Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Back in the Saddle Again (Almost)

Chai Rooibos tea with milk in the San Francisco mug, "Across 110th Street" by Bobby Womack on iTunes. I struggle to insert myself back into my work routine and flow after almost two weeks of show and on the road. The easiest way to do it is probably just to jump in and review ACRE.

Set-up, as I indicated previously, was the most brutal set-up I've ever done, and I am pretty sure it was also Elaine, Bill and Todd's worst. We thought the plan would make everything better and faster, and it didn't. We had to adapt the plan because what looked good on paper didn't look good on the floor in terms of wall length and walk space, and then we had to adapt it again because the shorter walls either meant less work shown or more crowded work. We opted for more crowded--though that is hardly a fair description of it as it turned out not to be crowded at all.

I was so concerned with going for a high-end gallery look that I think we actually ended up with too little work in the booth--and we certainly had too little glass. I thought one representative piece of each size and one representative piece of each color would be enough and it really wasn't't. For the most part, if they don't see it, they don't buy (order) it. So back to the drawing board for the August Rosen show booth layout and piece count. If I'm lucky, the drawing board will be at Bill and Elaine's beach house for a weekend. That would be sweet.

Now to the show itself. As usual, the Wholesalecrafts.com staff was friendly, helpful, energetic and accommodating. As decidedly NOT per usual the Champion staff (their contracted union employees really) was difficult, argumentative and territorial (at least about electricity). In retrospect I can see that the union workers at the convention center are having a tough time (like the rest of us). Shows there are down so there is less work for them and unfortunately, as a result they are passing the squeeze on downstream to people who can afford it no more (and quite possibly less) than they can.

To cut through the obscurity of the last paragraph, I had a very pissy encounter with a union electrician who told me in so many words that I was using too much power and in not so many words that I clearly couldn't know what I was doing or how to calculate electrical load for the cords, surge protectors and breaker boxes. Had Bill not peeled me off of him, he would have made a nice midday snack comprised of teeny tiny bites. In point of fact Champion had shorted us (our two booths) 2000 watts of service and shorted the other people on our electrical panel another 500 watts. When we finally got a reasonable person to work with we got that message across and Champion quickly fixed the problem.

Had the problem been resolved and nothing more came out of it, I might not even have mentioned it here. The temperature was hot, tempers were hot, nerves were frayed, words were said. Put on your big girl panties and move on. But the electrical saga did not end there. The first electrician I dealt with came up to me as we were breaking down and very cordially informed me that next year the electrical rules were going to be enforced and I needed to read the fine print in my contract which says we can only put up three spot lights and installation of the rest of the lighting--including all track lights and additional spots--must be done by a union electrician. He said the rules had been ignored for the past couple of years, but now they were going to be enforced.

I hope the electrician was wrong because the several hundred dollars union electricians' labor would add to my booth fee would be the straw that broke the camel's back. My sales this year were down almost 75% from last year already. It was, at best, a break-even show for me in terms of orders at the show and I cannot afford to be squeezed by an electrical union that sees their pie shrinking from fewer, smaller shows. When I am more rested and a little time has passed so I can recount calmly and with less ire, I will bring the above conversation to the attention of Nancy Vince of Wholesale Crafts to see what her take on it is.

And that was ACRE. The aisles were pretty empty for much of the show. Tuesday was a complete waste. It was a continuation of the downward slide begun (for me) at last summer's Buyer's Market show. Am I doing it again next year? Yes. I have signed up and committed. I still see value in a good west coast show--and this show is as good as any and better than most.

The bigger question is, what is the role of large wholesale shows in today's market? This question has been pertinent for some time now, but it is really coming to prominence with the concomitant decline in the economy. This year I tried expanding into new shows and potentially new markets with the Atlanta and Dallas shows, and I considered adding the New York Gift Show and the Beckman's show in Chicago (now run by the great staff at the Merchandise Mart who also run the One of a kind Show) for next year. Halfway through the calendar year and 80% of the way through the current show schedule I have decided that shows are not the way for me. I will keep ACRE and the BMAC, but I am not going to add any more and I probably won't do either Atlanta or Dallas either. Next year I will attend the Dallas show just because I have the showroom contract that goes through January, but I won't take a booth again.

So what will replace shows? For me, initially, it will be advertising, better online and on cd catalogs, and a better viewing and ordering system for my wholesale buyers on my website. The Wholesalecrafts.com interface is still just too difficult to modify and keep current for me to use it as my primary sales interface.

Now I had better get to work. Orders to enter, fire and fill. The roof goes on the hotshop today and the concrete curb and a bit of slab fill-in work gets done. Tomorrow, New Mexico in review (with photos!).


Anonymous said...

Heh. You should hear some stories about union electricians cutting Ethernet cords at trade shows because they hadn't been plugged into switches by union workers..... :)


Anonymous said...

Brenda, this year I decided to only do wsc.com, Feb Rosen and ACRE.

I'm taking next year off from shows, so it's only wholesalecrafts, which works well for my price points, VerticalResponse.com and any other ideas we come up with. Let's stay in touch and brainstorm those alternatives.

Nancy Goodenough

Bill said...