By Russ and Tiña De Maris
The Good Sam organization changed on Friday. Earlier, customers of affiliate Camping World received a letter from the company explaining just what actions it was taking to protect the health and well-being of customers and employees alike. But Friday, the letters that went out weren’t for customers – rather, they were addressed to State and Provincial Good Sam Directors.
As might be expected, the Coronavirus pandemic has thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into the works of social gatherings. Good Sam, not surprisingly, ordered all state and provincial rallies canceled, as well as smaller, individual chapter meetings. But what surprised and dismayed many was this line: “To keep you and your family safe, as well as continuing to follow the CDC guidelines, the difficult decision has been made to pause the Good Sam State/Provincial Director program, effective immediately.”
It was easy to understand the cancellation or postponement of rallies and other gatherings. But to suddenly sack the directors of the state and provincial organizations was quite another. We turned to an industry insider as to just why this might have taken place. Here are a few gleanings from what we heard.
First, to some, this wasn’t a complete surprise. The handwriting may have been on the wall – or on the company logo – as long as a year ago. Good Sam Enterprises, the holding company that oversees the club, redesigned the company logotype. The old logo featured the Good Sam Club – but in the new iteration, the word “Club” suddenly vanished, and Good Sam is flanked now by Camping World and Gander pointers. It would seem that Good Sam Enterprises was, at that point, far more interested in retail operations and in “subscription-based products, services and publications” than in the social activities on which the original organization was solidly based.
For now-former state and provincial directors, what does this all mean? In terms of finance, not much. A few directors got a stipend; all received repayment of their expenses, and when it came time to buy a new RV, directors could get a discount – provided they marched down and bought one off the lot at Camping World. But many of these directors and, quite often, their spouses, had made the Good Sam Club their heart and soul. Two of those, Martin and Diane Qualey, have invested years in helping Maine chapters of the club push ahead in what they feel is the real Good Sam spirit. Martin was the director of the Maine organization – until Friday.
Martin picked no bones about the sudden change. “I will grant Good Sam leeway in the need to limit liability during the pandemic,” Martin told us by telephone. “For them to completely dissolve was an overstep.” He feels that, contrary to the spirit of the Good Sam Club founders, money has become the principal thing for management. Speaking of the chapters he and his wife helped to oversee, Martin said, “I think that [Marcus] Lemonis and others would like to see [state organizations] go ‘bye-bye.’ We’re an insignificant number – 350 to 500 members in Maine, as opposed to one to two million ‘members’” in the overall scheme of things. In Martin’s thinking, the present-day company is far more interested in their database of members and its potential for money-making than in the social network that Good Sam once was.
The thought was echoed by our insider. To this person, the word “pause” in Friday’s declaration as it relates to these directorships means a complete and final termination. If the company database has two million names, then the small participation rates by chapters, probably somewhere around 1 percent of the total, is a trivial thing to company higher-ups, and not worth the financial investment. In fact, the insider said he was surprised that Marcus Lemonis hadn’t made the move much earlier, and that the COVID-19 crisis simply provided an excuse to shut down the system.
What does the company decision mean to chapter loyalists? It means they have no official standing, and no liability backing if they were to proceed with a rally or other gathering. Does that spell the end of the social activities and gatherings of Good Sammers? Not if you ask Martin and Diane Qualey. Martin has already spoken with local chapter presidents in Maine. Many are determined to press ahead and form a new organization. Martin may no longer be a “director,” but in the new group he’ll be re-titled as the “manager.” The old state treasurer will become the “accountant” and chapter presidents, “fiscal advisers.” An area RV dealer – Lee’s Family Trailer – has already stepped up and said it will help support the new group, even as it already supported the old Good Sam group, despite the company’s having no affiliation with Camping World.
Titles aside, Martin sees a bright future for what used to be Maine Good Sam chapters. He and Diane see their organization, not in terms of dollars and cents, but rather in service. In the past the Good Sams in Maine have been heavily supportive of charitable causes. Good idea or not, at one rally Martin challenged the club members who showed up in 70 RVs to come up with $1,000 for a good cause. He didn’t dream that they’d be able to do it, but just for an incentive, he told the group he’d dye his hair pink if they could make the money. Members put together $1,500 – and Martin had a new hair color. On other occasions, club members have worked tirelessly at Special Olympics events, manning stopwatches to time athletes, and booths handing out T-shirts and trinkets. In the minds of the Qualeys, Good Sams have their roots in the Biblical illustration of the Good Samaritan – serving others.
Will the same be true of other states’ chapters of the Good Sam Club? Time will tell. But like Martin says, “Maine Good Sam is dead. But the Samaritans are still alive.”