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Well, another Hamfest in the books. This adventure took us to Joplin, MO for the JARC Hamfest. It was BridgeCom's first time at this Hamfest. Here are my impressions of the show both good and "needs improvement."
We arrived in Joplin after a 2.5 hour drive and grabbed some lunch to make sure we were fueled up for the hamfest. The event was held in the Hammons Convention Center just off I-44 and Rangeline Road. The hospitality of JARC, Joplin Amateur Radio Club, was excellent. We were pleasantly greeted and shown our table. Our display this hamfest consisted of the 220 mobile, 220 handheld and BCR Repeater, product literature, business cards and our DMR and $995 BCR Repeater banner.
Then I set out to find other vendors and the entrance for attendees. Hmmm, curious... It is unclear where people would enter the event hall. Will they come in the loading dock or the main entrance? The next thing I noticed was the vendors were put around the edge of the hall with the "swap meet" in the middle. This is different from most hamfests we have attended, we will see how this affects traffic and flow.
I found the tables of Grapevine Radio (Ham Radio 2.0), Alpha Antenna, MTC, Ham-Crazy, WB0W and others. The afternoon started off slow with just a few attendees. I would guess the vendors and swap meet folks outnumbered the attendees for the first few hours. The lull in traffic allowed us to get to know our neighbors from the Xtal Society, www.midnightscience.com. We enjoyed their conversation and learned a lot from them, hopefully they learned something from us too.
By 5 pm the show was starting to pick up and we had some good traffic. Their was lots of interest in the BCH-220 HT and the BCR-220 repeater. The BCM-220 mobile had a few lookers that thought it looked like a solid unit. As 5:45 rolled around the burger and brat dinner was going strong. I was impressed, my food very good and the other food I saw looked really good too.
We left the show about 8 pm and headed out for the evening. Ron headed to the track for a run. I headed to Applebee's for the Kansas City Chiefs game, food and beverage. By the way the Chiefs won 14-13 beating the Seattle Seahawks in preseason game 2!
Saturday was a lot busier. When we arrived just before the show open to set up there was already quite a crowd milling around looking at the various swap and vendor tables. Again interest in the BridgeCom Systems 220 MHz family of products was good, but not great. Through our discussions with hamfest attendees we determined the penetration of 220 in the Midwest isn't very good. Several asked if inventory of the BCH-220 was available to buy at the show. We heard, "I'd buy one today if they were available now." We believe they will be shipping in September. We also had people asking us to make products for 6m, 10m 900 MHz and other band radios and repeaters.
Steve from Alpha Antennas stopped by to say Hi. He was nice enough to help BridgeCom by taking some 220 MHz product literature to Huntsville Hamfest for us. He was very impressed by the attendance and quality of the hamfest. Jason from Grapevine Radio (Hamradio 2.0) also came by to say Hi. He was walking around the show getting some video for his upcoming video blog. We talked about 220 MHz and the products we offer. We talked about the September release date for the BCH-220 HT and BCM-220 mobile. It was his first time to have the HT in his hands.
During one stretch of the hamfest, 1.5 inches of rain fell on Joplin in an hour. The creek next to the convention center flooded causing Hammonds Lake to form in the Southwest parking lot. Most of the cars were moved before it got too deep. Some unlucky patrons were wading out to rescue their cars and spent the rest of the day in wet clothes and shoes.
Shortly after JARC did the grand prize giveaway the hamfest cleared rapidly. Unfortunately this was a couple hours before the end of the show. We packed up at this point and headed home early.
My assessment of the JARC Hamfest is this. The hamfest is well run and JARC is very hospitable. The event space is above average and it's convenient to get in and out of for vendors and attendees. I'm not a fan of the set up of the event. It is geared more for an indoor swap meet than a place to discover new products and see what is available on the market. A small layout change to keep the vendors together near the loading dock could help this.
I believe a change in how vendors versus swappers and attendees enter and exit could help as well. Those that are displaying could enter and exit from loading dock, all others through the main doors. JARC should make the entrance something special and make the attendees feel welcomed, almost celebrated. Maybe a goodie bag with a sticker, T-Shirt, special prize drawing ticket or something like that. I hope the event can grow large enough to sell out the hall attract other large vendors. be a really great event.
We had a great time and will look forward to next year.