In a recent note on Twitter, the organisers of the Derby Worlds show announced that the 2018 event would not be going ahead.
You may remember that the event last year was problematic, to say the least – I wrote a blog post about the show at the time.
In something of an unprecedented step, Leon at Pendraken Miniatures published a post on their Facebook page, detailing from his and other traders point-of-view the full story behind this piece of news. It’s a story very much worthy of reading.
Since not everyone has access to Facebook, I asked Leon if I could reproduce his post on this website – to which he very kindly agreed.
The following text was published at approx. 16:00 on 23rd July on the Pendraken Facebook page, and makes an interesting parallel story to our own blog post from last year.
As some of you might have seen, over this past weekend the Derby Worlds organisers confirmed that there will be no Worlds event this year and that they are going to be back in 2019 with a new venue. Sadly there is a lot more to this than most people will be aware of and there has been a lot of discussion over the past 9 months. It’s not often we make announcements like this, the last was after the final Triples show, but sometimes these things need to be said.
So if you’ve got a few minutes to spare…
After the 2016 Derby Worlds event in Donington, it was announced that KR Multicase would be taking over the organisation for the following year. Due to Donington no longer taking external bookings, they had to move venue and decided on Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground to the south of Leicester. This immediately raised concerns among many of the traders as this new venue is quite literally in the middle of nowhere, there are no main roads, no public transport and no hotels.
The prices for a 6ft trade stand were increased, but KR were doing a lot of advertising for the event and its new location, online and in magazines. However, the stand depths had also been reduced, making the stands almost as expensive as Salute on a £ per sq/m basis. Many of the traders contacted KR about this, but we were generally told that a 6ft depth was ‘standard for most wargames shows’ even though this is clearly not the case. Despite the reservations, the traders were generally hopeful that the new venue would work, we’d been told by KR that the added advertising would lead to 2000+ visitor numbers and so we hoped that things would be OK.
Sadly this was not the case and the event was as one trader put it ‘The worst organised event in 40 years and 750 shows of trading.’ This covered everything from finding the venue, the unloading access, the size of the trade stands, the parking and finally the attitude of the organiser. There’s a lot more that can be said at this point, but we don’t have space for it all.
Now a venue change is always a difficult thing to pull off, we’ve had to do it ourselves, but there are some basic questions you always ask of any potential venue:
Is it big enough for the event? – No. Despite the new venue being about 20% smaller than Donington, it seemed that the organisers had just crammed in the same number of traders/games/competitions from the previous year. This bordered on dangerous and an off-duty fire officer visiting on the Sunday said that he would have shut it down. Wheelchair users couldn’t get down the aisles, there was 4ft gaps between game tables and our aisle was maybe 5ft across.
Is it easy for people to get to? – No. Getting to the venue meant travelling down country roads, less than 2 cars wide.
Is there public transport to the venue? – No.
Can the traders get in easily? – No. Once 8-10 vans had got lined up at the only access door available, the others were left with walks of 100 yards or more to get their stock in. There were fire doors that we weren’t allowed to open and a pair of hangar doors that we were told don’t open.
Is there accomodation nearby? – No. The nearest hotel was nearly 30 minutes away and expensive.
Is there catering on site? – Yes. We can tick this box as there was a catering tent on site.
Now there will always be compromise on those questions, it’s almost impossible to find a perfect venue. But when you’ve got a ‘No’ to the most important aspects, it’s difficult to understand how this could be seen as a good choice? Again, there’s some sympathy for them at being dumped out of Donington, but if a suitable venue couldn’t be found then would it have been a better idea to just have a year off and come back bigger and better in 2018.
When you combine all of the above, the end result is never going to be good. In the 9 years I’ve been attending shows full-time, I have never seen the traders so frustrated and angry at a show organiser. The dismissal of any concerns and at times the arrogance when dealing with people who had paid a lot of money to be there was infuriating for many of us. After the event, there were extensive discussions among the traders and 26 companies co-signed a letter to the Worlds organisers, raising our concerns and asking for some feedback on what was going to be changed for the 2018 event. There were several more companies who agreed with the letter, but didn’t want to sign it for fear of repercussions.
Now, I know that sometimes traders get stick for complaining about things, but for over a third of the traders at an event to come together in agreement is unprecedented in this industry. The letter was constructive, clear and polite, offering positive feedback where possible.
Shortly after the event, and before our letter was sent, the traders received a lengthy email regarding the show. The email went through several points but was generally blaming the poor venue on Donington for forcing them to move, blaming the poor setup organisation on the table company and blaming the space restrictions on ‘a small minority of traders who took a very selfish line…’ This email stated that the ‘vast majority of attendees enjoyed the event’ which was surprising considering the lack of positive comments anywhere online, where nearly everything had been overwhelmingly negative. Another highlight was ‘As anticipated, the overall number of attendees was down…’ despite them telling us repeatedly that they were expecting over 2000 visitors. There was no ownership at all of the issues that everyone had experienced, or even a basic apology for the event not being what we all expected it to be.
The trader letter was then sent and we received another lengthy response from Daryl at KR. Without posting the whole thing, they admitted that with all of the potential issues with the venue it would be better to have cancelled the 2017 event, but Daryl decided to run it anyway. Two traders were named and shamed for taking more stand space than they should have and causing all the space problems, yet other space offenders (who coincidentally hadn’t signed the trader letter) were not mentioned. The rest of this email continued to blame a variety of factors with no acknowledgement of their own failings and the traders were essentially told that KR had saved the event and if we didn’t like it we should go and run it ourselves.
The one concession given in the response was the space constraints of the venue and that they’d be looking into hiring a marquee for the 2018 event to put the competition games in and allow more of the floorspace to be used by the traders. This is a good idea, but not really practical given that there’s not a lot of spare space outside the venue without taking up car parking spaces.
At this point things went quiet, as with no real response to the traders concerns, each trader was left to make their own decision as to whether they would attend or not. This decision was helped by the introduction of two new shows, Tabletop Gaming Live in London and Chillcon in Derby, so many traders have chosen to attend these instead.
Over the first few months of 2018 there were several messages to KR/Derby Worlds asking whether the show was on and what dates would it be. Replies confirmed that it would be at the same venue on the same weekend as usual. There were no trader forms sent out, but we were told that it was just a staffing issue and that the forms would be sent out after Salute.
At the start of May we were wanting to get our hotels booked for the rest of the year’s shows, so with no information from KR/Derby Worlds, we rang the venue to confirm the dates for the event. At this point we were told that the event booking had been cancelled at the start of the year and there was no Derby Worlds for 2018. The person at Bruntingthorpe told us that due to KR signing a 3 year contract with them, they were supposed to pay a cancellation fee, but on the basis that the event wasn’t happening, they had agreed to waive the fee.
So despite the event booking being cancelled, KR were still telling everyone that it was happening for this year at that same venue. Obviously this came as quite a shock to all of the traders and people we’ve spoken with, even more so when the public announcement of this has only just come to light now. There are competition gamers coming from the USA who have booked their flights and accommodation based on this false information.
Many of the traders have contacted KR between May and their announcement, to get info or booking forms for the event but we’ve all been told the same ‘Yes it’s happening and we’ll have the forms out soon.’ However, one trader was told ‘We thought you weren’t coming this year’ and when he queried why they thought that, the response from KR was ‘It might be worth checking your sent items then and checking what you co-sign.’ This immediately raised the concern among the traders that anyone who had co-signed the letter was now blacklisted from the event. This may still be the case as with it now being cancelled we’ve got no way of knowing who would be getting an invite.
I’ve tried to summarise everything that’s been happening as best I can but there’s a lot that’s been left out. Highlights include:
– The organisers refusing all offers of help and advice, even from people involved in the previous Worlds events.
– One visitor asking in advance of the event on their Facebook page if service dogs were allowed in, but no response to their query.
– One trader querying having to park our vans in a field, who was told ‘Well there’s no rain forecast and if you do get stuck I’m sure we can find a tractor.’
– Members of KR’s own staff who quit the week before the event, including the person who was supposed to be running the Aeon One game.
– The main organiser of the show left his own event on the Sunday to avoid talking to the traders.
– One trader since the event has been offered a half-price stand for keeping quiet and not complaining.
– The Donington venue was £18,000 to hire for the weekend, the new Bruntingthorpe venue was £12,000, yet the trade stand prices went up.
– The creation of the Aeon One game, something that many of the other traders have got quite strong feelings on.
– The Derby Worlds Facebook page having no updates after the event, not even a ‘Thanks for coming’ or similar.
And this brings us up to date, so thanks for reading this far.
This whole situation has been a long 9 months for the traders and could have been avoided if the Derby Worlds organisers had just acknowledged the issues from the start. Mistakes happen but you have to take ownership of them and work on what can be done better next time. Instead, the organisers have blamed everyone and everything else and see themselves as the saviours for this show. As it stands now, there are 2 (possibly 3) new events at that point in the calendar that the traders will be looking at instead, and a large number of the visitors who came to the Worlds won’t be going back again.
Now there are always two sides to these things and I understand the issues that were caused by losing the venue, having staff quit, tables arriving late, all of these things. I’m sure KR will say that they’ve tried their best, but the way that they’ve dealt with people has been unprofessional and bordered on arrogant.
I don’t know what the future is for the event at this point. The traders have tried to explore other options in the Derby area but the affordable venues are too small and the big venues are too expensive. With the number of traders who won’t be attending the event again, maybe a smaller venue can work, but I would worry about the organisation of it under the current management.
I hope the event can continue in some form as it was such a staple on the wargames calendar for so many years. I also have a huge amount of sympathy for Nigel and the guys who ran the show successfully for so many years. There were niggles along the way but they took them on board and grew the show constantly. To see things unfold like this must be quite difficult for them.
And finally, I’m sure that by putting my head above the parapet like this, Pendraken/Minibits won’t be welcome to attend either way, but sometimes these things need to be said. The traders have tried everything we can behind-the-scenes for months, so maybe it’s time for all of this to be made public.
Here’s the TMP thread after the show and also the Meeples and Miniatures blog post about the event:
I am sure you will agree that this makes for very interesting reading.
Full marks to Leon at Pendraken for being willing to share something like this – as was mentioned above, ‘breaking ranks’ on a subject like this can invite repercussions with real business impact – something worth considering when you operate in a niche market.
Given all the issues highlighted above, I for one find it difficult to envisage how Derby Worlds will recover from this. Part of the issue revolves around the expense of hiring venues – many events use what profits have been gathered from the previous year to cover the booking fee/deposit for the next year. Break the cycle, and suddenly you have a funding gap which may be impossible to bridge.
In addition, it appears that the organisers of Derby Worlds now have something of a credibility problem with a number of traders. Like it or not, Traders make shows happen – it’s the money they pay for trade space that enables shows to go ahead. Again, break this, and you put your event at risk.
I will be seeking a response to this from the organisers of Derby Worlds – I will let you know what happens.