When we took our annual bus trip down to the Toledo Weak Signals Expo this year, I was pretty critical of the show overall, and said I would detail my thoughts on how the show's organizers could best revamp the experience and return the show to its days of former glory. What follows are those thoughts.
Expand the Scope
For decades, the Toledo Show has focused on model airplanes, helicopter, and more recently, drones. This makes sense, given the club that organizes the show is, in fact, a model airplane club. For the first sixty-ish years the show has been around, that formula worked just fine. The recent downturn in the model aircraft industry, however, has left the show gasping for air, not only due to lack of attendance, but also lack of exhibitors — in fact, the shrinking number of exhibitors is the primary problem facing the show.
Expanding the scope of the show will be key in rejuvenating both problems. While the Weak Signals club allows all types of radio controlled vehicle manufacturers to attend, they haven't been actively recruiting companies like Traxxas to make the trip to Toledo. Securing booth space for Traxxas would encourage Horizon Hobby to bring their own surface products, not to mention the brands acquired from their recent acquisition of Hobbico. Other surface companies, like Team Associated may follow suit as well.
Fewer Foreign Vendors
It's hard to get away from the foreign influence pervasive in our hobby, but a show in the heart of the Midwest shouldn't have American companies and vendors outnumbered by the foreign ones. Replacing as many as possible with American companies, possibly the aforementioned R/C surface companies, would focus the show as a celebration of American hobby products — something sure to win the praise of all the American companies supported by the domestic hobby industry.
Pump Up the Excitement
One of my favorite things about the old (and now dead) iHobby Expo was the level of spectacle. Everywhere you turned, there was something to see and do. From a twenty-foot long slot car track to multiple R/C car tracks, the old iHobby was ten levels of exciting (check out the video [right] we took at the iHobby in 2010). Toledo will never be as bombastic as iHobby was in its heyday, but getting exhibitors to set up, or at least sponsor, some rock crawling courses and R/C car tracks, drone racing areas, or other such activity areas would engage the crowd for much longer, and when people stick around, the sales increase. From concessions to people trying it and then buying it, the venue and vendors alike will love letting consumers actually get their hands on a hobby-grade R/C product.
Turning the Toledo Show into an R/C extravaganza for every R/C discipleship would bring in more crowds, more money, and ultimately make the show relevant again. None of these things are going to be done in a year, or even two years, but if the Weak Signals club wants to continue the show for another sixty-four years, they must be proactive about seeking out new and exciting exhibitors, giving people more to do than walk the aisles, and getting the word out about the show to reach a new audience. I hope they can revive the show — it's a staple in the hobby world and it would be a stunning shame to see it vanish.