It cannot be right that event organisers see only the trade element as the cash-cow that allows a show to be held, when so many that walk through the doors of a hall, are doing so for almost nothing.
Last night, whilst watching some of the football and deciding whether or not to return to the story of Assassin’s Creed, I came across a discussion Online about model shows and the part that traders play within them. Not one to shirk a chance to multitask, I switched off the football, fired up the Playstation and whilst the game loaded, dived into the discussion.
The chat had been started by Sovereign Hobbies, who many of you will have seen at shows, selling their Colourcoats range of paints, a fine collection that 7 years ago they took over the sale and distribution of. They had taken the time to write a Blog entry as a part of their website, a wonderfully penned essay that you can read here.
Before going any further with this little stream of conscience, I would recommend that you first read the Sovereign Hobbies Blog. It’s important that you have an insider’s view on the issue I will ramble on about, so please, before going any further, give it a once-over.
Having now read that, you can now read this!
Having been in this industry for almost 30 years, I’ve been cognisant of the issues that face many of the small traders, but I am not sure that I have seen it described in such an eloquent way before last night. All of the issues, of which there are many, were laid out in black and white and so as Ezio battled his way through Renaissance Italy in my game, hidden blade at his side, I pondered the issues and tried to formulate some thoughts on it. As I woke this morning, those thoughts had distilled down into something approaching sense, so I decided it might be worth sharing them on here before attention turns back to the workbench, or I forgot them, or both.
There is no doubting that for many, the traders are the cornerstone of any show. I doubt many would suggest that they would go to an event and not find themselves attracted to a trade stand like bees to a honey pot. You only have to be in the voluminous halls of the Telford International Centre on the Friday night of Scale Model World, to see just how eager modellers are to dive into a stand, money in hand. It’s part of the pleasure of a show, but for many traders, that pleasure really is one-sided, if only when value for money is taken into account.
You see, traders are almost always the foundation stone on which an event is held. More times than not, it is the trade space that pays for everything else, hire of hall, tables, chairs, odds and sods – you get the picture. It’s where the money will come from to deal with the bills that have to be paid by the organisers, money that can be guaranteed thanks to the pre-booking of stand space. You can’t rely on the number of modellers that attend an event, but with a list of traders all booked in paying a set fee, you can almost guarantee income on the day, whether the rest of the halls remain empty of not.
Though I haven’t the exact figures to hand, I know that over the years of being a trader and then speaking to others, trade space can at times range from entirely reasonable to eye-wateringly expensive. Factor in the cost of travel, transport, stock, perhaps overnight stays and other obvious needs such as food, and you see just how easily the costs mount before you sell a single item. The result of this, contrary to what modellers will have you believe, is that all-but the largest of traders will often only make small amounts of profit, if anything at all, all to be at a show, serving modellers who take pleasure in them being there.
That burden on traders is simply not equitable and in all honesty, is utterly unfair as well.
Why should the traders be the only ones that have to shoulder the burden of a show’s running costs? Why is it that in the main, modellers who attend the events, do so with only a small, sometimes negligible fee? If the traders are expected to stump up large sums of money to attend an event with no guarantee of ever making that money back, should modellers who will spend a whole day there, not be asked to help lighten the load? Honestly, the answer to that is: yes.
The issue here and event organisers can correct me as they see fit ( and I am sure, will!) is that most model shows only ask a nominal fee for entrance to the event, a few quid in the main. That means that income generated from the walk-ins is not that great, certainly not in comparison to that forked out by the traders. You then add in the almost unwritten rule that club stands are ‘given’ free passes to allow members to attend without paying at all and you may well find yourself in a position where a large proportion of those at the show are from clubs that have not paid to get in, but are seen as important, if only from a visual point of view. Club stands are important, right? Everyone wants to see models on display, so why not encourage that with a few passes? Yeah, well those passes aren’t really paying the bills – the traders are.
Honestly, with a few exceptions, I would make it clear that modellers who attend a show, must pay to get in and that payment must be in line with current expectations for entry into similar events. I see absolutely no reason why a 1-day model show shouldn’t be changing a minimum of £5 for entry – perhaps even more. When you are expected to pay £20+ for a gig, or football, or cinema tickets, this outdated nonsense that modellers really won’t want to pay a large fee for entry, needs to be gotten over. These are events that have to be paid for, not charity gatherings and everyone that attends, should pay their fair share. Those same modellers that might complain about an entrance fee, or parking, or anything else unrelated to the hobby as they see it, are happy to pay for kits that they will buy, sneak into the house and never build. It’s not unreasonable to ask them to support a show, before supporting their unbuilt kit collections…
The second aspect of a show that really needs to be clamped down on is under-table sales. This is such an insidious aspect of an event, where modellers bring dozens of boxes of kits that are then sold, with no money whatsoever going to the organisers for the privilege. If there is one thing that raises the hackles of the trading community, this is it. And who can blame them? When traders are expected to jump through hoops in terms of insurance and risk assessment, and then have to pay large sums to be there, how can it be remotely fair that I as a modeller can rock up with hundreds of pounds of kits to sell with no need to abide by the rules of the show, and no expectation that part of any profit I make will be handed over? I know modellers who’ve made hundreds selling kits like this, all in the face of small traders who may even be selling the same items! It really is utterly unfair.
Yeah but Spence, come on – it’s great PR for these traders! Where else can they go and meet their customers, talk about their products and then create a buzz around upcoming releases? Online, that’s where. They can do all that via social media or dedicated websites and they never have to step foot out of their houses, never have to travel miles, never have to lose money and never have to face the decision as to whether they really need to do shows at all. Traders no longer have to be at shows and certainly not if they are paying to simply lose money! Think about that for a minute. Would you knowingly do anything at your expense on a regular basis with no expectation of ever getting the money back? I doubt it!
It’s hard to know where the end point of this discussion really is, but I fear that it will for many, be a decision not to attend model shows at all. And that will be a shame. The traders are as much part of an event as the modellers, but the balance has to be there between what the traders contribute to a show and what is handed over by modellers that attend. It cannot be right that event organisers see only the trade element as the cash-cow that allows a show to be held, when so many that walk through the doors of a hall, are doing so for almost nothing. Charge the modellers as well! If you can afford to travel to a model show and then use the traders, you can afford to support the organisers with an entrance fee that is in line with expectations elsewhere. And organisers need to be brave as well; stop charging a pittance to attend an event that you have put a huge amount of time in to organise. I’ve just seen that one well-known show is charging £2 for adults and 50p for children! It’s bonkers. And stop handing out club passes like candy to a baby. I’m all for clubs being attracted to a show, but they really must be held to account as much as the traders. Give out a couple of passes if needs be, but leave it at that; make the rest of the members pay to be there. Shows are not free events for modellers, at the expense of everyone else. They will still come!
This is such an involved subject, it is hard to discuss it in such a short essay as this, but I really think for the health of these events, large and small, discussions need to be had, before we reach a tipping point and traders simply stop attending. Maybe this little diatribe will go some way to opening up that discourse to ensure that we don’t reach that conclusion. Shows really are such an important part of this hobby and their organisers do an amazing job putting them on at all. Maybe now is the time that we all come together to ensure that they remain part of our future and don’t become a longed for memory of the past.
See you next time.
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Thanks a lot – I look forward to hearing from you!