Learning All the Moving Parts: Choosing a Show Venue

From The Monthly Column "Learning All the Moving Parts". ShowSight Magazine, October 2017 Issue

A familiar saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.” If we tweak that to apply to dog shows, it is hoped that “If we rent it, they will come.” Kennel clubs can certainly improve the likelihood of that rosy forecast if they choose wisely, keeping their exhibitors, judges and budget always in mind.

Your club may already have a workable show site… but what happens if the cost of renting it becomes prohibitive, or the show building gets torn down? You will surely need to find a new facility in short order if you are not to lose your show dates. We reached out to three experienced show chairs for their advice on finding and keeping a great venue. Dianne Tyree is the Assistant Show Chair for the Souhegan Kennel Club in Nashua, N.H. Danelle Brown is the Cluster Chairman for the Heart of Texas Cluster in Austin, Texas. Mary Strom-Bernard is the Past Show Cluster Chair for the Rose City Classic in Portland, Oreg. All three also happen to be AKC judges so they bring that added perspective to the table. Tyree, Brown and Strom-Bernard urge show committees to keep the following important considerations in mind when shopping for a venue.

Affordability. This one might seem like a no-brainer but not everyone sticks to a household budget and similarly, not every show chair has a head for figures. Brown says, “Affordability is  key. Expensive sites would mean we’d have to raise entry fees and I think that would hurt our already shrinking entries.” Tyree suggests looking into community colleges as a possible show site. “They have a mandate to hold certain events during the year and so a local dog show might be something they would absolutely welcome.”

Availability. A potential show site that looks and sounds perfect might not be available over a weekend. In many parts of the country, availability will also influence whether you go with an indoor versus outdoor site. Brown says, “We want to be able to get our site under contract for at least four years out. Logistically it just makes everything run smoother knowing you have the site locked up and what to expect the following year.”

“The Dog Fanciers of Oregon is one of the oldest clients of the Portland Metropolitan Exposition Center,” says Strom-Bernard. “Our cluster of dog shows is right in between two major spectator shows. The Portland Boat Show is the weekend prior and, due to inclement weather in January, there have been times we have had to wait on our set-up day for boats to finish leaving the venue. A few times, our RV parking crew has had to mark out RV spots around the boats still in the parking area.”

Accessibility. Is it fairly easy for people to get to the show site? Are there motor home restrictions? “You can get off the highway and then find that you’re looking at another half-hour of travelling on local roads, which will not make exhibitors with motor homes happy campers,” says Tyree.

Brown says they had the option of going to a new, slightly better site for about the same cost but they decided against it because it was more than an hour further from the airport. “Our current site allows most judges to catch flights home the night they finish judging if they so choose. This is a convenience for them and it saves the club the extra night’s hotel charge.”

Brown says they discovered “the hard way that expensive RV hookups can also be a deterrent to exhibitors. A couple of years back our site more than doubled the price they charged for RV parking and our entry took a big hit. A site that had outrageous parking rates or no RV parking would be scratched off our list.”

Permits. These are a pesky consideration but you ignore them at your peril. Do you need state approval to hold a dog show at this site? Do you need town approval? Is a fire inspection permit required? Public versus private property will determine the answers.

Strom-Bernard’s venue requires a fire inspection permit and “the fire marshall makes an inspection sometime during the first few days of the show. This has never been much of an issue as the requirements are clearly outlined.”

Venue size. Be realistic about the number of dogs your show is likely to draw and look for a site that will work best with that size entry.  “Accommodating a 500-dog entry and a 2,000-dog entry are two very different things,” says Tyree.

“We prefer a large covered area but if the smaller venue was all we had as a viable option we would take it,” says Brown. “Exhibitors love it when they have ample, free grooming and the vendors love it when they can be in the main exhibitor area. In the Southern USA horse arenas are popular venues. They are usually relatively inexpensive and have ample room.”

Parking. “Plenty of, preferably, free parking is important since it’s often one of the first encounters with your show an exhibitor will have,” says Brown. “If it’s a hassle to find a spot or exhibitors have to park half a mile away, they are going to start the day in a bad mood and we don’t want that.”

“Every year at the Rose City Classic we field exhibitor complaints about parking,” says Strom-Bernard. “Some of those could be alleviated if exhibitors would take advantage of the reserved parking for the run of the show that we offer, and/or allow a generous amount of lead time for unloading and parking in advance of their ring time.”

Food service. “Find out if there is a local food service, and if your show date conflicts with some other event nearby that would hire the same food service,” advises Tyree.  She finds outdoor show sites easier in this respect. “Indoor sites often have catering restrictions, with no outside food allowed in,” which reduces options and can get expensive.

Brown views food service as a lesser concern. “It’s fabulous when you can get a great food vendor (like our current site has) but I don’t think food is going to make or break a show. One thing our club does do, though, is offer complimentary donuts and coffee in the morning to exhibitors. People need their coffee!”

Strom-Bernard encourages clubs to take advantage of bringing in local food carts that would likely be quite pleased to have a captive audience in need of a quick meal. “Some of these food carts are even tech savvy and allow ordering online. Our venue at the Portland Expo Center offers both small specialty food concessions in one central area and concession stands that are located in each of the different buildings. The Expo Center has a small restaurant open during events that has a seating area as well as a bar, and it is quite popular with our exhibitors.”

Porta-Potties. Is there a place within reasonable distance where you can rent these and are your show grounds accessible to their delivery? “While our club does not deal with Porta-Potties,” says Strom-Bernard, “we do shop ahead of time for companies that can offer an RV clean-out service at a reasonable price. Many of our RVs arrive Tuesday to Wednesday and stay through Sunday evening.”

Tenting. “If the show site is outdoors tenting is definitely required,” says Brown. “Living in the South, I wouldn’t be willing to go to a show that didn’t have it so I wouldn’t expect any other exhibitors to either. Tenting can be a huge expense so if I had an option, almost any indoor site would be chosen over outdoors.”

Hotels. This is a primary concern for your judges. Tyree says that “if we had two options, Hotel A charging $130 per night with a shuttle to take judges to the airport, and Hotel B charging $100 per night but requiring a club member to drive judges to the airport, we would absolutely go with Hotel A.” Ideally, the hotel has a restaurant on-site that opens early for breakfast and stays open for dinner. Failing that, there must be a restaurant within easy walking distance.

Brown agrees, acknowledging that with the “dwindling number of working club members, having a hotel with an airport shuttle is a godsend.  We are willing to pay up to about $50 a night more to have the judges at a hotel that has an airport shuttle and a restaurant. I want my judges to be happy. Happy judges make for a much better show!”

Strom-Bernard says that while she is fortunate that her cluster’s host hotel offers an airport shuttle as well as a shuttle to and from the show grounds, “we have one shuttle for exhibitors and a separate one for the judges. We have designated club members who can take judges back to the hotel in between the shuttle’s scheduled times and this system has worked very well for us.”

Because her host hotel does not serve breakfast early enough for the judges who need to be in their rings at 8 a.m. and with no other restaurants within walking distance, Strom-Bernard’s cluster “now provides a full buffet breakfast at our venue for the judges. It is very popular and has worked out well on a cost basis.”

Clusters. Many clubs have gone from stand-alones to a cluster out of necessity. “The dwindling number of available show sites and open weekends is forcing clubs to merge,” says Brown. “The pros to clusters, in my opinion, are mainly convenience. It’s nice to drive to one show site, set up and be good to go for three to five days. That, of course, requires you to be a professional handler, retired or someone who doesn’t have a nine-to-five job. On the flip side, several of my friends complain that they can’t go to as many shows now because it would require them to take days off work. Since in this area the closest show can easily be six to eight hours away, many people just go to fewer shows. If the local clubs stayed local and were on separate weekends, they could attend, but unfortunately that’s not always possible.”

Strom-Bernard acknowledges that working together with another club is “always a challenge but over the years, our two clubs, the Dog Fanciers of Oregon and the Tualatin Kennel Club, have worked extremely well together and it has continued to be a very successful cluster. We have members who belong to both clubs and communication is very good.”

Stewards and staffing. “Ask yourselves if you have enough experienced club members to steward at your show—and, if not, do you have the budget to hire a stewards club,” advises Tyree. In Brown’s case, “We have to hire a stewards club for our shows. That is easily $3,000 to $5,000 depending on the size of show. We manage it because we have no choice. The one positive thing I will say is that having professional stewards does help keep rings running smoothly and the scheduling of breaks and lunches for the stewards is someone else’s headache.”

Strom-Bernard says “our club has a few members who steward but for the most part, we hire stewards, providing them with lunch and free parking. We do allow our members to exhibit dogs at our show so there is no doubt this cuts down on the number of available members left to steward. Our club is no different from many other all-breed clubs with an aging membership. That means more jobs for which we have had to hire outside contractors. Our hospitality and clean-up crew are hired and they do an outstanding job. It works well for the crew we hire as they are landscape professionals and it offers them employment during a typically slow time of year. We host the Rose City Classic Student Art Contest too, and I have hired 4-H and sports groups to hang the pieces of art on display boards. With an average entry of 300 to 400 pieces of art it is too much for one or two people to complete in an evening.”

Finding a suitable show venue that serves your exhibitors while coming in on budget is all about addressing a wide assortment of moving parts. Allow your club sufficient time to investigate the options available so you can make the very best long-term decision possible.

For more than four decades, Allan Reznik has been immersed in the world of purebred dogs: as a breeder, exhibitor, award-winning journalist, editor, broadcaster and occasional judge. He has been the Editor-in-Chief of multiple show dog publications, all of which have won national magazine awards from the Dog Writers Association of America while under his stewardship. In 2011, he won the prestigious Arthur F. Jones Award for Best Editorial Column of the Year, given by the Alliance of Purebred Dog Writers. Allan appears regularly on national TV and radio discussing all aspects of responsible dog ownership and is quoted widely in newspapers and magazines. He has successfully bred and exhibited Afghan Hounds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Tibetan Spaniels, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Afghan Hound Club of America and the Tibetan Spaniel Club of America. He is a member of the Morris & Essex Kennel Club, the Western Hound Association of Southern California, the Gateway Hound Club of St. Louis (charter member) and his two local all-breed kennel clubs.



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