This can sometimes be the most challenging part of the whole project. First, you need a budget. Try to get your group to approve about $1000 so you have wider options. There is nothing wrong with coming in way under budget. However, If you spend less than you should have, your whole event could go down as a disaster.
Look to your membership first:
Does somebody in the group belong to a civic group with a meeting hall? I’ve been to swap meets in Churches, VFW Halls, Union Halls, Corporate Cafeteria’s, High School Gym’s, Grade School Gym’s, Vocational School Cafeteria, Convention Centers, Sports Arena’s, Civic Center Halls, Grange Halls, and even a Plumbers Garage. Yes, it is a big garage. The point is to think out of the box. Your membership probably has at least a few connections to facilities such as these. Rarely they will be free, but often becasue your member is part of that association there will be substantial discount, often 50%. Look into each one of the opportunities with an open mind.
It’s never a waste of time to visit your local city officials for some assistance. They are often favorable to support events that bring visitors and revenue to the community. You can never predict what might be offered or suggested. During the years we held our event at the Convention Center, which is managed by the City of Dayton. They were exceedingly helpful in making sure we could both afford the venue and had what we needed. It’s a feather in their cap to have another event in town. And, being a civic group working in a city park didn’t hurt at all.
What makes a good room for our new swap meet?
What your looking for is a heated/conditioned space that is reasonably clean and big enough 80 tables or so. (You need about 7200 square feet or more to do this.) It’s very important to have a room with 2 entrances. You want a front entrance for the public and a back or side entrance for your vendors to load in. I’ll cover these subjects in later articals. Just realize you need to control the “Sneaker In-ers” to protect your event profit and the first step in this security is seperating the vendor entrance from the public entrance. Things to watch out for is a vendor loading entrance with bad auto traffic flow like back in a corner of the lot will be a problem. Also, it needs to be an entrance a dolly can go through, no steps.
Why 80 Tables?
Just from experience, I’ve learned the meets with less than 80 tables seem to wallow around in the 40-60 zone. They never are very busy or crowded. The ones around 80 tables or larger just seem to be stonger. In times of economic failure like these, people who like to go to swaps perhaps decide with higher fuel costs they are going to cut out the smaller ones and just do the bigger ones. You want to be one of the bigger ones. It’s OK to start smaller, but don’t get stuck, make sure your adding in 10-20 tables a year, and make sure you advertise how many tables your event it. It makes a difference.
How do you get tables and chairs?
Very good question! Although I’ve been to meets where the club rented tables from local party rental companies, this is expensive and often means you’ll be managing a pickup truck brigade to get them to your site. It’s alot of work and money. Expect table rental from sources like this to be $5 to $8 a unit, chairs about $3 a unit. It’s best to look for a hall that has tables already for a modest rental fee or perhaps included. We’ve negotiated that as part of our rent for our event. Our crew sets up the tables and at the end we fold them up and put them back on the carts to be stored. You’ll need 4-10 more tables than swap meet tables you plan to rent. If the room is a bit short, it’s no big deal to get members to bring some folding tables for a few things like vendor check it and other places you’ll need them for your staff.
The Midwest Model Rama’s first location:
The first Model RAMA shows were in a local UAW Union hall. A club member had access to the hall at a discount rate. As I remember, it cost the club $400 to rent the hall. The hall was just big enough for what I considered the minimum size successful meet. And, that was 80 tables. The hall size is 120′ x 60′ or about 7200 square feet. We sold the hall out completely the first 2 years and moved on to something even bigger.
We went from there to a large room in Hara Arena. We’ve had our event at Hara several times and even the Downtown Dayton Convention Center a few times. Currently it’s held at the Montgomery Country Fairgrounds. We’ve spent anywhere from $400 to $2400 on room and tables each year. We’ve always made a profit. However, at the high point of rental, we didn’t make much for our group and that had to change. Our current location is about $1300 and lets the county rent a room in the winter when there are no customers and lets us make a decent profit. All our procedes are spent improving our model airport “Wingmaster Field” in Dayton Ohio. Home of the Dayton Wingmasters Model Airplane Club. The field is in a public park and is open to the public. What a great deal a local model airplane club can be for a city. It’s probably the only public park in the area maitained by a civic group. What a DEAL for the taxpayers! And, we are happy to do it, it’s one of the country’s most beautiful flying sites.
A Hard Date:
Make certain your deal with your venue is a hard date. Meaning, it’s your date. We once almost rented an indoor college practice field. But then they told me if a coach needed the room they might have to move our date. I asked how much notice and they said, “Oh a week or so”. I said, no thanks! You need 6-12 months to plan one of these things. You can’t have somebody flipping over the applecart on you. A real rental hall with give you contract that barring Tornado or Fire, it’s your room on the agreed date.
Over the years at various venue’s we’ve had indoor flying after the meet. If your ceiling is tall enough inside it’s always a great hit to allow some flying. Most of the time, your rental is for all day. You’ll find swap meets run strong in the morning but by noon or 1pm they are fizzled out. Only the very largest meets can hold a croud as late as 2 or 3 pm. So, if the building permits, soon as everything fizzles out, tear down the tables and start flying. If your going to do this, be sure to put it in your AMA ad and on your flyers. This will attract even more people than would come out for “just a swap meet” and adds an extra level of fun in the day. A location with flying potential is worth more to you.
The Tight Wad Failure
I’ve seen events that never really grew to meet with the clubs dreams because they got intoxicated with the cheapness of a free or low cost hall to hold the event. Once on the needle of cheapness they just can’t find a way off. Don’t make this mistake. It’s ok to start out this way. However, if your venue is full, you need to move on, look onward and upward to achieve your potential.