Anyone who’s ever manned a pitch at an event, from a trestle table of cakes at the village fête to an oil-stained tarpaulin piled with vintage bike parts at the motor show, will have their own list of vital kit to pop into their car or van before setting off. Whether it’s an emergency bag of icing sugar to sprinkle on the butterfly cakes or a spare pair of wellies for when the heavens open, the gear in the trader’s survival kit is composed of those must-have bits and bobs that can make the difference between a pleasant day’s trading and series of minor niggles that can make the whole affair far more trouble than it should be.
Wargames shows are no different in this regard, with many traders made up of small one- or two-man (or woman!) bands, self-starter businesses who may well have started as wargamers themselves and have simply evolved their own survival kit through trial and error. Should you be considering running a stand at a show for the first time, you might like to take note of my personal survival kit below, and adapt it for your purposes.
Tea Tray – Chances are you’ll want a cup of something hot and brown to keep your caffeine levels at their peak, so a tea-and-coffee run will be required at some point in the day. Chances are also that you’ll be fetching more than one cup if you’re lucky enough to have (or be) a Trader’s Friend (see later). You may also be supplementing your liquid intake with a much-needed bacon sandwich from the very same snack bar or school canteen, which could well be several rooms or flights of stairs from your trading stand.
All of which adds up to a long walk through a crowded venue and multiple sets of doors, carrying various wobbly hot things threatening to spill from your grip and over a nearby demo game of the Yangtze Incident, swamping the besieged Royal Navy and the encroaching Red Chinese alike in a deadly monsoon of tea and bacon.
As you can’t rely on the caterers having - or being willing to relinquish their precious supply of – tea trays for you to walk off with, you would do well to bring your own, if only to spare the plucky crew of HMS Amethyst from an ignoble and overly caffeinated end. If you forget to bring a tray with you to the event, simply trot over to the bring and buy stand early on, purchase the cheapest old boxed game you can find and use the upended lid. If catering for six or more people, I suggest buying an old Axis and Allies expansion set.
Money Pouch – Ah, the faithful money pouch. Your single most important piece of kit. Sturdy, capacious and stylish, this multi-pouched item of apparel rests snugly around the waist like a toolbelt-cum-apron housing notes, coins, pencils, business cards, keys to your display cabinets, spare slotta bases and all manner of oddments that the trader should keep handy. Wear it front-on in the classic style and make use of its twin pockets to rest your hands casually in between sales, or – as I like to do to occasionally mix it up – wear it slung round over one hip, like a sort of money holster.
How we survived those first few shows without money pouches I can scarcely credit, our trouser pockets bulging with unsorted denominations, nipping back and forth to the Special Secure Cash Box Under Our Coats after every sale, trying to remember who last had the key to the box.
For alerting me first to the all-round handiness of the money pouch, my thanks go out to the inestimable Andy Lyon of Ainsty Castings, for proudly displaying his own pouch in the business’ colours and looking very pleased with himself indeed, even if the material did turn his hands a fetching shade of green by the end of the day.
Cling Film – If your business involves hundreds of small objects in packets dangling from large display stands, transporting your goods from show to show runs the risk of spilling and damaging your precious wares all over the Bradthorpe high school gymnasium floor at the at the annual Voulge! wargames show.
This is where the ingenious use of industrial sized rolls of handy cling film comes into play, with traders simply wrapping each display stand completely in several layers of low density polyethylene, securing those fiddly packs of models and scenery snugly in place without the worry of them coming loose in transit, or the necessity of stocking and unstocking each stand laboriously by hand before and after the show. Plus it’s fun to use. The use of other food-sealing materials for the transportation of wargaming goods, including tinfoil, greaseproof paper and very large tea-towels, has proven less successful.
Trader’s Friend – Perhaps the most versatile of items in the trader’s survival kit is the friend, helper or minion. Whilst running a stand by oneself may seem a reasonable idea at first, there will inevitably come a time in the show when you need to absent yourself from the stall to get something to eat, answer the call of nature or nip across the hall to pick up that copy of Tiny Taches: a painting guide to Para miniatures, 1976 – 1982 you spotted on the bookstand. Rather than leave your pitch unmanned with all the attendant risks, this is where the trader’s friend comes into their own.
Ideally able to form rudimentary sentences and armed with a passing knowledge of your goods and their prices, the friend should be able to carry out simple functions like working out what change to give from a twenty pound note for the ‘Beginner’s Set’, finding items hidden in the arcane stockpile system behind the table and engaging potential customers in a basic discussion of the relative merits of chain shot versus canister.
Friends’ services can often be purchased for the entirety of the wargames show for a pittance, often as little as a root around your ‘broken bits’ box at the end of the day and the chance to parade around in a money pouch of their very own.
Helena Nash has been a trader’s friend for five years.
An edited version of this article first appeared in Miniature Wargames #377, September 2014