Archives For Al Craig

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.…

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….

Profitability Through Play

Al Craig —  April 18, 2013 — 5 Comments

 

The cast of Rawhide.

The other night I was channel surfing and paused briefly on ‘Rawhide’, an old black & white weekly western series.  Wishbone was servin’ up the grub.  Rowdy, Scarlet, Mister Favor, the whole gang was sitting around the campfire, eating beans off of metal plates and soaking up the sunset.  I was there with them, out on the ol’ lone prairie enjoying the various shades of gray of the setting sun when I saw a boom mike hanging over Mister Favor’s head.

   Gone was the sunset, gone were the drovers eating their beans, gone was the story line—all I could see was that boom mike.  It didn’t fit; it stuck out like sneakers on Shakespeare.  It was such a small thing, but it had a such a huge effect—it turned Rowdy Yates into Clint Eastwood, Gil Favor into Eric Flemming, and the ol’ lone prairie into a back lot at CBS…it destroyed the illusion, and instantly brought me back from the wide open spaces to the closed confines of my living room.

 For those of you who are new to the business, a themed festival is theater.   It is not a theater in the traditional sense, but it is a theater, just the same.  It is a 3-D, or ‘Interactive Theater’.  In traditional theater the audience sits in a fixed position passively observing the action which also occurs in a fixed position (The stage or screen).  The two are separated by what is known as “the fourth wall” an invisible, mutually agreed upon plane that will not be penetrated by either side.

  Early experimental theater groups tried removing the fourth wall by having actors enter from the audience, or by delivering lines from the audience, who still sat in a fixed position and passively observed. 

Interactive theater, which is at the cutting edge of experimental theater, invites the audience onto the stage, invites them to participate, and entices them to play like children; to touch, talk, move and explore the stage with their own creativity and rediscover the child within themselves. Think of your own childhood.  If you ever had tea time with teddy bears, or made the winning basket for the NBA championship in your own back yard, you were involved in creative play. 

 If you’ve ever seen a patron with a beer in one hand, a turkey leg in the other, wearing cowboy boots, blue jeans, a  Blake Shelton T- shirt, and a just purchased Jester’s hat hollering “HUZZAH!” instead of “HOT DAMN!” then, you have seen the effects of playfulness as well.  At a themed festival the entire site is the stage, and all of those who work within its boundaries are the cast.

 

 “Yeah, Yeah, so what does this have to do with me?, I’m trying to make a living here”  OK, fair enough question….I’ll answer it with another question—If you give a child $10 and turn him loose in a toy store for the day, how much money will he return with?  How about $20?  How about $50 or $100?  A child will always return with empty pockets—and so will an adult if they are wholly involved in creative play.  The economic restraints and controls that we as adults place upon ourselves lose much of their strength when we are focused upon play.  If you are not familiar with this concept, I would be happy to explain it over a few hands of poker at a casino of your choosing.

 Now, back to the back lot at CBS…. as bad as that boom mike was, imagine instead that the drovers are sitting around the campfire, watching the sunset over the herd, eating beans with white plastic sporks off of Styrofoam plates, and drinking out of paper cups that say  “Pepsi”.

 When a Patron stands in front of a Renaissance Booth, manned by a person in costume in their minds they are looking at the stage.  If you have styro cups and plates, if you are eating with a spork, you have destroyed the illusion that you and every other business owner has spent thousands of dollars to create and the public has paid the price of an admission to experience. If the person in costume is eating out of a Styrofoam container it has the same effect as putting truck tires on Charlton Heston’s chariot in the big race scene in ‘Ben-Hur’.  “Yeah, sure Al, but why, after spending all that money, why would they put truck tires on a chariot?”

My point exactly….

 Maintaining the illusion is vital.  Not only is it the ‘Prime Directive”, if you will, of theater, It is also the essential ingredient that nurtures the necessary trust needed for adults to allow themselves to enter into creative play. And the mindset of creative play, as we earlier observed, makes a person more than willing to spend money they wouldn’t normally be more than willing to spend in pursuit of the pleasure of playful creation…..

  The illusion is not created for the cast; it is created for the audience.  It is also created, in part, by the audience through their ability to skillfully suspend their disbelief.

 Suspension of disbelief (another arcane theatrical term) occurs when one lays aside their analytical mind so they might be entertained.  For example, if I was watching Rawhide, and did not suspend my disbelief my internal dialogue would sound something like this “Everything is black white and gray, grass is green in the real world, I see the fire, but I don’t smell the smoke, how can it be dark already, it was noon five minutes ago, where is that music coming from, is there an orchestra in the chuck wagon?” etc. 

 We are all adept at suspending our disbelief.  We can turn it off at the first sign of a commercial, make a sandwich, go to the bathroom, be back in the lazy-boy and turn it back on before the last commercial ends. To you, the flush toilets and Faire food containers are an anachronism; to the patron it’s a trip to the bathroom and kitchen during a commercial.

 Let’s assume for a second that it’s OK to eat out of Styrofoam, it’s such a small thing, it really shouldn’t make that much difference (except to those craftspeople who sell eating & drinking utensils).  How about jewelry, that’s small stuff, why not let everybody start wearing Wal-mart jewelry? That’s no big deal (except to those people who sell jewelry).  And what about costumes, you can find stuff in stores that could pass for costumes.  Same with foot wear, not a big deal (except to costumers and cobblers).

  Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that all the craftspeople and all the entertainers are outfitted with items that cannot be purchased at the show.   Will sales go up or down?  Will a patron purchase a velvet period hat if the participants are wearing baseball hats? Will a patron buy a pair of hand-crafted footwear if the participants are wearing tennis shoes? 

 When a patron feels safe enough to play, they will first try to look the part. By in large, they pattern themselves after the participants…it’s the only reference point they have.  Even though it might be quick, clean, and easy to eat out of Styrofoam, every time you do so you are inadvertently telling patrons that it’s OK to do so and still be part of ‘the act’.    Is it any wonder that a potter can’t sell a dinner set when his friends around him are eating out of air-injected petro-chemical bowls and shoveling food into their mouths with a schizophrenic utensil made from the rotting flesh of dinosaurs?!?  

 You want sales to go up?  Maintain the illusion.  Put your product on as many participants and in as many shops as you possibly can.  Trade, discount, or  barter. 

 Every participant that has your product is a walking advertisement to every paying playing patron that doesn’t and, if they see it on another playful soul, they will seek you out and, with a smile on their face, give you their money so that they might play….and you might prosper.

 

 So…..is it worth the time, effort, and expense to outfit yourself with appropriate utensils and costumes.  Is it worth the extra washing of dishes and transferring of food from styro/cardboard containers?  How about discounts to participants to get your item out there?  Does any of this make sense??  If so, great!  Feel free to share a story in the comments.  If not, even better!!  Let me know in a comment below what a lackey of the Corporate Overlords needs to hear to make your life simpler.