Last weekend saw the latest Derby Worlds event. This show has always been my personal favourite of the year: lots of great looking games and an excellent selection of traders, many of whom only attended this show in my area – plus it was held within 30 minutes drive of where I live.
This year, the show was even closer, as it had moved from its previous home at Donnington to Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground, which is south of Leicester. This move raised more than a few eyebrows, especially from those of us who live locally, as we know that the venue is in the heart of the Leicestershire countryside – it’s quite literally in the middle of almost nowhere – which suits its primary function as a testing facility for the defence sector exactly. However, as a venue for a public event, maybe not so much.
The last time I was at Bruntingthorpe was for an airshow, about 20 years ago, so I knew approximately where it was, but not exactly. So despite only living in Leicester we still used the satnav, and got lost when it insisted on taking us through the old industrial estate to a road that was blocked by a large locked gate – an issue which was not unusual, as I discovered during the day.
I went to the show on Sunday, so I had already seen a number of posts on social media about apparent issues with the show, so at least part of the reason for going was to find out if the comments were true – I must admit, in the back of my mind I was thinking “things can’t be as bad as all that, surely” – I was to be proven wrong.
To start on a good note, the entrance to the building (a reasonably large hall) was light and spacious, and we were even allowed to pay for entry by debit card, which was a most welcome addition (more cash to spend with traders). There were a couple of games in this area, and these looked good and had plenty of space – then we moved into the main hall…
The hall seemed to be divided roughly into a 1/3 – 2/3 split between the gaming tables for the tournaments (which were going on all weekend) and the trading and demo/display game space.
What became quickly apparent was just how tightly everything was crammed together. Aisles between the gaming tables were only about 3 – 4 feet wide, which meant getting around to see any of the games being played was, to say the least, problematic – there simply wasn’t room to move, especially when you take into account the chaps who were actually attempting to demonstrate or play the games in question.
I usually plan to take lots of pictures of the games at Derby, as clubs usually put on some great looking tables, but I quickly gave up on that idea as there simply wasn’t enough room – now I admit that I’m a large bloke, but when the gaps between tables vary between one and two people-widths wide, then trying to navigate your way between them just isn’t practical. It was also disappointing to note that the number of games seemed to be much less than normal – probably about half of what you might have seen at Donnington the previous year. Again, this was probably due to space restrictions.
To add further to the problems, all the trade stands were also crammed into a small area. This meant that the aisle around the edge of the show was probably no more that 4 – 6 feet wide, and most stalls were along very narrow avenues.
With everything packed so tightly together, several things were quickly apparent:
- It was difficult to stop and browse, or stop and chat, at any of the trade stalls – if you did, you were likely to block the aisle. Most were wide enough for two people to just about squeeze by each other, but for those people in wheelchairs – and there were several around – it must have been a nightmare.
- Since access through the aisles was poor, if an aisle was blocked with people, you were more inclined to not bother looking down it and simply move on.
- I found it difficult to find traders – I specifically wanted to visit Pig Iron Productions, but completely missed them all day. I only noticed their stand when I examined my photos in the evening.
- When you did get in amongst the trade stands, it actually felt quite claustrophobic.
- Trade stands were so close together it was sometimes difficult to determine where one stand finished and the next started. (I heard a couple of stories of customers attempting to pay the wrong people for goods)
- It was hot – especially when the sun came out. The venue didn’t appear to have any decent cooling system working (certainly the ceiling fans made no different whatsoever) and the hall got very warm in the early afternoon.
- The refreshments provided on site were expensive
So, from a punter point-of-view, the layout of the show was not conducive to you stopping to browse, be it game or trade stall – if you did, you were likely to block access for those around you, so you simply didn’t feel comfortable in doing so.
It did also cross my mind what a fire marshal would have to say about the entire set-up.
If the whole experience was uncomfortable and negative from a ‘punter’ point-of-view, the picture that emerged having spoken to several traders (with one notable exception – see later) was even worse. To summarise the points that were made to me:
- Cost of stands had increase by 25-30%. To put this into perspective, I was told that on a square-footage basis, the trade stands were more expensive at this show than at Salute.
- Floor space provided was smaller than what was booked, which led to many traders not being able to display their full stock, or have their usual access – especially for the walk-in/self service style of stall.
- Due to space restrictions, traders were packed very closely together – both to the stands either side, and also to the stands to their front and rear. Lets just say that people got to know each other very well. Working in those conditions for two days is not a pleasant experience.
- As a result of the space issues, several traders felt acute embarrassment when disabled and wheelchair using customers simply could not gain access to their stall
- Access for set-up and break-down was restricted, and due to lack of any stewarding by the organisers was something of a scrum.
- Sales were down by around 50%
The whole issue of space, and why it matters, becomes more apparent as you discover the following fact – the style of stall where customers can walk in and serve themselves tends to generate 25% more sales than those stalls were customers have to ask for what they wish to purchase. These style of stalls generally need around 9′ of depth to allow full, safe access. This had apparently been cut to around 6′ by the organisers for all stands, so this lack of space directly affects potential sales.
As a an extra observation, you get the impression something isn’t quite right when the Warlord Games demo table (being run by Leicester Phat Cats) is at the opposite end of the trade area from the Warlord stall. And Warlord are one of the show sponsors…
The other issue was footfall, or the apparent lack thereof. One of the main issues with the venue was simply its location – as I said earlier, it is in the heart of the Leicestershire countryside, far from any form of public transport. It’s also 40 miles south of Derby, which equates to the best part of an extra hour’s car journey if you were travelling from the north of the country. It would seem that this too had an impact on who attended the show. Again on evidence from traders (who know their regular customers) it was mentioned that several faces who they would expect to see were notable by their absence. Since all these were from the north of the country, moving the venue south could be a factor in them not attending.
Several sources quoted a figure of around 750 people attending the show on Saturday – compare that to around 2,000+ who attended the Saturday of the show last year when it was at Donnington.
The upshot of all this was simple – traders struggled to break even over the course of the two days.
Why is this important?
- Would you consider working a full weekend, potentially 10+ hours each day, for no reward?
- Based on previous years, traders may have based their financial budgets on certain peaks of income – if one of these is significantly reduced, it can put the entire budget at risk. This is how traders go out of business, especially if things are tight due to a time of economic slow-down…
Some traders were very blunt about their feelings:
Another trader said to me “If ever you wanted to present an example of how NOT to organise a show, this event would be perfect”.
Since Derby Worlds is a tournament show (one reason why it runs over two days) why is all this discontent amongst the trade community important? Simply this – whilst the tournament players pay to play in the events, I suspect that the lions share of the bill for venue hire comes from the charge made to traders for their stalls. If traders cannot make a profit from the show, they will not come. If they don’t come, you cannot afford to hire the venue. No venue, no show.
I did mention earlier that there was a notable exception to the story being told by traders. One trader had a good weekend – one of their best of the year other than Salute. There are two things worth noting in this:
- It was their first trip to the Derby show, so they didn’t have a year-on-year comparison
- They probably had the best trade spot in the whole hall – on the end of an aisle with plenty of room around them. It was the one place where I, as a punter, felt that I could easily stop, look and spend time (which, in fact, I did…)
As a visitor, there were a few positives to take from my day at the show, but they all relate to social interaction – meeting and chatting with old friends, podcast listeners and traders. As I think I have said before, these days, I very rarely go to shows to buy products – unless its from a trader I very rarely see elsewhere – but rather to see the games and chat to as many people as I can in the day. In this respect, the day was a success, as I got to have a lot of conversations – although, one subject did tend to dominate them (well, there was another, but let’s not start talking about Aeon One!)
As I said at the start of this piece, Derby Worlds has always been my favourite show in the wargames calendar so to hear about, experience and report the problems from this year pains me somewhat. I have already heard several stories of punters who attended this years show and have said they would not return if it was held in the same venue (which it does appear to be, at least according to the show brochure). For every person who voices that opinion out loud, you can be sure there are several more who are thinking the same thing, and in this case I would count myself amongst them.
Changing a venue of a show is always a risk. In the case of shows like Hammerhead and Partizan, we have seen how it can benefit and revitalise, but we have also had experience of the negative effect, and dare I mention Triples at this point? The demise of the Triples show was an example of what can happen when you lose trade support, and it was quoted to me as an example of what could happen to Derby Worlds several times during my visit.
It would be a great shame if Derby Worlds was to disappear from the UK gaming calendar, but I fear that unless radical action is taken following this year’s event, there is a real danger of Derby Worlds gong the same way as Triples.