Who Pays the Piper

      What to aim for?

What to aim for?

An interesting debate has broken out, and been locked, (no change there then) in a small corner of the interweb. It all kicked off because some one asked an event organiser if their show was a commercial show or not. The difference being that most of the UK’s model railway hobby exhibitons/shows are organised by a club or society to generate funds for the organisation. Some clubs are set up as charities or companies and have full accounts, committees, and others have nothing formal at all. As a generalisation its fair to say the annual exhibition can have a huge impact on the club and its financial viability, sometimes helping it to survive and pay for premises and equipment, and other times taking the club to breaking point or worse if the show bombs for a particular year. There are a large number of shows in the UK ranging from Warley, the biggest, and a commercial venture, to the village hall run by a very small club of a handful of members. Warley whilst a commercial show, is run by a Ltd company from Warley club using their members. The following debate was interesting, there are a good number of foamers piling in too, especially those who clearly haven’t been on the exhibition circuit, (not referring to either organiser) and know very little about it.
Read this thread next to put it into context. Warning, it is twenty minutes of your life you won’t get back.


These two shows David’s ‘Railex’ and Harrys ‘Sevenoaks’ are at the opposite ends of the show spectrum. If you want a football analogy, Railex (a club show), is up there pretty much always at the top of the Premier league season in, season out, and Harry’s is (currently) conference (but a commercial show). However if Harry managed 900 footfall on his first single day show last year, he did something very well or got lucky. I’m inclined to believe it was the former, he did well. Lets face it conference teams do go up as well as down, same too for the premier league. I suspect if tied to another event like a beer festival then that could have helped very well, as would being in a densely populated urban location (South London, good lad!) City and town locations charge a commercial rate for their venues, there have been any number of comments in the modelling community, about how we no longer see the inner city shows we used to. In simple terms its the shopping centre retail park effect. Why pay a premium for an in town location when you can get a gym hall cheaper and easier to access? Easy to access is critical for success, for both exhibitors and visitors. If you run a multi day show you need to get exhibitors located in easy distance from the venue, so on day two, they can actually get there.

I understand why David (Railex) asked if it were a commercial show, and if so where (in general terms) the income went, which isn’t unreasonable. I view exhibiting at shows and accepting the invite under who its for? (do I support their aims?), where it is?, and what expenses they are paying. Every show I have attended either as exhibitor or operator, in effect I have made a financial loss. I accept that because I support the aims of the organiser, and obviously I get a good deal of enjoyment out of it as I actually want to attend. There are some exhibitions that have taken the piss with the exhibitor/trader generosity/co-operation, people don’t go back, and word gets round among exhibitors and traders through the jungle telegraph too. Things like having your truck locked in a car park that no one has the key to at break down, or Vietnamese boat people style cramped accommodation, being ignored by the organiser through the show, incorrect or insufficient space allowed for the layout/stand are the types of things that get noticed.

I think whomever said if you paid people even the NMW national-minimum-wage-rates , the viability of shows would change significantly, and that is true. Harry mentioned he paid petrol and subsistence, perhaps if there were clarification if that includes van/car hire and overnight accommodation for those travelling longer distances, (though perhaps he’s not had that to deal with yet). It appears that the exhibitors for Harrys show are local, for David at Railex that isn’t the case. When I did Railex from the east midlands, he had accommodation+van hire+fuel for me, and 3 x petrol for my operators whom are (literally) spread across the country. Again my team doesn’t take the piss with requesting expenses, in effect rounding down fuel and not charging a mileage rate. For example if one of my operators charged using annual mileage HMRC 40p/mile rate, there would be an extra £94 for him alone, rather than £20 for fuel. If I were to charge at the cheaper annual mileage rate at HMRC/25p rate for my three oppos you’d still be looking at around £160 that we don’t actually currently ask for. I use the HMRC rate as reasonable if you’re going to give all exhibitors the same T&C’s. https://www.gov.mileage-and-fuel-allowances
The above of course doesn’t take into account travel time, set up, exhibition appearance, and break down, travel home, which are all show ‘duties’. If exhibitors charged NMW for that, only those with the deepest pockets could pay, but likely wouldn’t.

Albion Yard. No photoshop, this is what the exhibition visitor got to see.

Albion Yard. No photoshop, this is what the exhibition visitor got to see.

I’ve been asked by some exhibition managers to attend with either Albion Yard, or Bawdsey. Often I get a where are you from? and then a discussion in my hearing that this one will do, he doesn’t have far to come, and then an offer to attend a lower league show. I’m always polite but they often take a step back when I say they likely can’t afford us. This is because we aren’t a charity, and as mentioned in para one, there are very different quality shows across the exhibition circuit. I don’t want to be treking around with a layout to shows I wouldn’t attend as a visitor, arranging leave is a problem too for two of us who work in the aviation industry, not everyone has weekends free. And no, I’m not going to use local enthusiasts to the show to operate my train set, unless I personally know and trust them. That’s part of the enjoyment of a show for the exhibitor, taking a layout and team out, it is part social too. The team is a key part of the layout, they know how it operates, and can assist with repairs in the event of failures, and can engage the visitor, knowing about the layout and what it represents, rather than saying ‘dunno, its not mine’. The team if its a good one help with efficient set up and break down, that helps the organiser too making the show run with less hassle.

A question perhaps to be asked is for a commercial show, why shouldn’t exhibitors get better T&C’s than they do now?, a nominal appearance fee for example, the same for any layout regardless of size, to acknowledge the effort the owner/team has made. It has to be the same, to prevent the ‘size’ argument kicking off, ladies, look away now. If its for a club/society which puts something back into the hobby then I, and others may take a different view regarding full expenses and ‘appearance fees’. Even though a club/soc. exhibition is providing capital/funds for their organisation, that helps sustain and grow the hobby. For example it means there is a club that a newbie of any age can join and progress in the hobby from. That doesn’t detract from a commercial show bringing people in too, or giving them direction to progress in, but even allowing for charitable donations etc, a commercial show is there to make profit for the organiser to put in their pocket. The commercial show needs the clubs/exhibitors who provide the layouts (with whatever T&C’s), to have a show. Without those layouts the commercial organiser would have to make or buy in layouts and staff, to actually have a show. I have no problem with commercial shows at all, but I don’t work for my employer for free whom are making a profit, why should an exhibitor provide their effort without payment from a commercial organiser?

So, he who pays the piper calls the tune. Perhaps the pipers are realising the pay packet, from some organisers, is empty.

http://www.railex.org.uk/ Aylesbury

http://www.modelrailwayexhibition.com/ Sevenoaks
Out of courtesy I’ve let both the managers know of this posting.

NB: Now you’ve read this too thats about 40 minutes of your life you won’t get back! The easyJet vs BA argument example in the forum thread isn’t relevant to this debate apart from in a simple sentence that they were different. (I was there)


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6 Responses to Who Pays the Piper

  1. gary hinson says:

    Interesting way of looking at it
    I have always considered it a privilege to attend shows as an exhibitor, so your view on the subject is completely different. The nearest I have been to a “commercial show” was Warley a few weeks ago, was I out of pocket? Yes, did I enjoy it? Oh yes!, and would I do it again under the same terms,? Yes. I have now done 20 shows with Glenuig, and add another 30 with club and other exhibits, and very few cases I wouldn’t do the same again. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand were you are coming from, and after reading your blog, I will look at how I price my expenses in a different way, but if we all charged the minimum wage + top end travelling expenses, model railway exhibitions would not be viable to run full stop.
    Small shows, big shows, I have done a wide range of them, including small local shows that you would be surprised to find such a prolific layout at, its all about promoting the hobby, and how are the small shows going to go forward if we don’t support them.


    • bawdsey says:

      Gary, I too consider it to be a privilege to be invited to shows, hence always being courteous to those whom have offered. Like yourself I’ve done Warley, and its a show I like, and am highly likely to do it again. I have done higher profile shows with both Albion Yard and Bawdsey, the same as an operator on friends layouts. That’s not to ‘diss’ smaller shows, ‘Larkrail’ which was a one day show and small was great, and the sort of show that again, I’d have no hesitation in taking part in. I do feel sometimes, and at one show in particular this year with a friends layout, that the organisers weren’t bothered about the team/layout I was with. I don’t expect celeb treatment/status at all, just that the team effort is acknowledged, and that doesn’t have to be financial. Just a simple, how are things going? accommodation ok?, anything you need?, real keep it simple stuff that was overlooked. I don’t think the ‘I was at show x’ plaque got further than file 13 on site, let alone being nailed to the layout! I think quality shows regardless of size will go forward, I’m not sure, (taking your last sentence at face value), we need to support small shows, or for that matter any others.

      edited for spelling

  2. Dunks says:

    I had a quick browse through that thread, out of curiosity. It followed a predictable path, and was always going to end up locked.

    Both main parties in the thread are responsible for the tone of what followed. The OP failed to make clear who the organising body behind it was, but later came out with a somewhat mealy-mouthed, “It says who we are on our website”, response – akin to financial services organisations claiming that something is in the small print. The second party obviously knew this, and asked a loaded question rather than simply coming out with the truth. That was bound to be inflammatory.

    No one wants to put on an exhibition with the aim of losing money, but “profit” can be a charitable donation, a small surplus to help the organising club (I have been a member of a club where some members thought the aim of the annual exhibition was to raise money to reduce the subscription fees!) or simply to make money – and that can include clubs.

    If the latter then I have no real issue, but I want to know about it. As this is effectively a commercial venture, then I have more expectations: I also want to know if they would consider a (full or partial) refund of my ticket fee if I feel I have been sold short. If invited to exhibit, then I would have to think long and hard about my expectations for expenses. I have helped out at several exhibitions, as layout owner, layout helper, demonstrator, steward, helper, exhibition manager’s assistant and so on. I haven’t done a single one without being personally out of pocket, but that’s not the point. The point is that it is a sociable, hobby-oriented event. As long as that is the aim, I don’t mind – neither I mind charity events. If someone wants to make money out of my time and effort, then it’s a different matter.

    Enough: I didn’t spend anywhere near 20 minutes in total reading your post or the thread, but have spent longer than that on this response!

    Homer nods. Unfortunately, that was Homer Simpson.


    • bawdsey says:

      Thanks Simon,
      Both clearly have a strong opinion, and it appears borne from relevant experience, though maybe in different fields. You can tell those that haven’t. If I keep this up, and you keep coming back to read it, I may get that 40 minutes out of you yet …

  3. Tim Hale says:

    After a thirty plus stint of exhibiting, I finally retired at this year’s York event as I just could not face another show . It was simply too many weekends spent working hard and loosing at least two days annual holiday allowance in order to travel to and from each event. None of the shows that I attended were of the slightest benefit to myself or the operators, we were just fodder to provide entertainment for the paying public. In the end, we just sold the last layout and walked away, now we are building layouts that please only ourselves and are definitely non-portable.

    This may appear to a cynical approach however, our experience is certainly not unique.


    • bawdsey says:

      There is a compromise we all have to make Tim, there’s no way as an exhibitor that I think it viable to be ‘paid’ even by a commercial organiser. Like yourself I and my friends who have done a number of ‘away games’ expect simple but reasonable accommodation and expenses, in recognition/exchange of the effort we have made for the organiser. I’ve been lucky in only having one bad experience, but have heard first hand of problems friends on teams I’ve worked have had. I’ll continue to do shows, but like my friends we look closely at the reputation of the show, previous experience, and if we actually want the ‘hassle’ before accepting. That may sound a bit up myself, but I don’t give a flying one.

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