Thursday, April 25, 2013

Lessons from York - What we didn't see: Vendors!

Dad and I recently returned from our semi-annual trip to the Train Collectors Association Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA. As always, we discussing what we saw a lot of (and what we didn't) -- and why.

There are cycles to what we see at the York show. What was missing? Well, a lot of the things that seemed to be in disproportionate abundance in earlier meets -- like the vintage Pennsylvania Railroad wall calendars, the Lionel Coke Sets, or the Tootsietoy box sets.

But what was really missing this time were the vendors. Not that the show was undersold -- far from it. Every table had a name affixed to it. But strangely, every hall had a significant number of tables that were empty.

So what?

I've done professional trade shows, and compared to the rates we were charged, the York meet is a bargain -- $30 per table, with most vendors spreading out over two or three tables. Now according to the rules, there is a penalty for leaving the show early. It runs from noon on Thursday through noon on Saturday, and (rightly), the organizers don't want a ghost town to those who can't make it during the work week.

There's no penalty for arriving late, though, and that's what made what we didn't see interesting. Every hall had 5-10 vendors that simply weren't there for the first day of the show. Now in the past, the first day has been critical. In the past, the first hour was a feeding frenzy as collectors rushed down the aisles hoping to find the good stuff before another eager collector snatched it up.

So the first hour of the first day would be a prime time to sell. Maybe.

Missing out, or conserving energy?

This year, the energy level was a little lower. The first hour was very active, but not frantic as folks moved in a brisk but orderly fashion through the halls. So why did some vendors -- who had invested $60 - $120 for tables -- not show up?

Perhaps they did more volume on the weekends and didn't see the need to sit around the first day (and perhaps the second) with little to show for it.

And if that's so, then that could suggest an interesting shift in the demographics of the attendees. The hobby has tended to skew old. That time when you're old enough to want to reclaim the toys of your youth and have the disposable income to do so usually doesn't happen until your own children are grown -- around middle age.

Folks in their late 50's and early 60's are usually senior enough in their companies to have enough leave to attend York on Thursday and Friday. Those older are often retired, which also lets them attend during the week.

Younger collectors, though, might not be able to take off during the week -- or with limited days off, not consider it important enough to do so. For them, a weekend visit is an option.

 We know the vendors have to be there through the end of the show on Saturday. Are they seeing an increase in the weekend traffic? And could that mean that the market is beginning to shift? We're not sure, but I'll be paying attention during the fall meet to see if there are any increases in the no-shows, or if the rules change to cover arrival as well as departure times.

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