior in 2014, organizing was broken down into broader categories: location & venue; facilities; activities & entertainment; logistics; marketing & media; caravans; and finances. The first question that needed to be answered was, How many people and trailers would come?
Many of the gatherings I have attended limit the size of the event based on the location or facility chosen, you can usually only fit 50 to 100 trailers into a campground or similar venue. The boler 50th Anniversary was different, the goal was to make sure we had room for everyone who wanted to attend which could be up to 1000 trailers. Winnipeg was chosen because that was the birthplace of the boler, but the venue needed the facilities to accommodate over 2000 people who would be living there for several days. The facilities had to include; a large open, flat area with easy access and ample room for trailers, clean accessible washrooms, a large number of power sites especially for those who need power for medical reasons, dump station, security, groceries, ice and stores close by and the “deal breaker” showers.
Early in the planning a pre-registration database was developed where people who planned to attend the boler 50th Anniversary Event were asked where they were located, number of people in their party, any special needs (medical, etc.), and the make & size of trailer. This would provide some basic information to start planning, based on the over 650 responses from all over Canada and the USA a very large venue would be needed. Still years before the event, advanced ticket sales were ruled out, people could not ask or be expected to pay that far in advance, but a venue needed to be secured immediately. After researching the area and getting recommendations from Winnipeg Tourism the Red River Exhibition Park was contacted, the large Winnipeg fair grounds had most of the facilities we needed but how would we pay for a venue this large?
Red River Exhibition Park is a 480 acre Park designed to accommodate thousands of people, carnival rides, and included a large stage and common areas, huge level parking areas and best of all, they are a registered non-profit society. Working with the exceptional staff at Red River we negotiated a funding model where they would collect and distribute all revenue through their society, This financial arrangement would channel all funds through their registered non-profit keeping me separated from any taxation issues, but only revenue collected would be distributed, they would understandably not realize any deficit. If any expense needed to be made and the finances were not there I would personally finance that item and hope the funds would be generated to receive reimbursement at a later date.
With the venue set, all the detailed plans were next, the facility did not have showers which were a necessity, a company in Saskatchewan was hired to bring two 40’ shower trailers containing 28 shower stalls, at a cost of $16,000. Extra portable toilets where installed to make sure a toilet was close to all locations, security personal and additional fencing was set-up. The large fairgrounds were mapped out to create one thousand 20’ wide sites ranging from 30’ to 40’ in length. This included areas with power and mobility access for those needing it, participants were able to request sites close together and a separate generator only section was created, this all made assigning sites a challenge, although most requests were able to be accommodated.
How do you keep a thousand people busy and entertained? A call was put out for enthusiast and experts to host workshops, which would be paired concurrently in two time slots daily, this meant four workshops a day over two days for a total of eight workshops. Guest speakers with engaging stories and experiences were scheduled, and finally music, a total of seven professional acts were booked over the four days, with additional entertainment provided by musicians attending the event. The bands needed to be booked and 50% of their rate paid in advance, a professional sound system and sound engineer was also needed to be in place (most professional groups require this as part of their contract). The key to the successful entertainment at the boler 50th Anniversary Event was having a knowledgeable professional musician volunteer to organize this aspect of the event, but they also needed to stay within a very limited budget.
With the planned events and schedule coming together the logistics were next. Everyone likes memorabilia so high quality printed lanyards with PVC event pass name tags were supplied to all participants, event brochures with schedules and maps were printed, detailed information on the workshops and entertainment were included along with a limited edition collector pin. To ensure everyone’s security vehicle parking passes were made that included the licence plate numbers of the trailer and tow vehicle, these would be checked if any trailer left during the event to reduce the chances of any trailer being stolen. Registration package for each attendee containing lanyards, passes, brochures, tickets for the wine & cheese social and beef-on-a-bun dinner, this made the registration process very fast when the participant arrived.
From the beginning the idea of having sponsorship to help fund the event was the target, thinking getting sponsorship would be easy because we all know how much everyone loves our little trailers and would jump at the opportunity to be part of this event. Although countless companies and businesses were contacted, getting paying sponsors became a frustrating exercise. The few sponsors that did support the event become an integral part of the celebration. Fromagerie Bothwell Cheese provided their award winning cheese for the Wine & Cheese Social, Oliver Trailer Trailers from Tennessee provided funding for the main stage sound and production equipment, Shady Boy Awning supplied two awnings valued at close to $1000 that were given away as door prizes, Peavey Mart provided money to support the “beef-on-a-bun dinner” along with a participant discount offer and a contest draw , Long & McQuade music provided instructors for the group ukulele lessons, the Manitoba RV Show helped promote our event and gave us a prime location at their spring show in Winnipeg, and Camping Treasures sponsored the wine & beer garden, the Red Barn DJ entertainment and donated the limited edition collector pin.
Financially the break even price for registration was calculated on 800 trailers and 1600 participants, this would generate revenue of $167,200. Tickets for the event went on sale six months before the event, our expectation was that ticket sales would be brisk and an early sellout was possible. Initial ticket sales were very good with 287 sites and 616 participants bought tickets in the first month. The sales quickly declined to 43 sites and 89 participants in March, 22 sites and 40 participants in April …. We tried to rationalize the low and slow ticket sales, was it the economic environment? High gas prices? Lack of marketing? Whatever the reason adjustments needed to be made, and quickly to reduce expenses.
With fewer trailers a smaller area was needed, fewer portable washrooms, less fencing and security all resulting in lower costs. The stage production and entertainment budget was cut from $40,000 to $10,000 but there was still a shortfall close to $15,000 which I had personally contributed. Ticket refunds were honoured up to three months prior to the event, after that no refunds were processed as the money was now being distributed to fund the event. From the beginning the plan included a public open house where a $10 admission fee would be charged, but the experienced staff from Red River estimated that between 50 to 500 people would attend an event like ours. When the gates opened the incredible media attention on the event resulted in over 1500 passing through the gate, this financial windfall brought us up to the break even point.
The Event Financials
- Revenue collected from participants & sponsors $101,163.28
- Expenses I funded prior to event $13,564.56
- Revenue collected from the public open house $15,165.00
- Total Expenses: $116,154.28
- Total Revenue: $116,328.28
- Surplus: $174.00
Events like this rely on volunteers, during the planning and organizing key individual volunteers were responsible for organizing the six caravans crossing the continent and to look after all the entertainment. During the event an army of over 170 volunteer positions helping with everything from registrations during arrival, helping with workshops, special events, and park clean-up.
Feedback during and after the event was very positive, numerous participants have provided excellent reviews and ongoing comments, feedback from all the vendors was very positive, all the sponsors told me their expectations, and sales at the event, were much greater than they imagined, all would return for another event if asked.
What I have described here is likely a once in a lifetime event and would be very difficult to repeat. To have this many trailers come together from all over our countries for such a special celebration. I have attended dozens of fibreglass events and each one is fun and memorable, from the fully organized events to the “no organizing” come and have fun events. It is the owners of our little fibreglass eggs that make any fibreglass event special, and I hope to meet up with as many of you as I can at your local events over the coming years.