THE WORDS in the column this week are not mine, they were written for the newspaper last week by one of our regular columnists, Steven Seymour.
Steven is Austalian but settled in the UK a few years ago and is well known for his Beagriff Griffons. He became a columnist during my time as editor of Dog World after he had written a series of well put together, well reasoned letters. Since then he has written his “Seymour Sense” column on a monthly basis where he regularly argues that the Kennel Club in the UK should be more democratic.
In his column last week Steven took a look at the format of the all-breeds championship show here in the UK and asked whether it was time for a rethink. The big shows here run over three and sometimes even four days and Steven questioned whether this was still a relevant format, “What we have now is everybody travelling in business class, while we all know that economy will still take us to the same place,” he points out.
Anyway here’s what Steven had to say in his Dog World column last week.
“Are we about to see the end of three day shows? Are two day weekend dog shows coming to a club near you?
“This is not some crazy concept but a simple reality of the coming era we are facing in the show world. Most of the shows this summer season have been running with numbers below 7,000 actual dogs entered and if this is to be the norm then two day shows must surely be following. What we have now is everybody travelling in business class, while we all know that economy will still take us to the same place.
“Take a look around at shows such as Leeds or Richmond and you have to be impressed by the luxury of the scene. We have large expansive grounds with huge space between the rings. The whole showground layout is one of space and leisure. There is an unmistakable atmosphere of calm and beauty. The trade stands are spread out in long lines the length of the rings and the official dinning tents etc are stylishly placed well back from the general hustle of the main judging areas. This is all very nice and certainly makes for a dog show that is very familiar to us all but is this sustainable?
“Tradition needs to be balanced with the financial and practical constraints of today. Any show with less than 7,000 dogs must surely be restructured so that it can run across two days rather than three. I have judged at numerous shows with those numbers over the years and they have all managed to run on showgrounds much smaller than any of the large and often beautiful settings which we are used to here in the UK. It might be time for shows to take a serious look at the structure and model they operate under. LKA is running a two day show, it does so because the costs of three days hire at the National Exhibition Centre would be much higher and it does so because it has the space needed to accommodate the dogs. So if we go back to the summer shows I have mentioned and ask ourselves what would be the limiting factors of such a change?
“Space must be the first consideration and I believe that all the shows have not only enough space; they have excess space. It is all a matter of how the show is designed. The luxury of large rings and leisurely judging may well need to be streamlined into a much more time efficient model so that rings are used all day.
“Twenty rings might need to be doubled to 40 or more. To ease congestion, breeds need to be given morning or afternoon time slots. This is not only to benefit ring times but to help with parking spaces through the day.
“The whole point is that it can be done. Scandinavia has several shows with daily numbers around the 3,500 and they do it on much smaller showgrounds. I am also sure the trade stall people would be much happier with two busy days rather than three or in some cases four days of business serving the same number of exhibitors.
“When we talk about falling numbers and offer all manner of reasons and statistics we often miss two important factors about customer satisfaction. The first one is the Friday factor. We all know that Friday traffic is often the busiest day of the working week. If our journey to a show is slow and full of stress it spoils the start to what should be a nice day out. Then even worse is to be thrown out with the rubbish and have the journey from hell home on a Friday afternoon. People sit in a traffic jam and start to think was it all worth the effort, not to mention a day of work.
“Second there has been lots of talk about getting more people involved and making shows more fun. Here again is the weekend factor. A work day doesn’t enable families to make a leisure day out of the whole process. If we want new and more people to come to shows then the most obvious draw-card must be weekend shows. Friday shows discourage bringing the family along for a day out and suggest that the event is for the dedicated and those who are retired or privileged enough to be in control of their working schedule. Friday shows are neither for the mainstream nor the average family person.
“Making summer shows a weekend event must surely be a proposition worth serious consideration. Maybe it’s time to take less pride in having a three day event and focus on giving people what they want in these ever-changing times.
“Lifestyle is a huge factor in everything today and sadly the dog world seems to be stuck in its own little world and tradition will speed our demise if we ignore this fact. It’s not that people won’t pay £25 for an entry. It’s the poor value for money in what that £25 gives them. Part of that poor value is the add-on costs involved and the biggest single add-on comes from the Friday Factor; the day off work, and or the need to get somebody in to mind the dogs. A weekend day usually means that there will be others in the house to sit the dogs and that in itself is a big saving with better peace of mind. Also a weekend day is far more likely to see one’s partner come along for the day. They are not likely to take a day off work but may well venture out on a weekend day. These things all add to the experience of the day.
“We all know that in dogs we need support. It’s a tough road to breed and show without some help. Help comes in many forms but without support most of us are unable to leave the house to attend shows or meetings etc. So let’s get back to the weekend dog show and think about where we have gone wrong. Is it just the rising cost of entries? Or does the Friday Factor play an equally big role in the decline of numbers?
“The big drawback with all this talk of reform and change is sadly the Kennel Club. It stifles any real change by its rigid policies such as mandatory benching. A summer show needs to be un-benched. It’s just as simple as that. Summer shows need to maybe have more in/out style judging rings and keep the tenting for use if weather is not good, but to see rows and rows of empty benches which you and I have all paid for in our entry fees is an absolute symbol of the conservative and inward looking outdated way we see dog shows in 2013.”
So what are your thoughts on the matter? Is there a need to change the ways things are done in the US too? If we were setting the world of pedigree dog showing up from scratch today would the infrastructure be radically different from that which we have to work with at present.
When I visited the US earlier this year to meet the people behind Best In Show Daily I was immediately struck by how similar many of the issues were that beset the sport in the UK and the US and I hope I am able to demonstrate some of that in these columns.