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.
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:
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.