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Saturday, November 8, 2008

Grumpy Today

I'll admit it, I'm a little grumpy today. I don't consider my blog to be my favorite place to vent, but I'd like to know what you think. Maybe this does even have some relevance for homeschooling, at least my kids and I are certainly learning stuff here!

As the owner of a small business I need to find ways of getting out into my community and meeting new people who may be interested in working with me. If you are in sales one of the established ways of meeting new people is to do vendor events - fairs, festivals, bazaars and marts. Yet the more I do this the more I'm realizing that there are a bunch of folks out there who feed off the fees of small business owners like hungry sharks sneaking up and taking bites. The question is, is this reasonable, and if not what should small business owners do about it?

I'll give you an example. Last night I paid $85 ($60 table fee and $25 donation to a PTA auction) to attend an event which I was led to believe was established and had PTA support. I was quoted estimated sales of $500-1,200 per vendor for the previous year's event. I don't expect any kind of guarantee on my sales at an event like this, but I do expect the organizer to be responsible for generating traffic. Needless to say attendance at this event was far below what I'd been led to expect and there are plenty of clues to convince me that it wasn't a whole lot different the year before. My loss from this event turned out to be $63, and that's before I event count mileage or business overheads. Now the thing is that this event was a success for the organizer. There were 15 vendors there, which generated around $1,275 in fees for the PTA. I can't imagine that the PTA put out more than $275 in costs for photocopying and signage, therefore they made a nice little profit of around $1,000, meaning that for the organizer this was a success and they'll be happy to do it again next year, assuming they can find vendors.

No doubt I was not the only vendor who was disappointed with this event, but the thing is that there are a seemingly unlimited supply of small business owners, many of them in their first year of business, looking for events to do. Where's the incentive for an organizer to change their behavior when they can just go out and find a whole new set of businesses who will take part?

Well, the lessons my kids are learning from this may not be the ones I'd had in mind when I started up in business, but it's certainly learning. What do you think? Should a vendor expect a fee that is in line with the traffic for an event? Should organizers get away with raising funds at the expense of a different set of vendors each year? Is there something I should be doing to change this?


jugglingpaynes said...

I think all you can do is plan on not selling there next year if the venue is not profitable. Could you at least do some networking?

I used to do facepainting at various events. I would pay for the table and if it was a good year for the event, I might make $100 net. That was reasonable for my time and trouble.

However, sometimes they didn't tell me that they would have a table with tattoos or another facepaint table. That was usually when I lost money.

What I did was always put out a business card. A lot of these events were less about what I made that day and more about the connections I made for the future. Being self employed is not easy. I stopped because I didn't have the energy to deal with being a mother, homeschooler, and market my business.

Hugs for you for your hard day!
Peace and Laughter,

Alison said...

Jugglingpaynes, you raise some good points. I do in fact use this type of event for networking with other retailers/vendors. As you say, events can also bring leads which pay off down the road. I'm usually quite happy to get close to breaking even at an event because I know there is potential beyond the sales on the night. This was just one too many events where the organizer benefited while I did not because hardly anyone came. I got precisely 3 new contacts and sold to just 4 people!

I do think it is unreasonable for organizers to run events year after year that depend on a new set of uninitiated vendors. It's kind of like the Catch 22 of needing experience to get a job to get experience. You can't find good events to do without meeting other retailers at a good event.

Incidentally, I actually took the step of writing to the organizer of last night's event. I've asked her to bring some points before the PTA and then come back and tell me whether they think I was charged a fee that was reasonable under the circumstances. I think the letter I wrote was unemotional and reasonable so we'll see what happens. I guess I just felt like I've been sitting taking whatever happens without complaining up to now and I've been a bit stupid not to think of responding. For all I know the PTA think I was happy because I didn't really complain when they asked for feedback last night.

ewe are here said...

I suspect the PTA was more concerned about making a profit for themselves then worrying too much about your take... after all, the PTA leadership will change year upon year, so the people currently in charge don't care how it affects next year's fundraising efforts. OF course, maybe I'm just cynical.

Thanks for dropping by my blog, Ms Scot in America. :-) My husband hails from Edinburgh, but we moved down to Cambridge 2 years ago (job movve). We go back up a lot, though, to see his extended family, and will be there for Christmas.

Hausfrau said...

I remember how hard it was in the beginning, starting up a business. I have only done a few events, though. My best was the Cherry Creek farmer's market in Denver. I would usually make back the fee at the event and then also get a new regular client every week. But for me, advertising on Google with my webpage had the best payoff.

I had someone try to get me to do a booth at the "Healthy Home" event at the Fairgrounds. I asked for references of all the booths from the previous year, and then called one or two. They reported low traffic and weren't going to repeat, so I knew not to bother. You might try to do that if you are booking more booths.

Alison said...

Ewe are Here, I agree, the PTA are bound to be looking after their own interests. I hadn't exactly thought about the fact that the parents involved change so much from year to year also. It's a good point. Even when an event was successful one year the organizer won't necessarily pass along the relevant information that made it a success.

Hausfrau, I like your suggestion of asking for references. Clearly, in my experience, organizers are capable of being rather overly optimistic on what a vendor should expect from an event. They are not even perhaps being deliberately misleading, but they all seem to report expected results that I should probably cut at least in 2, if not in 10!

Janet said...

I don't know a lot about it, since I don't have a business (I couldn't sell ice water in the desert), but $85 is too high. Around here most events charge $25-45. I'm glad you wrote the letter. Hopefully it will get some things out in the open. The biggest problem is when no one says anything and no one else knows what's normal or not.

Alison said...

Janet, I too am glad I wrote the letter. So far I've received from the organizer an offer of the return of my $25 gift certificate auction donation. However, rather than accept, I have asked that my comments be brought up at the next PTA meeting. I discussed with my Usborne peers today and they agree that $25 would have been a reasonable fee, not $60 and a donation. We shall see what happens. I don't really expect to get a refund, but I want to put my point across that it is not reasonable to continue acting this way to the detriment of the business owners who participate.

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