The Cost of a "No Show"
by Brad! Jones, Cofounder of IndyTechFest
I wanted to thank everyone that attended the IndyTechFest 2010 this year. Based on the reviews, it turned out to be a great conference and a lot was learned! With a "last minute" change to a new, more expensive venue, I think it was pulled off nicely. We did get some feedback from the attendees, but please do feel free to continue to provide your thoughts on the conference so we can make the next one even better. We are already starting discussions, planning, and reservations for 2011!
The one issue that we have to address for IndyTechFest is that of limited registrations and "No Shows". We had nearly 200 people register and not show up to the event. I want to personally thank the dozen or so who informed us that they would not show up as it allowed us to open their spots to others.
While we plan for a certain number of people to not show up, we (the organizers) have to plan for who we believe will show up. We actually have to pay in advance for the number of attendees that will be there. That means that if we planned on 500 people being there, we might register 600 knowing we will have a dropout rate of 100 or more. If only 450 people show up and we planned for 500, then we still pay for the 50 people between 450 and 500 that are not there. This payment includes paying for coffee they don't drink, swag, that they don't get, printing of papers that don't get handed out, meals that don't get eaten, and more.
Additionally, when we have those 50 seats left open, it means that there are 50 others who lost the opportunity to show up. It means that there are people who wanted to come, that didn't get to register because someone else did, but then they could have -- if they had only known that someone wasn’t' going to show up.
We know emergencies happen. That is why we overbook.
What did it cost for those that didn't show up to IndyTechFest? For the 2010 event, it cost around $40 in variable costs for each no show beyond what we expected. For 50 people, that is $2000 in variable costs alone that were spent and wasted. That is a serious chunk of cash for a conference hosted by user groups.
What is the point of all this? IndyTechFest takes a lot of time and money to put on. We are interested in figuring out how to make sure the most people can attend at the least cost. We want to continue to make the conference free; however, if it costs $40 - $50 dollars to have an unfilled seat, then we need to make sure there are no "No Shows". More importantly since we are spending the $40 anyway, we want to make sure someone gets to take advantage of the conference.
It is easy to skip out on something that doesn't cost you; however, I thought it worth noting that it did cost someone. As one of the organizers of IndyTechFest, I can say that as we look to expand this conference in 2011 to be even bigger, the one thing we have to figure out is how to get the no show percentage much lower -- if not near zero.
Thanks for listening to my rant.
Of course, one question that might be lingering in the back of your mind is... what would it cost to attend IndyTechFest if it were a business and not something that the founders did as a charity. The ~$40 mentioned above was only the variable cost for each individual attending. Most of the costs assocated are fixed.
My quick calculations put the break-even value of the conference for attendees at $196. That would be the minimum we'd have to pay to cover the time and costs. If we had to pay the volunteers that worked on the night before the show and the day of the show, then the cost would quickly jump well over $200 per attendee. If we had to pay the speakers and the volunteers more "standard" rates (i.e. cover hotel room), the cost would begin to encroach on $250.
IndyTechFest is a pretty good value for free!