A Word About Genealogy Vendors

A Word About Genealogy Vendors

Brian P. Cleary wrote in You Oughta Know By Now that “Whatever story you’re telling, it will be more interesting if, at the end you add, “and then everything burst into flames.” 

Last weekend I presented at the Family History Expos in Albuquerque, NM and despite the long drive, getting lost in NM in the middle of the night, with no working cell phone towers and no GPS and that the number of attendees highly over estimated, I had a great time. 

Why? Great people. I went with my husband who I think is always great, I presented with Carol Rice and Teresa Clark – who are beyond great and the attendees to our presentations where really outstanding.

What I really want to talk about though is the vendors. In my past life, I was a vendor for educational books and traveled across states to sell my wares at homeschooling conferences. I have a deep appreciation for those who pack, haul, cart, set-up, sell, answer questions, stand, sit, tear down, re-pack and drive long distances to do it all again somewhere else. 
These vendors are not making a killing – in fact I would be surprised if some of them even made enough to cover their gas. Why do they do this? It may make no business sense, but I think some view it as sort of a calling. They believe in what they do and wish to be of service to those attend – giving others an opportunity to touch, peruse and evaluate their products in person. I get that. I think Holly, who is the engine behind Family History Expos feels a similar calling, a desire to bring family history presenters and vendors to people who live in areas that seldom see a large genealogy conference. All noble and great!

What saddens me and breaks my heart is that I know that these people are not going to be able to keep up their desire to provide others with these great genealogy resources for much longer without a serious change in the business model. Businesses that require such a great sacrifice of time, energy and effort and are not rewarded with the compensation necessary to justify that sacrifice – do not survive for long.

Please, do not misunderstand what I am saying here. I love the idea of Family History Expos, I love the vendors, I love the attendees! I want nothing more than for all of them to succeed! I just think the business model needs to be deeply looked at and revamped to make it profitable for all.

In the meantime, can I just put in a plug for all the genealogy vendors out there? When you go to conferences let them know that you are glad they came. Better yet, buy their products online when they don’t have to travel, incurring additional operating costs and then having to sell things at a conference discount to make the sale.  

Vendors, in this hard economy you may have to make changes to make your company leaner and more profitable. You may have to do things differently and get creative. I hope that you will survive and thrive.

Attendees, recognize the service and hard work of those who are providing you the opportunity of learning from experts, of shopping in person and generally striving to offer you a worthwhile experience, by saying ‘thank you’ with your wallets when you can. I know its a financial hardship for you to attend these conferences too. We are glad you are there.

There, I said my piece and taking the advice of Cleary, I wrote this post and ‘then everything burst into flames.’


  1. I agree. Every business needs to evaluate everything they do versus ROI.


  2. I want so much to see people who have a great product or service succeed. I would love to see this happen for everyone serving the genealogy community! Learning some good business skills are always a worthwhile investment. Thanks for the comment Caroline!

  3. You might be interested in the Unlock the Past model established, if I understand it correctly, by Gould Genealogy (Australia’s largest supplier, which probably makes it small in American terms). Perhaps a new strategy that would help vendors in the States? http://www.unlockthepast.com.au/ I have no involvement other than as a user.

  4. I couldn’t agree more with Valerie! There’s an excellent resource out there to help people rethink and redefine their business model. “It Starts With One” by various authors. It’s available on Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/It-Starts-One-Individuals-Organizations/dp/0132319845)
    Whether your looking to change the way things are on a personal or business level it’s an excellent guide for rethinking the existing model.

  5. Thanks Pauleen and Teresa, I will be checking out both of those!

  6. As a conferece attendee (2 last year — one of which was a Family History Expo), I make it a point to visit the vendors and to say good things about their products. Unfortunately, I am on a limited budget, and must buy those things which appear to me to provide me with the greatest “payback,” so I cannot buy from all of them. I DO go to their websites and I DO tell folks about the things I saw that I truly liked.

    Hooray for the vendors!

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