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I just returned from the Florida Association of Computer Users Groups (FACUG) spring conference in Kissimmee, FL. It was a great event with 173 attendees representing 41 users groups. The FACUG officers have done a miraculous job of maintaining vendor support in the face of declining vendor support throughout the entire user group community.
There was great camaraderie, as usual, and some terrific round tables, especially the tech sessions with overflowing attendance. All in all, it was a great conference, but this article is not really about the conference.
One thing I saw raised my temperature a bit and Iíd like to vent my frustration about it here. The vendor panel session is always well attended; people enjoy their chance to talk to the vendors. They mostly ask what user groups can do to make life easier for the vendors, and thank them for all their help.
However, this time I listened to a few people (thankfully, they were indeed few) who said they felt we werenít getting enough support from the vendors. One person actually said that the support they were getting from vendors was ďunacceptable.Ē The same people also implied there were not enough free products.
That bothered me a lot because when Iím trying to put together my DealsGuy column, itís not unusual for me to hear the other side of that story from vendors that I contact for deals. I often get turned down even though Iím always careful not to ask for any free or review products when I ask for a special offer for my readers.
Sometimes I offer to buy something, and on a rare occasion I might receive a product, but only if they insist.
What is their complaint about user group people who should be one of their best advertising mediums? They say they are tired of UG people always wanting free stuff. Some vendors complain about UG people manipulating them for free product, but not delivering on their promises.
I find it somewhat embarrassing because I know that what they are saying has a lot of merit. Iíve been a user groupie for many years and have heard many stories about products that end up not being reviewed or getting stale on a shelf, unused.
Iíve learned a lot about vendor abuses by user group people and here is one example, although not as prevalent lately: When it was easier to do, I used to see if I could get four special offers for each monthís column. A couple of months later, after most of the editors had published their newsletter, I would call the vendors to thank them again and see if the column worked for them. It was not uncommon for them to say they did sell two or three pieces, sometimes even a few more, and they knew it had given them good exposure from the calls.
Unfortunately, sometimes they sold nothing. A few of the cheaper items such as graphics software often sold even more. Then they would casually mention during the conversation that they also had 40 some requests for review products (remember my column is published in many UG newsletters). With each vendor, the requests for review products were some-what consistent, so after several of those conversations I concluded that it might be the same people who were actually looking for free products and I was giving them new sources.
If the vendor sold 12 pieces but gave away 42 pieces for reviews, there was not much profit for a vendor in that deal, especially since I seldom saw any reviews of those products in any newsletters I received. The sad part was how often did people who promised to review the product provided to them never actually get around to do it.
Yes, we are supposed to write a review and publish it in our newsletters for our members to read, thus providing product exposure to other members. I was a software reviews coordinator once and I ask you this; how often does the reviewer get the product review back to you in 60 days? In my case, I often received empty promises, and even lost friends over asking
them for their review. Sometimes even one of the officers would stiff me. Often by the time you get the review, the product has been replaced with a new version, which detracts from the reviewís value.
I could mention other ways concerning abuse of vendor special offers by conniving purchasers, but this article is already lengthy. The few who abuse the system hurt us all.
Over the years of attending various user group functions I have talked to many other UG members who share my frustration with such antics. Perhaps users groups need to better educate the members about what to expect and what the group would like from them in return.
Free door prizes at meetings are a great draw if offered, but there is a limit to what we should expect when it comes to support from the vendors. At this FACUG conference, all 173 attendees got at least one door prize and many won another in the second round of the drawing, thanks to someoneís hard work.
There were also drawings at the meal presentations! Larry Tyler said at the podium that if you came for the prizes, you came for the wrong reason. Vendors could decide there are cheaper ways to advertise and drop us altogether, so lets not abuse the wonderful vendor resources that we still have.
I have also never been in favor of asking the vendors for meals when we have these events. I have few supporters in that regard, but a few agree. Catered meals are not cheap, as you may know, and we have already lost the support of many vendors due to the cost of an event.
Donít get me wrong - I like the freebies as well as anybody. But letís be realistic with our wants. I wonder how many of those members wanting more freebies have offered to lead a SIG, be a volunteer, or even be an officer and help give back to the organization. Or do they just attend meetings to see what they can get for free!
Weíve all seen plenty of those folks and I notice many groups are almost begging for volunteers and officer candidates in most newsletters I read.
I have a good friend who is always asking me to stop over and help him with his computer. I have suggested that he attend the user group meetings in town where he will get lots of free help, but he worries that he would probably have to pay dues. I guess the user group would be better off if he stayed away.
Thanks for allowing me to vent.