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> New interview with Auto Assembly's Simon Plumbe!
post 9 December 2008, 18:53
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Lövestad, Sweden

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I had another chat with Auto Assembly's Simon Plumbe, about this year's convention, hopes and expectations for next year, and so on. He was a real good sport who answered my questions even though he's in the middle of settling in after moving to a new house less than two weeks ago smile.gif Cheers mate! wink2.gif If you feel that any of the answers he's given spawns more questions, please feel free to write them down and I'll forward them to Simon!

Q: How did it feel when AA 2008 came to an end?

A: A mixture of things but relief more than anything that we had managed to bounce back and do a convention after such a long break! I had been worried for a long time that we were going to lose our touch and not be able to deliver a convention that people would enjoy but I was really pleased with the end result. I was already looking forward to 2009 as well!

Q: You looked extremely tired when you and I met at the end of the day. Have you had time to rest afterwards, or did you go ahead and work on AA 2009 right away?

A: I didn't really get any chance to relax as I got home quite late, unpacked some basic stuff then got straight on a train first thing Sunday morning to spend a few days with my fiancée Trish as we hadn't seen each other for a few weeks at that point.

I started coming up with some ideas for AA2009 within a couple of weeks and looking at where things did and didn't work for AA2008 to make sure that AA2009 would be the best convention possible. Obviously, the survey results started to come in so I started to get an online version ready to give as many people as possible the chance to have a say as well.

Q: Did everything go as planned, or were there any backstage problems the attendees didn't see?

A: We had a few issues that gave us a lot of headaches. Probably the worst were a number of problems with the Clarendon Suites which I'll come onto later, problems with Red Mill Snack Foods, and we had some problems with the postcards being printed which had to be printed twice as the quality of the first print run was pretty awful and had to be trashed but overall apart from the Clarendon Suites I'd say no more than usual!

Q: Did the total number of attendees surprise you, or was it what you expected it to be?

A: We were over the moon when we managed to break the European attendance record again with 423 attendees although I was hoping that we would have had more. We did focus a lot of our publicity online for AA2008 though so considering that I think we did brilliantly though, especially being away for so long.

Q: Were you happy with all of the guests and their appearances? Did they live up to expectations?

A: Absolutely. All of our regular guests were great as usual and it was good to have some new faces join us. I didn't really get the chance to talk with them for long, but I did enjoy meeting Staz Johnson, Liam Shalloo and the others who came along for the first time and Dan Gilvezan was an absolutely fantastic guest.

Q: Dan Gilvezan seemed to be very appreciated by the fans (I know I enjoyed meeting him! ;)). Have you spoken to him after the convention? What were his thoughts about being a guest at AA and meeting the fans?

A: From the start when I first approached Dan about attending he was really enthusiastic about coming over, and I think this was pretty clear to everyone on the day. I have been in touch with Dan and his wife afterwards and they both really enjoyed the convention and I'm sure if we were ever able to bring Dan back that he would jump at the chance!

Q: Have you gotten any comments from the other guests, and especially the "veterans" like Furman?

A: All of the guests seemed to love the convention as usual and all of them who I spoke to all said that they want to come back next year and as you have no doubt seen from our early announcements, a lot have already signed up!

Q: What was the general view at the end of day, both positive and negative?

A: Generally positive - I think this seems to be the case most years for Auto Assembly now. We do get the odd negative comment, although most of these do offer some constructive criticism or suggestions that we can take on board.

The biggest problem that people had was with our sound system for the talks and we hold our hands up on this one and we know that this is something that we're going to fix for AA2009. The problem we have had is that - since AA2004 - we have been using a very powerful hi-fi amp and speakers for our sound system. While it has been pretty good, each year we've been pushing it to its limits but this year we think it went beyond what it was capable of coping with. In fact, after I got home and re-connected it back up to use it, it actually died... we had blown the speakers this year!! So a new AV system for AA2009!

Generally though, that was one of the reasons why we produced the surveys - both the paper one handed out and the online one - to find out exactly what people thought, what concerns they had and where there was room for improvement so we CAN fix what went wrong for AA2009 and we are going to try to put as many things right as we can!

Q: I understand you're already well on the way with planning for AA 2009. What are the biggest changes in comparison to previous AAs?

A: We're making so many changes - I think it would take me too long to list them all! The main one is that we're running the event over two days so it will be bigger in every way. More comic guests, TWO voice actors, the programme of events will be bigger and more varied with a LOT of different activities on each day (so the only way you will see everything is to be there for the whole weekend), a Saturday night programme with a live script reading with our voice actors and a party, workshops and so much more that it would never fit into a single day!

Q: Are you planning to make AA 2009 even bigger, both in terms of venue and number of attendees?

A: Definitely! Every aspect of the convention will be bigger - we're aiming to break the 500 attendee barrier that every European convention has wanted to beat for the last few years, and we have a brand new venue that has a great new layout that we think everyone will love! We do know already from talks on a lot of forums that a lot more attendees from across Europe generally and further afield are planning on attending so it will have a much more international feel to it so that should be pretty cool and as well as the dealers, I'm hoping to attract more exhibitors to compliment Hasbro's display that was there this year.

Q: Have you got any plans for an exclusive figure or anything along those lines?

A: I would love to have an exclusive toy but the problem with this is always going to be a combination of factors. Negotiating something like this has been a problem with Hasbro as Hasbro UK have been hard to deal with and we have never been able to get anywhere with doing this and the biggest stumbling block would be cost. From what I understand, we'd need to get a minimum of 1,000 toys produced and we would need to find the money for these in advance - something that we just couldn't afford to do right now.

Q: Are you planning something special considering 2009 is the Transformers 25th Anniversary?

A: Lots of things! As I said, the live script reading should be great fun having two Transformers cast members on stage together and we want to have as many special activities and events as we can so I'm talking to as many people as I can and I want to get all our guests involved for next year. For the voice actors, I want to make sure we cover more than one show as well to reflect 25 years of Transformers. We've already got Ian James Corlett (Cheetor) so that covers Beast Wars and Beast Machines, so the next actor will be someone from one or more of the other shows. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to send them in to me APART from Peter Cullen who is far too expensive!!

Q: Will Hasbro UK be more involved in 2009? Even though there were no official Hasbro representatives present at AA 2008, I know that the Hasbro display was very much appreciated by the attendees!

A: I hope so. While the two guys there didn't work for Hasbro, it was an official display as they were there on behalf of Hasbro and everything displayed had been sent along from them. Hasbro do want to be involved again for 2009 and I hope to get a lot more involvement as well as bring more companies to the convention and I've already started talks with one or two which I hope to announce soon...

Q: What is the main reason for moving AA from the Clarendon Suites to the Holiday Inn?

A: Lots of reasons but there are two main ones. First, doing a two-day convention really meant that we needed to hold Auto Assembly in a hotel so all of our attendees could stay on-site. It just meant that it would be easier for everyone to just drop things off in their hotel rooms if they needed but more importantly, easier for arranging hotel rooms for attendees and would give us the chance to run late-night activities which we couldn't do anywhere else.

However, even if Auto Assembly had been a single day event, we would have still moved from the Clarendon Suites. We had a lot of problems with them for AA2008 in the run up to the day and even on the day of the convention itself and it caused us more than a few headaches. There were issues regarding payment for the hall, the time we were allowed for setting up, the amount of time we had the hall for on the day (and both of these changed on the weekend itself with the Clarendon Suites denying that we had told them what we needed in advance), and an unacceptable delay in us getting our deposit refunded. To be honest, if it was a single day event and there was ONE member of staff NOT working at the Clarendon then we'd probably consider going back there, but the Holiday Inn is MUCH nicer!

Q: Can you reveal anything about next year's goodie bag?

A: Yes! We've got six items lined up so far and I'm working on a lot more! We did have a few things left over from AA2008 so we're obviously making use of these for early registrants. We had 49 unclaimed Hulk DVDs (with Simon Williams' cover art) so these will go to the first 49 pre-registrants. We have at least 100 packs of G1 stickers, we will be producing two more postcards, one of which will feature Beast Wars Cheetor, everyone will get an Auto Assembly 2009 keyring and everyone will get an Auto Assembly 2009 lanyard for their passes... and that's just for starters!!

Q: When talking to other attendees, I heard from several people that they were a bit disappointed with the dealers not having enough vintage stuff for sale. What are your thoughts on this?

A: It's always hard for dealers to judge what to bring with them for sale to Auto Assembly or any other event. I know a few dealers did look at taking pre-orders to ensure that their customers knew what they were getting in advance which obviously helped them and the dealers but with many of them having a limited amount of space to pack stock they have to be wary about what to bring with them. Not knowing how much money would change hands, a lot I think went for the cheaper items to make sure that they would sell a lot rather than taking expensive vintage toys that may not have sold.

Q: Do you have any way to influence the dealers on what stuff to bring for sale, to make it more balanced?

A: That's something I did with our second survey for AA2009. I asked everyone who replied what sort of things they want to buy - not just in terms of the toy ranges, but the products as well. I'm going to be contacting all of the dealers from AA2008 and all of the new dealers we will be inviting and the results from the survey will be passed on to all of them so they can try to bring a mix of stock that will hopefully reflect what the fans want to buy.

Q: Will there be room for more dealers at AA 2009?

A: It is a bigger hall and there is a separate side area where the bars will be and we've already got one new dealer lined up and another who has already been in touch who is interested, so we are aiming to have a selection of new and familar faces for 2009 to keep everyone happy!

Q: What happened to the famous Transform-A-Snacks at AA 2008? (For those of you who don't know, it's a bag of crisps from Red Mill Snack Foods, previously handed out for free to all attendees)

A: Long story (hope I don't bore you all with it!)... We contacted Red Mill Snack Foods' PR company a few months before the convention to arrange for our usual supply of snacks to give away to everyone. They passed us onto Red Mill directly as they weren't dealing with them anymore but as we had dealt with Red Mill directly in the past, that wasn't a problem.

Anyway, I spoke to Red Mill and after telling them about Auto Assembly and the support they had given us over the years (and the fact that we were on their website a few times), I was told to ring back closer to the convention to arrange delivery. This was around March/April 2008.

So I phoned back in July to sort out a delivery date and the woman in their marketing department who I had spoken to a couple of months earlier told me that they had decided not to send us any crisps afterall saying that Red Mill had been taken over by another company and as such, because of the restructuring, they were changing all of their marketing and everything had to go through their head office and nothing was being done at that time. She seemed to think that I'd accept this explanation until I pointed out that the takeover happened BEFORE they promised us the crisps and that not only had they made the commitment to us, but we made the commitment to our fans.

First they made a token offer of a couple of boxes as "samples" but after about an hour of arguing on the phone, with my continued emphasis on the months of free advertising they had already been receiving from us, they backed down and agreed to send 600 bags to us in time for the convention.

A few weeks before and there was no sign of anything and no contact, so I had to chase them again. Several calls later including to their distribution department found no trace of the internal order for the packs for us so it seemed that they had no intention of supplying anything to us. By this point, to say I was getting pissed off would be an understatement. More arguments followed and eventually they put an emergency order through and promised a delivery to Sven's house in time for the convention.

48 hours before and there was still no sign of anything, and nor was there on the Friday so it was pretty safe to say that Red Mill made the decision to simply back out of their agreement to provide us with crisps - stock with a retail value of only which would have cost them probably about at most - despite months of publicity. Suffice to say that we will be buying them ourselves next time rather than relying on them to donate them.

All right folks, that's it! smile.gif Big thanks to Simon for doing this interview with me, and I hope that AA 2009 will be a smash hit!

As I said, please feel free to post any follow-up questions, and I will forward them to Simon smile.gif

This post has been edited by BigPete: 9 December 2008, 19:00

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First Gen
post 10 December 2008, 01:59
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Steven Serrano
Chicago, United States

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Great interview as always BigPete. Its a shame HASBRO UK is being so difficult with this, given the extreme amount of publicity it gets.
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post 10 December 2008, 21:00
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Lövestad, Sweden

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QUOTE(First Gen @ 10 December 2008, 01:59) *
Great interview as always BigPete.

Thanks! smile.gif

Remember folks; dont be afraid to post or PM me any follow-up questions you have! I'll forward them to Simon, so you'll stay completely anonymous smile.gif
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post 12 January 2009, 16:00
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Lövestad, Sweden

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No questions? Simon is more than willing to answer ANY questions, ideas, thoughts, suggestions, etc that you might have smile.gif Any follow-up questions from the interview?
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post 15 January 2009, 11:56
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Simon Plumbe
Lichfield, England

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QUOTE(BigPete @ 12 January 2009, 15:00) *
No questions? Simon is more than willing to answer ANY questions, ideas, thoughts, suggestions, etc that you might have smile.gif Any follow-up questions from the interview?

I REALLY enjoyed being interviewed Pete, and as you said, feel free to ask me ANYTHING. Now we've announced all the details for AA2009 and opened bookings, I'm sure you guys must have questions about the convention! I promise I'll try to answer everything as honestly as possible!


Auto Assembly Europe 2011 - 12th-13th November 2011, Uppsala, Sweden -
Auto Assembly 2012 - 3rd-5th August 2012, Birmingham, England -
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