mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hamfest is dying...

I tend to get in on things right before they hit their peak. I got an MIS degree right around the time of the collapse. I bought a house right before the housing bubble collapsed. I bought a pickup right before gas prices started their unending upwards climb. And I discovered hamfests right befor people stopped going to them.

Hamfests, for the uninitiated, are a sort of swap meet for ham-radio enthusiasts. While many of the people who buy and sell at them are ham radio folks, many are just random computer geeks, electronics junkies, homebrew types, ect - there is a lot of crossover. The people who sell at them are a blend of people trying to unload their old equipment or clean out their basements, professional sellers of ham radio accessories, like antennas or coax cable, and professional or semi-pro sellers of stuff like used electronics or computers - often auction or store return stuff.

In this mix is madanthony. I sell a mix of stuff that I got free or cheap after rebates or on clearance and stuff I've bought at auctions or the occasionrral yard sale item. I also sell stuff I've had that I don't need anymore, and occasionally stuff I've found in the trash at work. I discovered hamfests a few years ago, and realized selling would be a good way to unload stuff that was too low-value or heavy to be worth ebaying. And I've noticed that in the last year or so, the number of people at hamfests - buyers and vendors - seems to be dropping.

Two years ago, I sold at the Fredrick father's day hamfest. It was actually one of my favorites - it was big, there were lots of vendors, and I sold a bunch of stuff. I went last year just as a buyer - bsom was off getting married, and it's difficult to sell alone because you can't browse, and you don't have anyone to watch your money and merchandise if you leave to pee or get something to eat. It seemed a little smaller.

I went again this year, and sold again. I did OK profit-wise, but mostly because I sold two rack-mount servers that I bought at an auction for $7 a piece for $100 each. I didn't sell nearly as many small items as normal. But more importantly, their were a lot fewer vendors this year - probably about half of the number that were in past years. Lots of vendors were complaining about the scarcity of sellers.

Some vendors were also complaining about the way it was run - the guy next to me was told he was going to be charged for two spaces because he had pulled up a little farther than they would have liked so he could set up one of those canopies. They finally left him alone when he pointed out that there was a telephone pole with a guy wire in front of him, so nobody would be parked there anyway.

I don't know if I'd go as far to say that it's the people who run hamfests' fault that attendance and sellers are down, but I do wonder if they could do more to attract vendors. The standard means seems to be the web and fliers at other 'fests. I wonder if print media, craigslist, and other ways would attract more customers. I also think they should stop emphasising the ham aspect and play up the other aspects of hamfest - electronics, computers, ect. In recent years, electronic hacking and building - magazines like make and nuts and volts, sites like hack-a-day - are appealing to people who may have no interest in ham radio, but may like a good swap meet. Often at hamfests, I'll hear ham radio old timers talk about how glad that most of the vendors are radio sellers and not computer/electronics folk - but if it wasn't for the computer/electronics folk, there probably wouldn't be enough interest in hamfests to keep them up. Hams need to embrace the computer nerds and circuit bender types - they are subsidizing hamfests.

Fredrick isn't the only 'fest that's shrinking - Timonium was a lot smaller this year than in the past. It's also the only one I go to but don't sell at - because it's expensive to sell, tax-enforced, and because it's usually big enough that I want to see what other people are selling.

I'm hoping that hamfests continue to exist - I often find stuff I can flip for a profit on eBay, and I'm usually able to unload a decent amount of stuff and make some money - not enough to get rich, but enough to make it worth it. The beauty of hamfests is that I can load a whole bunch of stuff in my truck and try to sell it at no extra cost - not like eBay where I have to pay for each item I list - and I don't have to write descriptions, take pictures, worry about paypal chargebacks or nonpaying bidders, or pack and ship stuff.

It's obvious that ham radio isn't as popular as it used to be. Last year at Fredrick, by some miracle, I won 2nd place in the door prize drawing - a ham radio. It's still in the box on the entry table in my house. Every hamfest I go to, I run into the president of the club that runs Fredrick, and he asks if I've gotten my license yet. I haven't. It's on my list of things to do - really - but it takes a back seat to work, doing stuff around the house, blogging, going to the gym, bar trivia, and trying desperately to meet girls. And the idea of chatting with random strangers doesn't really appeal to me - shit, I don't even like to talk to people in person or on the phone. I can imagine other people who actually have lives find ham radio even less appealing.

I think with some correct marketing, the hamfest can be saved - as a computer/electronics/ham radio festival and swap meet - but I'm not sure that will ever happen. And then I'll need to find a new venue to sell my crap.


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