Monday, June 24, 2013

Why we quit FW

This was a long thought out and difficult decision that Eve and I had to make, and we've been getting a few questions regarding the details.

What a lot of people don't realize is that the experience at a so called "transformational festival" as a vendor is very different from the experience as an attendee. I know that there are a lot of avid supporters of this venue, and I want to first make it clear that these are our personal experiences with the festival as vendors, and nothing I am about to say is intended to invalidate the positive experiences of others. Festivals are hard work. Unfortunately, the cons outweighed the pros for us.

Oak Myth has been at FW for 4 of their events in the last 3 years. In 2010, I attended with a bundle of masks in my hand, and sold several of them-- the success of that alone is largely what influenced our official attendance as vendors in the next 3 events (2011, 2011 harvest, and 2012).

Over those events, I noticed several things that irked me, though the final blows definitely came from our experience at 2012.

As a vendor, we get several emails and PDFs clearly explaining the guidelines and regulations. Tents are supposed to be fire proof. We are to have a fire extinguisher. If we are plugged into electricity, we need a very specific extension cord (I don't remember the exact kind, but it cost us well over $100). And of course, we cooperated because this was something very important to us! However, every single year, we were one of the few who actually had the correct extension cord. No one came by to check or enforce these rules, which were bolded and repeated in countless emails. It's upsetting for a small business, barely on its feet, to shell out all that money. I can't help but wonder why they stress these rules if they aren't going to enforce them.

In 2011, we were neighbors to a woman selling beautiful jewelry. She had two 10x10 spaces, and had replaced the white canvas on her pop-up tents with tan burlap, which looked wonderful with the fae theme. Toward the end of the fair, she confided in us her disappointment with the vendor coordinators; in an email, she was told that she could not vend at FaerieWorlds unless she changed the pop-up tent coverings from white to something more appropriate for the fair (many festivals, especially renaissance themed, ask this because all the white tents look boring). The problem? Most of the vendors (I'd guess at least 90%) at FW use the white canvas pop-up tent and  never got the email ultimatum, ourselves included. A PDF was emailed around explaining various ways to spice up a tent, but it was never implied that such was a requirement. So here was another case of a vendor dropping a lot of money, time, and energy on something that was not a necessity.

The electricity was always an issue, but never so much as with 2012. In past years, vendors would unplug us from the generators if they had a faulty outlet. At one point, someone spilled several cups of water on our surge protector, which made it useless. Many vendors who didn't pay for electricity occupied plugs, which meant there wasn't enough for those that did pay. Still, I suppose that is more of an issue with vendor etiquette (though I also feel this falls back on rule enforcement as well). Nevertheless, 2012 was the year that FW staff worked with the county to install a grid for vendors to use. Again, they bolded in several emails how important certain electrical rules were; this time, most importantly, was the rule that vendors were only allowed 12 amps. Plenty for lighting up a dark booth, which is what we paid for. Most of our sales happened at night, and visitors' ability to see into our booth was paramount to that success. That was the year the the power kept going out. We never had electricity for more than 10 minutes. It was revealed later that people were plugging in toasters, hair dryers, mini fridges, electricity hogging appliances of every shape. And of course, no one had been going around and checking booths to make sure the rules were being enforced. Volunteers were checking the grid- most of the time when Oak Myth and the surrounding booths lost power, it was Mike (Eve's fiance) who had to go back and fiddle with everything to fix it. Most of the nights were dark for us and as such, we profited the least that year.

On the same not-enforcing-their-own-rules note, they try to make it very clear that only registered service animals are allowed in the park, but there's always someone with a kitten, someone with a chihuahua in fairy wings, someone who locked their dog in the car and has to get embarrassed by the MC at the main stage. There's always pets. How am I sure? Because at one point I walked up to a woman walking a Yorkie wearing rainbow wings, and asked her "Was it difficult registering a small dog as a service animal?" and she told me "Oh no, he's not a service animal!" In fact, no one with an animal whom I had approached was a registered service animal.

Thefts have been happening. On one of our trips, several individuals ran between our booth and stole Eve's parasol. Mike had to go retrieve it. Thankfully he's a big guy and looks pretty intimidating to those who don't know him. Another vendor had weapons stolen... and at one point a vendor had almost all of their merchandise stolen while they were packing up to leave. I have only ever seen security once. One individual wearing a grey shirt that said "security" shortly after the weapons were stolen.

Back on the note of vendor etiquette. Most of the vendors are amazing, kind, helpful, and it's very easy to make a lot of friends! But there's always that one vendor who has to stir up trouble. As stated above, there were several issues with vendors abiding the clear rules, especially with the electricity. Beyond that, at one point we were neighbors with a vendor who decided to section off 1/4 of the front of their booth (which drifted into the front of our booth area over time) for a play pen for their toddler, who was screaming and crying a lot. I don't have an issue with kids. In this case, the problem was that the tantrums were scaring off potential customers- mostly for them, but I'm sure it impacted us as well. If nothing else, it was hard to tolerate while we were trying to work.

I hear that this year they are trying to scale back the number of vendors who rely entirely on made-in-china imported resale toys, but that was also a blow in past years. It's hard to compete with when you have $100 hand made leather costume mask art, up against $5 mass produced stuff. Most people, unfortunately, are going to go for the $5 stuff.

Ultimately, the biggest factor was profits. To be clear, we have always profited at Faerieworlds. We make enough to cover the booth fee (around $500 with the camping and vendor passes, electricity, and table rental included), gas ($250 roughly), supply costs ($150 roughly), and food ($50 each about, not including personal pocket money we had brought for food). And with all of that, we still made enough to take home cash to pocket for all of our efforts. As time went on, we started to realize that the $75-$180 we were each taking was not enough to cover the sheer amount of labor we invested, especially with all of the above issues. Festivals are amazing for advertising and networking, but exposure doesn't put food on the table- at least not immediately. By 2012, most of the attendance was only there to see rock hall of famer, Donovan. Not so much the costumes. That year, we heard was hard on everyone. Several other artists we visited didn't make a single sale, despite having incredible and reasonably priced functional artwork. I saw many vendors in tears.

At the end of each festival, a person comes around offering sign ups for future FaerieWorlds festivals and conventions. For some reason, we were passed up in 2012, and if not for that we might have signed up again. We actually tried to find the person with the applications, but didn't manage.

2012 had a lot more problems than the other festivals, and as such, staff sent out an email prompting vendors to send feedback to a separate email. Of course, I sent some. It was long, but thorough. And I made a point of asking them about the future of FaerieWorlds, that we were hesitant to sign up again, and if there was anything they could say to reassure my worries. Eve and I wanted to go back, we were hoping for some kind of reassurance-- signing up for OCF was a gamble and a much more intensive process, albeit a much less expensive fair to vend at with a much higher attendance rate. But a return email never came. We aren't even sure if our email was even read. Not even an automated response came back.

As time went on, we became more and more uncomfortable with the idea of going back. In a few years, if they become better about enforcing their rules, making security available, decreasing the re-sale vendors, and improve upon the electricity situation, we may go back. Many of our friends go there regularly and few festivals compare in terms of music and atmosphere. Until that happens, we'll be at Oregon Country Fair.

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