Archives For Rhonni

Summer Job Lady

Rhonni —  May 23, 2013 — 6 Comments

This post originally appeared on my personal blog, but just this week I was having a conversation with a Crafter about hiring good help, and the choice to become a mentor. Many many people have their first job experience at an outdoor festival or theme park. It is something we need to remember as the people doing the hiring.

I’ve been the “Summer Job Lady” for 23 summers now. Before we had our own businesses there, I managed all of the personnel and payroll for the man that owned 75% of the food program at the New York Renaissance Faire. With an attrition rate of 10%, and 85 positions to fill, some summers I’d hire 135 kids during the 8 week run of the festival.
These days, for our own operation, we need about 25 people. We have a more generous pay scale, and the fact that The Hubby and I work in the kitchens with our employees, rather than just counting the money in an office combine to give us a lower rate of attrition. We now hire the younger siblings and even the children of some of my former summer hires. We have a solid and reliable crew in New York, and I’m looking forward to establishing the same type of team in the shows where I have less tenure.

My Summer Job Application

Still, I’ve learned a few things over the years about summer jobs.
1. 8 weeks is a “lot” of someone’s summer to give up. I talk about it being 17 days when asking them for a commitment. We’re open on weekends only, for high-volume sales. There is no room for extra bodies, and consequently no real way to hire extra people … (except …)
2. There are people that simply cannot give up all of these weekends. I take their info, and enlist them as backup. If they are former employees who cannot make the full commitment, I go ahead and hire them for the busiest weekend, or a holiday weekend … “someone” is going to flake, and you’ll still be ready for your biggest day, as well as maintaining a relationship with that employee as she’s moving off to college or whatever.
3. This is often someone’s FIRST JOB. Any incorrect assumptions they make are the manager’s fault for improper training. For example: We are now hiring a generation of people who have never been away from their cell phones. Getting peeved when you find the 16 year old texting between customers is absurd. It’s the management’s fault for not explaining that there is no phone use while on the clock. Reprogramming a young person to ignore a ring or buzz of his phone is harder than you might think. Instead, provide a secure lock-up near the time clock. Let employees know they can check their phones for messages when off the clock; otherwise the number of bathroom breaks required appears to be related to their text and voicemail frequency.
4. When hiring people under 16 (Yes, it’s legal for some positions.), It’s their parents that have to acknowledge the commitment to punctuality and attendance required of the job. I *have* made arrangements with parents of school-age kids that if the student’s grades dropped, he or she would lose their permission to work. I’ve always been fine with this, and it allows me to establish a partnership with the parent that has always worked in my favor over consecutive summers.
5. This is simply a personal theory, but I have hired in Texas, Colorado, New York, Maryland, and Georgia. In my opinion, the likelihood of an employee being a no-call, no-show is directly related to the rate of unemployment in their parent’s experience. Areas that have known double-digit unemployment any time in the last 30 years seem to instill in the younger generation an awareness that jobs require a level of responsibility that at least requires a well-crafted excuse and a phone call. This level of consideration is not as common in states where the unemployment rate stayed low.
6. Ask questions that will help you decipher a personality and match a potential employee with the proper manager. On my application, I ask the following:
a) What was the last book you read?
This one often tells me more about the local school’s curriculum than it does the interviewee, but often we have these books in common, and it eases some of the tension of what might be his or her first job interview.
b) What is your MySpace or FaceBook URL?
I probably don’t need to explain why this is of value. You can really learn a lot about someone with this information.
c) What was the last music you bought for yourself?
In a time when file-swapping is the norm, knowing what music she assigns value, tells me a great deal, and again, gives me a conversation point in the interview process.
d) What Team Sports / Athletics experience do you have?
This is key. You see, The Hubby communicates like a basketball coach … mid-mistake corrections, short sentences, an expectation of follow-through on whatever “play” he’s just called for. It can be disastrous for me to place someone with no team sports experience in his shop, especially if they have any self-confidence issues, because they have no point of reference for his management style and tend to go directly to “He doesn’t like me.”.
e) What Music or Theatre experience do you have?
We’re vending in an entertainment venue. If I’m staffing for a Front-of-House position, I’m asking them to wear silly clothes and fake an accent. Theatre geeks live for this … it makes job placement very easy.
f) Do you believe that life is a set of circumstances one makes the best of, or that life is a result of choices one has made? (Please circle your selection.)
a) Circumstances b) Choices

This is my favorite question. I have had several applicants draw in an option c) “Combination of Both”. They gets props for creativity with that one. While I would officially say that there is not a right or wrong answer to this question, we all know that’s not entirely true. Answers to this question have never kept me from hiring a person, and folks 17 and under will have a tendency towards selection ‘A’ because their parents are making the choices. I’ve watched with interest as people’s answers change over several years of summer returns. However, as a manager I need to know that it’s risky to place a selection ‘A’ person in a position with a high level of responsibility. This is  the person who could have a flat tire on the way to work, and not recognize that his choice of buying cigarettes instead of new tires affected his day, and then his lack of a job. If I’ve invested a lot of training in a choice ‘A’ person, I may just have to do it all over again with another hire before the summer season is over. However, if he truly makes the best of his circumstance, he still comes up with a ride to work … hence my not holding to a right or wrong answer for that question.

The most important thing I’ve learned in the 20 years of being the Summer Job Lady is that hiring kids for their first jobs is an honor. We have the opportunity to be mentors and a role models for an upcoming generation. Recognizing this privilege and living up to its responsibilities help create the future we are all hoping to see.

What are some of your experiences in hiring or in being hired at events? What do you think could have been done better? Please let us know in the comment section.

Compostables

Rhonni —  May 15, 2013 — 2 Comments

I’ve been in conversations recently about zero-waste goals for outdoor events. It’s not as difficult as it sounds, and there are multiple benefits … but there is a learning curve. This article first appeared in my personal blog. I’m bringing it out here, as it will have a greater probabilility of reaching those who need it.

The Hubby and I do two music festivals in NY, mostly selling Chocolate Dipped Strawberries, Frozen Bananas, and Cheesecake. The festivals are Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival and the Fingerlakes Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance. Both have well-organized composting programs. As a vendor,  I’m required to distribute only compostable disposables. This means that everything I give away has to be able to break down in a compost pile. Plates are paper, paper pulp, or bamboo. Cups are sometimes made of paper. Sometimes they are made of corn or sugar cane. The latter two options still look like clear poly cups. There are a few differences in handling. The cups are designed to start breaking down at compost temperatures, so the corn cups start mis-shaping at about 100 degrees. This can be a problem. One errant sunbeam on a hot day, and an entire sleeve of cups has become a useless lump. Costs are much higher than foam, but I believe that if one took into account the costs of an event’s garbage fees, the costs might align more closely. It’s hard to say, because those costs are dealt with by different groups of people. Festival Management pays for disposal costs, and Festival Vendors pay for their disposables.

Grassroots Festival provides these signs for all of the food vendors.

These composting programs look like this: a volunteer provides my food shop with a 5-gallon bucket, half-full of straw. All of my waste goes into this, unless it is utter trash, for example, a plastic sleeve from a stack of paper plates. Hourly, a volunteer comes around with a wheelbarrow, dumps my 5 gallon bucket into said vessel, and provides me with another bucket half full of straw. On my end, as a vendor, I am charged with assuring my customers that their disposables are in fact compostable, and should go into the designated containers at the refuse stations. The festival management has accepted a lot of the educational responsibility as well. They’ve staffed refuse stations with educators, who explain the three categories at each station: Compost / Recycling / Utter Trash. The compost from these stations, as well as from the vendors, goes into large roll-off dumpsters, which will be sent or sold to a local municipality that has an industrial composting program. Compost educators maintain an education center, which also functions as the headquarters for all of the volunteers involved in the composting process at the festivals. It always seems to me that much of what they’re doing is teaching people that there’s no such place as “away” when it comes to garbage. Amazingly, children seem to “get it” faster than adults. Maybe it’s because they are not having to relearn it after years of apathy in regards to our waste-full ways.

Awhile back, I was in Anaheim for the Healthy Baking Seminar and the Natural Products Expo West. During a breakout session entitled “Greening Your Bakery”, disposables were a subject of our discussion. Interestingly enough for an event being held in California, I was the only person in the group that had had any experience actually composting compostable servicewear. A representative of a California bread bakery asked the question: “Are we deluding ourselves about being greener when we pay so much more for compostables over foam, yet our customers are taking these products home and throwing them into their standard garbage cans?” I offered for consideration that there is value in beginning the conversation on compostables and landfills with our guests. Also, as the comparison had been made with styrofoam, I presented my paper cup of tea for study (Starbucks had provided tea and coffee for all of us at the seminar.) I said “Let’s talk about perceived value. I believe that the perceived value of whatever is in this 12oz cup is easily 50% greater than the same fluid in a 12oz foam cup. That is without the logo. A plain paper cup with a neutral sleeve would still have that much more perceived value.” Nods around the table, although some disagreement that I was underestimating at 50%. If combined with a Fair-Trade, Organic label or product, the value doubled.

Which brought us to education as a green strategy. A baker out of northern Arizona gets twice as much as any neighboring shops for her coffee, but she saw that her role in greening her community had to include becoming as much an educator as a baker. She uses organics whenever available, Fair Trade, Organic coffees, and all compostable servicewear. The servicewear has a separate trash receptacle in her retail space. It is composted within her community, by individuals rather than by any municipal organization.

In the end, both the Arizona baker and I told the Californian that he might consider by-passing his garbage service, and looking to local Master Gardener’s organizations as well as his county extension agents or nearby universities for someone doing composting on an industrial scale. It would be a lot of work, but the PR benefits were certainly something to consider, especially when he’d admitted to wanting to do a cleaner and greener job at his bakery.

In my experience, taking a holistic approach to greening your operation allows you to optimize benefits on all levels – ecological, community building, and bottom line/branding. Whether done as a comprehensive program, or initialized with baby-steps … it’s all forward movement.

While I believe it differs little from a shopping mall lease agreement, the agreement between Vendors and Renaissance Festival Management involves the Vendor building and maintaining a structure on the Festival’s property, then paying a show fee to vend from that building during the event. (Mall leases involve Lessors paying for their own “build-out”; then paying rent for that space.)

This makes for an interesting dynamic, where the vendors who “own” their buildings share the responsibility of park maintenance where their buildings are concerned. Part of their agreement with the Festival is that they will maintain the building according to park wishes. However, Vendors are expected to take initiative in building maintenance for the betterment of the park.

In the vendor mix are shops referred to as Temporaries, or Temp Booths. These vendors are commonly dissed by shop owners as folks who don’t make real investments in the parks. However, some businesses not only fit better conceptually in a tent, they add a theatrical element to the lanes that is necessary for the park theme. It is difficult to tell the difference between a tent-user who is in a tent because it works best for the theme, and a tent-user who doesn’t want to sink money into someone else’s real estate.

Landscaping by the carnival company at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo 2013

Part of the disquiet that building owners have toward tent users, is related to the shared responsibility of park maintenance. How can Festival Management share the park beautification responsibilities with tent users, so that building owners do not feel unfairly targeted when told to repaint or landscape their booths? We can look to State Fairs for guidance. They are making entertainment spaces out of parking lots and roads, managing to import enough large plants to create lavish break spaces that only last a few weeks. I strongly doubt that the carnival company chooses to buy all of those lush plants on their own. They buy the plants because they want to land the contract with the state fair next year.

There is another way to get value for the building owners. (Let’s call them co-investors.) Temporary booths are most often located as a 360*. In other words, they are not on a booth line, but out in the middle of a lane somewhere. These temporary booths can and should be used as bumpers. Think of a pinball game. Now think of permanent shops as the targets where points are earned. Placement of temporary booths should benefit the folks who are sharing the responsibilities of park maintenance. Park layouts with cul-de-sacs necessitate bumpers, but they have value in other situations as well.  

When a group of neighboring shops communicate that their income or traffic is diminished (or their numbers reflect it to management in the case of shows with a percentage-based fee), relocation of the pinball bumpers can be used to try and redirect traffic to that underserved area. (As an aside, for Vendor Coordinators who might have to deal with push-back from 360* vendors who could get moved around a lot … those Vendors could always choose to invest in the show and have a permanent location.)

Carrying the pinball metaphor further, if everyone is doing their job correctly, Guests (the pinballs) are so entertained that they are bounced from park element to park element without realizing that park design and entertainment are steering their path. Perhaps we can consider the entertainment schedule as the flippers.

What are other pinball machine metaphors we can claim? Give us your suggestions in the comments for this post. We’d love to carry this discussion further.

Some of the worst Customer Service failures occur when a worker isn’t able to recognize who their customer is. In a well-run commercial kitchen, each station has a different customer. Yes, the Guest is everyone’s customer, but in order for that Guest to have an optimum experience, the entire team has to function at its best, and there is a trick for that, a hack or cheat if you will.

The trick is this. Distinguish the face of your customer. While I’ve already stated that the Guest is everyone’s customer; that is in the abstract. The concrete is the face you see over and over as you do your job. When it’s done right, the Sous Chef’s customer is the Line Cook, the Line Cook’s customer is the Expediter, the Expediter’s customer is the Server, the Server’s customer is the Guest, and the Kitchen Manager’s customer is the staff.

It would seem that a Kitchen Manager would be serving the Guest. But the best way for her to do that is to serve her team so that they will function at *their* best.

I am the Kitchen Manager in my own bakery. It happens to be open for only 2 months of the year, inside the largest Renaissance Festival in America. We serve food that we’ve made from scratch to thousands of people a day, for eight consecutive weekends each fall season. I have a staff of about 20 people, and I am approached regularly by people that want to join the team. It’s not that I offer bigger compensation packages or fringe benefits (although our crew T-shirts *are* pretty cool). But I am clear that my job is to make all of their jobs easier, while getting the best product possible out the door to the Guest. I ask my crew for input often, and they know I listen to them. By listening to my immediate customer, I create a better product and experience for my abstract customer.

Bevan’s promo photo for my bakery “Queen’s Pantry” at the Texas Renaissance Festival

How does this translate for folks who are not running a high-volume kitchen? Are you running (or wanting to run) a high-volume anything? Learn to recognize the face of your immediate customer and serve them to your best ability. If you are managing an operation of any sort, help your subordinates understand who their immediate customer is, and ask them to list how they can best serve that person. We all work best when we see the face of who we are serving, but it doesn’t have to be an abstraction. 

The best management teams use this model. Festival Management is traditionally broken down into Food Program Coordinators, Crafts Coordinators, Wedding Coordinators, Entertainment Directors, etc. All of these people have the park Guest as their abstract and ultimate customer, but their titles explain who their immediate customers actually are. In venues where there are not as many staff members as there are titles, that staff has to be able to shift their customer focus as often as they change departments in order to be effective. If they make the assumption that they are only serving the end customer, the members of the team will not be served in a way that allows them to do their best in regards to the final product being presented to that Guest, and the overall quality of the event deteriorates.

There is another very important key to this process. Do not make any of your business associate’s jobs more difficult. Do not “make work” for another department simply because their immediate customer is different from your own. Some of the volunteers at the Music Festival where you vend might have inadvertently done something annoying, but the Hospitality Program that feeds and otherwise cares for the Talent and the grounds at the show cannot function without them. It is easier to gently inform them of the way things work than to snap at them. You will wish they were in your neighborhood when the garbage cans start filling up around your space.

Denigrating the immediate customers of your associates makes work for your associates. They have to work to overcome the implication that they don’t matter to your overall team. It takes a lot of different departments to make a festival work well. It is essential to keep all of the players in these departments satisfied with their situations, and the easiest way to do that is to treat them like they matter. Optimum Customer Service really is the goal of this process in finding the face of your immediate customer. It can in no way eliminate your responsibilities to the entire team. Trying to limit your obligations to only your immediate customer and the abstract customer or Guest is shortsighted and ultimately foolish; as the end product delivered to the Guest deteriorates with the weakening of the team. Customer Service has to be a consideration at all stages and in all departments of the operation if the event  (or product / service being sold) is to succeed.

Okay, no business advice this week, other than “Utilize your resources when they are available.”
As nomads in the festival business, each show can have a specific circle of talented neighbors. Here is a great example of just that in action. Our friend Julia, with some help from friends, put together this Fabulous parody video of the Mackelmore song “Thrift Shop”. (PG-13)

It’s the kind of thing that happens when you get a bunch of creative people together.

We very much intend to stay as jargon-free as possible on this site. If you’ve back-linked to this page, it means we couldn’t avoid the use of a word that has come to have a particular meaning in our industry. We fully expect this page to evolve. Hopefully it will never be very long.

 

360s Shops that are not in a booth line. They are visible to the audience from all sides, and consequently do not have a “backstage”
Backstage  Any space where park or festival guests are not allowed. Simply getting out of the line of view of guests does not count. All character actors must remain in character, unless backstage.
Boondocking A Recreational Vehicle or RV term for camping somewhere without utilities, also known as “Primitive Camping”
Busking Performing for voluntary donations, usually in the street.
Garb  Specific to the Renaissance Festival industry, work clothes, considered costume to festival guests, but required of all workers within sight of faire patrons. Rules about costume help shape the guest’s experience of another time.
Grab shack  A food shop or restaurant with no public seating, a snack bar; applies to most if not all food at festivals.
Hat pass A time during or after a performance when gratuities are collected by the performer (or a designee)
Hawker A person who vocally advertises performances, goods, or services to be seen or purchased. May or may not handle money.
On the Road  Refers to living and working a series of shows or festivals. The term is used throughout the outdoor festival industry. (see On-Circuit)
On-circuit  Refers to living and working a series of shows or festivals. The term is used throughout the outdoor festival industry. (see On the Road)
Primitive Camping Camping somewhere without utilities, sometimes referred to as “Boondocking”
School Night Any evening before a day when the event will be open.
Stick Joint  a tent with poles used as a shop. The term comes from circuses and carnivals, but is used to discern between trailers and tents in the food vendor realm of all festivals, and is sometimes used to refer to folks that haven’t made an investment, yet vend in permanent parks.  (See Temporaries)
Temps or Temporaries In a permanent venue, these terms refer to shops that can be carried away by their owners at the end of the event.
Week-work Used primarily at events that are open on weekends only, this refers to the jobs that happen in-between weekends. Kitchen prep, art production, and construction are 3 good examples.

 

 

 

AKA, The Harsh Conversation I had with a Young Carpenter.

A building I designed for a corset maker.

The dynamics of the Vendor/Builder/Festival Management matrix are complex, and there are many places where the deal can go wrong for one or more of the parties. All three legs must be considered for this table to stand. On the one hand, talented carpenters get to design and build whimsical structures. I’ve met architects who have many more years of study, be insanely jealous that my imaginative designs have actually been built, rather than collecting dust in a pile of drawings. Vendors, be they artists or service providers, need to have Builders who understand the Renaissance Faire aesthetic, comprehend traffic flow patterns necessary for sales, and can build to meet local codes. Festival Management needs for the dealings between the Vendor and the Builder to proceed smoothly, and on a time frame that ensures that the shop will be completed to code, and open, with an approved Vendor in place, when the festival is open to the public.

I think it will just be easier if I list some of the things that can go wrong here.

1) Builder runs out of money. This is often because of a misquote or mistake on the bid, but sometimes a permitting process throws extra expenses into a project. It is the Builder’s responsibility to draft a contract that allows for alterations in the price when governmental agencies are involved. Requiring complete drawings lowers this risk tremendously. With a complete set of drawings, a Builder can count every board necessary in the construction of the building prior to bidding the job. Also, by reviewing the drawings, a knowledgeable person, whether a Vendor or a Building Coordinator, or a Building Inspector, can tell quickly whether or not the Builder knows what he is doing.

2) Vendor runs out of money. This may be due to the above-mentioned governmental agencies involvement, but unfortunately it is often due to poor planning, or an attempt to use any loopholes in the contract with the Builder to pay for the building with revenues generated in the building to be built. (Say that 5 times fast; I dare you.) Builders are quite often banking the business growth of vendors due to their own mistakes in contract design. These loopholes have been exploited by Vendors for decades, and unfortunately, due to the presentation needs of the Festival Management … it is sometimes considered business as usual. Some Builders are writing contracts specifically allowing this practice, because it is considered the industry standard.

3) Water gets into the booth after completion. This can happen either because the Builder does not have a familiarity with the specific roofing materials required at a Renaissance Festival, or more often; it is a grade elevation issue. Grade elevations are usually agreed upon between the builder and the Site Manager. Maximum Exterior dimensions are sometimes set by the Site Manager as well, to control roof run-off from one shop to another. (Builders have to remember to include this work in the bid, often with an explanation, because it is almost always an invisible cost to the Vendor/Buyer.) Some of the biggest arguments I was involved in as Building Coordinator involved water, and the fact that a Builder was in the process of wasting a great deal of a Vendor’s money building something that was not in any way able to stay dry. In one case I lost a friend; in another, I made a friend for life when he realized I was saving him at least $50,000.

4) These building designs are each 100% unique. Getting a solid estimate is impossible without an investment of time and energy into the design process. Builders with solid reputations can usually negotiate a change in costs as it is discovered during construction, but it is very difficult for new Builders to adequately cover the risks of designing original buildings in these venues. Again, extensive drawing requirements can alleviate some of this risk, or at least give a clear discussion point with the often absentee Vendor/Buyer.

5) The Builder is such an artist that he designs more than the Vendor can actually afford, and leapfrogs his cashflow from project to project to fund his own artistic expression requirements. It’s hard to see who loses here, other than the Builder/Artist himself, whose standard of living is probably taking a hit. But the festival building market gets skewed to where Builders who do charge a reasonable wage for their time are priced out of the market; and that poor artistic soul cannot afford the help he needs to finish that last job onsite. Unfortunately neither can he afford the therapy he’ll need when his customers are still not appreciative of his work.

6) The Builder and the Vendor disagree on the balance owed. This is usually when the Builder/Vendor contract is unclear on change-orders. Making alterations in a building once it has started involves time and materials, which customers rarely understand. In most cases, the structure is the first time a Vendor has hired a contractor to build them a structure from scratch, and understandably, they may not have been able to picture the structure in its reality. Moving a door or a window is never cheaper than the original bid, often to the dismay of a customer.

7) The Builder runs out of time. Now, this is a somewhat grey area. Again, the contract should state a delivery date, and 1 hour before the festival opens does not give the Vendor (who in his mind may have just spent more on his business than ever before in his career) adequate time to move his product and displays into the new structure. Some festivals avoid this by having cut-off dates for construction that are months in advance of the event opening, but other climates do not have as many months of suitable weather, and thus festivals in these locations cannot use this safeguard.

8) Festival Management does not approve of the design. Okay, hopefully this issue is dealt with before construction begins, as most festivals have to approve a building design before it can be started. However, it has happened that a builder built something other than the drawing that was turned in for approval. In the situation I speak of, the Builder was a full-time employee of the Vendor for whom he was building, and they thought Festival Management wouldn’t notice if they eliminated the two tower portions of their structure. Fortunately this issue usually manifests as a simple request to repaint a structure, because the color that was described in the drawing was not the color that ended up on the wall or the trim. (I recommend paint color chips with all building applications provided to Festival Management. It saves a lot of grief in the long run.)

9) Builder doesn’t get paid, and there is no opportunity for an actual “Contractor’s Lien”. Okay, this is one of the biggest problems to be faced in this industry. All three players must get their needs met. I don’t know of anyone who has been able to get a business loan for a Renaissance Festival structure. Banks are not too keen on loaning money for a building when no Real Estate is attached. That being said, it is not an excuse to enter a contract with a Builder for a product that the small business cannot afford. By the same token, the Builder’s inability to meet the delivery date cannot be held against him if timed payments were not met. He very well may have needed that payment to buy the next round of materials for the structure. But testosterone-laden threats of “Husqvarna Collection Agency” action on the part of the stiffed Builder will not and cannot ever be supported by Festival Management. Festival Management’s first responsibility is to the event itself. Management has to ensure the paying guest has a complete experience of a finished and perfect park. While some festivals have been known to place a label of “Plague House” on a closed up structure due to incompletion or contested ownership; it is a last-ditch resort. Festival Management also has to balance the needs of the talented Builders, and the Artists who have hired them. If that does not sound like an easy task; it is because it is NOT an easy task.

The best contract I know of in the industry is that of a Designer/Builder who is also a furniture maker that has been accepted into several highly juried art shows. His contract (which Festival Management has to sign as well), states that if the customer does not finish paying for the structure, the Festival gets a new furniture maker as a Vendor, and all payments up until that point are forfeit by the Vendor with whom he originally contracted. If all of the Builders on the Renaissance Faire circuit had crafts that would pass a jury, this would be the solution. With this, everyone in the Builder/Vendor/Management Matrix gets their needs met. Unfortunately, most of the Builders express their art solely in the fanciful structures they design for Vendors.

 

There are surely some other problems, but these are the most common. I’m interested in what the best solutions might be. I know of one Festival General Manager who set up an escrow account through the festival office. Thus the Vendor had to have proven his ability to pay for the entirety before the building commenced, yet the final payment check was not cut to the Builder until all three parties sat together and agreed they were happy. Not every festival will want to be this involved. Some have referred to it as micro-managing, but I can assure you that during the tenure of that General Manager, more than half of these issues were eliminated from the list. He required a Delivery Date early enough that the sit-down meeting would not impact his own time requirements in opening the show, so it was at least two weeks before the opening date.

Some Festivals have a list of approved builders, and while I applaud the attempt to create some regulation in the industry, the reality is often that the Vendor audience for that list makes assumptions about the Builder’s abilities based upon their appearance on the list, when in fact the Builder may have no more skills than those necessary in buying Liability Insurance.

There are things to be said about absentee Vendor customers, and oversight of construction projects, but I will leave that for another article. Requests for a handbook on Festival Building Practices are being seriously considered, as all of my articles on this subject seem to lead to other questions and answers. Instead of answering in extensive phone calls, I’m going to start answering the questions here in this website.

Please, if you know of some “Best Practices” on this issue, mention them or the Festivals that utilize them, in the comments below. (Horror stories are welcome as well, but please do not mention names in those, thanks.)

Clothing Makes the Man

Rhonni —  February 26, 2013 — 4 Comments

It seems that I hear people more concerned about the dress code of a Renaissance Festival than by whether or not they could own a business there. Oh, like dress slacks and a button down shirt are not a costume of a sort?

Maybe it is that folks in the festival business are not as narrow minded as people who’ve bought the “this is a real job, which makes me a real person” package. Perhaps it is that we are in the entertainment business first, and so we realize every role requires a costume. Years ago, a friend of mine pointed out that everyone had a “drag” they put on, whether it was “I’m going to work now” drag, or “I’m a hunter-fisherperson” drag … the clothing allowed them to communicate to strangers an image with which they wished to be associated, even if it wasn’t really who they were.

Renaissance Festival clothing rules are really just guidelines set forth by the show’s Director, in setting the stage for the audience. On the actor’s end of it (and we are *all* actors in this great play), the costume helps us get into the character we represent to the festival guest. On the Director’s end of it, a unified aesthetic provides the ability to turn the entire venue into the theatrical experience that our guests have paid for.

This herd of cats group of people that chose an alternative lifestyle often bristles when given specifics about their clothing. While it is rarely a business owner that is doing the complaining, folks who consider themselves part of the festival community can really come up with interesting excuses as to why the costume directive “won’t work for them”. As a business owner and manager, I find it easiest to simply have spare acceptable pieces of costume, and toss them onto my workers who’ve shown up inappropriately clothed. I have an investment in the guest having the experience the Director has designed. But I know other business owners who can rail just as loudly about the “mistakes” being made with the costume edicts.

I understand that the event is considered a bawdy entertainment venue, but the “everyone must wear a shirt under their bodice” rule does not inhibit bawdiness, it sets a time period. Besides, the 15 and 16 year old girls in the soda shoppe really aren’t old enough to be experienced at setting boundaries with the public. Let a grown up show loads of cleavage, and she can find a gentle and entertaining way to tell a guest to get lost if he violates her personal space. I refuse to believe that the soda shoppe will miss sales if the 15 year olds are properly dressed.

Other types of festivals have dress codes of their own, but they are enforced socially rather than as a set of rules referenced in the vendor contract. Renaissance Faires are escapes from reality for our guests. Wearing a hat as part of one’s work “garb” is a small price to pay the opportunity to sell to thousands of customers.

How to Grow a Festival, Part Two

Rhonni —  February 21, 2013 — 1 Comment

In part one of this conversation, I mentioned that because a festival is an experience, it is the responsibility of the participants at a festival to help create real growth. But what about those shows where the participants are doing everything they can, but the Festival Management drops the ball?

It happens. Someone doesn’t order enough port-o-lets or ATM machines. The parking crew is oblivious to a guest leaving their headlights on and no one is available at the end of their visit to jump the car to get the guest home. Someone forgets to trim the weeds under the benches in front of a stage, or the trash cans overflow. These are basic customer service mistakes, and if they are not addressed, the show cannot grow.

Whovians are everywhere.

 

Maybe the number of port-o-lets and ATMs was “just enough” to still allow guests a pleasant visit. Then the Artists and the Entertainers provided such an amazing experience that the guest experiencing it decides she is definitely coming back. But is she going to bring more people with them if she thinks larger numbers of visitors will impact her own experience? No. She is going to keep it a secret.

It will be her secret club. She may attend every weekend possible, and she may enjoy herself immensely, but she will not work to help grow the venue. Show management has to demonstrate they are able to not only deal with their current numbers of guests with exemplary customer service; but convince everyone that they can show the same professionalism to more visitors when they arrive. The event has to look like it is ready for more.

The statement “These customers don’t mind lines” might work when management is justifying their small number of ATM machines, but a guest willing to stand in a line 20 people deep, may very well *not* be willing to stand in a line 40 people deep. Remember that “Word of Mouth” campaign we said was essential for festival growth? It. Is. Not. Happening.

So now the PR team has more of a challenge in getting their job done. They have to bring out new people (who don’t mind standing in line for an ATM) to make up for attrition; yet they have to accomplish this without the aid of a Word of Mouth campaign. You see, some of the people that came last year did *not* have a great time. The port-o-lets were too dirty, or their car battery was dead, or this festival simply wasn’t a good fit for their personality. The PR guy is working his tail off to keep the boat afloat, while someone in parking or grounds crew is drilling holes in the hull.

As I said, sometimes the Artists and Entertainers are doing a fabulous job, and it is Festival Management standing in the way of festival growth. Unfortunately apathy can be contagious, and the very people who are holding a festival afloat can succumb to the illness. Sometimes, in an act of self-preservation, the most energetic participants will leave that festival for another in the same time slot, leaving the apathetic to sink or swim.

Best case scenario for a show like this is steady attendance. This is only achievable with a hardworking Public Relations team and a collection of enthusiastic participants, who are either happy with their festival at its current size, or praying that someone in Management wakes up soon.

How to Grow a Festival (part one)

Rhonni —  February 14, 2013 — 1 Comment

What is it that makes festivals work? We like to throw the responsibility onto the Promotions and Marketing Departments, but a festival is an experience. Real growth in a festival is the responsibility of everyone involved.

86th Annual Feast of San Gennaro

A couple of business truisms should be considered here:

1. It is easier to sell to existing customers. However … if they don’t have a stellar experience at the festival, they are not coming back.

2. Word of Mouth is your most powerful line of advertisement. Again … the quality of the experience is what folks will be talking about, so a failure in creating an enchanting festival experience for an individual is a failure at enlisting that person’s network into her Word of Mouth campaign. Worse, if she has a negative experience, her entire network might hear about it.

So everyone at the festival is accountable. This is not just an issue of how well the garbage crew maintains the cleanliness of the park. If an artist is unhappy with his fee structure or the balance of the craft mix, he may not be as jovial to a customer who is “just looking right now” as he passes through that shop. If an entertainer thinks his responsibilities to the audience end with his hat pass, audience members may be soured to the rest of their day.

Maid Marion takes a moment to dish with a guest.

Yes, Promotions and Marketing hold the weight of the responsibility in getting new customers to the venue, but everyone else has to make them want to come back. Every festival has its own personality, and some of those new visitors might not be “feeling it” at your event. Maybe they’ll try a Bluegrass Festival next time rather than your Roots Music Event; but they won’t know until they come and experience the venue themselves whether or not it is a good time. There is an opportunity here to close that sale, and give the customer a grand enough experience that he comes back ready be entertained, to buy art and services, and perhaps buy more than one meal in their festival day. If the festival is a rich enough experience, then the new visitor might overlook the parts of the event that don’t work for him, in order to get to the parts that are more his style.

By the same token, participants might find that what they offer for sale works better with some audiences than with others. Shopping for the right event for your product is part of the program for being successful at outdoor events. The ability to make alterations in product lines to match the style and personality of a local clientele is a hallmark of the most successful merchants in the festival and event business.

At every step, every participant is either building or shrinking the future of the festival. As a participant, when you choose to shrink a festival; you are wasting everyone’s time, most especially your own.