Holding A Swap Meet: Date Planning

The following advice is written with RC hobby swap meets in mind. However, the same logic and solid advice apply’s to any club event you are contemplating.

Why:
The largest reason for an event failing to take root and grow strong is often poor date planning.

Context:
Generally swaps are held during the winter months. In the Ohio and probably most northern states the season runs from October thru March. It might be different in your neck of the woods.

Here is how to do it:
Print out calenders for all the months you will be considering. Collect together the AMA magazine “Model Aviation” for the past year or two. Go through the non-flying events advertisement in the back. Write down every swap meet within 2-300 miles on the date it occurred. Look in the Flying Events section for things like indoor fly ins and other large open public events. Don’t worry specialized contests and such things that probably have 20 or fewer people attending. It’s not a bad idea to do this for a period reaching back 2 years. This will give you very good idea what what the flow of events looks like. Usually event planners will tend to repeat the same dates like the 1st Saturday of November or whatever. Why consider events so many miles away? You’ll find the closest event (within 150 miles) have the biggest impact and the furthest ones the least. However, if a major event like PERRY (worlds largest swap) is going on, you won’t get any professional or armature vendors and perhaps only a few swappers, they will all be at Perry or Toledo or Joe Nal, whatever the major is. Same advice goes for certain flying events. Don’t schedule over a major indoor flying event like the JR Indoor Fest or the Hobbico E-Fest.

Be realistic:
If you put yours on the same day as the regular ABC Dog Fighters meet 100 miles away, your likely to get exactly what you deserve for this sillyness, NO VENDORS AT ALL. And, 20% of the locals will be going to the ABC Meet. Additionally, all the people 1/2 way between you and there are going to choose the sure thing, not the new event. I’ve run into many event CD’s stuck in a prototype thinking mode. It goes something like this: “I’d never go 100 miles for a swap meet, how can that event possibly effect us?” Here is the fallacy of that kind of thinking, not everybody is like “you”, and in fact, who cares about “you”, your going to your own clubs event no mater what. Where the profit from these events comes is getting “others” to come. So, forget about “you” and think more openly about “others”. Additionally, leave all ego’s aside. You don’t have to beat the competition, you can simply put your event on a different date and be the only game around. It’s a simple formula.

Question: A club in the next town holds and event in January, when would be a good time for us?
I’ve found two clubs in the same region, county or town can have great results but one thing is important. Think of the new year as a dividing line. If one club holds an event on the last weekend in January and it’s close by, you don’t’ want to have yours in February. They’ve already consumed the bulk of the enthusiasm and energy for a swap meet. It takes time for that to build up again. Consider running your event on the opposite side of the calendar. Why not choose November or December? I’ve found two clubs can have meets even in the same town and they both work well as long as they are on opposite sides of the calendar. Putting your event a week or month in front of another one without the calendar year division is a somewhat unfriendly thing to do. There is room for everyone. Think cooperatively. Your members are going to the other event, you want them feeling good about showing up at yours.

The Sister Event or Opposite Day Strategy.
One really effective way to build a big meet fast is find another meet and sister with it. Lets say there is a decent event 150 miles away usually held on the 3rd Saturday of February. The following Sunday is open and would be a great day to host your event. Your far enough away that your not sharing “most” of the shoppers and those in between your events may just attend them both. Also, the regular swap vendors will see your event on the AMA schedule and even though it’s new, they are already packed up, they will come to yours also. Packing the goodies up and getting two shows in one road trip is an irresistible temptation. Snagging some good vendors really helps build credibility for your event. And, don’t think we’re just talking commercial venders. There are plenty of hobby swappers who just love trading and swapping that attend many events each year, you’ll snag some of these guys from the other event also. This strategy works well and really ends up helping lift up both events. Some new vendors might attend that never attended either event because travel and fuel costs of going to a single event was never worth it to them but as a pair of events it is a more cost effective trip. If your going to do this, be sure you verify the scheduled other event date with the CD. It’s also a great idea if you can catch somebody attending the other event to put a stack of fliers at the entrance of the Saturday event. Likewise, if there is a large Sunday some similar distance away, you can always stick yours on Saturday. Be sure to to contact the other club and do things out in the open. It benefits everyone. It’s always a nice gesture to stick the other clubs swap flier into your own club newsletter. Most newsletters are online today, it won’t cost you anything to be friendly. What goes around comes around.

Q: Saturday or Sunday, which is better? Most events are held on Saturday. Since few are in church that day, you have the largest pool of volunteers on Saturday. However, I’ve found over the years, there really is no difference in the size of an event on Saturday vs Sunday. You might get a few grumbles for planning on Sunday, just remind them they haven’t been to Sunday evening service in a long time. ūüėČ

Q: We’ve been having a swap for years, but this year we have to pick a new date for reasons beyond our control. We are afraid nobody will come.
Let me put you at ease right now. Modelers are not lemmings. Nearly every event CD over estimates how “conditioned” the attending public is. Let me be clear, probably few if anybody remembers exactly what your regular date is. They are all going to look up the date every year to be “sure”. We’ve had to shift our event a weekend this way or that a couple times and our numbers at the gate were just fine. Don’t get stuck in a rut thinking you can never change your date. Do what you need to do for the health of the event.

Q: But we’ve always held it on X day?
Your still asking? I’m sorry, you just may be too hard headed to help.

Q: Ok, we’ve picked a date, now what?
Refer back to your calendar, call those event CD’s on and around your date. Double check they are actually planning to repeat on the dates you are expecting. Be as certain as possible before obligating the club treasury. There is almost nothing more important than a clear date.

OK, but there is a huge fun-fly a few hundered miles away. Is this really going to have an impact?
YES, pick another date! Even an event 300 miles distant will impact you. Where do the RC’rs in between go? If you miss 15 people at $5 a head and 5 tables at $12 each, your mistake cost you almost $130 and it means fewer people are there to spend money, fewer people will be there to offer items for sale. The impression you leave is less successful. Don’t be hard on yourself, pick another date. We are at this time considering moving our well established event for this very reason.

Closing Concepts:
The most important thing in your planning is how to maximize the event for your club and also for all those that attend. Think beyond the direct benefits your group is getting. What your doing is actually a benefit to many inside and outside your region. I always try to take a non-partisan, non-selfish approach to every decision. It’s not about any one thing other than the best possible health of “the event” and the greatest benefit to your modeling region. Taking actions with this attitude in mind will result in the greatest success over the long haul. Encourage whoever is heading up your event to think in this way.

Dave Thacker
CD Midwest Model RAMA

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Choosing A Swap Meet Location

Room Full Of Swappers!

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.

Government Officials
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.

IUE Hall Woodman Drive Dayton

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.

 

Ball Arena Room at Hara Arena

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.

Get It In Writing

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.

Other Ideas:
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.

ScroogeThe 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.

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