Fighting the Hoards

Ronn Bauman —  November 17, 2015 — 3 Comments

One of the many hats I wear is as the author of a funny, yet relevant – and hopefully wise – ADVICE COLUMN. One of the questions that a DARLING READER sent to me in the early years of the column is one in which my answer should prove germane to the people who read Festival Prose. Rhonni’s been asking me for years to jot down some thoughts on simplifying and streamlining your lifestyle. Here’s what I’ve come up with for you all today.

You, Comic Hack, lead a nomadic existence. It cannot always have been thus. I am “settled”, as it were. I have lived in the same home for a large segment of my life. In gaining these roots, there is, of course, a certain comfort. Along with that comfort comes the accumulation of possessions. Given we live in a world where much of our society is consumers and much of the product sold is consumable, it seems this should not present a problem. However, the consumption comes with the expense of expanding waistlines and bulging walls, bank accounts drained and satisfaction NOT guaranteed. How do I reconcile the NEED to cling to things with the knowledge that this is not a healthy practice? I have come to the definite conclusion that my fight against being buried by clutter is a losing battle. In fact, most days I just close my eyes and leave my house and pretend it’s not happening. How do you manage to LIVE with only what you can carry? How does one LEARN to “just say no” to things that speak to their heart? And HOW?HOW?HOW? Do I find the strength to part with the things that are so special to me but injure me by their sheer volume?

Can you impart some practical tips and wisdom from your migratory existence that can set me free (or better arm me for battle?) Your faithful reader, A Stuff Saver with a Gypsy Soul

 

Wait, I think I see your problem right there...

 

Now this, THIS is a question I am uniquely qualified by training, experience and inclination to answer. Let me start by clarifying, I have ALWAYS lived a nomadic lifestyle. It was always thus and I could not be happier.  By the time I was 18 I’d attended fifteen different schools. This does not imply that I hadn’t accumulated a lot of Stuff – or not to put too fine a point on it – Junk. It just means that my piles of stuff were spread out over a more vast distance until I learned a better way. I am just lucky enough to have learned how to divest myself, to de-clutter and simplify.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Labyrinth and not just because of the majestic wonder of Mr. Tom Cruise’s thighs, the delicious decadence of Tim Curry as Darkness or the slightly pervy attraction to the too young Mia Sara.

 

Gotcha ! Wrong Movie buddy!

 

Wait – That’s the movie Legend. Labyrinth had the too young Jennifer Connelly, dark-and-twisted Muppets and David Bowie with is tight pants and ball manipulation (giggity!). In this beautiful, lyrical film one of the hazards depicted in the titular labyrinth, one of the most compelling and unsettling scenes, involved a monstrous hag covered with accumulated stuff who tries to distract our young heroine by plying her and piling her high with her own possessions. The Junk Lady – for so she is unimaginatively named – is one of many junk people who occupy an area of the Labyrinth known as The Junk Fields – or so this entry in the Labyrinth Wiki tells us. She briefly tempts Sarah (Connelly) away from her quest by getting her to hold, treasure and accumulate her possessions. Wow.

This is the perfect metaphor for your situation. Don’t fall for the Junk Lady’s tricks!

3. Whattya mean JUNK

 

I want you right now to take a step back, breathe and remember you’re not a victim here so stop trying to use that as an excuse for not doing the work. This is a society of consumers sure; but it is also the society of the Kardashians and Honey Boo Boo; if you cannot see how abhorrent those knuckleheads are and cannot choose not to emulate them – your problems are far more deep-rooted than I will be able to address. Not to wax all Buddhist-sounding but you are so much more than just the accumulation of thingsYou are not your objects and they have no more sway over you than you allow them to. You are not powerless.

I understand the sway of the safe, the pull of comfort, and of the gravity of the familiar. One of the Newtonian laws – number one on the pop charts – dictates that a body at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by an external source! (emphasis mine). You can certainly choose to stay as you have always been or you can choose to exercise an act of will. Again, you are not your stuff and you are not powerless.

You are MIGHTY!

 

Let me tell you how I finally reached enlightenment in this realm. When I first went on the road I lived in a school bus – I kind of thought you were required to do so to be a Renaissance Festival performer. Because I had such a surplus of space the bus that was originally equipped to transport 66 passengers carted around an embarrassment of Junk instead.  Funny, I was going to put a quote from George Carlin right here about “Stuff” versus “Shit” but I think I’m going to avoid any quotes this month out of sheer perversity; but I digress.

My bits aren't good enough for you (question mark) Fuck You

As the years went by I streamlined my life. I also moved into progressively smaller and smaller accommodations until eventually, everything I needed or wanted in this nomadic life fit tidily into the back of a capper-covered pick-up truck bed. But rather than discard all of my old possessions; some of them dating back to when I’d been married and in the Navy, I had them squirreled-away at various weird locations all over the country. I had stuff in my ex-wife’s attic and stuff in two different storage units thousands of miles apart. I had stuff in my business partner’s garage and stuff at my mom’s house. All of this was in addition to the STUFF I travelled with year after year.

The purchase of a new travel-trailer caused me to take a long, hard (giggity) look at the madness and finally stop my hoarding ways.  I gathered –up all of my possessions from their many disparate locations and went through them all piece-by-piece. I sold many of my “treasured” items- my books were the hardest to part with – and I even made a little money in the process. I threw away nearly a dumpster’s worth of crap, and packed away into the new trailer only that bare-minimum of things I needed or wanted to truck around with me from state-to-state. After the preceding few years, I understood how few and simple my needs really were, even being a bit of a clothes horse like I am. Discarding and divesting myself of this accumulated trash was one of the single most freeing moments in my entire life. I condensed and discarded until eventually all that required storing – stuff too esoteric to cart about but that I was too attached to and couldn’t throw away – finally filled one small steamer trunk. This was a life-changing moment and I hope my example helps motivate you.

You could fit a body in one of these, or so I've heard.

You might find some inspiration and some tips in the rules I live by now. Since I move my entire household about seven or eight times a year, I reexamine what I need and what I possess each time. Maybe a simpler twice-a-year reassessment would suffice for you? I go through my clothes, my toys and even my housewares and if I haven’t used them in a year, and cannot foresee using them in the next six months I sell them, discard them  or leave them in a secure location for when I return the following year. We used to pack up and transport a gas-fired grill from state to state, now I just buy one and leave it for when I return to each location. I think we own five. Digital media is your friend. I don’t buy paper books anymore. I keep a very tiny percentage that have sentimental or fiscal value and the rest I get on Kindle. When I do read a paper book, as soon as I finish it – even if I plan to read it again someday, I give it as a gift to someone who will appreciate it. There are exceptions: I’m not giving up My Adam Ant Biography for example. All of my CDs are in my computer and my iPod. I’ll be moving my MASSIVE – over seven hundred disc – movie collection to a series of hard drives at some point in the future because this kind of simplifying is not an ACT it is an ongoing process.

Give this a shot – simplify your life starting this weekend but start the preparations today. Begin with “Spring Cleaning” right now.  Even though it’s autumn.  Pull out all the crap from your attic, your bookshelves and your basement and have a garage sale Saturday morning. Reassess all that you’ve walled yourself up with and  sell, trash or give away all of the things that are weighing down your life like an anchor. Look at it this way: if you give it an honest effort and find that you’re not happier without all the physical, and metaphorical clutter then you can always experience the hollow joy of shopping therapy as you acquire more “Stuff”.

Once you start stripping down and simplifying your life it becomes easier and easier to continue but you have to be just as cognizant of stuff creeping back in as you were aware of getting rid of it in the first place. You can implement “One in, Two out” and “Maximum number” rules where for example every time you purchase one pair of shoes you must discard two that you no longer wear. For the second rule you can set a number that you’re not allowed to exceed on certain possessions. Who needs more than fifteen t-shirts anyway? Don’t become a collector, and don’t attach too much of your sense of self to your stuff; the joy brought by possessions is a fleeting one. In my family we’re gift givers, but we tend to put the emphasis more on experiences than on things.  Except guns, I still have a bit of an arsenal. Ya know, for the Zombie Apocalypse.

Boyscouts have nothing on me

 

Finally realize that in some rare cases there is an actual disorder that compels you to acquire beyond what is reasonable. In most cases it “only” takes an act of will no-less strong than the one that makes you go to the gym each day to choose to take the steps to de-clutter your life. But sometimes you’ll need to seek professional help. If you think you’re one of these cases – do so. In even the most extreme cases, if you want to change you can. It does not have to be a losing battle. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with keeping and valuing some prized possessions any more than there is any wrong in eating a cupcake from time-to-time. But when you cause yourself harm, when you hoard to the point of shame or embarrassment it’s the same horrors as eating an entire box of donuts over the garbage can while crying. Choose better for yourself; get help if you need it. You are not powerless and you are not your stuff.

Let me just eat enough to get diabetes!

 

 

The King’s Taxes part 1

Kerry Kelly —  February 4, 2015 — 3 Comments

So you want to be an artist at the renaissance festival?

What a great way to express your inner soul! Freedom to draw, to sculpt, to perform and let out that hidden child! And to get paid for it! You pour your heart and soul into your creations. And the people flock to see you perform, or to buy your art … waiting to see you, standing there.

And, at the end of the year, there stands one more person … the tax man.

Tax

 

Wait! What? You thought you would be ‘an outlaw’, that you could live ‘outside the system’.

Well, in a sense, yes. Our life as artists and performers do give us a wonderful, free lifestyle. But if you are in this for a living – and especially for profit – taxes are a part of it.

Paying taxes is a part of any small business, and that’s really all we are – small businesses. Small Business is defined by the Small Business Administration (and the IRS) as being a business with less than 500 full time employees. I think most of us fall under that.

For some of us, taxes are easy. For others, it’s an impossible labyrinth to navigate. Working in “the other world”, we file our 1040EZ, 1040A or 1040, and sometimes take a few familiar deductions or credits – education, home mortgage, child care or unreimbursed business expenses. But as a small business, there are more forms and more paperwork than that.

There are few of us who would file as anything more than ‘sole proprietor’. Sole proprietor can be an individual or a married couple, same as on your standard 1040; you can choose to designate one person as the primary business owner or you can mark ‘jointly owned’. You can form a partnership (for those committed but unmarried partners not in a personal relationship) or S-Corporation, if either of those structures best suit your needs. Partnerships and S-Corporations do not pay taxes themselves, but they are what you call ‘pass-through’ entities, and the partners will pay taxes on the profits. But partnership and S-Corporations filings are for another article, as they are more complex in paperwork.

In a ruling in late August in 2013, the Department of Treasury and the IRS will recognize same-sex marriages for those filing MFJ and MFS (married filing jointly and married filing separately) status on your federal return. You must be legally married in a state that recognizes such marriages, but you don’t have to be living in or filing from a state that recognizes same sex marriages. However, the ruling does not apply to registered domestic partnerships, civil unions or similar formal relationships recognized under state law.

Tax

Sole Proprietors – we small artistes and thespians – will file a Schedule C along with our 1040. Known by tax nerds as “Business Profit or Loss”.   There isn’t a lot to it. It’s all of 2 pages long, unless you have depreciation. But don’t panic! Learning the tax end of making a living at renaissance faires and outdoor festivals only takes up a little of your time, but it is a very important part of your time.

As a small business, you have to remember to put aside some of that very, very hard earned money to pay your federal taxes. Remember that, back in the old world job, they withheld that very, very hard-earned money with each paycheck. Not so now, young entrepreneur, you have to do it yourself. You also have to set aside the monies yourself to pay for your SE tax – nerdy for Self Employment tax.

Holy Mother of Unicorns! SE tax? What the heck is that? “I thought I left the other world to get away from the system!” Explained simply, your SE tax is your Social Security replacement. It goes towards your retirement. No, we WON’T get into any type of debate or discussion about whether or not Social Security will be there for you when you’re ready. This is not part of the scope of my expertise.

But filing as a self employed person has its perks. You can get away with deducting a lot of your funny clothing. Costumes are a required part of what we do for our job and therefore are legitimate business deductions, and many of our costumes cost a lot. And I’ve noticed a lot of us wear our costumes out in the real world. Keep in mind that in order to deduct ‘business clothing’ that it must be substantially for business use and cannot be clothing that you wear in normal life activities such as going shopping, or out to dinner with friends, or to a wedding. I know, I know, some of us will do that anyway. And you can still write off a lot of your funny clothes.

 

Learning to file your own quarterly taxes – both state and federal – is just another part of being a successful small business. I enjoyed Ronn Bauman’s article “So you want to work at at Renaissance Festival?”, and his discussion on the different levels of participation. Being a self employed artist or performer brings a myriad of new jobs into your life. Bookkeeping is one of them.

Receipt bundles for tax accountant small business owner

And taxes aren’t just for the full time renaissance artist or performer. Do you work a regular 9 to 5 in the city and you just come out and work weekends for your artist friend?

Yes, you are supposed to report that cash he/she pays you. Oh, they gave you a $300 leather vest in exchange for your pass and time worked? According to IRS Publication 17, you’re supposed to report the fair market value of that as income too (and the value of the pass).   But as long as your 1040 is in good shape otherwise, I wouldn’t stay awake nights worrying if the IRS is going to bust down your doors to audit you if you don’t mention it. If you worked a couple of festivals for different booths, but you still have your 9-5 in the city, whether or not you get a 1099-MISC from your artist friends in January, you will have to file a Schedule C with your 1040 and pay SE tax on that income unless the total of that income for the entire year is less than $400. And you will do the same if you are a full time working rennie, one who isn’t a booth owner or performer, but you just travel around working for those who do own booths. Because you are in business for yourself; you just sell your labor instead of stuff.

Now bears the big question. Do you HAVE to pay the King’s Tax? Well, it is the law of the land. It’s your own personal moral issue if you want to roll the dice that way. But there are a few thoughts that might help you out.

The IRS does not require you to file a tax return if you do not owe any tax, and with personal deductions and exemptions, there is a minimum amount you need to make before you will owe any tax. Bear in mind, however, that while you may not owe any federal tax, you may likely owe SE tax. However, it is highly recommended that you DO file a tax return if you are owed any refund or are eligible for one of several refundable credits. After all, it’s your money. You do want it back, don’t you? And if you are just starting out a new business, the IRS doesn’t care if you don’t show a profit for the first few years. Generally you need to show a profit within 5 years, preferably 3. But be careful about red flags – things that make the IRS notice you. Don’t tell the IRS that you haven’t make a dime of profit for the last 10 years or they might ask you “What are you living on?” And if you tell them you are living off of your boyfriend, don’t tell them that your boyfriend hasn’t filed a tax return in 15 years (that really happened).

 

Taxes are seldom difficult. They just take time, just as your marketing does. There are sometimes issues that are confusing to the right brainers of the world. But learning your way around tax talk will take a couple of tries and there are plenty of reliable resources – from professional tax preparers to the www.irs.gov website – out there to consult for the legal and safe answers. In future articles I will address more specific subjects such as depreciation and sales of business assets, and pretty soon you’ll be as comfortable with those terms as you are swinging fire poi at a Funky Formal.

You need to know about Fresh Rag

Rhonni —  August 14, 2014 — 1 Comment

I’ve promised to share the tools and tidbits of a successful life at festivals. Al Craig has had some great advice for crafters when at festivals, but we haven’t delivered a lot of info for Makers that applies outside our world.
My own art form is management (although I admit to being better-than-passable at building design). But I wanted to let you Crafter/Maker/Vendor-type folks know about a website and podcast that delivers business information for folks in the business of creating. Dave Conrey’s Fresh Rag site has a variety of gifts. The podcasts alone are full of great, practical information for people selling their work anywhere, and I’m currently awaiting delivery of his book Selling Art Online.

 

The photo of Dave I snagged from Facebook.

The photo of Dave I snagged from Facebook.

Here is a sample of his writing, and I promise you that anyone trying to make a living selling stuff they create will find a lot of value in his podcasts.

Let us know if you have any helpful resources for folks in this wacky industry we all call home. Podcasts? Blogs? Books? Share in the comments!

Tim’s Festival Hiring Credo

Rhonni —  July 19, 2014 — 8 Comments

The following post is the work of my friends Tim Rosa and Donna D’Ignazio, both long time working participants of the Renaissance Festival industry. We were discussing tips and tricks to hiring good help at festivals, and they shared with me their favorite hiring tool. I’ve included their Preamble … which kind of makes this a preamble to a preamble, but they don’t have an author box for the bottom of this post. I felt I needed to explain it a bit.

Enjoy …

 

Tim’s Preamble

The following credo was written by (us) on a long trip from one show to another. Donna and I have been doing fairs, conventions, and Festivals for many years and these are some of the things we have learned.

We have each new prospective employee read it aloud.

If they don’t understand it, we can’t use them.

If they argue a point, we won’t use them.

We feel that this is a clear and concise set of guidelines to a fun job … but fun isn’t always easy!

Once read, we have them sign the document so that there are no misunderstandings, and no disappointments on either end.

To us these seem rudimentary.

We expect it from others and others should be able to expect it from us.

 

Disclaimer: These are the beliefs of Tim Rosa and Donna D’Ignazio. They are not necessarily those of Fellowship Foundry, Renaissance Pewter, or their affiliates.

 

Fellowship Foundry
Rules of Acquisition

1)  Pretend to be cheerful until you believe it yourself.

2)  Each and every patron deserves the VERY best that each of us can do for them. Smile and say hello to EVERYONE.

3)  SELL THINGS!

a)  Believe in the product.

b)  Take ownership of the product.

c)   Take ownership of the booth.

d)  Never ONCE think you are in charge.

4)  The four basic types of customers:

a)  The small talk
These are the people who you talk to about the weather, are they enjoying themselves, that’s a beautiful baby, etc.

b)  Those you absolutely leave alone
Let them come to you. (Don’t even try to make eye contact).

c)   The hard sell
You know what they want more than they do. Hand it to them or put it around their neck and ask ‘cash or charge?’

d)  The ones you f*ck with
These are the people who are intelligent, fun and funny and have probably been drinking. They will be insulted if you talk down to them. The trick to this is being aware. Be aware of the patron and your surroundings.   ALWAYS!

 

Cursorily, study each patron. Look at their clothes, observe their behavior, their demeanor, but mostly, look at their eyes.
Decide which of the four types best fits them.
This is not an exact science.
The point of this is to make the patron feel comfortable and therefore willing and glad to make a purchase.

Which category?

Which category?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5)  Fun   —  If the patron is having fun they don’t even realize they are shopping.

6)  Appropriate Costuming

a)  Women – May be risqué, but must be tasteful.

b)  Men – Shirts must be worn. No cross-dressing.

c)   Everyone – Hats, garlands, some form of headgear is mandatory.

d)  Must adhere to all faire costume rules.

7)  Work ethic
From the start of your work day until the end of your work day, you represent yourself, your co-workers, the booth and the faire. Your actions reflect upon all of these! Conduct yourself appropriately!
If you are camping on site, these rules apply ALWAYS!

8)  Expectations
You are not expected to be an expert at this from the start. You will have many opportunities to learn and grow. Please do not be discouraged. When you succeed, we all succeed. Many of these skills come from experience and you can learn from others’ mistakes and/or triumphs. Again, be aware. Have fun and help others to have fun.

9)  Co-existence
There will be NO conflicts on the floor! PERIOD! Not between patrons, spouses, boy/girl friends, co-workers, and especially bosses!
If you have a difference of opinion, take it out back.

10)      Push ‘em down and take their lunch money!!!!!!!

Your work day starts at:_________________________________

Your work day ends at:__________________________________

Your pay rate is:____________________________________________

Your employment starts:__________________________________

And ends:_______________________________________

Student Days:___________________________________

 

Breaks will be given every day during slow periods. You are responsible for your pass. Replacement passes are $100. There may be bonuses paid on performance and attitude.

 

 

Name_____________________________________

 

Address__________________________________

____________________________________________

____________________________________________

 

Phone____________________________________

 

Social Security #__________________________

 

 

I, __________________________________, have read and understand these terms and expectations, and will, to the best of my ability, perform these and greater things.

Signed_________________________________________

 

Date______________________________________

 

 

 

 

(Rhonni again here) Do you have favorite tools for getting the right employees for your team? Let us know about your favorites!

Everywhere I’ve gone this month, the conversation seems to be about the intersection of Entertainment and Commerce in the Festival or Theme Park world.

Permanent parks and themed environments are not entry-level venues, whether speaking of crafts, services, or food & beverage sales. Too often participants leap into an investment in a park or festival with no thought to Proof of Concept. Vendors enter the themed milieu without an appreciation for the experience that the customer is seeking by attending such a venue.

Buy-in can mean so many things … in permanent parks it can refer to the cost involved in procuring a building from which to vend. However there is also the cultural buy-in that includes the joy of wearing a costume and interacting with festival attendees in a way that enhances the escape they purchased upon entry of the park’s front gate.

To quote Ben Franklin: “Diligence is the mother of good luck” 

It is wise to work for a while in any industry before deciding one is ready to own a business there. The restaurant business is a glaringly obvious example of how wrong people can be about their own understanding of a business model when they decide to launch their dream restaurants with no prior foodservice experience. In the festival business, the mistake manifests more often with unproven crafts concepts. Lack of sales is most often blamed on a Vendor Coordinator’s influence on booth placement, or a PR team “not bringing in the right people”. The truth is often that the craft hasn’t sold remarkably in ANY venue, but due diligence was never exercised before building a business around it.

If you’ve spent years in any industry, you’ll have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Themed events are such a blend of entertainment and commerce; they can be a difficult place to attempt a trial run of a product. However, if that item itself is a mixture of these elements … if there is an experience connected to the purchase … then that product has a better chance of working in that realm. But for goodness sake, take the time to make at least a rudimentary business plan.

No Evil

Proof of Concept can be worked out in real-time, inside an event. But the money invested has a higher level of risk. Also, bigger parks sometimes require proof that you’ve spent serious time researching your project. Fifteen years ago, an application to the Texas Renaissance Festival was not a form one filled out. It was a multi-page presentation, which included all of the following points:

 Legend:

Mission:

Creed:

Motto:

Theme:

 Demeanor:

 Costumes:

 Strategies:

 Heraldic Symbol:

 Income Projections:

 Festival Compensation:

 Expense Budget:

 3yr Expansion Plan:

 Details and dimensions of workspace:

 How did we get here? (Business/Personal Biography)

 Breakdown and description of items for sale:

 

In Eleanor Whitney’s book GROW, How to take your D.I.Y. project and passion to the next level & quit your job! She coaches a similar set of questions. (She has other great advice as well.)

Innovative shows are going to ask you to continue thinking about your business or businesses within their venue(s). Some recent homework I’ve completed would include reports on ongoing research in my field, and a two page paper on our company philosophy on Food and Entertainment.

As someone who is often asked for business consultations within the festival industry, I have to say that I think many missteps would be avoided if this type of esoteric questioning became more common in the festival world.

Just as writing an interesting application helps you land good summer employees, engaging in the right types of internal questions can save us from grief when we try to sell either an unproven product, or sell it in an unproven venue.

 

Those of you already in the industry, what are some of the questions you wished you had asked before starting your business? What questions do you think should be asked of show applicants? Let us know … we’re looking forward to the conversation.

If you have a lot to say on the matter … you might consider being a Guest Blogger with us.

In a clearly defined business category, it is easy to watch your competitors and see which of their ideas work, and which fail. You can watch the most successful team, and mimic their attempts within your own budgets of time and money. However, those of us that straddle more than one category have to keep our attention on multiple category leaders. We succeed by marrying diverse elements in order to create a unique category. We can look to the leaders in each of those categories to appropriate tools or processes that we have seen as successful.

 

Discussing proven strategies, and brainstorming new ones.

We see this mimicry a lot in the festival industry. Because geography keeps many festivals from ever competing for an audience, tips are regularly shared amongst management.  This is not a suggestion that there is not still competition. Shows compete for vendors, performers, and ranking on a wide list of criteria. Every show has its priority as to which criteria are most important.

In my favorite model of festival management, within the offices the separate divisions of management are allowed to work as if their department is the most important. This creates a space of good-natured competition that raises the show in each of the different criteria. Respect is key. In no way can anyone think that they must denigrate another category in order to shine. (Unhealthy competition like that is a team-building issue, left for another post.)

So Vendor Coordinators watch to see any innovations made by individuals who have that title at other shows. PR Managers follow all the other shows’ media … watching for an element that will work well with their audience.

 

But what is the situation when you are the category leader … even in multiple criteria?

Just like a vendor can straddle categories and innovate a new category, entire shows have to look to other industries to create innovation. Innovation always happens at the edges of a proven method. Staying at the top of the category takes a lot more work than mimicking ideas that have worked for others.

 

Scene:
End of season at the largest Renaissance Festival in the US … 20 of us are in a room, going over the past year’s successes and failures. We represent a variety of vendors and management, but we are in agreement that we are tasked with keeping this show on the cutting edge of the industry. When the meeting breaks, we stand around rattling off to each other the list of events we will be attending for research purposes. No one lists a Renaissance Festival. Some of us vend at other festivals, and are trusted to bring back any ideas that work.

The list we share and the events we invite each other to reads like an ADHD travel wish list: New Media Expo, Interactive Week of South by Southwest, The National Restaurant Association ShowThe Fancy Food Show, Walt Disney World, Burning Man, Schlitterbahn, and Bonnaroo. Personally I’m watching how the BBC is using an app to keep fans of the woefully short-seasoned show Sherlock engaged with the characters between seasons. This has some specific parallels to our marketing situations.

Of course all of this is in addition to the research we all do to stay at the top of our own smaller games (read: individual businesses or jobs), which we are playing on the giant gameboard that is the festival as a whole.

 

Where do you look for business inspiration? If you are a category creator, what are the categories that you combined in order to create it? Does clarifying those categories help you see a new place to look for ideas? Let us know in the comments, we want to hear from you.

I’ll never get to Burning Man … or to Dragon Con for that matter. Happily, I’ll admit I’m amongst the sort of people who would attend either, or both on alternating years … and I regularly get invited to parties at both events. I get drawn into costume brainstorms with my friends, and I look forward to seeing pictures of their experiences.

Directional sign at Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival

 

I’d love to attend either of these spectacles, or both. But Labor Day Weekend is capitalized for a reason in the festival world. It is quite possibly the biggest money weekend in outdoor festivals. Whether you are in a northern state, where Labor Day heralds the end of the summer weather that coaxes you outdoors, or further south, where Labor Day means that soon you can venture out again … For vendors, it is a money weekend.

 

I’m a vendor. I’m also an artist and a fan. But I have the luxury of being an artist and a fan because I take the vendor part seriously.

 

So send me your photos of Dragon Con parties, and Burning Man encampments. Copy me in when you send out notes from workshops you attend. Just don’t assume I’m ever going to join you there. Being *paid* to be at a festival is pretty much living the fantasy life, and I’m enjoying the heck out of it.

Where are you on Labor Day Weekend? Let us know in the comments please!

 

Ok, let’s see, …..where were we? ….poker…matchsticks…20 pounds of quarters….profit/patron, cost/patron and patron/vendor ratios…big pies…..and little pieces. Remember? If not, you can refresh your memory by reading ‘playing by the numbers, part 1’

It’s a funny thing about numbers. When you ask someone the time of day, a baseball score, or the age of their children, the answers are straight forward….no qualifiers, no agenda, and no spin. “Two forty five”, Eight to Five, Cubs”, and “Little Jimmy is seven”. However, ask the same person “How much money did you make this week?” and a new dynamic kicks in and your question will be answered with a shocked look, another question “What?” or a declarative statement “That’s none of your @$##$ business!” My own answer to this question has always been “Not enough”, but I digress….

photo by AoLun1680 on Flickr

People and business concerns are guarded with their numbers not because of the numbers themselves. There are two basic reasons that we guard our actual numbers. The first is fear. If we are ‘successful’ we don’t want others to know of the level of our success for fear of inducing competition. If our day or year has been less than stellar we don’t want others to know for fear of being judged as incompetent or ‘unsuccessful’.
The second reason is…..it’s none of your @$##$ business! And yet, in all my years as an entertainer, craftsperson, and crafts coordinator, I have participated in the daily dance of trying to find out how others were doing numerically as they tried to find out the same from me.

Because we are all aware of the sanctity of our numbers we couch our inquiries into others’ numbers in non-specifics. Instead of “how much did you make?” we ask “How was your day?” The answers (both gotten and given) can range from “Grim” to “Great!” but usually are given in relative terms as well “Half of what we did yesterday” or “Not as well as we should have for the number of people”. Which is fine because, truth be known, it isn’t the actual number that is important, it is the relationship of that number to past numbers.

Was today up or down relative to last week? Was this year up or down from last year? Without these numbers I couldn’t effectively do my job as a crafts coordinator. How can a festival know how many potters is too many potters? You can’t ask the potters. As far as they’re concerned there are already too many potters unless, of course, they are the only potter, in which case the festival has the perfect number of potters.

Without these relative numbers, I, as a craftsperson, would have nothing outside of my own previous numbers by which to judge my current performance. Do I need to change my display? Develop a new product line? Change my prices? Have they juried in too many shops in my medium? It’s all guess work without having an idea if my fiscal variance is at odds with what others at the show are experiencing. Therefore on any given day you will hear amongst crafters, entertainers and management the veiled repartee of fiscal exploration “How was your day?” in an attempt to figure out if their own day was on track.

The fact that no numbers are discussed is, in most cases fine. It really isn’t any of my business how many turkey legs a festival sells. If they are kind enough to give me a relational statement great, if not no harm done, because, again, it’s none of my @#$# business. This holds true with all of the numbers a festival has save one….the actual gate count.

It is my business to know the accurate gate count of a festival if I’m going to invest in a booth on their grounds. It is also my business as a vendor of crafts or food to know how many people came through the gate on any given day, week, or year. A vendor cannot run their business efficiently without actual gate numbers. The more accurate the numbers supplied, the better they can carry on business, the more successful they will be, and the more they will invest in their booth and their business at that festival.

The need for past gate counts is especially true for food vendors and live flower businesses, who deal in perishable products. With past gate counts, a weather forecast, and current gate counts for preceding weeks, it becomes easier to place your order for the upcoming weekend, with less of a chance for having to throw part of your profits in the garbage on Sunday night. Imagine, if you are a potter, that at the end of the weekend you had to throw away all the pots that you didn’t sell……welcome to the world of food.

However, even though a craftsperson doesn’t have to throw away product, without an idea of the gate, there is no reference point to determine how well they are doing with price points, display, and the overall demand curve for their product, nor the necessary data for an accurate supply curve for that festival. In addition, not only do vendors pay a fee (or in some cases several fees) to be at a show, but they also invest a large chunk of their capital in the show once they’ve decided to do it. To ask a vendor to do this without supplying them with data that would improve their business (and therefore increase their investment) is contrary not only to their best interest, but also to the festivals best interest.

So, assuming that festivals want the best for their vendors so they will further invest and expand, how can you as a current vendor or potential investor get these numbers? The first step would be to ask them. But be forewarned that there is a good chance that they won’t give them to you, or, worse, will give you the attendance numbers. “But why would they do that? And what’s the difference between the gate and the attendance?” That will have to wait until next time, even though that’s what I said last time.

Let me know, via a comment below, your thoughts or own experiences with gathering or sharing your numbers…..or anything else that might generate more comments! (Yes….I’m fishing for more comments.)

Next time—How to guesstimate what the actual gate count is so you can find the patron/vendor ratio….

really…no kidding…

I meant to do it this time, but it was too wordy.…

Our friend Julia has done it again. This is his second parody video, utilizing the many skills of the Scarborough Faire Rennie community.

Julian! We want to see more of these! How can we help?

Let us know what songs you think deserve his Renaissance Rework Magic in the comments.

Editor’s note: This is the first installment in Al’s series that uses metrics to determine the financial relationship between vendors and festivals.Following articles will end up with internal links here (Part 2). It’s high-season in the outdoor festival business, but we’ll get them to you eventually.

I love to play poker.  When I was a kid, we would play for matchsticks. After the game was over, we would put our matchsticks back in the box, go outside, and play something else.  In poker for matchsticks there was no winner or loser, nothing ventured, and nothing gained.  We played for the fun of it, and a good time was had by all.

photo by Ibrahim Sariahmetoglu

In High School, and then College, we played for cash.  Usually nickel, dime, quarter games with a three raise limit.  It doesn’t seem like much, but after five or six hours and twice as many beers, you could win or lose a months’ rent.  Suddenly the good time was no longer guaranteed.  It was great when you could go home with 20 pounds of quarters in your pockets, but not so much when your solvency had dissolved in a brew of bad luck, bad beer, and bad play.  Poker had become what poker is…..a gamble.

Not being much of a gambler, I sought to improve my odds and remove as much of the ‘gamble’ as I could.  Or, to put it another way, to treat it like a business. Or, to put it yet another way, to understand and then manage the risk of playing poker to improve my profit.  Big surprise…..it all came down to numbers.

I’m assuming for the sake of this article that you are no longer playing for matchsticks.  You know the numbers that one must know to exist and survive as a private business in the 21st century.  You know the numbers of operating your business.  The numbers that I will offer are those relating to the environment in which you do your business, i.e. the relationship between your business and the festival itself.  These numbers are a key metric for you as a craftsperson in determining the return from festivals that you are considering, or in which you are already invested. They also are essential to a festival should it be concerned or curious about the health of the internal economy that it has created.

There are 3 ratios that serve as the main indicators of the potential economic success or failure of a single business and, if left unattended over time, of the entire internal craft economy. These are the cost/patron ratio, the profit/patron ratio, and the patron/vendor ratio.  

For the purpose of this article, I will address the patron/vendor ratio.  It is the leading indicator on which all others are dependent.  It is the numeric expression of the two primary concerns that you, as a craftsperson should have about a show that is asking for your investment.  

The first number, the number of patrons, is an indication of how successful the festival is in bringing money through the gates.  The second number, the number of crafts people who have been juried into the show, is an indicator of the festivals level of understanding or concern for the financial health and wellbeing of those who have invested in their show.  In short, the patron/vendor ratio simply put is; “How big a pie did they bake, and how many pieces did they cut it into.”  To determine the patron/vendor ratio you simply divide the number of patrons by the number of vendors.

A festival is obviously going to be concerned with the size of the pie.  It is the metric which, from their point of view, is the primary gauge of their success.  It is from this number that all others judged.  It is only natural, therefore, that they assume that the same would hold true for the individual businesses inside the gates.  “If we’re doing well, then the vendors also must be doing well.”  This is true only if the festival has either frozen the number of vendors or juried in a smaller percentage of new vendors than the percentage increase of the gate.

 For a vendor at a show it’s not so much the size of the pie as it is the size of the piece.  A show that has 200,000 patrons coming through the gate sounds like a great place to build a booth, right?   It would be a great show to invest in if there were only 100 vendors.  It would be if there were 150 vendors.  It would be ok even if there were 200 vendors…..but that would be the cut-off point for me.

  Over the thirty-some years of observing festivals and businesses I’ve come to a rule of thumb which has held true over the years.  A patron/vendor ratio of 1,000 patrons per vendor for an eight weekend Renaissance festival, or 125 patrons per vendor per day is the minimum amount to justify doing a show with the expectations of an acceptable return on investment.  When the ratio falls below this, money becomes tighter for each business and they have a tendency to start trying to extract what they need for the return on their investment in a more aggressive manner.  They also have a tendency to increase the size and display of lower dollar, bread and butter items in an effort to insure that they can meet the payroll and cover the booth fee.  

This is not a healthy financial environment for you nor is it healthy for the festival.  The patrons will start to withdraw, they will walk down the middle of the lane to avoid the shops.  Some shops, in turn, hire lane hawkers.  Soon there is nowhere for a patron to feel safe from the continuous pressure of being sold something. The experience is akin to paying twenty bucks to spend a day hearing life insurance salesmen and telemarketers trying to sell you their product.

If you are a vendor and you find that, at certain shows, you are having to compete harder for fewer returns, check the patron/vendor ratio.

 If you work at a festival and can’t understand why the lack of investment in booths and landscaping, why the lack of concern from the crafts community for the patron experience, check your patron/vendor ratio. 

If you are a patron and you find at the end of the day, on the way home in the car, or through conversations with friends,  the feeling that you’ve invested your weekend and your money in an experience that was tainted by aggressive sales techniques and low quality crafted products, check the patron/vendor ratio.

Next time—How to guesstimate what the actual gate count is so you can find the patron/vendor ratio….