4:00 pm means 4:00 pm (or “Why are they packing up early?”)

As reported elsewhere on this blog, I had a great time at the 2016 Brampton Model Railway Show. I did have one issue with the show, however… or rather, with some of the exhibitors.

What? Why re they packing up early?!?
(What are they doing over there?!?)

While I really, really enjoyed the show, I was disappointed to see a number of vendors and exhibitors packing up early on Sunday afternoon – even though there were still members of the paying public in the show.

What gives with that?

I don’t blame the show organizers for what happened – not one bit. This happens at every show I’ve been to and it’s hard to police. The organizers asked on Sunday morning – over the PA system, no less – that people NOT pack up early. Yet people did it anyway.

I know, from talking to some of the organizers at the end of the day, that they too were frustrated by the early shut-down. And in talking to others who organize shows, I get the same reaction: It’s frustrating, but organizers don’t know what would work to stop it. Everyone could use some ideas.

The Sunday afternoon visitors were not as numerous as the punters who showed up on Saturday morning. But they still made the effort. It was probably the only time they could attend the show on the weekend – and those who packed up early let them down.

Maybe they won’t bother coming back next year – and maybe they’ll tell their friends “Don’t bother”. The bad reviews will spread – particularly outside the hobby community. And then – at some point – hobbyists will be whining, “There are no good shows anymore”.

I get it – we’re all tired at the end of two days of standing on concrete floors, running trains or making sales. But when I signed up to appear at the show, I signed up for the full two days – not 1.75 days’ worth. Yet, some layouts started packing up around 2:30.

Not cool.

My friends and I in The S Scale Workshop ran right until the organizers announced at 4:00 pm that the show was closed. And we had visitors to our layout right until the closing.

One mother and son looked at a layout next to us and the mom said, “Oh, they’re not running trains anymore”. I called out “We are still running over here” and the two of them came over. The boy – three to four years old – looked at the 2-6-0 I was running and said, “Mogul”. His mom said, “He knows all the wheel arrangements.”

That kid was there to see trains. He could become a serious hobbyist, with time and encouragement. Those who packed up early let him down.

Our group still managed to pack up a large layout and get out of the hall by 6:00 pm. After two full days, I’m not sure how packing up at 2:30 instead of 4:00 makes a difference.

Since this happens at almost every show I’ve attended, the question is this:

What combination of carrot and stick should show organizers use to keep people exhibiting/selling until the show closes? Should early packers not be invited back? Should those who exhibit to the end get a gift card for coffee? What would work?

Frankly, unless you’re having a health emergency there’s just no excuse for shutting down early.

17 thoughts on “4:00 pm means 4:00 pm (or “Why are they packing up early?”)

  1. It would require the major organisers and most popular shows to refuse the parties involved a space at subsequent shows. But it seems a competitive market for vendors, so….

  2. I like your coffee card idea, but that wouldn’t be enough of a carrot for most guys I know who like to leave early. If they’ve got a 4+ hr drive and unpacking to do when they get home on Sunday, then the difference in 2PM and 4PM could be the difference in 10PM and midnight and there’s not a carrot big enough for that.

    I’d recommend a reduced-price entry fee for last-day afternoon show goers. If you don’t pay as much, then perhaps it’s reasonable to not expect as much?

    Otherwise, ithe show ought to consider divvying up a portion (1/2) of the profit collected through lunchtime on the final day and distribute it amongst those still running trains at closing. I’m betting more than a few people would stick around to find out what that would be!

  3. This is an issue with every train show…anywhere. The only thing that would stop this is to hit them in the pocket book. Warning them on the 1st occurrence, next time, add an extra $10 per table. Next occurrence, $20 per table. Eventually, they will understand, but maybe not. You will have to include the wording in the original contract that they sign so that there will be no misunderstandings. I do not have a solution for Exhibitors, since I have never been one. Do the show sponsors pay them to be there ? Do they get free passes ? Withholding either of these would be a deterrent for bad behavior.
    I can understand that in this season, football or a TV series may seem more important to them than the train show, but after all, you knew the hours when you signed up. Yeah, I can understand that you drove 6 hours to get here, and it will be 2200 before you get home, but unless the weather is bad, or as Trevor said, you have a family issue, you should honor your commitment.

  4. I’ve always found this to be an issue too and was disappointed that members of my club, the Credit Valley Freemo group, were guilty of packing up early this year as well. Especially since our club is the one hosting this show meaning we have the least distance to travel to home. We did have some modules and persons from groups not in the local area, but even then they didn’t have too far to go either.

    We’re hoping to bring this up along with the general packing up early issue we experienced this year during the next meeting to try and mitigate it happening next year.

  5. When our club cut back from staging a two day show to a one day, Saturday only show a few years ago, this was one reason. Sadly, we have lost most all of our “local” dealers and layouts to time, and we have ended our run of shows all together.

    Ah, but we are left with memories. Here’s a good one… for years a larger dealer used his tables to unpack, inventory, and price new stock at our show. If others would pack up early, he would move into their abandoned spaces!

  6. I don’t have any magic solutions- the trains might get shorter, but given that I brought a layout from Victoria to Great British Train Show in Brampton, I can’t see travel distance as an excuse. (I dropped it off in Fergus that night, and still made it back to Young/Finch by 10…so that too, is a poor excuse…). I get, I am on the young side of the crowd of exibitors (under 40 still…just), but still. Whenever we do a show, we try not to pull down until in the last 20-30 min of a show, and even then, I will try to leave trains running until the end of the public show, and just start on all the auxillary stuff which accumulates like magic at a show. (things like stanchions can often be taken down ahead of time, because the crowds have thinned out…). Still, at GBTS, we ran trains until the very end on Sunday, and had a kid about the same age as my older lad watching us. (Bayer-Garatt…yes, he was autistic…but he thought it was an amazing sight). I’d have felt bad short changing him of running trains until the end of the show. We did go down to only 2 trains (from 4), by the end, but it still isn’t hard to pack a layout that is even moderately well designed in less than 2 hours. The longest part of most of the times I have been at shows is getting vehicles in & back out of the arena.

  7. This is a difficult one. If an exhibitor is paying for tables, then I kind of understand them, while I don’t agree. There really isn’t a good way to keep them there, except for possibly having a door prize drawing for the exhibitors perhaps. Or a bit of a refund given out after the show closes?

  8. Its a tough problem. The now former Ottawa Train Expo had in their notes to exhibitors that those packing up early the first year would not be invited back to future shows. I don’t know if/how it worked or if they followed through on the threat.

    Your thoughts on this show are interesting Trevor. I was hoping to write something about it later this week when i have some time. I was there on Saturday, and my concern isn’t quite the same, as a customer, i find many vendors are not putting our hobby in a good light. Exorbitant prices for ancient junk, moldy books, and god knows what. Its why i don’t go to too many shows, there is nothing to see or buy far too often. Too often sadly, i use a trip to a show as a means to confirm that something i am looking for cannot be found from a local vendor to ease my concience that i’m not helping to kill our brick and mortar retailers or the shows by buying online.

    The problem of packing up early is a very real one too, as if people can only come on Sunday afternoon, they are made to feel less important or that they haven’t received value for their money to come in the door, and are less likely to return. Its something that needs to be tackled, but i’ve got no idea how. Even at the museum with our two day show with just a couple of layouts at Doors Open Toronto, some of the layout guys are packing up really early. There is one though (who wasn’t at the Brampton show) who we can’t get rid of at the end of the day as the shows are his chance to set up and run trains.

  9. Having been on both sides of this issue, I do have to say that attending a show, I do feel somewhat cheated by vendors/exhibitors when they are not set-up/running when the show begins, or if they shut down before the show ends.

    In a movie theater, they don’t stop the movie before before the show ends (although sometimes I do leave! ; > ) and neither should the people stop exhibiting/selling prior to the show scheduled end.

    Now having both at times, been a seller and also a person running trains on one of the display layouts, I do know that by the time the show is winding down, you can be pretty tired, and you not only have to pack everything up and vacate the premises, you still have to deal with everything you brought to the show. So yes, I certainly can understand the temptation to wind things down early, but you shouldn’t.

    I feel that if you have made a commitment to sell/display, then you should honor that commitment, and if you are not willing to honor your promise, you shouldn’t be there in the first place!

    Yes, it is a lot of work, and a lot of times, not very much appreciated it seems, but it really is. The layouts/displays exhibited as well as the sellers (if that is part of the show) ARE the reason(s) for that show, and the reasons that people come (some for quite some distance!) and pay good money for the entrance fee.

    I really don’t know an good answer Trevor, I doubt there really is one. Don’t invite them back, and risk losing part of the reason for the shows success? But you can hardly force someone to stay against their will. Perhaps some sort of written agreement that reaffirms the need to stay until the shows closing? But how to enforce it? I just don’t know.

    But I know that I most certainly agree with you. And I think it’s a good subject to bring up. Hopefully, someone else has some good ideas, preferably based on experience, rather than fantasy.

  10. If you sign up to present at a show, knowing the hours, then a commitment has been made.

    The only way for this to stop is to not invite offenders again, but this will only work if all organisers do it in concert, and are prepared to take the hit on the entrance receipts for a year or two.

    As with everything in life, concerted peer-group pressure is the best way to change behaviour.


  11. I was there Sunday and was disappointed that people were packing up early , Especially those running trains. My Model railroad budget being $0 (Ok $19 I bought some woodland Scenics snow) for the short term means that while I looked at the venders I was really there to see trains. people packing up the trains early was a disappointment. Next year i’ll be trying to get there Saturday but like this year maybe it will only be Sunday i can get there and if people are packing when i’m there and i can’t see trains I probably won’t make the effort to go back any time soon.

  12. Brother Trevor!
    I couldn’t agree more with you.
    When I was hosting the Indianapols S Scale Show a few years ago I told vendors and layout owners that I would not stop them from packing-up early, BUT the would not be invited back. These shows were officially one day with a set-up/Social on the eve proceeding the Saturday show. Well I never had to enforce The Rule. I had problems get folks to pack up because we were having so much fun.
    4:00 Means 4:00…
    “Know it! Learn it! Live it!”

  13. I have been a displayer, vendor and a buyer at train shows for more than 60 years. I get very angry when I see people packing up before the end of an event. I made sure that when I was a buyer, to be there early to be able to see everything that is available to buy. I then go back around to make my purchases. If I find a vendor packing up early I make sure to tell the vendor that I had been around earlier and made note of several locomotives and a complete set of freight cars that they had for sale. I then tell them that since they are leaving early I will not be buying from them, ever. Sometimes I’m telling the truth and sometimes I’m not. I hope the vendor thinks they have lost several hundred dollars in sales, not only that day but in future sales as well. I know that I can find the items somewhere else, sometimes for less, but I know some of the vendors take it to heart and stay set up to the end the next time they are at a local show. When I was a vendor and when I was a displayer I always stayed set up not only to the end of the show, but usually five to fifteen minutes past closure time. When I was displaying I always had a special train on standby for a youngster to run for themselves. Not only did the youngster have a great time, but parents really appreciated the “break” for themselves, but also the opportunity for their child to have an experience that was special to them, but one that was theirs to enjoy and brag about amongst their friends. I continue to let children have an opportunity that their friends may or may not have the opportunity to experience. I have, most years, open houses at my home for model railroaders and their families. If they bring their children, the children get the opportunity to run a train. I also volunteer each year to have children from the local elementary school come as a part of their series on “Transportation” to learn about the role of railroads in their world. My neighbors ask why a school bus came to my home and stayed for an hour or so. I tell them that the children are taking part in a class on “Railroads and their world.” I got off track there, but I think it is worthwhile for modelers to go beyond the walls of their layout room.

  14. Trevor,

    I have found this to be a disappointing occurrence as well. Even more disappointing for those of us who work, know the show is open for almost two hours after you get off from work and then pay to get in to find some of the vendors you wish to visit are packing up..and this is on the Saturday of a two day show!! How disappointing.

    One model railroad club had even shut down their layout and it wasn’t even close to closing time.

  15. Great chain of replies.

    I’m pretty certain there really is no answer to this problem. Enforcement by the show’s host could possibly minimize the issue some. Say… vendor are charged an extra $20.00 per table at the time of signing up; they get the “fee” back only if they are still selling at the end of the show’s run. Or… clubs only receive a “thanks for coming” award (i.e., $$$) if their set-up is still operating at the close of the show.

    Another issue that may be a part of the problem however is the show’s host might not be giving vendors/clubs enough time to pack-up at closing, I know of one case where the show running to 5:00 pm. yet everyone was expected to be out of the building by 6:00! Thus far, none of the “early” leavers have stated their reason(s). Any of you out there?

    – Vic

  16. When I was reading Trevor’s commentary, I started to wonder if it is a cultural, i.e. geographical, issue. Here at the shows in Houston, none of the exhibitors start packing until maybe 15 to 20 minutes before closing. Most of the time there is no public around anymore. What we do at about that time is taking parked cars out of the yards. We always have one, but usually two (mine being one of them usually), trains running until official closing time. We have one show where the venue demands that we are outta there by 6pm, so they moved the show closing time from 5pm to 4:30pm, so that we could all be done by then. Otherwise, I don’t see that happen a lot here. Certainly not one or two hours before closing! The *vendors* may pack up early on a slow Sunday show, but, hey, that is their loss (of potential sales). The solution of hitting the clubs/exhibitors in the pocket book or not being invited again sounds like a good one to me. Our club’s viewpoint is that we are being paid to have trains running until closing, so that is what we do.

  17. Perhaps a hefty deposit on entry… pack up early and forfeit the deposit. Stay, and get your deposit back- even better, split the forfeited deposits among them!

    The early quitters couldn’t complain, because they would know upfront what the deposit was for?

    Just a thought…

    Steve Hunter

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