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A New Golden Age of Model Engineering Exhibitions

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Neil Wyatt22/10/2018 10:54:03
17970 forum posts
709 photos
77 articles

So, what do you think would start a new 'golden age'?

People are complaining about value for money. In all fairness, how about comparing the cost of an exhibition ticket to a couple of hours at the cinema, a concert or a day at a theme park or a castle/stately home?

I think people are expecting to pay 1980s prices and don't realise just how much it costs to stage one of these events - they certainly aren't cash cows.

Internet shopping has made them less and less relevant to traders, especially the big machinery companies (who have enormous transport and staff costs) who would take up a large amount of space (and pay for it). That leaves gate admission to make up the shortfall in costs, but if you have to keep ticket prices down to attract visitors...

Every show needs to make money - even those put on by clubs are with the intent of helping to top up the club's coffers against the effects of leaky roofs or wayward Council policies.

Businesses obviously need to show a return, and so do all the traders, and as that gets harder so does running a show.

The changes inevitably mean shows today are unlikely to match up to those of the past. the result? Every show is followed by posts bemoaning how it wasn't as good as it used to be and in it's turn this feeds a vicious cycle of reduced attendances and reduced spending leading to fewer traders.

With vicious competition from various online outlets, the trade have had to cut all costs to the bone. It's now very hard for them to justify four or even five-figure costs to attend a show.

It's made even worse as now people go to a show to look at machines - while furtively looking for a better deal on their phone...

So what can be done to usher in a new 'golden age' of model engineering shows?

Lots of people are thinking on this issue.

One idea is shorter shows, just two days, so exhibitors only have to commit to a single overnight stay.

Another could be widening the range of activities and interest or even combining shows - perhaps. This has been unpopular in the past, but it may be the only way to get the numbers of visitors needed.

Could exhibitors operate differently - bring fewer machines and less stock, focusing on demonstrations and taking orders to be fulfilled by rapid delivery the following week?

Charging more for visitors but giving more in return, such as a free programme, or a voucher for food or even to be spent at the show?

What ideas do you have?

Ady122/10/2018 11:17:52
3741 forum posts
519 photos

Put a VR (virtual reality) show up on the net for a quid or two so people can look round the place and see what they're missing if they don't turn up

Sometimes people need a push into making the effort in our modern hurly burly society

Journeyman22/10/2018 11:33:18
805 forum posts
141 photos

Why not go the whole hog and make the show entirely on-line. A posh front end web-site to carry 3D images of exhibits and goods for sale. On-line voting for competition classes. Club stands could be built slowly through the year instead of in a big rush. Plenty of scope for individual entries with the added benefit that each entry could be fully documented and explained. A small fee to browse perhaps allowing prize money or goods for class winners.

Exhibits of course not limited to static images and could include video and drawings. Problem of course is the same as a "real" show, namely who is going to organise it and put the web-site together. Would probably come down to the media / publishing businesses to set up. Suppliers would be able to show a virtual lorry-load of equipment without the transport costs. Not quite sure how the on-line catering would workfrown

One day perhaps!


Edited By Journeyman on 22/10/2018 11:45:55

Juddy22/10/2018 11:51:23
67 forum posts

Demonstrations of machinery in action would help, a 'few teaching sections (I would pay extra for this), so you can come away from the show having made something - which for the beginner would be great, also how to use the particular tool/lathe attachment/milling accessory etc., along with 'this model was made on this machine' type display.

Working in H&S I don't see a problem with offering the above if correct PPE and precautions are put in place, the excuse of we can't because of H&S is more like we can't be bothered to do this properly so won't bother to do it at all.

At the moment a few small running models, some static displays and a load of trade stalls doesn't give very good value on the entrance ticket price. I understand the ever increasing costs, but to give an increased cost without moving the show forward in what is offered is just going to kill the hobby.

But I do find it strange that I have to pay to enter a hall in order to buy the goods on offer, I don't have to pay to enter a shopping centre, why not separate the displays from the commercial stalls and only charge for the engineering models part, this should increase footfall for the trade with those just attending just to buy at show prices, of course the trade stands will still have to balance the cost of their pitch against possible increased sales, but if classes could be held during the show within the chargeable section this would keep interest.

I'm sure if you let a potential buyer of a machine use that machine at the show he/she is more likely to buy, especially if you can give them a delivery date or sell them the machinery they are actually trying.

Mike Poole22/10/2018 13:09:08
2621 forum posts
63 photos

I went to the Screwfix show a couple of weeks ago which was free entry, I assume that as the show was basically all the suppliers to Screwfix they and Screwfix hired the exhibition centre. A standard 10% discount was applied across purchases at the show. I doubt anyone made money out of the event on the day and the cost is probably on their promotion budgets so they would hope to recover the cost on future sales. Similar shows have been done in the past like the Axminster show which had many of their suppliers displaying their wares. I went to the Goodwood Festival of Speed for the first time this year and a number of tool suppliers had serious displays, an audience of 300,000 potential customers probably make the promotion and some on the day sales all worthwhile. Have the shows for the modelling community become too specialist? Is a show for model engineering too much of a niche these days? Are the shows for Model Railways, Model Boats, Model Aircraft, Maker Shows etc. all in a similar predicament of falling attendance from punters, suppliers and exhibitors? It is apparent from the threads on this forum that many of the model engineers actually have wide ranging interests so maybe a bigger show with a wider range of interests represented might solve everybody’s problem. Punters would have plenty to look at, suppliers could use their budget on a big show instead of multiple small ones or none at all. What to charge is a difficult question, I think the last motorcycle show I went to was £25 to get in but there was a lot to see. A Glastonbury ticket is £300 ish to stand up to your tits in mud for the weekend or spitting dust, people have plenty of money to spend on things they really want to do,a ticket to see UFOs last tour is £30 to see a 70 year old Phil Mogg go through the motions, I will be there but I might be hearing Strangers in the night in my head. £10.50 for the Midland show was not bad value I thought, it won’t buy you 2 pints in London or 3 in my local. It costs more to park your car at the NEC for a gig or a show. I called in at Disneyland Paris on my way home from Italy last summer and to park your car is £25(the robbers). I doubt that most people who indulge in a modelmaking hobby of any type could seriously plead poverty but of course the depth of people’s pockets is variable as is the perception of value for money. Perhaps a survey of the wider modelling fraternity could gauge the appetite for a multi denominational show and what they would pay to visit. Location is always a difficult one, everyone would like it on their doorstep but how far would the travel? London is probably the best connected location but an overnight stop is bad news for punters and suppliers, from some of the location clues from members of the forum we are spread far and wide so some are lucky to have an easy trip to a show and others have to make a serious effort and expense to attend. I recommend south Oxfordshire as although no shows are on my doorstep most are a comfortable drive for a day trip and a few days in Yorkshire for the Doncaster show is very pleasant.


Edited By Mike Poole on 22/10/2018 13:10:11

Jon Lawes22/10/2018 13:24:58
380 forum posts

At the Bristol show the Salisbury Model Engineering society was one of the few that was truely hands on to kids, quite a few others were (understandably) a bit guarded. My son was encouraged to use some of the things that members had made, presumable especially for the exhibition, such as a spiragraph type machine and a few others.

We need to be appealing to a new generation of engineers, or when this generation goes the hobby goes with them...

Zebethyal22/10/2018 14:31:22
194 forum posts

I have no answer for you, but can likewise see both sides of the various arguments - I used to attend, then trade at some of the Aircooled VW shows, I never made a profit and often made a loss (usually as a result of theft). I have now ceased trading and no longer attend as a visitor - I have no interest in 'trailor queen' cars and would only be attending to meet up with some people on a club stand, that I could do for free on their club night anyway.

I have little to no interest in most of the club stands at the model engineering shows as I am not that interested in trains, planes, static models, etc. I can appreciate the level of work that has gone into them and applaud those who have put in the effort to produce these models, they are just not my cup of tea.

I mainly attend looking for second hand bargains, or a good deal on some new tooling, or some stock that would otherwise be expensive to post. But if the price being offered is the same as the trader's shop, then I may be saving some postage, but that has likely been cancelled out by the travel and ticket costs.

On the plus side I can actually see the items in person, many items when viewed on a website have little indication of scale so size can be hard to judge - as an example many wood cutting bandsaws from tiny desktop ones to 14+ inch cut all look very similar in a picture, only seeing them in person gives a real idea of their actual size.

I found the Sandown show that included the Maker area interesting - I spent twice as much time in the Maker area as the rest of the show, although even here I was looking for ideas since nobody was offering anything that I actually needed - I have built my own 3D printer and lasercutter from scratch. Looking for ideas was the same reason I used to attend the TCT show at the NEC, (which is free, but incurs the £11.00 parking fee + travel) but after the initial "wow" of the first year, it held less interest on my second year and I did not bother last year or this year - it had already lost its appeal.

I took my son to the show at Alexandra Palace a few years back, and whilst not the target audience at ten years old, the only stand that caught his attention was the Robot Wars stand that I struggled to prise him away from. He didn't come the next year, which was just as well as that stand was no longer in attendance and I would have just had him moaning at me the whole time.

As mentioned at the start I don't know what the answer is for this, or any show, I didn't want this post to come off as negative, but unless the shows can find a way of bringing back the 'wow' factor and somehow keep reinventing themselves I fear they may be doomed.

Edited By Zebethyal on 22/10/2018 14:31:51

Colin Heseltine22/10/2018 14:37:44
423 forum posts
125 photos

All the organisers do things a little different to each other. At the Bristol show it was nice to be able to go upstairs and see all the model planes and other related stuff such as the flying simulator and dedicated helicopter area. These are not particularly "my thing" but I can certainly appreciate the effort and care (and expense) that has gone into the models and enjoy walking around.

The bit I really liked was the ability to see models (in particular) model i/c engines being run outside. I am trying to build an Anzani 'Y' engine and to see Mike Coles Anzani running was brilliant. It gives an incentive. H&S must not stop all these live activities.

Some of the groups who might want to display models are not necessarily official clubs (e'. I/c engine builders group) and they should be encouraged.

There was one stand at the Midland show where a guy was using a 3D printer to make model "steam type" engines. Its still Model Engineering.

Personally I think need to get other model disciplines involved, so as to get greater footfall. If this means merging shows then so be it. Better a merged show than NO show. A number of the trade suppliers will cross boundaries into other hobbies.


Bazyle22/10/2018 14:44:20
5296 forum posts
201 photos

The peak of shows must have been the last MEX at Olympia. Wide range of hobbies including aircraft and dolls houses (which prompted whinging by the same idiots who can't turn off a tv show they don't like)), easy unloading and drive to stand for big machines, car parking for exhibitors, and it's own station on a train line from Rugby to Brighton that allows plenty of connections. A bit of cooperation from the railways (ok rather difficult) could see exhibitors using hotels fifty miles away and visitors using a park and ride.

When I organised amateur computer fairs (40 years ago sad) we balanced the stand cost to pay for the venue so all admission was profit. Entrance 75p and queues right round Central Hall Westminster. I think we distributed £75 to each of the 14 clubs in the ALCC.

Mark Rand22/10/2018 15:26:32
900 forum posts
5 photos

Might not be organisationally or financially viable, but how's about a model engineering show at the Great Dorset Steam Fair? Footfall of up to 200,000 for the traders. Additional attractions for the visitors and exhibitors.

Geoff Theasby22/10/2018 17:10:40
613 forum posts
17 photos

A few years ago the Makers shared with M. E. at Sandown Park. I gather that they grew so fast they now have their own show.

Several groups now hold shows at 2-year intervals. Manchester in Feb 2019!


Rik Shaw22/10/2018 17:23:07
1344 forum posts
364 photos

"a model engineering show at the Great Dorset Steam Fair"

What a great idea - I’m there already. thumbs up


not done it yet22/10/2018 17:34:57
4748 forum posts
16 photos

Our day cost us about £225 on Thursday. That was everything for my wife and myself. Fuel (~125 mile round trip), food, tickets and purchases. Of that grand total, just £17 was for tickets. OAP, and bought on line - I understand on-line tickets were available until 05:00h on Thursday morning. Very good entry value for a day out.

The venue does not seem large, but it was enough for me. Free parking close by and no traffic jams were bonuses.

Trade stand costs were too high for some - at least one trader will not be back next year.

I would have spent about £90, on the net, for consumables required (maybe bought one or two items I could have ‘got by’ without). The two items that did cost, and I would likely have never bought were some alutiight and another digi caliper - a left handed one, with large digits, from m-dro for easier use on the lathe.

There were few bargains, but I did not really expect them - but did find a couple of items I would otherwise had to continue searching for. I don’t count cheap chinese rejects as bargains.

The venue obviously tries to clear its costs from (mostly up-front charges - to the traders)? One seller’s ‘fair’ I go to covers all the venue costs from retailers and the profit is the foot-fall.

The Midlands show had some lectures and demos. The Cup Alloys one was likely standing room only for some, I think, so popular. (I enjoyed Gary Wooding’s presentation last year)

Overall, a bit of a balancing act - traders or visitors - I benefitted from the chaep entry. Not too distant, no excessive queing (at least with pre-paid entry), met up with a fellow forumer, found some useful items of interest, tried out a new supplier (JBcutters), tired myself out, saw some fine examples of exhibitor work and had a very enjoyable day out. It is the only one I go to, so I’m happy, but the organisers do need to cater more for children - we are only getting older - but perhaps there were more there at the weekend?

One needs two days to get round even most of Dorset steam. OK for exhibitors, but not for traders - particularly those with heavy machinery.

Paul Kemp22/10/2018 21:33:17
515 forum posts
18 photos

An Exhibition by default (as highlighted by Neil in another thread) requires exhibits. So surely the primary consideration of organisers would be attracting exhibitors as without exhibits, there is no show. Given that the average loco or traction engine takes between 2000 and 3000 hours to build there isn't going to be an infinite choice of 'new' exhibits each year. There will be a good pool of models built in the past that have never been shown at an exhibition though. So there is a way to get variety. In order to get the builders to show these models though there needs to be at least some incentive. Tickets should be a relatively 'low cost' incentive to organisers, giving tickets to exhibitors for every day of the show is hardly going to have a big impact on the bottom line! Arranging 'secure' transport to collect and return exhibits before and after the show would be a greater cost but may be a way of widening the net? Organisers negotiating a corporate rate for local hotels for exhibitors is certainly zero cost to the organiser and assists the exhibitor in reducing expenses. Negotiating an exhibitor rate for food at internal outlets and covering the cost wouldn't cost a fortune either. When our club exhibited at Sandown there was a room set aside with an urn and free tea and coffee for exhibitors, again not a massive cost but a sweetener for exhibitors. I do not expect to be paid to display my models but niether do I expect to pay to display them when it's a 'commercial' enterprise. To take my traction engines to events where they charge on the gate I expect free camping and free entry for me, the wife and any of my kids that want to come. Free evening entertainment and a bag of coal is a nice bonus. If you want to charge me to exhibit though or make it difficult, forget it, I will go elsewhere.

Traders; I think they are getting a raw deal. Through Internet sales etc, margins are getting smaller. Looking at Traders as a way of generating income or even as some have suggested covering costs to enable the 'gate' to be profit is also narrow minded. An exhibition is perhaps not a trade show but having the major suppliers present helps everyone. Visitors are able to see first hand the products, twiddle the handles of machine tools, look at the quality of castings etc etc. They add an extra dimension for the visitor. Would I go to an exhibition where there are only models / own made tooling on display - probably not. Where there are things to see and stuff to buy - absolutely.

It's not really rocket science. I find it hard to believe there are not significant amounts of money being made either by the venue or the organisers. It would be nice to see some honest accounts for one of the major shows detailing the visitor numbers and gate takings, the income from rented trade space and concessions and the costs for venue rental, security, insurance etc. Maybe a reset is needed here where maybe the organisation could be done by say ME or MEW and arranged at zero profit, zero loss. Howls of laughter....... Ok difficult to achieve in year one but if its arranged to achieve a small surplus this can be ring fenced and carried forward and whenever in the future a halt is called the resulting surplus is donated to a nominated charity. If you take the profit out of it then it's hard to claim you are not getting value for money, it costs what it costs.

I'll get my hat!


Watford22/10/2018 22:37:20
129 forum posts
11 photos
Posted by Mike Poole on 22/10/2018 13:09:08:

Is a show for model engineering too much of a niche these days? Are the shows for Model Railways, Model Boats, Model Aircraft, Maker Shows etc. all in a similar predicament of falling attendance from punters, suppliers and exhibitors? It is apparent from the threads on this forum that many of the model engineers actually have wide ranging interests so maybe a bigger show with a wider range of interests represented might solve everybody’s problem. Punters would have plenty to look at, suppliers could use their budget on a big show instead of multiple small ones or none at all.


Mike Poole makes perhaps a very valid point in his long appreciation of the situation. May be the diversification of modelling titles has led also to the diversification of shows.

I went (was taken !) to my first Model Engineer Exhibition immediately after the war, in 1946, at the tender age of ten. Things were then very much as Mike has posited. Pretty much all branches of modelling were represented, and whilst the level of my pocket money precluded much more than a tube of balsa cement there were many trade stands. In the following years the show spread to both Horticultural Halls and you got a pass out to cross the road to yet more exhibits. I was a regular attender until the Queen insisted that I go and play with her other troops for a couple of years. Later, at Seymour Hall, we even had the benefit of a splendid swimming pool for the boats, though a portable pool was usually set up elsewhere. Usually there was live steam along one side of the hall at most of the venues. Model Aircraft were not left out with a cage for control line flying, and RTP cars used the same area. There were many aircraft models on display, and associated trade. The clock-makers were there in force.

Enough of this nostalgia !!!   And I have only got to about 1976. But I just wanted to emphasise Mike's point. regarding the many branches of our hobby vis-a-vis the half dozen or so My Time Media modelling titles. Perhaps by bringing some or all of these together in a good suitable venue the rot could be arrested.

This would no doubt require some sanction from a high level but I believe that Mr Owen Davies to be a very reasonable guy and might very well see that this could be a useful venture. Perhaps the various title editors should talk to one another on the subject and ask for a meeting.



Edited By Watford on 22/10/2018 22:39:47

Edited By Watford on 22/10/2018 22:40:38

Nicholas Farr23/10/2018 06:45:51
2318 forum posts
1137 photos

Hi, maybe a significant reduction on their following magazine subscription fee may encourage people to enter their work, either in the competition or display categories.

Regards Nick.

Geoff Theasby23/10/2018 07:37:19
613 forum posts
17 photos

Paul Kemp thinks people make lots of money from exhibitions, and talks of 'honest accounts'.

I find this insulting. I volunteered to help at recent MEXs, paying for my own transport & accommodation. Steve Eaton & Mike Law were also volunteers, I believe. MTM is a business, and if it were so easy to do, lots of chancers would be trying it. Try checking the cost of hiring a venue, insurance, and so on, then taking brickbats from troublemakers claiming there are vast profits to be made!


John Haine23/10/2018 07:56:54
3183 forum posts
172 photos

Practically I don't think the Midlands venue has the parking space to expand the range of models much. You would need extra space for the exhibits too, and the available exhibition space gets uncomfortably crowded as it is. And the Fosse Way and A425 got pretty congested early on. So the ideal model show needs to be somewhere else with good public transport, lots of space, and reasonable parking. Ally Pally fits that bill.

JasonB23/10/2018 08:02:37
18329 forum posts
2024 photos
1 articles

Even the Guildford show that has it's own grounds so no venue hire hardly make a profit and in previous years when the weather has been bad they have made losses due to the smaller numbers through the gate. This is why they have now changed format as they can make the same small amount of money from a running day as they can from the whole show and none of the risks or hassle to organize.

MTM is made up mostly from Part time staff who hardly have time to get the mags out let alone organize a show with the help of the many volunteers. On the other hand Meridian are a show company and are therefore in a better position to put on shows.

I do think it would be better to have several branches of the hobby covered by one large show just like in the days of MAP when all their titles were catered for as many of the trade stands would have a cross over between the hobbies so bigger incentive to traders if there are more punters for the same outlay. Plus more to see for visitors.

I also like to see exhibits in the American style (and Guildford) where the exhibitor gets allotted table space and can be present to chat about their models and possibly even run them rather than just being stood on a table with other entries in a comp or display class where a steward can't be expected to answer more than basic questions about them. This is what Dave was wanting in his thread the other day and also what Mike T did along with fellow IC Engine Builders Group Members.

JasonB23/10/2018 08:04:49
18329 forum posts
2024 photos
1 articles
Posted by John Haine on 23/10/2018 07:56:54:

..............................Ally Pally fits that bill.

I suspect they would have a much higher bill to that needs to be covered.

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