Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why this AKC show sucked -OR- What is wrong with the business model for agility trials

I attended my second AKC agility trial this weekend with my two Canine Partners (aka non-purebred dogs). This trial offered Standard, Jumpers with weaves, and FAST. Quite a few people do not enter FAST because it is NOT a titling requirement for a MACH/PAX. I did not enter it.

My issue is holding competitors hostage for free labor.

I ran both dogs by 9:30am on Saturday, and waited around until 5:30pm for their second run. It's extremely painful, especially since I have always heard about how terrific AKC is. Yes, it was my choice to be held hostage, but is it reasonable and fair to treat competitors, your customers this way? No. I'm tempted to NEVER enter another AKC agility trial based on this one.

I know why the host club did this: to coerce competitors into "volunteering",uh, I mean working. This is my biggest issue, not just with this incident, but agility trials in general.

I am a software engineer. I interviewed and landed a good job. I provide my company my services in exchange for a paycheck. If I need a plumber, I call one, he comes to my house and fixes something in exchange for a check. See where I am headed?

At agility trials, a club offers a service - a trial - and I write a check to pay for those services. However, I am also expected to provide free labor to the club to make it a "success".


A plumber doesn't come to my house and hand me a plunger to unclog my own toilet, and then expect me to pay for it. Why do clubs expect the same? I do not have an MBA, but it seems to be a crappy business model for the consumer.

Dangling a carrot, like, "Hey! We have a crappy raffle that you don't have a snowball's chance in hell to win!" is not sufficient. Neither is, "We provide a salmonella-laced hot dog from our questionable vendor". Unless your organization is tax exempt, and can prove it to me, I am not donating my time without payment. If you want me to get off my arse and set bars, pay me. It's not like I am asking for $100k a year, medical benefits, and a 401k or pension. Give a worker coupon, maybe worth $4/hour. It's a win-win situation - you staff your trial AND you have someone who will enter your shows again.


Kathy Mocharnuk said...

boy i hear ya. Luckily around here in So. CA AKC trials run with all excellent runs the first couple of hours, then all open runs, then the novice runs so you get a time to show up and unless your dogs are in different levels for standard and jumpers or you are doing fast you can get in and out in half a day. I do hate that in the summer Open and Novice are always in the hottest part of the day outside-but then if you are in open or novice you do not have to be there until about 11:30 am.....and at least we dont have to be there all day. I feel for you. Our trials seem to get enough help, and the schedule like that seems to make sense to me. ---Kathy with liz/breeze/cricket

James said...

I have to disagree with you on this.
First, are you *absolutely* sure that the host club scheduled the trial to optimize the number of volunteers working? At a medium-large trial, getting an adequate number of volunteers typically isn't a problem. Instead, a club usually does its scheduling to minimize the number of competitor conflicts.
Secondly, I'm also a software enginner. I also interviewed and landed a good job and earn a decent paycheck. Also like you, my wife and I recently started attending AKC trials with our 2 Canine Partner mutts. But just because I pay a for-profit club to enter their trial does not mean volunteers are not needed. I don't think the plumber is a valid analogy.
Consider this alternative hypothetical instead: Say I pay for my kid to play in a soccer league. We show up to the game, and the (paid) line refs don't show up (a common occurance since they're usually older teenagers...not exactly reliable). I volunteer. Why? Because if no one did, the kids couldn't play. I don't care if I paid money to the league for some kid to show up. I just want to see my kid play.
Same with agility trials I attend. If no one volunteers, it is going to be a LONG day. In fact, one of the worst trials I've been to was a USDAA trial (to remain anonymous) that, due to heat, decided to do a late afternoon/night trial in the summer starting at 5pm. It was a small 1 ring trial, but because there was a lack of volunteers, my last run was at 12:45AM THE NEXT DAY! And I wasn't even in the last class!
Perhaps this AKC trial merely needs to do a better job with competitor hospitality. One of the newer clubs in our area (Carolina Piedmont Agility) does an excellent job with making sure competitors are happy. Since they publicly post their finances, I took a look at what they spent at 2 of their recent trials this year:
AKC trial: $908.77 for worker hospitality (which included a great lunch selection with healthy options, and snacks all day), and $1,428.00 in worker appreciation vouchers. My gift for volunteering? 2 free runs in the next trial.USDAA Trial: $1,204.59 for worker hospitality, and $1,966.00 in worker raffle/appreciation coupons.
That club's last trial had 5 raffles per day. The prizes? A dog (or their two legged friend) massage by one of the popular masseuse vendors. $20 off of of the other vendors, Gift Cards (Starbucks, etc), "Ready Treat" remote controlled reward system ($50 on Clean Run!), and a few others I can't recall.
Combined Profit from both trials: Around $8,200. I really appreciate that they enthusiastically spent a combined $5,507.36 in worker compensation/hospitality that otherwise could've boosted their profit by 67%.
As a result, I *LOVE* attending their trials. I've also won their "snowball's chance in hell to win" raffle - multiple times. (I won some cash, which was donated -and subsequently matched by the club- to Carolina Border Collie Rescue, and a dog massage).
Also, I think you paint a overly discouraging picture in general of volunteering. There are more advantages to volunteering than just compensation. I regularly tell friends that are interested in competing to first go to a local trial before and volunteer. While they aren't competing, they get a good picture of what a trial enviornment is like, how it operates, and what to expect their first time. Even for non-newbies, knowing each job, and how a trial operates, gives one, in my opinion, valuable insight.
Lastly, I want you to know that I do understand your frustration. I have been to my fair share of trials where there isn't much incentive to volunteer - both AKC and USDAA. However, I think it is less of a problem with the overall organization, in this case AKC, and moreso with this particular club. If you didn't like it, take your entry fees elsewhere.
PS - Why not run FAST? I don't care that it doesn't count towards a MACH. It's fun! And it helps break up the day a little better. 3 runs is better than 2, no?

AgilityEngineer said...

I work 40+ hours a week. I am not spending my free time working for organizations that, in general, are ungrateful. It's not my fault the club cannot scrounge up enough of its own members to help.

The club (actually the club that provides the equipment) did, in fact, arrange the show such that "volunteers do not go home".

At $17 per run for this show... each run is at a premium price compared to the USDAA trials. At $17 per run, I am not going to run FAST.

Rachel said...

Hmm, this is interesting! I don't run AKC, rather CPE. I know that around here, CPE runs cost about half what AKC runs do. As far as I know, the only people getting paid at a CPE trial are the judge and the trial secretary. Every time I run my dog, there are a bunch of people making it possible & flow smoothly: leash runner, gate steward, score runner, scribe, ass. scribe, timer, 2-3 bar setters, plus the course builders and probably some more I'm forgetting. I really, really don't want to have to pay a higher premium, just so all those people can get paid too. I'd rather volunteer my time, hang out and cheer on my friends, and watch some great handlers.

Of course, CPE typically has 4-5 different classes every day, so it's rare that I'm going more than an hour or two between runs.

Maybe a change of venue is in order?

AgilityEngineer said...

I'll stick with USDAA.

My main issue, and I just thought of the proper words is that I don't volunteer for a for-profit organization.

There's an AKC show where 100% of the proceeds goes towards the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and I'd volunteer for that one.

Greg S said...

First, I totally agree with you that AKC trials are not as fun as USDAA. I would gladly choose a USDAA over an AKC if given the choice. Here in Colorado though, you will get about 7 USDAAs a year, while you can do about 25 - 30 AKCs.
For the most part here in AKC, they run the novice and open classes AFTER all the excellent classes, so then you do have to show up first thing and wait all day. Not all clubs do this though, and I have done that 1st run at 9am, and 2nd run at 4pm. If I didnt have a dog in Excellent to run as well, I would be none too happy.

Generally, if you 'volunteer' for a class here, you get some kind of discount voucher. These seem to range in value from about $2 to $4 off your next trial entry, or good towards the food vendor. I dont mind jumpsetting, because I get a front row seat to watch the action.

Now, on the other hand, I am co-owner of a club that sponsors 2 DOCNA trials per year. I know firsthand that, if we had to pay the volunteers, the entry fees would have to be raised to cover the expense, as we barely break even now. If the average run had to go from $12 to, say, $15, we could cover paying for volunteers, but then probably less people would come to the show.

So, would it be nice to never have to volunteer for something I paid to attend? YES! But, would I be willing to send in $100 instead of maybe $80? Probably not - agility is for fun, with discressionary funds, and I wouldnt be able to do as much if I had to pay more for each show.

And ps. I am a Software Engineer too ;)

AgilityEngineer said...

@Greg: I am the USDAA trial secretary for SWAT, so maybe I'm a tad biased. :) SWAT usually has a ton of trial buck in their raffles, but didn't this time. Perhaps in March...

I've participated in DOCNA, and have decided it's not for me. I have a ton of reasons why, but I'm not going to post them. I will say that I felt very pressured to work. I made a cake for a friend whose dog earned a MEX, and he wanted me to pose with him, the dog, and the cake for a picture. I had someone screaming at me because I wasn't immediately at the scribe table.

Greg S said...

Thats cool - I just did the SWAT in Albuquerque last weekend for the first time - it was a great, well run show! Were you at that one?

Funny thing about DOCNA, I only participate when we host a show and never do it otherwise. I like the ring training possibilities, but generally find the lack of competition a bit unmotivating. I kind of view it like the soccer league that gives everyone a trophy just for showing up - with DOCNA, you can run Jumpers and give out 25 first places with all the levels and divisions.

AgilityEngineer said...

I also scorekept almost the entire trial.

Greg S said...

Ahhh, so YOU are the Agility Engineer. Small world. Ages ago, my friend Jackie (who was at the SWAT trial too) found your post where you talked about how some people want to do agility so bad they will drag their dog's dead carcass around the course - we know a person who fits that bill and have had a few good laughs over that post. Too funny. Well nice to meet you, even if I didn't know I was meeting you ;). I hung up a few score-sheets for you at the SWAT show.

Diana said...

Trials could not go on with out volunteers. Even if the club makes money, for profit, that money is used to keep the equipment updated ( a huge expense ), pay judges, provide food, pay for the site, move the equipment to the site. No person in the club is making money. If people didnt help, then no trials could be held. I dont mind helping when I there because I know what it takes to have a show. I hope things get better for you.

AgilityEngineer said...

I work 40+ hours a week. I'm not up for "volunteering" for a weekend without compensation. I trial secretary for a club, so, yes, I do know what kind of effort it takes.

Agility trials are run like "work from home scams". I pay a lot of money per run, and am expected to do backflips so someone else can reap the monetary rewards.

If I choose to volunteer, I'll go back to animal control and make a difference.