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It began as an idea in the imaginations of a young Arkansas couple in the 1980s. 'What if there was publication that helped RVers find job openings and volunteer positions especially suited to their lifestyle?' Greg Robus, a Park Ranger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asked his wife, Debbie, a kindergarten teacher who moonlighted as a needlework designer and newsletter publisher. As part of his duties, Greg was responsible for recruiting seasonal attendants to live and work at the entrance of Corps of Engineers' campgrounds along the Arkansas River. During his 13 years as a Ranger, he had worked with hundreds of mostly retired or semi-retired singles and couples who worked as 'gate attendants,' and he was impressed with their work ethic and adventuresome spirit. If other agencies and private employers knew about this potential labor pool, he was convinced there would be a tremendous demand.
In the summer of 1986, Greg filled four 'gatekeeper' vacancies from nearly 100 applicants. At that time, potential applicants had to individually contact each of the more than 400 Corps field offices nationwide for job availability information. Some parks received too many applicants and some not enough. One of the most common questions Greg received from the gate attendants he worked with was, 'How can we find out about these jobs at other Corps parks and other agencies around the country?' Greg had suggested that the Corps establish a national clearinghouse for such information, but when that didn't happen he began to wonder if there was some way that he and Debbie could fill the gap. Would there be enough RVers and employers to support a subscription periodical specifically designed to put the two together?
The couple began exploring the possibility of combining Greg's experience with Debbie's expertise in publishing a newsletter, typesetting, graphic design, handling mass mailings, writing and more, to create a newsletter for this niche market. They liked their jobs but they had inherited an entrepreneurial spirit from their parents and were open to new opportunities.
The couple's research quickly revealed that there were many opportunities awaiting RVers. Working for the Corps of Engineers was the tip of the iceberg! But what would you call these folks? There had to be a word that would aptly describe this lifestyle. Many hours of talk and research and tossing names around resulted in the word Workamper, now a registered trademark. While campground jobs would be the initial focus, the term would apply to anyone who combines any kind of work with the camping lifestyle. The publication would be known as Workamper News.
Debbie resigned her teaching position at the end of the 1986 school year in order to devote her time and energy to learning to utilize a personal computer to do what was then called 'desktop publishing.' Greg spent his off hours researching their concept and crunching the numbers. By the spring of 1987, they were ready to take the plunge. Greg resigned from the Corps of Engineers, and the couple sold their home in Russellville, Arkansas - downsizing to a smaller residence in their hometown of Heber Springs, Arkansas, where they purchased an 1100-square foot home and set up shop in one of three small bedrooms. They spent the summer of 1987 writing, editing, designing, and fine-tuning the first issue of Workamper News, which went to press in August and resulted in 8 pages of off-set printing... brown ink on cream colored paper. Some 200 copies were printed, and about 50 copies were mailed to folks who had signed on for an introductory yearly subscription price of $15. The rest of the issues were distributed to a variety of commercial campgrounds, government agencies, and organizations affiliated with the outdoor recreation industry.
Early growth was primarily due to word-of-mouth. As the subscriber base grew, the Robuses purchased classified ads in Trailer Life, Motorhome, and Highways magazines, and they mailed press releases to trade publications and periodicals, touting the Workamper lifestyle. 'Phone calls for information and subscriptions doubled each time a press release or article ran,' Greg says. They also offered a nominal payment to field representatives - people already traveling who were willing to pass out brochures at campgrounds. The field reps marked the brochures so that, when subscriptions were mailed or phoned in, Greg could credit them with payment. Five years later, the newsletter had grown from 8 to 24 pages and boasted over 6,000 subscribers.
After a year in their home on 15th Street in Heber Springs, Greg and Debbie traded houses with Debbie's widowed grandmother, moving about four miles outside of the city to a 40-acre farm. 'We had the luxury of being able to live anywhere we had access to a phone and a post office,' Greg laughs... 'and as home-based business owners, we could work all day in pajamas if we wanted.' The couple handled all of the daily operation of the business themselves, as well as all of the composition, typesetting, layout and design of each issue. Local printers were responsible for the printing in the early years, and as the number of ads for job vacancies increased, the size of the magazine necessitated a switch to a web press process (similar to newsprint) to keep weight down and postage costs reasonable. From the early 1990's till 2017, a printing company in North Little Rock, Arkansas, approximately 60 miles from Heber Springs, was responsible for printing each issue.
As the Workamper News subscriber base grew, and more jobs meant more pages, the 'newsletter' became a full-fledged 'magazine.' With the addition of Workamper Bookstore, the Workamper Referral System (an early resumé clearinghouse and forerunner of Awesome Applicants), the Workamper Hotline, and growth of the magazine itself, the couple found themselves adding office space to their home to accommodate all of the operations required to maintain the business and get the magazine out the door every two months. During 'production week,' stacks of newsletters/magazines would line the kitchen counter and any other available surface as they traversed through the various stages leading to mailing day.
Getting the newsletter/magazine ready for mailing was a family affair in the early years, with numerous family members joining Greg and Debbie around the kitchen table to apply mailing labels and in the early days... postage stamps to each copy. The stamps were eventually replaced by a pre-printed mailing permit, but for many years afterward each issue was still hand-labeled.
Once the Robuses switched to a web-press printing process, they inserted each issue into a paper envelope to ensure that it made it safely through the mail to the subscriber. Family members, and later part-time employees, spent several days every two months labeling the envelopes, stuffing them with magazines, and then hand-sealing each envelope and placing it in US Postal Service mail tubs for delivery to the Post Office. A room was added to the Robuses' home primarily for the purpose of housing the production of the magazine and the issues that were processed and awaiting mailing.
After remodeling three times, the Robuses concluded that the business was overtaking their home, and something had to give! By this time, they had purchased the entire 40-acre farm from Debbie's family, and a decision was made to build a new residence on the property and convert the existing home solely to office space. The new home was completed in 1997, and the Robuses began their 150-yard 'commute' to work... a short walk, or in bad weather and/or a hurry, a quick golf cart ride.
In the late 1990's, the Robuses added a heavy paper cover to their magazine and eliminated the mailing envelope. This allowed the printing company to apply the mailing labels for them and handle the mailing process. With the July/August 2000 issue, the magazine acquired a full-color cover and its present magazine-style appearance. The issues generally contain 64 to 72 pages of information about job vacancies from coast to coast, as well as features on great Workamping destinations, happy Workampers, and general information pertaining to Workamping and RVing.
Recognized by major RVing publications and organizations as an indispensable source of information for working RVers, Workamper News has expanded its services over the past years. Since their first issue in 1987, the Robuses built upon their initial goal to become a matchmaker between workers and employers. From suggestions and feedback from RVers and employers on ways to keep both sides in touch, they first formed the Workamper Referral System (WRS) to further aid their readers and recruiters.
Originally launched to help employers quickly fill unexpected job openings, the Workamper Referral System was also used by business owners and agency recruiters, who wished to hire anonymously, and by other employers, who sought Workampers with specific skills and experience.
Each time an employer requested resumés, Greg searched all the resumés currently on file for the candidates that best matched the employer's criteria. Today, the Workamper Referral System has been replaced by Awesome Applicants, an online resumé clearinghouse. Awesome Applicants matches employees with employers in an easier and faster mode.
In 1993, Workamper News added the Workamper Hotline to their list of services. The weekly update of immediate job vacancies was available only to subscribers as a recorded voice mail message, accessed via a revolving phone number published in each issue of Workamper News. Debbie recorded the new job listings every Tuesday.
In 1996, the Robuses had added www.workamper.com to their growing business. The world wide web was just beginning to take off, and it didn't take long for the website to become popular with computer-savvy RVers and wannabes, and as interest in the Internet grew, so did the ideas for developing Workamper.com
At the beginning of the new century, Workamper News updated their Hotline with an additional service that became available to subscribers by way of e-mail. A subscription to this service, now called WorkamperPlus, includes the bi-monthly magazine, plus the daily Hotline via e-mail and optional participation in Awesome Applicants. With WorkamperPlus, the Hotline is e-mailed directly to the reader each day.
Additional services and features to Workamper News include the Workamper Viewpoint forum, edited by Jaimie Hall-Bruzenak, Workamper Canada, Workamper Bookstore, and Featured Employers pages on the web site. Debbie's mother, Arline Chandler wrote 'Workamper Journals,' a feature since the inception of the publication that ran until Arline passed away in 2016.
In 2003, the Workamper News office moved back in to Heber Springs at 709 West Searcy Street, housed in a 90+year-old house only two blocks from where Debbie grew up. In an effort to downsize personally and free up time to travel in a newly-acquired motorhome, Greg and Debbie also relocated their residence from their country home to Greg's boyhood neighborhood in Heber Springs.
Since the early 1990's, one of Workamper News' largest single employers of Workampers had been Adventureland Park in Altoona, Iowa. Human Resources Director, Steve Anderson, quickly became one of the most avid supporters of Workampers. Steve hired approximately 400 Workampers per summer, and many of his employees returned year after year. He was obviously doing something right, and he began to visit with the Robuses about what he needed from Workampers, what worked (and what didn't) with the Workamper recruiting system, and what could be done to improve various aspects of the process. His input was instrumental in the development of the Awesome Applicants resumé system, and Steve became a consultant for this division of Workamper News. He developed a satellite business, S-O-S Consulting, to assist Workamper applicants with getting their information online and marketing themselves to potential employers. Steve assisted Greg and Debbie at several seminars, presenting the 'employer side' of Workamping to other employers during cracker barrel sessions at KOA conventions, seminars for the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) and the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA). Steve also represented Adventureland at numerous job fairs across the country, recruiting potential Workampers from coast to coast.
In 2005, Steve and Kathy Jo Anderson approached Greg and Debbie about the possibility of purchasing Workamper News. The Andersons had both worked in management for Adventureland Park for approximately 30 years. They were seeking a change, and they had grown to love Workampers and the Workamping concept, and they had become an integral component of the success of Workamper News through their promotion at seminars and their assistance with Awesome Applicants. Many late-night discussions and days and weeks of research, business plans, consultations with accountants and attorneys led to the sale of Workamper News to the Andersons on November 1, 2005. Greg and Debbie laughingly remarked that their 'baby had gone to college!' They shared office space and desks with the Andersons for the next six months as the Andersons got fully acquainted with all aspects of the operation of daily business and production of the magazines.
The Andersons' daughter, Jody, joined the company in May 2006, upon completion of her graphic design degree from Grand View University in Iowa. Her main role in the beginning was creating the bi-monthly magazine and developing any other graphics and media. As time went on, Jody began developing relationships with advertising Employers and took on futher customer service roles. Officially becoming the Editor in 2010, she now has a hand in all operations of Workamper News.
In 2010, Jody married Luke Duquette and he moved to Arkansas from Iowa. He had been working for John Deere Greenstar Support which handled tech support calls for GPS navigation for farming equipment, and he was able to keep that job and work from home in Arkansas. But, after months of hearing Jody and her folks discussing this Workamping thing they had going on, he decided his services were needed. Luke joined the team in May of 2010 and has been an integral part of the company since. He manages the website and all of the technology needed to keep up the office and website. His degree in Information Technology fit right in with this new opportunity for him and it's been a great fit for both he and Workamper News.
The Workamper Rendezvous got its start in 2011. Rendezvous is an education-filled, three day event that takes place in Heber Springs, Arkansas in October, annually. RV industry and Workamping experts are called in from around the country to share their expertise via seminars and smaller sessions. Networking sessions and meals provide further connection and learning for those who attend. It's a great event for Dreamers to build their confidence and knowledge base, and for experienced Workampers to amp up their lifestyle. It's the WKN staffs' favorite time of year!
Despite being involved in the lifestyle for so many years, Workamper News acquired its first RV in early 2012 (a Class A gas motorhome). The Andersons and Duquettes went on a few different RV trips that year to visit some employers and meet up with Workampers - including a great adventure to Yellowstone National Park that resulted in the largest feature ever for the magazine! This really gave the family the RV-bug, and it wasn't long until Steve & Kathy Jo traded in the Class A gas for a larger Class A diesel, sold their sticks 'n bricks in one day, and became full-time RVers. Luke & Jody, not to be left behind, went the fifth wheel route and adopted a fifth wheel in the fall of 2013. They finally sold their house and became fulltimers in 2015.
Workamper News, being more mobile, produced two educational Workamper events in Florida and California in 2013/14. They were also able to have a booth for the first time at the Tampa RV Show in 2014, and the Quartzsite RV Show and Hershey Show in 2015. Steve & Kathy Jo continued to travel to help produce sessions of the RV Training Triad until 2017 when they created a home-base for the the new National RV Training Academy in Athens, TX.
During 2013-2015, Luke and Jody worked with a web design company called Pleth out of Batesville, Arkansas to completely rebuild the front and backend systems that Workamper News uses. They worked together to create a new design for the website and to build an updated customer management system to keep track of the memberships, magazine subscriptions and advertising. It was a huge undertaking and was an extreme amount of work, but the end result has been fantastic and has served us well for many years. Many modifications and updates have been integrated since it's initial launch.
Like any other small business, we've had ups and downs. From 2017-2019, Luke and Jody stepped away to focus on traveling in their RV. An additional staff person was brought on board, that ultimately proved to not be a positive fit for our community and operations. During this time though, some activites took place, like sharing a booth with Rent Wizard at the Hershey RV Show and having Workamper members host a Workamper News booth at the Quartzsite RV Show.
The team at that time also reorganized the Workamper membership levels - removing the always-free membership option and creating three yearly options to better match the needs of Workampers at the different phases they go through. One level (Gold) for those who haven't started yet - focused on our educational resources. One level (Diamond) for active Workampers who are actively seeking positions, but still fairly new. And a third level (Platinum) for Workampers who have accomplished some Workamping jobs as this level offers verification of previous work history (something that our Employer members have found beneficial!).
It was time to get re-focused and re-organized in 2019. Steve stepped away further from operations as Jody & Luke came back to the WKN team. 2020 was spent honing the team and our operations during a rocky time for our world. As a side effect of the pandemic, the RVing lifestyle became even more popular as more folks desired to appreciate the outdoors, work remotely, and just live life a little more differently going forward. While we weren't able to hold our Workamper Rendezvous event in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic, we do plan to return to annual production of the event in 2023.
In the latter half of 2021, it was time to line up a new programming team to take on the complete redesign of Workamper.com and Workamper News' back-end systems. Because we are the leader in this industry and we believe in growing our resources to match the needs and desires of our members (instead of just keeping the same ol' website functionality for 20 years), we knew our six-year-old website was needing an upgrade. After our previous experience, we knew we wanted to work with an all-American web development team, and we found that with American Web Devs. They are based out of Pittsburgh, PA, and they focus on hiring veterans!
In January 2022, production began on the new version of Workamper.com with hopes of launching in 2023. This project is a big investment of time and budget for Workamper News, but we know the end result will be worth it! With this rebuild, we are able to refine and revise current systems. One aspect of that is creating one main avenue for viewing job listings. Currently, we have at least six different avenues for Workampers to learn about different opportunities available to them. It needs to be easier. Thus, a big change being made towards that goal is the discontinuation of the bi-monthly magazine. As time has passed, the readership and interest in the magazine has waned while the cost to publish it has nearly doubled in the last year. The Nov/Dec 2022 issue published in October is the last issue. The online magazine archive of the 100 most recent issues (2006-2022) will remain available at Workamper.com.
During the summer of 2022, we were introduced to a landlord who was starting construction on an office building just outside of Heber Springs. We had been at our previous office building for over ten years, so a change was good in multiple ways. We were able to get approved to become the tenants once construction was complete and we moved into our new business home in January 2023.
Things are always changing. Keep an eye out for new and exciting things to come in the future!
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285 Rainbow Road
Heber Springs, Arkansas 72543
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Workamper News Inc.
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