Wednesday, March 5, 2008

On the mechanics and economics of doing shows

My wife's corner at the NMRA showI'm a member of a local LEGO club, Michigan LEGO Users Group (or MichLUG, read more at Brickwiki). Aside from the cameraderie and sharing of techniques and resources, the club exists in part to do public shows. We do several a year (the image at left is from last year's NMRA National Train Show at Cobo Hall in Detroit, which was a multi club show organized by ILTCO, for more views, see this gallery on Brickshelf)

Doing shows is personally quite rewarding for me and I imagine for many other members. Part of the magic is how the display comes together using many different people's work. (I write more about this on my talk page at Brickwiki) In fact you could say that some members are in the club primarily for the fun of doing shows.

So then why wouldn't a club want to do a particular show? The club's mission clearly highlights doing shows as a key activity. We get a lot of requests for shows beyond those we actually do

There are several reasons:Michlug portion of 2007 NMRA layout

  • Schedule - We're all adults with busy lives. We have other stuff going on, and weekend time is precious. We need lead time to plan around things. A show is a big commitment, it usually chews up an entire weekend's free time. The weekends around the holidays are particularly precious. (this seems to be when many show organizers WANT shows, because of the association between toys, trains, LEGO, and the Christmas season)
  • Lead time - It takes effort to organise the layout. Every one is different (the NMRA layout, an outlier in size is at right) because the buildings that are available vary based on who is participating and what they want to show. We ask for 3 months lead time.
  • Focus - Some shows just don't have the right focus. I talk about trains and train shows because that's what I am interested in, but MichLUG is a general interest club and when there is a chance to do space related things we jump on it.
  • Economics - Shows have a cost. We have a trailer and hauling it places takes significant fuel. There is also the cost of staying overnight, meals, and the like. Some shows we do for free because they are good causes (we participated in the local Festival of Trees for several years) but most shows we look at are run by clubs (to raise money for themselves) or for profit organizations, feature dealers selling things, and clubs showing layouts. The public is drawn in by the club layouts but hopefully buys things from the dealers. The organisers get money from the gate, and from the dealers, and pay the other clubs to show up. Sometimes, as much as we might want to help, it doesn't make economic sense.

Consider a recent show request we turned down, one for a 2 day show in Toledo. We got the request on fairly short notice, and it was for a weekend only 2 weeks after our last show. For me to participate, it would be a 180 mile each way trip. If I wanted to bring more than just a few buildings, it would be a trip in an SUV. That would surely be 100 USD in gas. There would also be an overnight stay to defer. So it didn't make sense for me. Other club members who live in Metro Detroit would perhaps pay less but there would still be some cost. So on balance, the amount offered didn't make economic sense for the members, we might well have just donated what we were going to spend to the club. So we declined.

Still, we manage to do a half dozen or more shows a year. I hope this gives some insight. Comments and feedback welcomed of course.

Disclaimer: These are my words and are not official club positions. I was an officer a while back but am not now.

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