Editorial Comment Model Show Thought for the day...

TRADE FAIR

We cannot continue to rely on traders to finance shows when modellers are not expected to do the same...

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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I'm formerly the editor in charge of Military In Scale magazine and latterly, Model Airplane International. Editing duties to one side, I'm now a full-time modelmaker with Doolittle Media, working to supply modelling articles and material for a number of their group titles, including MAI and Tamiya Model Magazine International. I'm also an avid fan of Assassin's creed, Coventry City FC and when the mood takes me, a drummer of only passing skill. Here though, you'll find what I do best: build models and occassionally, write about them!

26 comments on “TRADE FAIR

  1. Christian Atkins

    Well said. A difficult and contentious subject that needs to be aired before decline sets in and another way of attracting the next generation disappears.

  2. B@kunin

    If traders take the brunt of the costs it’s likely that some will reach a similar view as they have with bricks and mortar stores to save on the overheads and retreat to online marketing and sales. I suspect many attend as much as enthusiasts as business owners – laudable, but it won’t balance the books. Show organisers really have to share the burden of their venture more equitably or risk even more going to online only and that would clearly be a loss for us all.

    • brian wilton

      Totally agree it would be a shame if it all went online.

  3. Martin King

    As an attendee (usually paying entry) when dealing with traders I am also saving any postage that I may have had to pay – which offsets any costs that I may have in attending the show. As with a trader these (may) include fuel, food, entrance fee, time off, familial disruption…

    I also get the see what I am buying, reducing the risks of getting the wrong thing (two out of 4 online orders this year have arrived with the wrong and useless to me products, some books I have purchased online turn out to be badly written and not at all useful).

  4. I agree that all persons attending the event should be charged an entrance fee. As for traders, large and small are not the same and the organisers need to formulate a fair fee attendance rate.
    Yoav

  5. brian wilton

    Spencer overall I totally agree I do believe it is to cheap to enter these shows, and if you go to another IMPS show as a member it could be free entry.

    Certainly I have to admit that my IPMS UK membership is for getting into Telford each year, firstly for getting in an hour early and secondly it is part of my membership.

    I own a small business and the cost of rent, rates etc is high, so going to a trade show in any business sector is expensive, and the business decision has to be not only in profit but also the exposure / advertising that you may get from it.

    Most modellers will know the main traders going to the show, and I believe there is no doubt they make money at a show like Telford, even with £3k overheads for the weekend. it is more the smaller traders who run a higher risk, in terms of losing money. It maybe they are competing against the big boys, and if I am honest I know one modeller who uses Colorcoat paints, the other 99% use Tamiya or MrColor. So maybe it the market supply and demand that dictates the volume of sales. So maybe if you have a niche market then maybe your product reflects this in quality and service and in turn in the price of the product.

    That said I go to Telford each year money in hand to spend on what I need, what I fancy and in some cases what I don’t need, but this why we go as well as to see models.

    But if I come come across a company that I don’t know of, and they sell me something then they have a new client that they can then maybe hold onto on line. Examples for me are Hawk Miniatures for paint brushes, CSM purely for the WW1 vehicles (although they maybe a bigger company now) Gaspatch models, etc.

    I come from the remote part of the UK called Northern Ireland so it is also a chance for me to stock up on items that are hard to get posted to me, so my first stop on Saturday morning is straight to a small trader, who for the past 8 years approximately his first sale of the day is 30 tins of liquid reamer, so he is up £180.00 inside 5mins of the door opening.

    Maybe it a bit of everything for every one, we as modellers pay more at the door, and that is all of us those at the club tables and those coming through the door, traders have to accept a certain amount of risk in any business, so make sure your product meets a demand, and look at what you are getting out of the show.

    It amazes me that when a trader has a client in front of them and has a sale get the clients details, get their email address so you can follow up with a sales sheet news update on products etc from your online shop. Offer a competition to get their details is this not how Zoukei Mura work??? or the old trick of I will email you a receipt.

    Go to a car show and they are fighting to get your details for they know on the day they properly will not close the sale that day for a car.

    It is important that we don’t loose the shows and competitions, we all have to do our bit, OR we may just loose or hobby to a solo online sad hobby.

  6. Geoff Milnes

    I read Gillian Duffs open letter last week and have just read your own contribution. You both make many valid points which I as an organisor of a medium sized show ( Halifax/Huddersfield ) have been conscious of since I started 10 years ago. I should say from the outset that the comments that follow are my personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of my own club.

    It is self evidently true that traders are the lifeblood of shows and without them shows would be impossible and indeed pointless. Almost the first question I am asked in the run up to a show is which traders are attending. We have always taken great care to ensure that traders are given as much help and assistance as we are able BUT there are always some ( a very small minority ) who pick fault with everything we do. This is annoying but is often due to factors over which we have no control. One thing that neither Spence or Gillian addressed in their articles is that the venues themselves impose upon us as organisers terms and conditions which vary from the obvious to the downright ludicrous but with which we must comply. I am fully aware that cost is a major factor in whether traders attend a show and I try to keep costs as low as possible but we as a club must cover our costs. We do not set out to make a profit from the show, if profit was a motive we would have given up years ago. The major problem from my point of view is that the venues we use set their prices for venue hire on a commercial basis and if we wish to hold the show then we have to pay the going rate. Even for a medium sized show such as ours the costs of putting on the show run into thousands of pounds. I always make a point of discussing with traders how their day has gone and if there have been any problems. I make sure that I introduce myself to any new traders attending and discuss anything that we could change to make their lives easier. I like to think that over the years I have built up a good relationship with almost every trader who attends on a regular basis. Some of the incidents described by Gillian in her open letter horrified me. I have a pretty good idea as to which shows she was describing but will refrain from commenting further.

    As far as under the table sales are concerned I can assure you that these are a constant bone of contention and one which we try to limit if not eradicate entirely. Many see it as their God given right to offload their unwanted kits etc without any notion of how this annoys traders. From my point of view I would ban it entirely but enforcing a ban would be a nightmare. Short of expelling the worst culprits from the show it is difficult to know what more I could do.

    Spence mentions at length the cost of admission to shows and whilst I agree with him to some point it has to be borne in mind that it is always a balancing act to set the prices at a reasonable level. If the prices are too high then attendance falls, the traders complain at the lack of potential customers and round and round it goes. One point with which I agree totally is with regard to club members expecting free admission if their club is exhibiting. I introduced a system 5 years ago of wristband entry. Any club exhibiting gets 4 free for setting up only. Everyone else pays. The hostility this caused when I ntrduced it had to be seen to be believed. One club secretary “suggested” that I should pay them for attending.

    Finally I would add that I and my co-organisor do this out of love for the hobby. We put up with the worry, the sleepless nights and hassle, the telephone calls at all hours, the months of work and mountains of paperwork and all the grief that ensues so we are able to put on the best show we can. We expect nothing in return but the odd thank you is much appreciated. I attend many shows up and down the country some excellent, most good some not so. In almost every case these are run by well meaning individuals who are not professional event organisors. We dont always get it right but we do try our best.

    • brian wilton

      Great comments and ones that need to be noted and also considered, the guys who put on these shows do it for the hobby, and maybe those who attend and traders need to accept this side of the argument, if you go to a full on trade show the hoops you would have to go through would scare you.

    • Bob Orr

      I have been involved with the running of Bugle Call in the Bristol/Bath area for the last 30 years and deal mainly with the venue and traders and agree with all you have said. Every year I ask myself why I keep doing this. Before we moved to our current venue at Nailsea School our previous 3 shows in Bath all lost money. Charge club members, well yes we tried but several of the larger clubs said they wouldn’t attend unless they got passes! We aim to break even and gave not increased the cost of our trade tables for the last 5 years and charge £5 entry for punters. 4 people are responsible for Bugle Call each year and that is doing all the set up and take down work too.

    • David Wooff

      Your show sounds like one that I would happily pay to attend as a novice winter modeller. It’s in the North and sounds like good practice is attempted.

  7. .. didn’t Euromilitaire in Folkestone die a death largely because they started charging an ‘exorbitant’ entry fee? Stopped going myself at £12.

    • It had nothing to do with the entrance cost. It folded after the show was sold on to another company who lost interest, as well as many of the overseas visitors choosing to go to Scale Model Challenge instead of Euro. It was a perfect storm…

  8. I never understood why the Branch and SIG tables were provided gratis, and those members not paying a cent for a comfortable place behind them, at a weekend event that traders and the general public have underwritten for their pleasure. Why wouldn’t a particular IPMS Branch support a nominal fee for their exhibit space? And their annual dues alone are not enough to entitle them to a free Saturday and Sunday funded by others. There is value in being exposed to this concentrated access to the hobby, and that value should be paid for.

    • I couldn’t agree more!

      • Sorry Spencer, I couldn’t agree less

        I maintain that models on display are what a model show is all about, without them it isn’t a model show. Spencer, you compared the entry fees to attend a model show to how much it costs to attend a football match or music gig. Do the footballers or band members pay to get on the field or onto the stage? Should they do so to help subsidise the cost of food concessions, merchandise sellers or the club shop?

        “There is value in being exposed to this concentrated access to the hobby, and that value should be paid for” Sorry, LPColl I don’t get that point? What value would that be, and what ‘concentrated access to the hobby?’ If you mean being able to visit traders stands, OK – but you most often can’t get to open boxes to see inside – youtube reviews are better for that – or try out the latest brand of paint. Surely having a few hundred models on display is a better ‘concentrated access to the hobby’ for the general public and to encourage more people into it? Start charging IPMS branches and SIGs to attend an IPMS model show (in the case of SMW particularly) is IMO something that may well decrease the participation of many of them with a consequent reduction of models on display and probably in the competition.

        And I made the point before – for a show like SMW our branch give up three days of our time, have to pay fuel for a 240 mile round trip – usually with at least two cars, hotel bills for two nights, food – and of course a not insignificant amount with the traders…. And don’t forget that in the case of SMW many UK branches travel further than us – and those many overseas branches certainly do!

        So IMO, that, and the annual membership we do pay, does entitle us to free stands at possibly the best IPMS model show in the world – and yes I think we do pay enough for whatever ‘value’ you speak of.

        Regards

        Keith

  9. Interesting thoughts ladies and gents. Across the pond here in Canada, we have many shows, but none as big as the Telford show, or the IPMS Nats in the USA, but we do have decent ones. I thing that bugs the crap outa me is this self ingratiation attitude of many modelers and club members that take offense at having to PAY to get in to a show. These are the same ones that bitch excessively about the cost of new kit releases and modeling access. At the trade shows there are many companies big and small, with owners that we NEVER meet online. We know NOTHING about the goings on of the biz behind the scenes. The costs, paperwork, rules and regs that they have to abide by. All we whiny modelers have to do is pay a paltry fee at the door to come in and actually SEE the great folk that have put it all on the line to set up a display to “make a living”…! DUH…is that so hard to fathom…? Most of us, myself included LOVE to spend money at a NATS or other trade show. I spent over $500 US at the Loveland IPMS Nats several years ago and had a blast. Met guys like Roy Sutherland, the ‘Old Man’ for SWS…what a hoot…! The kits, access., tools, etc., that you can get, AND the camaraderie from the owners and builders is surely worht 20 bucks…come on…?!!

  10. “One club secretary “suggested” that I should pay them for attending.”

    It might not still be the case (it’s been many a year since I was in a model railway club), but many model railway exhibitions used to pay transport costs to exhibitors and also provide food and drink.

    And as to under table sales – well I might be alone in this, but whenever I’ve undertaken this activity just about all the ‘profit’ I have made has gone straight back to the traders in the show by purchasing shiny new kits. And lets not forget that probably the majority of those kits were bought from traders that might be at the show in the first place.

    On the other side of the coin, shouldn’t something be done about those traders who see fit to hoover up kits in the Kit Swap at SMW and then immediately put them on their stands for sale at sometimes extortionate mark ups?

    As a volunteer at SMW who has often found himself on the entrance desk late in the day, one thing that really narks me about this whole business of increasing entrance costs for shows is the lack of any reduction in charges as the day wears on. I’ve seen a number of times a family who thought it would be a nice way to spend some time turn around and walk away when asked to pay the full amount an hour or so before closing time – the ticket cost for a one day ticket at SMW tsn’t exactly what I’d call ‘cheap’ anyway, And be fair, to compare the cost of entry to a model show or gig is somewhat stretching it – they are hardly like for like comparisons. What about free music nights in pubs – I’ve seen some really good (OK and bad!) bands in those – perhaps we shoud have free entry to model show for all?!

    Finally -“There is no doubting that for many, the traders are the cornerstone of any show.” Really Spencer? TBH I disagree – surely the modellers who are giving up their time, spending their money on fuel (& the trade stands!), hotel bills and food to put on displays of their work are the cornerstone of a ‘model’ show. Without them it does indeed become nothing more than a trade fair…..

    Regards

    Keith

    • I don’t belong to a club but I enjoy visiting local shows and driving three and a half hours each way to attend Telford. I can’t remember how much Telford costs (£10 or £12 comes to mind) but I have always considered it a small price to pay for the opportunities it presents. However, if I was to break down my reasons for attending, I would say that it was 10% to marvel at the models on display and 90% to visit the trade stands. Actually, 10% might be overstating it! You miss the point, Keith, that if the traders keep on losing money to attend they will stop attending and how will you hold your show then? I hope that a fairer balance can be struck so that shows continue in their current format but if I had to choose between visiting a show purely displaying models or a trade fair I would opt for the trade fair every single time.

      • Fair enough, and such ‘shows’ are already available.

  11. “And be fair, to compare the cost of entry to a model show or gig is somewhat stretching it”

    Sorry, that should have read “And be fair, to compare the cost of entry to a model show to a football match or gig is somewhat stretching it”

  12. Gary Edmundson

    Very interesting Spencer. Just like your old editorials in MIS.

  13. Chris Hughes

    I don’t know about anyone else who has sold kits from under the table, but any money I made was immediately spent with the traders!
    I would suggest that the majority of modellers do the same?

  14. Simon Connell

    Totally agree with charging entrance to these shows. Was very surprised to see hardly anyone paying any money at the recent IPMS Avon. Admittedly, I was part of our club setup crew but even then, we got 6 free passes which seemed a few too many. Setup crew or not, I have no problems paying a £10 entrance fee. None of my colleagues would either if it helps keep the shows going. Clubs and club members need to understand that economics are changing and we need to change with it if these things are to continue.

  15. Derek Hersey

    There are some very interesting points being discussed, I am able to see it from both sides as I organise our model show at Hailsham IPMS East Sussex.
    There are quite a few things that have to be taken account of, it takes a long while to organise the show, barely is one show over than I start on organising the next years show.
    Venues have to be consulted and their rules regulations taken into account, Health and Safety also comes into play. Cost of venue negotiated .Clubs and traders have to be organised.
    Tables, chairs have to be organised, generally at a cost, catering again has a cost, as we have provided clubs traders with lunchtime drink/sandwich, as does advertising, which is a must to ensure good attendance.
    Public Liability insurance for the show a must have, the list goes on.
    As regards charging clubs, not sure that would be viable, as some clubs simply may not attend, hence reducing quality of the show.
    I have had to pay at one event because there were more than 4 people on club stand.
    Traders are a essential part of shows and should not be treated as cash cows, our club charges minimal fees for tables, we even booked and paid hotel accomodation for one trader who travelled a long distance. This saved the trader a little bit, and was a thank you for coming such a distance.
    It is a real balancing act

    I attend shows when possible and have no objection on paying for entrance, even being one of the setup crew.
    Why do I do it? Because I enjoy it, on both sides of the fence.
    Hope this gives insight into the organising side of things.
    Maybe a getting together of local club show organisers to thrash out some rules would be a good thing.

  16. Bruce Kennedy

    From across the pond also, my question to the IPMS groups , many members attend, how many of those actually contribute to the display? In the past here anyways there are members who don’t help or don’t participate but will show up . Maybe if non-partisapating , non-setup members have to pay their way . Over here clubs who attended payed for tables too, as we don’t get traders footing the bill because we are too small and far away for their attendance.

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