Archives For Faire Biz

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.

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.

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….

Photo shoot v2

Rhonni —  July 26, 2013 — 2 Comments

We completed another photo shoot that attempts to blend “Business” and “Festival”. Here are some of the results:

Mud Pit Finance Meeting

Kristin with Helmet

Building design meeting

Inside Kristin’s Georgia studio

 

At a typical festival desk.

 

So photos are an ongoing work in progress. We got some great suggestions about images in an earlier post. I personally want to create the one where we are unloading a refrigerated truck while in costume. Unfortunately that usually happens in the middle of the night.

In the comments, please share with us any ideas you have for photos of where festival meets business. We love seeing the industry through your eyes!

(Apologies for this being a Friday post rather than Thursday … Flickr had a scheduled maintenance which would have made trying to view a photo post incredibly frustrating.)

 

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.

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.  

 

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.