Hamfest Review: Fort Wayne Hamfest 2015

Since 1989, I have been to many, if not most, of the annual hamfests in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Last year I was a bit disappointed in how much it had shrunk and I went on an editorial rant on how I would change things.  Well, they did make a few changes that I had mentioned, and I think it was a bit better.  Since they don’t seem to announce attendance, I don’t have any firm numbers.  It’s still sad that in our current environment of successful and growing convention-style hamfests that Fort Wayne isn’t enjoying the level of success and growth that the Texas Ham-Com, Orlando Hamcation, or California’s Pacificon are seeing, given the many positive things going for Fort Wayne.  In fact, so that I don’t come off as too negative, I’m going to quote myself from last year’s post and list the many positive things about the Fort Wayne Hamfest:

…let’s detail the many positive things that the Fort Wayne Hamfest has going for it:

  1. Location — it is within driving distance from many areas of the Midwest and Great Lakes.  Microsoft Streets and Trips lists the following cities within a three-and-a-half hour drive of the Coliseum:  Chicago, South Bend, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Flint, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, and Indianapolis.  Another thirty minutes of drive time extends out to Milwaukee, Youngstown, Traverse City, Louisville and Lexington.  And even here we’re almost reaching Pittsburgh, Peoria, and Springfield IL.  Fort Wayne may be your standard “boring” Indiana town (I grew up in South Bend so I’m allowed to say that) but it’s not a bad place to visit.  There are plenty of hotels there as well for those who don’t want to make it a day trip.
  2. Venue — the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum is a beautiful place with wide open exhibit halls and plenty of parking.
  3. Time of year — The Fort Wayne Hamfest is held almost exactly six months before the Dayton Hamvention.  Which means it’s held almost exactly six months after the previous Dayton Hamvention.  Which means right about the time that you’re hankering for a nice large hamfest, it’s mid-November and time for Fort Wayne.
    The downside to mid-November is the weather.  This (and the layout of the Coliseum, probably) precludes outdoor tailgate sales and may affect participation due to the errant early winter storm.
  4. Admission costs — Admission to the Fort Wayne Hamfest is only $5 for both days.  It’s $4 for Sunday only but from what I saw this year on Sunday, very few people came.  Some of the vendors packed up and left Saturday afternoon.  The Hamfest used to have extended Sunday hours of 9 AM through 3 PM but this year it ended at noon.
    The Coliseum charges for parking as well — it’s $5 per car per day with no in-and-out privileges.  Come as a group and it’s not that bad.
  5. Vendor costs — Vendors can rent a table for as little as $25.  Premium tables are $50 and electrical hookups are $30.  It doesn’t cost much to set up a place to sell stuff.

There were two positive changes from last year.  The first was that the Sunday hours were extended to 2:00 PM.  It used to run until 3:00 but last year, when it ended at noon, Sunday was a waste.

Second, and yes I am listing this as a positive change, the admission fee increased to $6.00 for both days, and the Sunday only ticket dropped to $3.00.  $6 is a fully reasonable price to pay for a two day event, and I would estimate that the Allen County Amateur Radio Technical Society (AC-ARTS) could probably get away with adding another buck before any real complaints occurred.

Even with these improvements, it is till nowhere near the glory days, as it was still only held in Expo-1 and -2.  But it seemed to be more crowded and more of the tables seemed occupied.  I think that it was because the narrow aisles in the commercial half had been widened and a row of tables had been taken out.  But the visual effect of this was somewhat pleasing, even if it is a concession to their shrinking crowds.

They still have a marketing problem.  This is also a quote from my post last year:

In my opinion, which is worth about 35 cents taking inflation into account, the one single problem is… MARKETING.  The Fort Wayne Hamfest seems to still be using the same two-page mailing that they used 25 years ago.  I like their logo, but someone get creative here!  And send it out a little sooner.  I live in Fort Worth, Texas.  I received my two-page flyer about seven days before the hamfest.  I’m not going to be suddenly convinced that I need to go to a hamfest 860 miles away if I find out a week prior to it.  Also, using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I have found their 2001 Hamfest main page and General Hamfest info page.  Here are the Wayback Machine’s snapshot of the 2014 main page and 2013 General Hamfest info pages for their 2014 hamfest last month (I used the latest available Wayback Machine snapshots to keep the links from changing when this article is read in the far future.  Here are the current “live” main page and general hamfest info pages).  You will notice that over the span of 12-13 years (and probably longer but I reached the limits of the Wayback Machine) the web site has barely changed at all except to make the dates and other stuff current.

One thing changed in 2015, and one thing only.  I got my same two page flyer a few weeks earlier.  Other than that…. nothing else changed.  Nothing.  Their website is the same old design with the dates changed, and their two page flyer was almost identical.  AC-ARTS simply must improve their marketing if they want to grow again.  This should be their number one priority–they need to market their convention.  They need to convince people to come.  They can’t treat it as an annual project.  They must sell it as a product:

When a hamfest is the single or most important annual fundraiser for a radio club, when the profits from this single annual event determine how active your club will be, how many potential hams you can elmer into the hobby, or how many public events or emergencies that you can serve, then you MUST treat it as a PRODUCT, not just a project.  The Dayton Hamvention is a PRODUCT.  Ham-Com is a PRODUCT.  Pacificon is a PRODUCT.  The Orlando Hamcation is a PRODUCT.  They have nice websites.  They are a DESTINATION.  They are something that hams look forward to from the day that the previous year’s event draws to a close.

In addition to all of this, they could stand one more improvement.  The Fort Wayne Hamfest has forums.  Nobody knows about them because the only places where the forum schedule can be found are on small letter-size postings near a couple of the doors and by the administration booth.  Apparently they are also posted on their website in early November but I forgot to look.  And then I get to the show and forget to look.  The forums should be announced more prominently.  They should try to get some well-known speakers like Joe Eisenberg KØNEB, who wanted to do a kit-building forum there but couldn’t reach anybody to arrange it.  Forums are a good way to fluff out a visit to a two day show that only takes half a day to walk through.  They are really the only thing to do there other than visit the flea market.

The Fort Wayne Hamfest has a lot going for it, and it’s in an area of the country that is very close to Dayton.  About the time you hit mid-November and are six months away from Hamvention, the Fort Wayne Hamfest comes nigh.  It’s a good way to get your hamfest fix.  I’d love to see AC-ARTS come through and bring this show back to glory.



(Published from DFW, Texas)


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