Posted onMay 10, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – 2
Half of the fun in coming out to Texas Frightmare Weekend every year is being able to debut new projects at every one. This year’s Frightmare debut was the Nepenthes hamata enclosure “Z’Ha’Dum” (2019) , and bringing out this one had multiple layers of significance. The first is the most obvious: a sympathetic and very dark audience that stares inside and chuckles “Where the hell did you come up with that?” instead of backing away slowly. The second was that I’ve described the famous upper traps of N. hamata as “resembling a condom designed by Clive Barker,” and everyone at Frightmare gets it even without my having to show pictures. The third and most important reason, though? The third and most important, though, is that longtime attendees have heard me talk about constructing a new enclosure specifically to house a hamata for years, and they weren’t shocked when they came by the booth and discovered that I’d followed through. They were surprised at the backdrop, but mostly they were just thrilled to see one of the great legendary carnivorous plants of the world in close up and in person.
To be continued…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – 2
Posted onMay 9, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – 1
A quick discussion about “water weight.” Anyone working with plants at any given time will relate that water weighs more than most people expect: carrying around 18-liter (5-gallon) jugs full of rainwater is a great way to build up biceps and triceps without benefit of a gym. Combine lugging tubs of carnivorous plants with severely low humidity, both in and out of air conditioning, and it’s possible to lose nearly five kilos just from sweat. At the very least, now you know why they’re called “sweatshirts.”
To be continued…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – 1
Ten years. A solid decade ago, a hobbyist carnivorous plant grower with delusions of expansion signed up as a vendor for a fledgeling horror convention, then located just outside of DFW Airport, on the idea that “horror film and literature enthusiasts might like carnivorous plants, right?” Based on previous shows and crowds, a decent selection of beginner plants, all crammed into the back of a PT Cruiser, should get the job done, right? And at the end of three days, when packing up the literal handful of plant containers that didn’t sell, I sighed and figured “Next year, I’ll be more prepared. It can’t get any larger than this.”
That’s the story every year: coming out with my $150,000 in jelly beans to drop them at the feet of what is easily the best and most enthusiastic audience a carnivorous plant rancher could ever want. Every year, I start earlier and earlier to prepare for the crowds, and every year I run out of time when facing even larger audiences. It’s a matter of watching people who casually walked by and wondered “Who’s the weirdo with all of the terrariums?” five years ago who now run to the back of the hall first thing on Friday evening to see what’s available at this show. It’s a matter of teenagers at that first Frightmare show who come by to introduce their own kids. One of the reasons Texas Frightmare Weekend is so ridiculously successful is because of its sustained efforts to encourage a gigantic virtual family, and most of that family stops by the Triffid Ranch booth to catch up.
This year’s show…this year’s show was HUGE. At a time when national and local conventions continue to implode, Frightmare continues to grow, mostly because its founder and staff continue to push the limits of what they were told the could and couldn’t do. Most three-day shows of this sort start to wind down by noon on Sunday, as everyone checks out of the host hotel and prepares for the long car or plane trip back home. A tremendous number of Frightmare attendees, though, stay until Monday just to recuperate and commiserate, leading to jokes of how many of us would die of exhaustion if the show ran for four days. We all laugh, both because many of us know we have to go home and because most of us want the party to continue for just a little longer.
For anyone who had any questions, it’s a foregone conclusion that the Triffid Ranch will be back in 2020. Approximately 360 days until the next show…I can be ready, even if I’m already running behind.
Posted onMay 2, 2019|Comments Off on State of the Gallery: May 2019
So there’s no State of the Gallery report for April 2019. This is completely my fault, mostly due to my addiction to gas station sushi, but I have an excuse. After a little over ten years of trying to turn the Texas Triffid Ranch into a viable and sustainable business, the last month is where things got busy. VERY busy. The show and open house calendar is now so packed that there might be a break around Canada Day.
(And as a note, you may notice that the photos in this posting are much better than average. This is deliberate: after years of doing for carnivorous plant photography what Jeffrey Dahmer did for vegan cuisine, it was time to hire a professional who could capture the look of Triffid Ranch enclosures. Allison David not only is a consummate professional, but she and I ran in many of the same circles with the same people that make Dallas so interesting and yet never ran into each other before now. Expect to see a lit of her photos in upcoming Triffid Ranch promotional material, particularly press releases and portfolios, and feel free to contact her for your own photographic needs.)
To start, most activities for the past two months have gravitated around getting everything ready for the Triffid Ranch’s tenth year at Texas Frightmare Weekend, running the weekend of May 3 at the Hyatt Regency DFW Airport. I think the only person more shocked than I at the incredible growth of Frightmare is Loyd Cryer, the founder and grand poobah, and he has every reason to be proud of this monstrous baby of his. As I write this, the plants are potted and awaiting loading, and now all I’m doing is waiting for the inevitable potential disaster to start off what turns into a spectacular show. In 2016, it was having the truck struck by lightning as I was arriving: so what happens in 2019?
Most years, the weekend after Frightmare is dedicated to quiet introspection. Well, if lying on the floor and twitching all day Saturday is introspection, I’ll take it. However, it’s time to take a lead from the title of my most-missed 1990s-era glossy magazine and plan for the next weekend. This time, it’s a matter of putting down roots in my home town, as the Garland Urban Flea opens its may event in downtown Garland, Texas on May 11. Previously, work schedules and weather conspired against setting up a tent at Garland Urban Flea (when the National Weather Service describes the day’s weather by running clips of the Star Trek episode “The Doomsday Machine,” odds are pretty good that nobody is coming to the show unless they own a bathyscaphe, as I’ve learned to my sorrow in the past), so here’s hoping that the weather that Saturday is clement and calm. And stop laughing: Texas weather isn’t THAT bad.
The next weekend is a quiet one, right? Noooope. Because June promises to be even busier, we’re holding the next Triffid Ranch open house on Saturday, May 18 from 6:00 to closing, with the opportunity for those previously unfamiliar with the gallery to view new plant enclosures and arrangements. No theme this time: it’s all about being glad that you’re coming out to take a look.
The next weekend is Memorial Day weekend. That’ll be a weekend to relax and recuperate, right? Well, maybe on Monday, but Saturday, May 25 is dedicated to the Triffid Ranch’s first-ever show in Denton, Texas for Punk Palooza. This is going to be a return for a lot of reasons, the least of which being in a very disturbing alternate reality, I’d be returning to the University of North Texas to celebrate the fruits of either my journalism or my Radio/Television/Film degree from UNT. Yeah, that’s an alternate reality that keeps me awake at night, too.
And after that? June 1 and 8 are reserved for private events at the gallery, but then it’s back on the road for Swizzle’s Waipuna Tiki Flea in Dallas on June 15. Those who may remember last year’s Swizzle event may remember how much fun it was even with rain and a cold front coming through, and June in Dallas is generally noted for “warm and sunny.” Besides, having several friends in the tiki bar culture gives then excuses to visit Dallas, so everybody wins.
Well, that’s about it for the next six weeks: after that, it all depends upon the weather and whether we have a reasonably mild summer or another repeat of 2011 or 1980. If the former, lots of long-range travel is in the forecast. If the latter, guess who’s getting additional air conditioning units for the gallery and stocking up on frozen blueberries?
Posted onApril 5, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – Finale
And so it ends. Many thanks to the Oddities and Curiosities Expo staff for putting up with me, many thanks to the staff ofFair Parkfor putting up with me, and even more thanks to the attendees for making this one of the most pleasurable and memorable one-day events I’ve ever attended. For those with means to get to Austin this summer, the Triffid Ranch sets up at the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo on August 17, and coming back out for the Dallas 2020 Expo isn’t even a question. Between these, the Spooky Spectacle in Fort Worth in September, and the next Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show in Austin in November, it’s going to be a good year for road trips.
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – Finale
Posted onApril 5, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 9
One of the funnier questions of which I’m asked is one that doesn’t seem funny: “Do you take cards?” It’s funny in context of the last half-century. 50 years ago, ATMs were science fiction. 40 years ago, temporary venues could run credit card machines, but only if they could get a telephone line over which to transmit transactions. 30 years ago, mobile ATMs were a standard, but individual vendors generally stuck with cash unless they had access to a dedicated credit card processor, which was ridiculously expensive for small and medium-sized vendors. 20 years ago, card readers were cheaper, to the point of anybody registering a business license for any sort of retail was flooded with spam calls offering “reasonable” prices for card transactions. Ten years ago, small vendors could do the occasional card transaction, but that was dependent upon specialized readers that only worked with certain PDAs and phones, and everything was dependent upon cellular phone networks that didn’t like each other or buildings with walls thicker than toilet paper. Now? Now, when I’m asked “do you take cards?”, I just laugh and ask “What do you think this is: the Twentieth Century?” Watching the incredible changes of the last half-century, can you blame me for being fond of the phrase “I love living in the future”?
(Seriously, for both vendors and attendees of events, try to keep your payment options diversified. For vendors, this means having a good card reader through a phone or tablet AND having plenty of change for those still paying with cash. For attendees, this means having a couple of options as far as cards are concerned: many banks will shut down transactions on a card that appears to be used across multiple states or countries, even though you physically moved only a few meters. As for cash, be kind and try to diversify: the only thing that will make a vendor hate you more than trying to buy a $2 item with a $100 bill is buying an expensive item with rolls of coins. One is a surprising prevention for the other: I give change for cash in dollar coins, partly because kids love them, and partly because the person facing getting back a kilo of change suddenly either finds a smaller bill or finds a card.)
To be continued…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 9
Posted onApril 5, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 8
Having been selling plants at shows and events for a decade, many beginning vendors ask for advice on which shows and events they should attend. Never you mind that asking my advice about shows and events is like asking for vegan recipes from Jeffrey Dahmer. Unlike so much of the advice requested by beginning writers and musicians, the question isn’t “how can I skip to the front of the line?” The question is, essentially, “How do I minimize my losses and my pain?” And that’s a really good question. It’s just a shame that nobody has a good answer for it.
Part of the problem with answering that question is that every show is different. EVERY show. Even if you’ve been vending at the same show every year for a decade, all you need is a change of location or even a good impending storm to throw off everything. Competing shows deliberately scheduling opposite your show, a glitch in advertising, an accident on the highway that slows or stops incoming traffic for a few hours, a hotel name change…any of these can throw off attendance of an event, and I’ve come across all of these and a few more. Don’t even get me started on events with management changes between the last and the next show, where the only thing in common between the two shows is the title. (For that reason, one bit of advice I can give is to be really leery of events using the name of a once-beloved event that’s been dead for a while. The name was purchased for name recognition, but the odds of the new show having even the remote possibility of the audience of the old one are extremely remote.)
The other part? It’s all about the intended audience. Some shows thrive on vendor variety, where attendees look forward to something new in each and every booth or tent. Others…well, not so much. My wife once slogged through a long weekend at an Oktoberfest show where the only potential customers she saw over three days were drunken fratbros looking for a traditional Oktoberfest “chicken hat“: they weren’t willing to pay more than $3 for one, and they had no interest in purchasing anything else but beer. On the other, her first big show was at a convention for mystery writers, where she and a friend were the only vendors carrying anything other than books. Until just a couple of years ago, this was her biggest grossing weekend ever, because family members and friends of the main attendees saw jewelry and exclaimed “Finally! Something other than books!” (Sadly, this show didn’t lead to future success at subsequent shows: one of the convention organizers was one of the book dealers, and since he felt that any sales going to anybody else were sales that weren’t going to him, he made sure that non-book dealers weren’t allowed back.) It’s Schrödinger’s Show: until you put the money down for a booth fee, take the time from your day job, arrive at the venue, and get set up, you have no idea how it’s going to go. That can even apply on individual days during a three- or four-day show: everyone who has been traveling to events for more than a few months will have stories about Friday and Saturday audiences being dead, only for Sunday’s crowd to converge and strip out everything before closing.
And this advice for vendors applies to attendees, too. I can tell you about fellow vendors whose inventory may be enticing, but the only way you’ll find out which events would be worth your time is by hitting a lot of them and finding what works the best for you. Yes, that might cost money, but would you rather stay home and spend the rest of your life wondering on what you missed out?
To be continued…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 8
Posted onApril 4, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 7
And for this installment, a discussion of alcohol. Increasingly, as Texas’s and particularly Dallas’s alcohol sales and distribution laws start to enter the 18th Century, more local events with vendor spaces are allowing and encouraging beer and wine sales. Contrary to the panicked liturgies of Those With Authoritah, removing the patchwork of “wet” versus “dry” areas in Dallas and allowing every grocery store in town to sell beer and wine didn’t cause the city to become a booze-fueled Mad Max horrorscape. Well, that still happens every year with the Lower Greenville St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March and Texas/OU Weekend in October, but sane and tasteful people avoid those mass midlife crises anyway. Everywhere else, with events that aren’t already associated with projectile vomiting competitions, it’s nice and mellow. Yes, people will drink, and they’d probably smoke as well once Texas finally legalizes recreational cannabis. I can’t do either, so I figure “More for everyone else.”
That’s probably one of the best things about various events in the last decade: the easy access to well-controlled and well-monitored beer and wine as anxiety and shyness self-medication. Occasionally vendors get accidental spills, but not often, and the whole purpose behind drinking is to relax, not to get messed up. Even better, there’s no pressure to indulge, so those of us who can’t or don’t aren’t ostracized or needled into participating “because everyone else is doing it.” Dallas’sFair Parkheld two events for two completely different audiences last weekend: the Oddities & Curiosities Expo and a “bier garden” beer tasting event. Want to guess which one had a crowd of socially lubricated and extremely pleasant attendees who knew better than to drink and drive, and which one was responsible for the dolt in a Lexus (but I repeat myself) driving the wrong way on a busy street who nearly hit me and three other people as I was leaving the Expo? The choice is simple: when your alcohol consumption makes the shade of Hunter S. Thompson yell “GET TREATMENT, NOW” in your ear, heed the advice. You’re harshing it for the rest of us.
To be continued…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 7
Posted onApril 4, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 6
From a vendor’s perspective, one of the biggest regrets on being on that side of the cash register involves getting to visit with other vendors in a particular venue. Oh, YOU may be done and ready to go an hour before the door opens, but not everyone is that lucky, and interrupting fellow vendors while they’re trying to get the last touches in place is really bad form. The real irony is that the only chance most vendors get to talk to their neighbors after the venue opens to the public is if the show is horrible and the public doesn’t show up. At a good show, if you’re very lucky, you might get the chance to wave at neighbors once or twice in momentary slowdowns (and I really mean “momentary”) before the rush hits again and you start playing the game “What Character From The Walking Dead Are You?” (For the record, I’m Glenn. I’m always Glenn.)
The particularly good news at last weekend’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo was that I’ve known my across-the-aisle neighbor for nearly 30 years, back from when he and I were neighbors inExposition Parkin the early 1990s. Jason Cohen of Curious Garden has been a fellow Dallas troublemaker for longer than I have, and I’m proud to announce that he’s hosting a repeat of last year’s carnivorous plant workshop sometime later this year. The exact details are still open: right now, we’re both trying to get through the spring season rush with all of our tendons and ligaments still attached, but we’re trying to wrangle a time in the schedule, probably in mid-May. Details will follow as I get them.
To be continued…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 6
Posted onApril 4, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 5
Another business proposal to fill my voluminous free time: unique enclosure decorations for smaller containers. Just as how a vast untapped market for darker garden decorations exists that isn’t being serviced by standard garden centers, and how so many of us have to hope that Halloween decorations from Target will survive an entire summer of sun and rain, the decorative options for those making indoor gardens from converted fishtanks and sushi trays is generally limited to the twee. Not that there’s anything wrong with fairies and forest animals if that’s your kink, but it may be time to consider a line of gonzo terrarium ornaments, both UV-resistant and leach-resistant, for the more discerning customer. It may be time to discuss licensing deals with a few artists or their estates, particularly Wayne Barlowe, H.R. Giger, and Charles R. Knight.
To be continued…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 5
Posted onApril 4, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 4
A side venture inspired by a lack of a certain behavior at the Oddities & Curiosities Expo: I’m going to move into the carnivorous plant fertilizer business. In the last few years, several safe and effective foliar fertilizers for most carnivores have hit the market (whatever you do, never EVER try to fertilize sundews or butterworts, no matter what), but I’m looking at an effective name. After doing a bit of research into existing and lapsed copyrights (among other things, I discovered that the copyrights on several magazines and a weekly newspaper for which I worked in the 1990s were allowed to lapse, and I could buy them up with petty cash if I wanted to waste money and sanity trying to revive them), I’ve found a perfect one: a tie-in with a 20th Century Fox movie of the last decade. With the recent purchase of the vast majority of the former Fox empire by Disney, that property is now managed by a team very much willing to work with vendors willing to pay for limited product licenses. I don’t expect to make a lot of money off the fertilizer itself, but at shows where half of the attendees see carnivorous plants and start yelling “Feed me, Seymour!” at the tops of their lungs, I can hold up a big bottle of branded carnivorous plant fertilizer and yell back “Brawndo’s got what plants crave!“
To be continued…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 4
Posted onApril 3, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 3
A minor observation based on years of anecdotal data: Dallas may have considerably more esoterics and nonconformists than what the city’s promotional bureau may want to advertise, but Texas’s real freak capitol is Houston. Oh, Austin has a reputation that precedes the 1960s, but when it comes to any gonzo event, Houstonites outnumber Austinites by about 30 to one. Even better, Houston folk see nothing wrong with hopping in the car or heading to the airport and taking a trip to get their esoterica fixes. In the last ten years since the Triffid Ranch started, some of my most enthusiastic and energetic customers, as well as some of my best and dearest friends, were Houstonites who came tearing up I-45 to see what Dallas had going on. Starting this year, I no longer have any excuse not to return the favor: Dallas isn’t the city everyone thought it was 25 years ago, and neither is Houston, and if the Oddities & Curiosities Expo sets up shop in Houston in 2020, I’ll be one of the first vendors applying for a booth.
To be continued…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 3
Posted onApril 3, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 2
One of the more surprising aspects about last weekend’s Oddities & Curiosities Expo wasn’t the gigantic crowd. The surprise is that in spite of huge turnouts, events such as this are downplayed in Dallas under the idea that “Dallas is a really conservative city, so there’s not much of an interest in weird stuff.” Loyd Cryer, the founder of Texas Frightmare Weekend, heard the same thing over and over when he was first trying to get Frightmare off the ground. Today, if Frightmare isn’t the biggest horror convention in the country, it’s definitely in the top three, and easily most of its core audience hails from the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Considering the number of events intended for that perceived traditional Dallas audience that crash and burn, it may be time to acknowledge that my home town is a bastion of nontraditionals, and let our freak flag fly high and proud.
To be continued…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 2
Posted onApril 3, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 1
Ah, to describe the general attendance at the Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo…well, everyone understood why the aisles between vendor rows were so wide, because otherwise whole sections would have been impassable. According to those who had been waiting in the cold and rain to get in, the line for tickets stretched around the Centennial Hall as lateas 3:00in the afternoon, and both the parking lots atFair Parkand the DART Green Line trains stopping at theFair Park station were packed. Not that it was possible to see this, because Every vendor in the place was lucky to leave his/her booth untilFair Parksecurity started shooing attendees toward the door at closing. In my own case, I came out with what I thought was a reasonable collection of plants, with a booth arrangement that could handle a reasonable crowd. When the crowds formed lines to get through booths, and customers were reaching across booth walls to view other vendors’ goods because they simply couldn’t get in, it wasn’t hard to make allusions to George Romero movies. Considering the general vibe of the show, and considering the crowd attending, those allusions were GOOD things.
To be continued…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – 1
Posted onApril 2, 2019|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – Introduction
To say that encountering the Oddities & Curiosities Expo was a surprise understates the case. This time last year, nobody within a wide circle of fellow Texas vendors had even heard of this traveling show: the first I personally had heard about it was an announcement of a show in Austin in November 2018. Considering that it was a week after the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show, I regretfully skipped on it: one round-trip drive to and from Austin is rough enough, but two within five days for two one-day shows would be pushing limits of endurance, and I had another show scheduled for the same weekend. Besides, after a punishing run of underwhelming first-time shows over the last few years, what were the chances of a first-year show in Austin, especially a traveling show, being worth the trip?
That munching sound you hear is the sound of your humble proprietor eating crow. It’s not just that the show for which I skipped the Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo was an unmitigated disaster: pulling off a big crow drumstick with 11 herbs and spices had to wait until the Expo came to Dallas at the end of March. I’ve made some spectacularly dumb mistakes in my life: assuming that Make magazine was going to be a failure, passing on buying $10,000 in Apple stock at the end of 1997, and attending my sister’s wedding, among many others. Missing an Oddities & Curiosities Expo in Texas will rate at least on the level of the wedding, based on what happened in Dallas.
The show started easily enough: easy access for loading in plants on the Friday before, with cloudy but warm skies and an enthusiastic show staff to manage things. At first, especially with a venue as big as Centennial Hall inFair Park, it seemed a little sparse, with lots of aisle space compared to the vendor booths, and about half of the booths were still empty. No big deal, I thought: lots of folks would arriveon Saturday morningbefore the show opened, and that’s precisely what happened. Even then, setup was easy, and when it was time to clear the areaon Friday afternoon, everything went smashingly. A few things still had to be done, such as completing new signs and notices, soFriday nightwas spent working on organizing everything that would be out there at opening.
(Incidentally, a major addition to the Triffid Ranch booth is an entry into the 21st Century: QR codes and more URLs in place of postcards and business cards. Part of this was due to comparing notes with fellow vendors about “card collectors,” who grab up cards and anything else that’s free and never return. The biggest reason, though, is that by the end of this decade, a phone that can take pictures isn’t a luxury: it’s an essential accessory, and someone visiting the booth is much less likely to lose a business card than to lose a phone. This is part of a general experiment, and it seemed to work remarkably well over the run of the show, especially for those who wanted to get more information but didn’t necessarily want to come in too close.)
Saturday, though, started out rough. The National Weather Service warned about the cold front passing through that morning, but nobody was expecting the rainstorms that came with it. With shows of this sort, vendors worry about rain, especially cold rain, because a good stout storm is enough to convince most potential attendees to stay home. The Expo openedat 10:00for advance VIP ticket holders who paid extra to get first dibs, and we vendors noted that the crowd appeared to be friendly and enthusiastic but a little sparse. There was a little time to get something to eat and drink or hit the restroom, and boy oh boy were we all glad to do so, because when the doors opened for general attendeesat 11:00…
To be continued…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2019 – Introduction
Posted onDecember 11, 2018|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Swizzle’s Hawaiian Holiday Popup -1
I was warned. “The weather may keep a lot of people from attending,” they said. “The crowd for the holiday popup is a fraction of the spring popup show,” they said. “Parking can sometimes be an issue,” they said. Oh, if only other shows this year had gone so well. Many thanks to everyone who came out, asked questions about the carnivores, and took home carnivores and dragonfruit, and expect a return for the spring show. If the last non-gallery Triffid Ranch show of 2018 is a harbinger for next year, 2019 is going to kill me.
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Swizzle’s Hawaiian Holiday Popup -1
Posted onDecember 10, 2018|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Swizzle’s Hawaiian Holiday Popup 2018 – Introduction
Okay, so Swizzle’s Hawaiian Holiday Popup at Industry Bar was a risk. Several tiki bar enthusiast friends had good recommendations, and since any good tiki bar really needs plants for the ambiance, why not encourage a Nepenthes pitcher plant as an addition to the flora? Between this and the unmitigated disaster of the previous Triffid Ranch show, Saturday morning was spent loading up the van for a jaunt into Dallas’s South Street Station area, with no expectations whatsoever.
I should mention that the Saturday in question was cold and sloppy, and I was warned that the holiday show only had a small fraction of the attendees of the big spring show. If that’s the case, the attendance of the spring show will probably kill me. As it was, the holiday popup show was loaded with the most enthusiastic crowd I’ve seen in a one-day show this side of the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays audience, and that’s saying something.
Naturally, half of the fun with gonzo shows such as these is meeting the customers halfway. It was high time to introduce more of Dallas to the joys of Hylocereus costaricensis, the red dragonfruit cactus, and the gallery dragonfruit shed several ready-to-root branches when moved inside for the winter. They won’t be able to stay in tiki glasses forever, but they’ll definitely be very happy getting established over the winter.
…to be continued…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Swizzle’s Hawaiian Holiday Popup 2018 – Introduction
The last few days after the end of the Dallas Fantasy Fair revival have led to a lot of soulsearching and evaluation of life and business needs. This includes an evaluation of the differences between being an attendee and later a guest at the tail end of the Twentieth Century, and being a vendor and business owner and operator in the Twenty-First. This includes looking past lots of good memories of the shows and remembering that while I attended back then mostly to see friends and cohorts that now are all over Facebook, both those friends and I were there also because we could afford admission and not much else. This includes a note that since science fiction, fantasy, and comic conventions have evolved drastically in the era of eBay and YouTube, vendors shouldn’t get nostalgic for the days when dealers’ rooms were dependent upon the latest fads and speculation bubbles. The last Dallas Fantasy Fair ran in April 1996, just as the big mid-Nineties comics speculation boom was collapsing (it’s hard to believe today with Avengers and Spider-Man movies released seemingly every month, but Marvel Comics was very close to Chapter 7 bankruptcy this time 22 years ago, and the idea of the whole of Marvel’s comic characters being sold to the WWE as wrestling characters was pretty reasonable at the time), and things have changed a LOT since then.
Not to beat on the Fantasy Fair revival: attendees were happy, it was good to run into people I hadn’t seen for nearly half my life, and those seeking vintage comics seemed to find exactly what they were looking for. It’s just that a combination of too many related events in the same month (friends who have been involved in Dallas fandom for 40 years related that they’ve never seen so many events scheduled for a November before, across the DFW Metroplex and north to Denton) and a lack of name recognition with anybody under the age of 40 led to, shall we say, a much smaller crowd than had been promoted.
Right now, the talk about the Fantasy Fair is optimistic, with one once-influential retailer talking about how the show may be a must-attend event in another ten years, and may even regain its place as second only to the San Diego Comic Con as essential attendance for anyone in the industry. I truly wish well of everyone involved, and hope that these predictions come true. In the meantime, though, with the exception of Texas Frightmare Weekend, it’s time to move away from conventions. It made sense a decade ago, but it’s time to move on.
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Dallas Fantasy Fair 2018
It took long enough, but summer is dead. Deceased. It’s not pining for the fjords. Its leavetaking proves that there’s still room in Hell. It’s GONE, MacReady. The heat is gone, defunct, bereft, and on its back and kicking like a dying cockroach. We won’t have to start worrying about oppressive heat in the Dallas area for another five months, and for a couple of weeks, we might need coats after the sun goes down. We’re gonna FREEZE!
Seriously, this November is shaping up to be a typical one. No unnatural heat the way we had in 2016, but also no significant chance of snow and slop the way we had in 1993. (Subfreezing temperatures and sleet on Thanksgiving evening and nearly impassable conditions for Dallas the day after: that was a wonderful mess.) We came close to snow last week with the cold front that passed through North and Central Texas. Even that was sporadic and fleeting, and we went back to our typical windy and sunny before anyone realized the bitter cold was gone. For those of us with fashion sense that includes motorcycle jackets and heavy boots, it’s been a little touch of heaven, and we still have December and January to go.
(And on the subject of motorcycle jackets, I bought mine 21 years ago this month, and it’s a little jarring to realize that I have friends and customers whose main interests were cell division and limb gene expression when I purchased it. I had at least four people ask me what I did to get it that wonderfully broken in and character-ridden, and I had to tell them “Just get one and wear it until it’s old enough to buy booze in the US.”)
Out come the jackets, in go the temperate carnivores, unfortunately. As of now, don’t expect to see any Venus flytraps, temperate sundews, or Sarracenia pitcher plants until at least the beginning of April, and even that may be delayed with last-minute blue northers hitting in February and March. The spotty frosts we’ve received over the last week have stopped any new growth in the flytraps and pitcher plants, and they’re now taking a much-deserved rest to recharge for spring. If we get just the right combination of sun and cold for the rest of the winter, next year’s blooms, especially with the purpurea pitcher plants, will be spectacular.
Just because they’re asleep doesn’t mean that everyone can’t have fun with carnivores until spring. The tropical carnivores are still busy and a bit obnoxious, so we’re going to be focusing on them all winter long. And oh, they’re going places.
The first place they’ll be going is to the revival of the Dallas Fantasy Fair, runningNovember 24and 25 at the Irving Convention Center. November is already a month packed with fannish events (I haven’t seen a month like this in Texas, and my memory of related events goes back 35 years as of this weekend), but setting up a booth at the Fantasy Fair seemed both like an opportunity to run into people I haven’t seen in two decades and give them a chance to see a cross-section of what the Triffid Ranch is trying to accomplish. Either way, look for booth #406: in a room full of comics professionals, a space dedicated to carnivorous plant enclosures is going to stand out.
Next, the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses at the gallery are going to be a little truncated this season due to conflicting schedules. Instead of running every Saturday in December before Christmas, we’re going to have two:December 15andDecember 22, bothstarting at 6:00 p.m.and ending when everyone’s done. In addition, anyone purchasing an enclosure at either of the open houses gets free delivery within the Dallas/Fort Worth area if you really want to surprise someone. (Note: between prior commitments and the open houses, time for custom enclosures will be at a premium, so get requests out NOW.)
After the holidays are finally over, it’s time to go back to a venue we haven’t visited in three years. The Perot Museum in downtown Dallas still has its bimonthly Social Science 21+ late-night events, and the Wild World event on January 25includes viewings of Nepenthes and Heliamphora pitcher plants and other carnivores. The contract is still being negotiated, but expect to see a redux, with North American pitcher plants, for the Social Science “Science Fiction” eventon April 26.Apparently that’s the one where I’m going to get alternate movie quotes thrown at me about triffids.
And on a last note, the touring Oddities and Curiosities Expo runs in Austin this weekend: as tempting as it was to head back to Austin for a weekend, my loyalty lies with the Blood of Texas Crew for the Horror For the Holidays event. You can imagine my surprise at discovering that Oddities and Curiosities is hitting Dallas on March 30, and of COURSE the booth fee has already been paid for it. Look at it as a teaser for Texas Frightmare Weekend on May 3 through 5, including having special news for Frightmare attendees who are also hitting Free Comic Book Day at local comic shops that weekend. Details will follow.
And that’s about it for now. Staying warm?
Comments Off on The State of the Gallery: November 2018
Posted onNovember 14, 2018|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays V – 5
16 years ago, my life changed when I accepted a job interview with a tech company in Tallahassee, Florida. It was a fly-in/fly-out interview, but what I saw was enough to risk moving across country for something that might turn back into pumpkins and mice at any moment. (That’s about what happened, and several former co-workers regularly re-apologize for my getting laid off just before Christmas. I tell them that they have nothing to apologize for: if not for those four months in Tally, my life would be drastically different today, and much less satisfying. Hell, I might have returned to writing for science fiction magazines.) I had a lot of entertaining encounters in both the Dallas and Tallahassee airports, but one of the most interesting was from a Miami native who was switching flights in Tally before heading home, and he asked why the HELL would I want to live in the Florida Panhandle. “South Florida: that’s where the action is!”
Years later, after visiting Tampa and making friends I still hold dear, I understood what he was getting at. At the same time, in this line of work, a bit of quiet is exactly what I need to get things done.
It’s the same situation with Austin. “Look at all of the events out here! Look at the clubs, and the galleries, and the bookstores! Why, Dallas doesn’t even HAVE bookstores! You stand around staring at two-story buildings and ask if they have those newfangled indoor toilets!” Okay, so we’re not as relentlessly exciting as Austin, but we’re not completely uncivilized: the Adolphus Hotel in downtown finally took down the big “Free HBO in your room!” sign about a week ago. And if we don’t use indoor toilets, it’s usually because we’re really angry with a neighbor.
This isn’t a slam against Austin (two decades ago, if you’d told me I’d be defending Austin instead of riding a nuke into downtown, I’d have questioned your sanity, but times change), but it’s just not a town conducive to what the Triffid Ranch is trying to do. The secret to Dallas is that we’re not the hidebound, stick-in-the-mud business city popularly presented: we’ve got a wide-ranging music community, one hell of an arts community, and a lot of unorthodoxy that’s not advertised. That’s for a reason: the longer we can keep the contingent of SMU brats away, the longer a venue, locale, or community can last. It starts with a few of them coming in seeing if anyone knows any good coke dealers, and like roaches discovering spilled sugar, they leave scent trails for their friends. Before you know it, developers discover that artistic sweat equity made a locale particularly desirable, and it’s gentrified out of existence. The SMU brats who wanted to live there because it was cool leave because they don’t have a place to slum, the developers follow, and everyone else tries to rebuild elsewhere. The longer we keep quiet, the longer what we have lasts.
This means that Dallas runs on a different artistic cycle than most cities. Nobody cares if you’re an aspiring writer or painter: the only people who think this matters are yuppies who assume that crowing “Well, I’M an artist!” will get them into loft spaces otherwise inaccessible to those with neither brains nor soul. Respect comes from finishing the projects you say you’re going to finish, no matter how lonely or bored you are in the interim, and then producing more. Dallas is a tough teacher in that regard, especially since the city in general only notices successful artists after they’ve become successful elsewhere, but it also produces people who don’t quit halfway through because they’re not getting enough attention. And for some of us, that lack of attention is a greater motivator than getting attention, because it makes us strive that much harder to prove we can do it. Distractions just prevent production.
And that, in a nutshell, is why I can’t live in Austin, or Houston, or New York, or New Orleans. Please note that I said nothing about dragging out enclosures and visiting.
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays V – 5
Posted onNovember 14, 2018|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays V – 4
One of the minor issues with attempting new shows outside of the Dallas area is the sheer surface area and volume of Texas. Anybody growing up here doesn’t think twice about a two-hour drive to get somewhere, because that’s usually the only option. My friend Stephen Dedman came out to Dallas from Australia at the beginning of the decade to visit, and picked a hotel between Dallas and Fort Worth so he could visit both cities within a given day. The poor man had no idea as to how a “quick trip” between Dallas and Fort Worth could take up a good portion of the day, and that’s on a day without traffic congestion or foul weather. And getting anywhere else? Texarkana is nearly a six-hour drive away, and both New Mexico and Colorado are about eight. Only in Texas could a company like Southwest Airlines get started: for years, Southwest’s main business was in commuter traffic between Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Lubbock, and $99 weekend flights to Houston are still a significant portion of the company’s business, because it’s cheaper to fly than to drive.
(In 2010, I visited Boston to do a presentation on carnivorous plants for a science fiction convention west of town, and planned a Friday trip to visit Black Jungle Terrarium Supply smack in the middle of Massachusetts. My hosts were beyond horrified to discover that because of Massachusetts’s notoriously poor highway signage, I overshot my turn and kept going, only turning around when I started picking up radio ads for concerts in Saratoga Springs, New York. I’d traveled the length of the state that afternoon, something many natives never do, and back, and was completely nonplussed at the drive. These same friends were frothing and chewing the walls when I told them that I probably would have kept going just to see what I could see if I didn’t have to be back that evening: I haven’t been in Saratoga Springs for 40 years as of this month.)
The reasonably flat vistas of Texas are both blessing and nightmare for long transport trips: we took extraordinarily well to the implementation of the interstate highway system, which means that barring breakdowns, food and fuel are extremely accessible. Even the so-called Hill Country of central Texas is gentle rises for someone used to the Rocky Mountains or even the Adirondacks, which saves on fuel consumption but also leads to our famed constant wind out of the south. The flatness also means that west of Tyler, depending upon rain or trees for shade on the highway is a fool’s hope, and it’s very easy to overheat when caught in traffic jams on a major highway. Fact is, doing out-of-town shows in Texas makes the thought of doing shows outside of the state a bit rougher: I was recently invited to be a vendor for a big convention in Salt Lake City, and the biggest reason for turning it down was the thought of having to drive through the Rocky Mountains, with or without chains, for most of the way. (The snowstorm that hit the area the day I would have been driving back was confirmation that I made the right decision.)
At the same time, years of shows at Texas Frightmare Weekend have introduced me to a throng of wonderful folks, both customers and friends, who hop on commuter flights to Dallas from the rest of the state. It’s going to be a while before I get the chance to see them all in their home turf, but I’m working on it.
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays V – 4
Posted onNovember 14, 2018|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays V – 3
When it comes to carnivorous plants in Texas, the middle of November is a problematic time. The temperate carnivores, particularly the Venus flytraps and Sarracenia pitcher plants, are ready to go to bed for the season. They’ve already stopped growing new traps, and the existing ones are only good for photosynthesis until the next spring. However, they’re still green, and customers demand to see at least one flytrap. On the other hand, the temperatures can drop enough that tropical plants such as Nepenthes pitcher plants might have issues with the relative cold inside a transport van. The latter are easy to deal with: crank up the heat and try to keep time outside to a minimum. The issues with the former, though, mean having to inform customers that as beautiful they are now, the plants have to be allowed to go into dormancy over the winter, or else they’ll wear out and die. After all, who wants to buy a plant that they won’t be able to enjoy watching capturing insects for another five months?
The trick here, of course, is no trick: it’s all about being completely honest. Yes, that big clump of Sarracenia is about ready to start pining for the fijords, but the best time to repot a clump into a permanent bog garden is when it’s dormant. Yes, that flytrap has lost its narrow summer leaves, but the ones remaining are going to spend the winter capturing every last photon they can and convert that energy into starches that allow the plant to come back with a vengeance in spring. See the colors on the traps right now? This is what you have to look forward to 11 months from now, when the pitcher plant grows fresh traps at the end of the summer. Oh, and if you like them now, wait until they bloom at the end of March.
Part of the reason why I started the Triffid Ranch a decade ago was because garden centers selling carnivores fell flat on their faces as far as imparting proper care and preparation to new customers. “Don’t worry: you can make tap water safe for carnivores by boiling it.” “Flytraps at Christmas? Let me ring you up.” “Yes, you can use flytraps to control insects in your house, ESPECIALLY bedbugs.” It may disappoint some customers to warn them about a new plant’s life cycle, especially when that cycle interferes with their need for some green. The trick isn’t to downplay that life cycle as a bug, but to celebrate it as a feature.
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays V – 3
Posted onNovember 14, 2018|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays V – 2
When twentysomethings ask me if science fiction and horror conventions were better back when I was their age or today, I practically shriek “TODAY!” As a vendor, online promotion of events beats attempting to mail envelopes from a mailing list via First Class USPS, and don’t get me going about Eighties-era credit card processing machines. The biggest innovation to the live show scene, one that even out-there futurists like John Shirley and Ernest Hogan wouldn’t and couldn’t have predicted thirty years ago? Food trucks and GrubHub. These kids don’t remember the days when the only options for food within walking distance (or, with some shows in Austin, driving distance) were a horrible and horribly overpriced hotel restaurant, an even more horrible concession stand within the hall stocked with surplus rations from the Whiskey Rebellion, or a lone fast-food pit whose food quality would have been improved by setting the place afire with the owner in it. I remember shows where the meal options were so poor that running across a major highway during rush hour was a viable option, and the restaurants on the other side taunted those of us without easy access to transport. As a vendor, this still applies, especially when considering “Do I give up this this great parking spot and risk not finding anything in an hour, or do I settle for grazing in the hotel front yard?”
This show, Horror For the Holidays didn’t have any food trucks because of the vendors setting up booths outside, but it has something every year unseen at other shows: a Bloody Mary bar. I can’t drink, so the alcohol content has to stay below “virgin,” but consider the situation. You’ve spent the last two hours hauling heavy tubs full of glassware and plants across a parking lot, across a back stage, and to the booth location. You get finished just as the first customers come barreling in, and the crowds don’t slow down for the next six hours. Eating anything of significance just isn’t an option, especially if that anything of significance requires two hands. A nice big glass of tomato juice and celery salt, with a handful of blue cheese-filled olives, gots a long way toward replacing the seven kilos of salt you burned through during setup, and a second glass takes away a lot of the deep muscle pain inflicted during breakdown. No matter where Horror For the Holidays goes in the future, the Bloody Mary bar has to continue, because we vendors depend upon it.
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays V – 2
Posted onNovember 14, 2018|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays V – 1
After a decade of Triffid Ranch shows, the most appropriate truism about outside shows is that the more horrific the path getting to the show, the better the actual show will be. Take a look at Texas Frightmare Weekend. The day of this year’s show, I wrenched my ankle while loading the truck, slowing me so badly that arriving in time for the Friday opening was impossible. The year before, my truck was hit by lightning, causing the staff to nickname me “Sparky”, and I broke a differential rod on the truck while leaving DFW Airport and had to be towed back to the gallery. Without fail for the last ten shows, something Interesting has happened right before the event (including finishing up an extensive move the weekend of the 2010 show, where we discovered the housecleaner hired to take care of the final cleanup of our old condo had done absolutely nothing and the Thursday before was spent frantically sweeping, mopping, and scrubbing) where a little voice in the back of my head kept saying “Jump…jump NOW!” Ignoring that voice takes effort, but that action always yields rewards. Now, it’s the shows where setup is easy, the vehicle starts every time, and the booth is ready an hour ahead of schedule…those are the shows where staying at home and watching television would have been a more productive use of the weekend.
That’s pretty much the way every Horror For the Holidays show goes as well: this time, the big menace was an impending cold wave. Getting subfreezing temperatures this early in November isn’t completely unheard of, but it’s rare, and the last big one threatening snow came through in 1993. (Oh, Black Friday in Dallas was a mess that year.) Complicating matters was Interstate I-35, which connects Duluth, Minnesota to Laredo, Texas and splits to pass east and west branches through downtowns Dallas and Fort Worth. Because of its value as a trucking and shipping route, and because it’s the only remotely efficient route between Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio, it’s perpetually under construction on a scale unseen this side of Interstate I-5 passing through Seattle. North, south, doesn’t matter: out of the 200 miles/322 kilometers separating Dallas from Austin, approximately a quarter of that is construction zone, with the road narrowed to two lanes, big concrete barriers on either side, and no shoulders and therefore almost no clearance. Try that in the dark, with mist starting to fall and a north wind picking up, and the idiot who got on the highway in front of you is bobbing and weaving across both lanes, well under the speed limit, while towing a trailer with half of the lights out…yeah, “white knuckle trip” is as good a description as any. Coming back to Dallas, feeling the temperature drop through the windshield, was fun, too, as it coincided with a further cold front that kept promising snow. Just don’t look away from the road, slip while reaching for a drink, and make absolutely sure to have a selection of only music that the driver likes (you do NOT want the driver to snarl and attempt to throw the radio out the window when the only terrestrial radio station available has a classic rock format consisting of Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” playing six times an hour), and you might get through alive.
But you know what? Once inside and set up, the trip was worth the adventure.
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays V – 1
Posted onNovember 14, 2018|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays V – Introduction
It’s been two years and three shows since the Triffid Ranch booth first polluted shows outside of Dallas, and attending shows run by the Blood Over Texas crew in Austin makes it worthwhile. This November is particularly noteworthy for the number and variety of events in the Dallas area, but they’ll have to wait. Horror For the Holidays, now finished with its fifth year, gets precedence every single time.
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays V – Introduction
Posted onOctober 12, 2018|Comments Off on Schedule Change for the Garland Urban Flea
A quick note for those planning a relaxing Saturday around carnivorous plants in Garland, Texas who haven’t caught the latest weather report. As of this writing, a massive cold front spreading across North America is on its way to Texas, with the end result being a solid weekend of potentially dangerous thunderstorms through the Dallas area. Because of that, the decision was made last night to cancel the Garland Urban Flea eventon October 13. That means that if you’re willing to risk Dallas thunderstorms (and our storms can be impressive) to come out to the Triffid Ranch tent, you’ll have to turn around because nobody will be there. Well, nobody without gills: we’ve already had ridiculous rains, even for an October, so nobody is likely to be in downtown Garlandon Saturday afternoonwithout a spare SCUBA tank.
And in the spirit of gallows humor, things could have been a LOT worse. This weekend is also the weekend for Fear Con in Salt Lake City, and the organizers waited until two weeks ago to solicit my becoming a vendor at that show. Even under absolutely perfect conditions, Salt Lake City is a two-day drive from Dallas, so hauling out plants to Utah with two weeks’ notice wasn’t a practical option. Remember that cold front? It may be producing thunderstorms in Dallas, but it may produce snow in the Texas Panhandle, which is a spectacle best experienced from a distance, such as 1993. (1993 was the last year we saw subfreezing temperatures in Dallas on Halloween: for the first time for most of us, we saw autumn leaf colors in November that weren’t pastels.) Considering the likelihood of that front dropping considerably more snow further north, just contemplate the fun of driving a van full of heat-loving carnivorous plants through the Rocky Mountains for two days out and two days back, while wearing tire chains. Just call me “Neo“.
Comments Off on Schedule Change for the Garland Urban Flea
The days end the way they begin: covered with glue, paint, epoxy putty, and random bits of styrofoam. First comes the watering, and you don’t want to know how much water moves through the gallery on a weekly basis. The floor of the gallery is a concrete slab, and yet you’d swear that it listed back and forth like a sailing ship deck. Either the sundews have evolved speaking apparatus or the sleep deprivation has reached the point of no return, because their conversations are so BORING. And then there are the people wanting to come by at 3 in the morning, and I have to explain “I don’t care if you’re from D magazine! I don’t have any coca plants here! No, wait, I don’t have any at all! No flowers in this town: only carnivorous plants.” And that’s when I start screaming “The floor is LAVA!”, because I’ve wandered outside into the parking lot and lava isn’t anywhere near as hot. At what point will the heat break and my brain stop impersonating a toasted marshmallow?
Oh, hi. Um, never mind me. Just getting things ready for the next gallery open house. Just do me a favor and look behind you. Do you see my dead grandmother crawling up your leg with a knife in her teeth? Cool: so it’s not just me.
A bit more seriously, the best analogy for August in Dallas comes from what the late author Harlan Ellison described as “the hour that stretches.” Apparently space-time is as bent and warped by overstressed air conditioners as by gravitic anomalies, because you wake up one morning and figure “Oh, I have five weeks to get everything done, and I’m not going to slack off, so I’m going to start now.” Look down for a second and then back to the clock, and everything has to be finished in an hour before everyone arrives. You KNOW you’re working, and you KNOW you’re making better progress than ever before, and it’s still not fast enough to deal with that hour that stretches. Hence, after this gets published, it’s back to the workspace, because carnivorous plant enclosures don’t make themselves. I know this from experience.
The biggest news, of course, is that the Triffid Ranch celebrates three years as a gallery this month, which means it’s time for another open house. Specifically, the Texas Triffid Ranch Third Anniversary Open House starts at 6:00 on Saturday, August 18, and ends pretty much when everyone goes home. Besides the novelty of the event itself (I look at pictures of the first ArtWalk at the old Valley View location and jawdrop as to how far everything has come since 2015), this open house includes the premieres of new enclosures, a custom cake designed and baked by the one and only Angela Nelson, and samples of that horsecrippler cactus ice cream mentioned last month. This is, of course, in addition to the opportunity to take home your own carnivorous plant enclosure or talk about commissioning a custom enclosure. As always, Triffid Ranch open houses are family-friendly events, too, so don’t feel obligated to leave kids at home.
As far as outside events and shows are concerned, one of the best things about living in North Texas is that autumn lasts until the end of the year, and as soon as the heat starts letting up in September, everyone rushes outside to breathe fresh air. (Every vendor familiar with outdoor Dallas shows can appreciate the Ray Bradbury novella Frost & Fire, because it hits all of the notes on show setup and teardown.) This means that everyone waits until the middle of August to get word on acceptance into big shows in late October. Since we’re not quite there yet, the wait for word from several local shows in October is almost painful. In the interim, though, the next three big shows in which you can expect to see the Triffid Ranch booth include:
Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays 5: November 11 in Austin. It may be a one-day show, but the Horror For the Holidays events have three things going for them: the people running them, the people attending them, and Central Texas when the heat breaks. Not only is this a chance to say hello to a lot of Triffid Ranch regulars who can’t always get up to Dallas for every event, but it’s a perfect time to get out of town for a road trip without worrying about the plants cooking on the way down. (It also revives good memories of when the litcon Armadillocon used to run opposite Texas/OU Weekend, instead of just before fall classes started at UT-Austin, back when the convention actually encouraged attendees under the age of 60.) Of course, that’s not the only reason to come out: if you’d told most anybody of the untapped potential for dark and dire gifts before the release of The Nightmare Before Christmas 25 years ago, they’d have laughed and pointed. Horror For the Holidays just screams back “WHO’S LAUGHING NOW?”
Dallas Fantasy Fair: November 24 and 25 in Irving. A quarter-century ago, the autumn Dallas Fantasy Fairs served a very specific purpose for those of a certain bent: when the house was full of distant relations, the television full of either Christmas specials or football, and most public venues full of Dawn of the Dead cosplayers, it was a chance to get away from the house, talk to people who wanted to talk about something other than work or raising kids. Things have changed a lot since then, as the internet was just getting going when the last Fantasy Fair ran in April 1996. Sometimes you have to let something go fallow for a while in order for it to come back stronger and better, and nearly 23 years should be plenty of time.
Texas Frightmare Weekend: May 3 through 5 at DFW Airport. Every year, I look at the lineup of guests and events and figure “There is NO WAY that the Frightmare crew will be able to top what they’ve accomplished here. NO WAY.” Every year, the Frightmare crew comes by my table and laughs and points over my assumptions. That’s fair, because at the rate Frightmare exceeds the previous year, we may get a panel with special guest speakers Lon Chaney Sr., Mary Shelley, Clark Ashton Smith, and Lemmy in 2020. In the meantime, the 2019 Frightmare gets Tim Curry as its headliner guest, which means I have even more to accomplish over the next nine months than ever before. (For those unfamiliar with Tim Curry’s horticultural accomplishments, his hacienda garden in Los Angeles is world-famous, and he’s also a leading authority on agave cultivation and propagation, so I will NOT be caught flatfooted in 2019 if he decides to come by the Triffid Ranch booth to look around.) And this is just the first guest announcement after opening up ticket sales: the next nine months are going to be interesting.
In other developments, expect a much more enthusiastic schedule for the poor neglected newsletter, partly because of the ongoing Port-O-John fire that is Facebook. The other reason is that I’ve missed email newsletters, and I’ve missed the community that invariably sprouts up with them. Because of that, it’s time to do a proper relaunch, and that includes free surprises for randomly selected subscribers. Expect details within a few days, but trust me: it’ll be worth it.
Finally, for those in the Dallas area or those sympathetic to the area, it’s time to vote in the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards. This isn’t a plea to enter the Triffid Ranch for any number of categories. I won an award last year, which was more of a surprise to me than anyone else, and that’s good enough. Instead, it’s a matter of letting everyone outside of Dallas know what we have going for us, and that the cliché of big hair and shopping malls is one we’re killing one inch at a time. Besides, the last five years drastically changed my view of the Observer: it’s not the smarmy entitlement farm that it was back at the turn of the century, and I bow to no one in my admiration for dining critic Beth Rankin‘s articles and essays. (As far as I’m concerned, the biggest and best example of the paper’s change was with her recent essay on why she wouldn’t and couldn’t take publicity freebies sent her by various restaurants for ethical reasons: those who remember the paper around 2000, especially with the film and music sections, can understand why this was such a big deal.) Now go vote.
Posted onJuly 13, 2018|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Late Canada Day at the Texas Triffid Ranch
Ever have one of those parties where you’re so tied up in getting everything ready that you don’t notice that it’s time to open the door until you’re in the middle of vacuuming? Where so many people you’re glad to see are waiting at the door, and that they keep piling in for hours? Where the only reason you don’t do this every single week is because the gathering requires a week to prepare and a week to recuperate? Where you look at the calendar for the next event, calculate “I have six weeks to get everything done,” and automatically cut off anything that gets in the way of that deadline, like sleep? Yeah, that pretty much sums up a Triffid Ranch gallery show, at least from this side of the display table. The July 7 Late Canada Day show was our largest one yet, not just in general attendance but in enthusiasm, and it was worth the sleep deprivation.
Just as a friendly reminder, since we don’t have any outside shows scheduled for August, the next Triffid Ranch gallery opening is on August 18, from 6:00 to whenever everyone stops coming through the door. This one is an accumulation of special occasions, all stemming from it being the third anniversary of the very first gallery show at our old Galleries at Midtown location. Among many other things, it’s time to celebrate the birthday of Caroline of Tawanda! Jewelry, the hottie holding court in the front of the gallery space, and it’s also a matter of celebrating two old and dear friends who first formally met and got together at that first show. Watching them after three years makes most people fall to the ground clutching their guts and screaming “Ow! My pancreas!”, so they deserve a party as well. And don’t even get me going about the new enclosures on display for this one.
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Late Canada Day at the Texas Triffid Ranch
Posted onJune 8, 2018|Comments Off on Upcoming Events, June 2018 Edition
A month after Texas Frightmare Weekend, and things in the gallery are finally under control. New and reworked enclosures are going strong, the propagation area is full of new and exciting species, and the deep freeze in the back is full of frozen blueberries. (Take this from a longtime resident: about the only thing that makes summer in Texas livable is the explosion of East Texas blueberries in farmers’ markets and grocery stores, and the only thing that makes July and August tolerable is knowing that June was spent filling every refrigerated space in the vicinity with June’s and April’s and Melissa’s blueberries. By the time the blueberries run out, the local craft stores are full of Halloween stuff, which is usually enough to get through the last few weeks of baking heat before things start cooling off. This routine works until the day it’s possible to live like an African lungfish and aestivate in mucus and mud cocoons until the rains return.) This is the time of the year where everyone knows firsthand what a grasshopper on a griddle feels like (there’s a very good reason why sheepskin car seat covers were popular in Dallas in the days of vinyl car seats, especially for those fond of shorts), so the idea is to offer events and activities either indoors or after dark, and preferably both.
One of the advantages of emulating a Gila monster in the summer heat (living underground, emerging only to suck eggs and swallow baby bunnies whole, and dealing with interlopers with a venomous bite) is having plenty of time to organize for the days when the sun’s default setting drops below “supernova”. 2018 has been interesting in that regard: this year’s Deep Ellum Arts Fest was an anomalous combination of torrential rains and near-freezing temperatures, so registering for the 2019 Fest wasn’t even a question. This is also the year to see about admission to the famed Cottonwood Art Festival down the road from the gallery in October, as well as a lot of smaller shows and events through the area. The first showing at the Deep Ellum Art Company was a hit, and that may be a regular showing venue as well.
As far as the traditional Triffid Ranch shows are concerned, things are lively. Texas Frightmare Weekend’s open call for vendors starts soon, with notice on acceptance usually arriving in August. That’s also about the time for applications for the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show in Austin in November, and two weeks after Horror for the Holidays is the two-day revived Dallas Fantasy Fair at the Irving Convention Center. That last one is going to be the most interesting, especially since I was a regular guest during my writing days through the first half of the 1990s until the original convention imploded in 1996. On one side, even the kids who were at the last few Fantasy Fairs are in their thirties and forties now, and nostalgia from the older fans might not be enough. On the other, Dallas still has precious little to do on Thanksgiving weekend that doesn’t involve movies or malls, and the Thanksgiving Fantasy Fair weekends in the Eighties and Nineties made that weekend a lot more tolerable for those of us without family plans (or those with families they had to escape for a while). Either way, let’s see what happens.
(As an aside, while it’s great to get invitations to attend other shows as a vendor, please understand that being able to attend is a combination of logistics and scheduling, and those can collide with interstate regulations, weather patterns, or the laughable concept of “personal life.” Please also understand two things, the first being that my having to reject a vendor request almost always isn’t personal, but that every show requires about a week before the show to prepare and a week after to recuperate and reorganize. Therefore, every two-day or three-day show effectively cuts out three weeks per month that could be used to create new enclosures or perform essential maintenance at the gallery, which is why we schedule the regular gallery shows for the months where we aren’t running an outside event. The second thing is that whining, guilt trips, or pushiness, especially of the “don’t you owe it to yourself to come to our show?” type, WILL guarantee a blacklist on even the remotest possibility of coming out to future events. This is a roundabout way to recommend not following the lead of Fear Con in Salt Lake City and taking a lot of care with vendor contact information. Unsolicited entry into a mailing list is bad enough, but texting when the mailing list wasn’t getting an immediate response? Oh, that’s a blocking.)
And for the regular gallery showings? Scheduling conflicts kicked in for the end of June, so the next Triffid Ranch gallery opening has been moved to Saturday, July 7. It’s a touch late for Canada Day, but as a chance to see Michel Sarrazin‘s namesakes in the pulp, it’ll still be worth the trip. Expect details in the very near future, as well as a few surprises, and some might even include blueberries.
Comments Off on Upcoming Events, June 2018 Edition
Posted onMay 14, 2018|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 – 8
And that about closes it out for Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018. 350days to go before Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019, and I can only hope to top this year’s show.(Maybe next year, I’ll be hit by an asteroid.) Many thanks to everyone who came out for this show, innumerable thanks to the staff and crew at Frightmare, and a sincere promise of reparations to the fellow vendors who had to listen to me all weekend long. I truly apologize for your pain.
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 – 8
Posted onMay 14, 2018|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018- 5
As an aside, for those unfamiliar with the Shirt Price policy, buying a Texas Triffid Ranch shirt (or other item of clothing) and then wearing it to a show or gallery event not only makes you the subject of envy and admiration, but it imparts several special abilities. Firstly, the money from the purchases supports local Dallas artist Larry Carey. Secondly, wearing that shirt to an event gives an automatic price discount on all Triffid Ranch purchases. Thirdly, as was the case this weekend, Triffid Ranch shirt wearers received extras, in this case a Venus McFlytrap Monster High doll. People should be rewarded for being unconventionally stylish, right? (And many thanks to the people who had no interest in plants but who wanted to buy a Triffid Ranch shirt anyway. Getting to share Larry’s artwork is a big deal for me, and has been for the last decade.)
To be continued…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018- 5
Posted onMay 12, 2018|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 – 1
This being the tenth Texas Frightmare Weekend show for the Triffid Ranch. the dynamic of the crowd coming by the booth is changing, and all for the good. Teenagers who came by to peruse in 2009 are now bringing their kids by, and others bring by pictures of plants purchased in previous years as if they’re showing off grandchildren. Sometimes the shock is how much the kids have grown in just a year. A lot of Frightmare regulars will relate how so many of the attendees are like family, and that’s a fair assessment: I’m just the uncle who sits near the end at Thanksgiving dinner and makes those seated at the kid’s table ask “How DOES he manage to get that soda straw that far up his nose?”
To be continued…
Comments Off on The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 – 1
Posted onMay 11, 2018|Comments Off on The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 -Introduction
So. About last week’s Texas Frightmare Weekend show. I could talk about the extra weeks spent on making sure that everything was done in advance, so I could roll up a truck and head out early on Friday morning for load-in. I could bring up the ongoing tradition of Dallas getting heavy thunderstorms during that weekend each year, one of which led to my nickname among the convention staff as “Sparky” after the truck was hit by lightning. I could mention that after my left ankle decided to go in directions not recommended by the rest of my skeletal structure, I’m putting down nonskid tape on the front steps of the gallery this weekend so slipping on rain-slick concrete on those front steps never happens to anyone else. I could mention how after having to miss load-in on Friday, the Frightmare crew helped get me in early on Saturday morning, with everything up and ready literally as the first crowds came rushing back. I could mention that nine hours of standing while talking with customers isn’t bad, except that favoring an injured left ankle puts all sorts of stresses on one’s right knee. I could, but why belabor my failings on what was probably the best Frightmare yet?
As a vendor, I look at each year’s show with surprise: it’s hard to believe that the show runs this smoothly every year without some sort of public incident, but there you have it. When the biggest complaint is the relatively high cost of hotel food, and this is NOTHING compared to comparable costs at various convention centers in which I’ve set up booths, you have a show that should be emulated by everybody in the science fiction/fantasy/horror convention circuit. Events run within a couple of minutes of the stated time, instead of “when we damn well feel like it.” The registration crew handles general queries and emergencies with the aplomb of a tapdancing brain surgeon, and with a lot less mess. Convention security is practically invisible except when needed, and then they cloud up like a bee swarm and take out the issue right then. The promotion is savvy and understated, since the best promotion is word of mouth, and this year’s attendees were a great mix of first-timers and decade-long vets. After decades of conventions with far too many attendees and staffers assuming that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was an instruction manual, there’s something incredibly relaxing as a vendor in knowing that everyone is watching out for each other, and that’s Frightmare’s greatest strength. All of this needs to be put at the feet of founder Loyd Cryer: every time a reporter notes that he had serious questions from loan officers about the viability of a horror convention in the Dallas area when he started in 2005, we all just laugh and laugh.
In return, as befitting such a great venue, the plant selection rose to the challenge, especially with the number of longtime attendees finally ready to move to more exotic and challenging species. The new butterworts were a huge hit, especially after pointing out the containers full of Utricularia calycifida “Asenath Waite” to the H.P. Lovecraft fans. A wider range of highland and lowland Nepenthes to go with the beginner’s plants, and the first time the Triffid Ranch table had Heliamphora on display…oh, and a starting selection of hot peppers, with both “Numex Halloween” and “Carolina Reaper” catching everyone’s eyes. This year, the problem wasn’t with having enough for everyone. The problem was illustrated by the people who came by later on Sunday because of the crowds four and five rows deep in front of the booth on Saturday.
As with each previous show, the aftermath of this year’s Frightmare tested new display concepts, highlighted the need for new ideas, and emphasized the need to get rid of ideas that no longer work. This means a lot of work between now and next May 3 to finalize such things as QR codes on both individual plants and groupings by genera, leading to pages on basic care in order to make it easier on the folks on the outer edges of the crowds to get information. It means updating display shelves, both for improved access to the plants and for improved weight management. (The only thing heavier than glass is glass full of water and sphagnum moss, as my biceps keep telling me.) It means alternate lighting systems, such as a heavy-duty battery for venues where access to electricity is either unavailable or ridiculously expensive. It’s a lot of work, but now that the gallery is reasonably under control, it’s time to focus on upgrading the off-site presence.
And the really surprising part? It’s a matter of looking back over the preceding shows to see how far it’s all come. That first show in 2009, with all of the plants that could be shoved into the back of a PT Cruiser, a big bookcase full of vintage gonzo gardening books, and a lot of stuff that simply wasn’t necessary or got in the way, was pathetic compared to last weekend. It’s a shock as to how far it’s all come, and that gives incentive to push even harder to get to where it’s going.
Posted onMay 11, 2018|Comments Off on State of the Gallery: May 2018
Well. With Texas Frightmare Weekend recently ended (and photos and discussions on same will be online shortly), it’s time to shift gears, relax, and take a couple of weeks off to recover. And if you believe that, I have some great converted shopping mall live/work spaces at the bottom of the Trinity River that I’ll regretfully let go to someone who will appreciate them, too. Right now, the clock starts for preparation for the next Frightmare, and the real trick is to get everything else done over the next year as well.
Because of preparation and arrangement time, May and the first part of June will be relatively quiet as far as gallery events, but that’s because the Triffid Ranch goes mobile over the next two months. The fun starts with a showing at the Deep Ellum Art Company on Sunday, May 20, focusing on larger enclosures, from 2:00 to 6:00 that afternoon. Three weeks later, the Triffid Ranch gets much more hands-on with a workshop on carnivorous plants at Curious Garden and Natural History in Lakewood, including leaving with your own hand-planted sundew or butterwort enclosure. For the latter, contact Curious Garden to reserve your space in the workshop: the fee for registration and supplies is $30 per person.
This doesn’t mean that the gallery is abandoned: the next big gallery event is scheduled for Saturday, June 30 as a very slightly early Canada Day celebration. This includes a celebration of the famed French doctor and naturalist Michel Sarrazin, for whom the genus Sarracenia is named. Yes, that means lots of North American pitcher plants, as well as some other surprises. As always, admission is free, with lots of plants available to take home.
On the convention circuit, things will be quiet for the rest of the year, with one possible exception. After founder Larry Lankford’s death in 2013, an absolute on Dallas conventions with the older crowd was reminiscing about the long-defunct Dallas Fantasy Fairs, which ran three times a year from the mid-Eighties until their demise in 1996. A few members of that old crowd would make noises about reviving the shows every once in a while, but those noises remained such until about two weeks ago. That’s when the first formal announcements of headliner guests announced the 2018 Dallas Fantasy Fair, scheduled for the weekend of November 23-25 at the Irving Convention Center. It’s still early days yet, so the convention has little more than a Facebook page for further information, but the con organizer is already taking vendor requests for more information. If nothing else, a convention the weekend after Thanksgiving is a good way to get started with regular weekend openings at the gallery all through December. Details will follow as they arrive.
And on longterm trips, it’s official: the 2018 International Carnivorous Plant Society Conference is running the weekend of August 3-5, and the Triffid Ranch is heading to California to hear what the real experts have to say. This is purely a factfinding expedition: no plants, no displays, nothing but notebooks and lots of business cards, just in case. That works out the best: I haven’t been in the Bay Area since the beginning of the dotcom boom in 1996, so it’ll be nice to see it without prior job interview commitments or any other commitments.
Finally, the just-concluded Frightmare show marked a solid decade since the first Triffid Ranch show, and the size of the crowds and their needs confirmed that it’s time for a revamp of the show table look. Among other things, it’s time to enter the Twenty-First Century as far as information and organization is concerned. As before, details will follow as they arrive, but let’s just say that attendees at Texas Frightmare Weekend 2018 will have the opportunity to get questions about plants answered so long as they have a smartphone. Considering that the crowds were four and five rows thick through most of the last show, a change is essential before the next one. This doesn’t even start with a project inspired by Demetria at The Curiositeer, which should go live soon. Oh, this one will be entirely too much fun.
Posted onApril 13, 2018|Comments Off on State of the Gallery: April 2018
Nearly a third of the way through the year, and April 2018 is already shaping up to be a lot less exciting than April 2017. Of course, this time last year involved frantic shelf-installing and box-unpacking after the move from the old gallery space at Valley View Center, so it’s all a matter of perspective. (And if anybody had any doubts about not getting involved with the Rock Candy Mountain promises of artist spaces opening up at the Midtown project allegedly replacing Valley View, they’re gone now.) Yes, the weather keeps fluctuating between “typical” and “too cold to get out of bed right now,” but we haven’t actually gone below freezing…yet.
As far as last weekend’s Manchester United Flower Show was concerned, April follows in the tradition of last February: announce a gallery event, get everything ready to go, and then watch the weather feeds for impending catastrophe as a sudden atmospheric fewmet comes to visit for a while. Last February, it was a last-minute ice storm that hit north and west of Dallas, making a lot of potential attendees understandably reconsider a trip into Dallas if the roads were going to be frozen over by the time they attempted to return home. This time, Friday festivities were greeted with tornado sirens going off over most of North Texas: we got a bit of heavy rain for about an hour, but a friend coming in from Chicago found shelter with a multitude of others in a furniture store north of here, and folks to the south and the west had their own issues with hail and lightning. What issues Friday brought were mitigated on Saturday, where chilly but otherwise excellent weather brought out lots of first-time visitors and Valley View regulars. If nothing else, the weather caused reevaluations of having an outdoor event in spring, because any tents set up in the parking lot would have been blown to Oz and back. Maybe next year.
And on that note, further events in April will be restricted due to the need to get ready for Texas Frightmare Weekend on May 4 through 6, and then things get interesting. It’s too early to discuss particulars, but everything leads to a gallery show on June 30, just in time for everyone uninterested in traveling out of town for the July 4 weekend. The subject of that show is a secret, too, but let’s just say that anyone attending can say with authority that they’ve never been to an art show like this one.
Lateral shift to go back to talking about Texas Frightmare Weekend: the vendor map and listings arrived yesterday, and we’re back on our favorite row. As for most of the decade, the epicenter of Frightmare is at the Hyatt Regency DFW in DFW Airport, thus making the entire wing of DFW Airport by the hotel available parking for the convention. As in previous years, the Triffid Ranch and Tawanda! Jewelry tables will be in the back of the Made In Texas Hall in the hotel basement, right next to the signing lines. Since this coincides with the first-ever Triffid Ranch show a decade ago, those already taking advantage of the Shirt Price discounts have an extra incentive to wear their Triffid Ranch T-shirts to the show: while supplies last, everyone showing up in a Triffid Ranch shirt or purchasing a shirt at the show gets a special present, no additional purchase necessary or needed. It’s just an extra bit of thanks to those who have not only made Texas Frightmare Weekend one of my favorite shows, but who have made the previous nine shows so much fun.
One ancillary note about Frightmare, not for this year but for next year: I’m regularly asked about getting vendor space at Fan Expo, the local convention that inspired the “Malcolm Rule” mentioned a few weeks back. I’ve balked for many reasons, and now my refusal became personal. Ever since the old Dallas Comicon was purchased by out-of-town convention accumulators and turned into Fan Expo, it and its associated Fan Days events always conveniently scheduled themselves against other similar events so that local attendees could do one or the other but not both. (Longtime fans may remember when the Dallas Fantasy Fairs did the same thing in the early Nineties, stunting or killing up-and-coming conventions that simply couldn’t compete against the Flimsy Fair hype machine and guest lists. Those fans who aren’t longtime fans might not be familiar with the name “Dallas Fantasy Fair,” as the Flimsy Fairs blew up very spectacularly in 1996 after choking out all other competition, just in time for the big comics speculation bust that caused Marvel Comics to file for bankruptcy at the end of the year.) Five years back, Fan Expo’s parent company offered to buy Texas Frightmare Weekend for a pittance, and when told no, attempted to run a horror convention within the main show that was an unrelenting disaster. Since then, Fan Expo management concentrated on scheduling opposite the A-Kon anime convention, ultimately causing it to move out of Dallas entirely, and then settled for running two weeks after All-Con.
Well, that was 2018. You can imagine the surprise vendors at Fan Expo 2018 had when they received advance registration forms for 2019, and discovered that Fan Expo had moved its date to the first weekend of May. Not only does this directly conflict with Texas Frightmare Weekend, forcing attendees and vendors to choose one and only one, but May 4 is also Free Comic Book Day across the US and Canada. Frightmare never competed against the many comic shops in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex participating in Free Comic Book Day, but Fan Expo’s list of comic artist and comic adaptation film and TV star guests does, and not just with comics dealers and stores having to man a booth at Fan Expo during their stores’ busiest day of the year. Fan Expo management hasn’t released a statement as to why the schedule suddenly needed switching, but I’ll bet $10 that when it’s finally released, the statement will bray something along the lines of “this is a pure coincidence.”
I’m sure it is. Of COURSE it is. Likewise, it’ll be a pure coincidence that everyone involved with Frightmare, from staff to vendors to guests to attendees, will spend the next year doing nothing but amping their games so Frightmare isn’t just the biggest show in Dallas on that weekend, but the must-attend show of its kind in all of North America. It’ll also be pure coincidence that so many of us involved in Frightmare will do our utmost to have the backs of our comic shop brethren when May 4, 2019 comes around. Refusing to advertise with venues that continue to do business with Fan Expo, for instance, or otherwise demonstrating with dollars or shoe leather that scheduling opposite established events with the attempt to create a monopoly may not turn out the way everyone expected. After all, the Dallas Fantasy Fairs attempted to create a similar monopoly, and a little voice should have told their organizers what Fan Expo management really needs to hear:
And now on a purely friendly note. It’s been about three years since the last Cat Monday event on this site, mostly due to the time taken by the gallery, but its main subject, Leiber, is still going strong. As of Friday the 13, Leiber turns 16: he’s still the so-dopy-he’s-cute FreakBeast he was when we adopted him in August of 2002, but he’s a little stiffer today. Aren’t we all. Those who have met him are welcome to wish him a happy birthday, although he’ll probably only care if the person offering the wishes brings cat treats as well. And so it goes.
Posted onApril 6, 2018|Comments Off on Upcoming Events: The Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show and Other Vagaries
One classic comment about life in Texas states “If you don’t like the weather, hang on five minutes. This ties directly to a less commonly stated but equally apt phrase, “Don’t count on Texas weather.” Getting the reminder that some 12 tornadoes passed over my house six years ago this week, while Day Job co-workers and I huddled in a building seemingly made of nothing BUT windows, and the admonition “keep watching the skies” isn’t just for bicycle commuters. As of right now, the National Weather Service is predicting near-freezing temperatures for Friday and Saturday nights, along with a wind advisory and thunderstorm watches for all evening Friday. Considering that this is the time where traditionally all of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex outdoor festivals and events start, I truly feel for everyone who has to be outside to run those outdoor festivals. A shoutout to the folks running the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, in particular: last year’s event was so absolutely perfect that it’s heartbreaking to realize that the weather will only be decent on Sunday afternoon. (incidentally, don’t let that stop any of you from going out there: just make sure to bring a coat and a plastic sheet for any art you bring home.)
This, of course, doesn’t affect the gallery: the Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show still runs tonight and Saturday, even if our wild fluctuations in temperature over the last month mean that some of the carnivores are being tetchy about blooming. The Venus flytraps, which normally have full and lively flower scapes by this time of the year, are only now starting to bloom, and don’t even get me started about the hopes for Australian pitcher plant blooms. On the brighter side, this is a good year for Heliamphora pitcher plant blooms, for the first time since the Triffid Ranch started, and the Sarracenia pitcher plants are currently going berserk. Okay, so the flytraps and sundews are delayed, but seeing why Queen Victoria so loved the flower emblem of Newfoundland and Labrador makes up for it. There’s no point in hyping up the bladderwort and Mexican butterwort blooms, because this is definitely their year.
After the flower show, expect a bit of radio silence, mostly because it’s time to get caught up on seriously delinquent support work, especially as far as plant care guides are concerned. That’s because as of today, we’re only a month away from Texas Frightmare Weekend, one of the largest horror conventions on the planet, and it’s time to amp up the Frightmare booth to a whole new level. Expect to see plants that have never appeared at a previous Frightmare, along with ones that most Americans have never seen, as well as other surprises. (Now’s the time to mention that not only do Shirt Price discounts apply at Texas Frightmare Weekend, but I have plans for special surprises for attendees wearing Triffid Ranch shirts that are just a perk.)
And after that? It’s time for a road trip. The original plan was to visit Chicago during the Independent Garden Center show in August, but the 300-pound Samoan attorney is still in the shop and rentals are prohibitively expensive. That’s when a much more lively event opened up. This year’s International Carnivorous Plant Society conference is being hosted by the Bay Area Carnivorous Plant Society on August 3 through 5, which means (a) being in the vicinity of California Carnivores with an expense fund, (b) a demonstration of imposter syndrome-inspired meltdown in the presence of some of the greatest experts on carnivorous plants in this arm of the galaxy, and (c) an extra day in San Francisco for my beloved’s birthday. Working vacations are the best, and the plan is to come back to Dallas with an even larger collection of plants in time for the Triffid Ranch third anniversary party on August 25. August may be a slow month for art galleries, but not here.
And after THAT? well, that depends upon the weather, as always. Details will follow, but expect some surprises for September and October in addition to the annual November drive to Austin for the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show. We have such sights to show you…
Comments Off on Upcoming Events: The Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show and Other Vagaries
Posted onMarch 28, 2018|Comments Off on The Aftermath: All-Con 2018 – 3
One of the regular discussions among vendors at last weekend’s All-Con was whether science fiction/fantasy/horror conventions have hit what’s generally referred to as “Peak Con.” The basic idea is that the convention boom that first started up around 2003 is finally reaching saturation, and it’s all downhill from here. For those too young to remember the previous booms and busts, this appears valid: attendance numbers are way down on a lot of shows, and I get notes from friends every other week about one new convention or another blowing up on the pad or facing class-action lawsuits after a disastrous weekend. I particularly wince at the events that were less conventions than displays of organizer hubris, where the vendors had to sleep with their tables because security couldn’t be found and guests woke up on Monday morning to discover they had no way to get to the airport because their contacts couldn’t be reached. Yeah, this is happening a lot…and that’s why I’m enthusiastic for the future.
A lot of the concern at the moment is due to a lack of perspective. The current convention boom has gone on far longer than most others: in my lifetime, I’ve watched three booms and two busts, and the booms generally last about five to six years before the inevitable crash. Three to five years after the bust, and things start to rebuild, mostly with people who saw the last bust and want to do better. The reason why this boom ran for so long is multifold: fandom didn’t “go mainstream” so much as it was folded over into general popular culture, so a lot of attendees jumped in on the idea of “Oh, what the heck, let’s go grab some friends and have some fun.” The boom in costuming had a lot to do with it, especially with social media allowing enthusiasts from all over the planet being able to exchange tips and notes on new materials and techniques. Social media were also responsible for the promotional booms: we’ve gotten inured to television advertising, radio advertising is a joke, and newspapers are pretty much the province of boomers who can’t bear to give up their dead-tree editions, but Facebook and Twitter went everywhere.
The seeds for the boom are also the seed corn for the bust. As big media conventions took off, with ever-increasing lists of big name guests, attendees discovered that they simply didn’t have the money or time to hit every last show in their own area and had to consider their options. Fans were also getting older: hitting three conventions over three weekends sounds great to an 18-year-old, but that isn’t an option to a 30-year-old with three kids and a limited number of vacation days at the day job. (A regular lament about the really big and crowded shows, “I’m too old to be crammed in with that many people,” has particular pertinence here, especially for those potential attendees having to watch kids. A major factor in my refusing to get vendor space at one big convention is what I refer to as “the Malcolm Rule,” after the son of two friends who spent an absolutely miserable time last year at one show where all he could see were the butts of the people in front of him. Any show so determined to shoehorn attendees into too small a space that kids are in danger of falling and being stomped by people behind them is not one in which I care to participate.) The big media conventions are having to reach for more exclusive guests as interest in the previous headliners fades, and the cost of getting them to participate requires larger and larger crowds. And there’s also the issue with goofballs who assume that a convention is an excuse to print money and poison the well with a show purely intended to pull the fillings out of the attendees’ teeth.
Social media is helping with the bust, too: not only are bad conventions getting called out earlier, thereby warning away people willing to take promotion at face value, but we’ve gotten used to ignoring ads, and it’s no longer possible to attract 10,000 people with $1000 in Facebook ads. (One of the funniest not-funny events I’ve witnessed at a failing convention was with the con organizer getting angry over how 2000 people liked his Facebook page but only about 100 of them actually came out for the convention. He did no other advertising, not so much as a postcard on display at local comic shops, and the failure was obviously due to Facebook algorithms instead of his producing a convention that gave nobody a reason to want to deal with Dallas summer heat to see it.) Sooner or later, enough people decide that they’ve had enough and ghost from fandom, and that’s when everyone around them notices “It’s no fun around here any more” and bail out themselves. With every inhalation must come an exhalation, and the decay of the old fan scene produces the loam for the next movement to sprout.
I won’t deny that the current boom and impending bust aren’t rough on vendors. The typical content of a dealer’s room has changed almost beyond recognition in the last fifteen years, and arguably for the better. Amazon wiped out the need for attendees to tolerate obnoxious booksellers, and eBay did the same for vintage comics vendors. The days where a vendor could clear out the local Walmart of Star Trek and Star Wars toys and sell them at conventions at a 500 percent markup died with the last century. Since any vendor’s selection on current licensed products of a fannish bent can be outstripped by the local Hot Topic, there’s no point in trying to compete, especially since any attendee can look at a particular item, pull out a phone, and order it online in seconds. The ongoing trend is toward handmade or otherwise unique items of all kinds: back in the Eighties, the main draw of any dealer’s room was toward being able to find items that you simply couldn’t find back home, and we’ve gone full circle. The difference now is that the creator is right in front of you, ready to answer questions and take commissions, and that requires a level of salesmanship and customer service previously barely known in conventions. That’s one genie that isn’t going to get back in the bottle without a war.
And for the future? Expect a lot of marginal conventions to collapse in 2018 and 2019, either two months before or a few hours after their next scheduled event. People who depended upon conventions for the social aspects, particularly costumers, will probably move to one-day pop-up events that don’t require the logistics of a full-sized convention. The guests will go back to their jobs, hopefully saving enough from these salad days that they’re doing all right in a few years. Vendors that aren’t dependent solely upon showing their wares at conventions will move on to other venues for a while: ones so specialized that they can only sell at conventions will either shut down or pare way back. The smart ones will emulate African lungfish, buried in drying mud in anticipation of future rains, and continue to improve their skills and their inventories. When the rains return, and they will eventually, not only will they be the first to repopulate as new conventions start up, but they’ll be the ones setting the standard of what a dealer’s room should be like. I can’t wait.
Posted onMarch 27, 2018|Comments Off on The Aftermath: All-Con 2018 – 2
Okay, so the hotel was a nightmare. That happens. Even so, All-Con is one of the two shows guaranteed to have a Triffid Ranch booth every year, and it’s because of the attendees. Not only does the crowd cross all sorts of demographic borders, but they’re also so relaxed. After a while, that relaxation is addictive. For those of us who thrive on peoplewatching, you can’t go wrong here.
Ah, All-Con 2018. A lot of bad craziness happened at this year’s show, mostly involving the host hotel. Said hotel changed its name and ownership the week of the show, where potential patrons looking for the “Hotel Intercontinental” were understandably confused. There’s also something to be said about hotel upgrades that weren’t even close to being finished by the Thursday morning the show started, with lighting fixtures missing, exposed wiring hanging from the ceiling, elevators of dubious functionality that closed on entrants without warning, and the main escalator leading to the second level broken and blocked off. Inside the main dealer’s room wasn’t much better: the carpet in the main banquet hall was freshly installed, sure, but one of the vendors played a game of “How Many Razor Blades and Screws Can We Find On The Floor?” and picked up two full handfuls of broken and dulled razor blades within about fifteen minutes. (The carpet HAD been vacuumed beforehand, as installation was being completed as vendors started moving in stuff on Wednesday night, but with a vacuum that had seen a significant portion of the Twentieth Century firsthand. Besides, that vacuum would have been hard-pressed to clean up the cocaine that flowed across that part of North Dallas and Addison in great rivers during the hotel’s prime, much less the amount of metal left in that carpet, so everyone spent the rest of the weekend joking about who was going to be the poster child for the “Telethon for Tetanus.”) And then there was the parking…
Oh, the parking. One of the grand mysteries concerning convention hotels in this foul Year of Our Lord 2018 is the assumption that people will keep coming back to the hotel for future events when the parking situation assumes that the current year is 1974. The number of hotels in Dallas that barely offer enough parking for hotel guests and staff when the venue is half-full, and then advertise their availability for conventions and conferences with room for three times that count, just beggars the imagination. To make matters even better, most of these hotels automatically assume that convention and conference attendees have their own transportation: Addison has a DART bus hub not far away, but the space between the hub and the hotel last had sidewalks put in back in the 1980s, back when “pedestrian” was a local euphemism for “too poor to afford the valet” and accessibility wasn’t even remotely considered. (By way of example, that immediate area is full of “sidewalks” with telephone poles planted right in the center, requiring users to walk into the street to get around them, and you can imagine the sheer fun faced by those with disabilities trying to get back onto a sidewalk that’s lacking ramps and inclines.) Combine that with a frantic construction boom in that vicinity, where the slightest rain turns an entire block into a morass of slimy, clinging mud with no option for getting past it without walking into the middle of a busy street, and it’s no surprise that a lot of potential convention attendees circled around the hotel, gave up when they saw that even the valet spots were full, and went home.
That said, for all of the nightmares of access, those of us who came out for All-Con, both vendor and attendee, made the best of the situation. Yes, the total attendance numbers were way down from previous years. That just meant having more of an opportunity to talk to regular attendees, including several that have been coming by the Triffid Ranch booth since the beginning of the decade. THAT made hotel incompetence and stupidity worthwhile, especially with the patrons now raising their own families and bringing their kids by to see plants for themselves.
Posted onMarch 12, 2018|Comments Off on The State of the Gallery: March 2018
As regular readers might note, you didn’t get a state of the gallery update for February, mostly due to gallery-related distractions. Of course, February also didn’t get a full moon falling anywhere within it, either, which just meant one more good thing about March. Considering how fast March is moving, sliding through February was probably for the best.
As far as past and future events are concerned, February’s Date Night event was a mixed bag. The event itself was very successful, but as is the normal state of affairs with local weather, Date Night coincided with a nasty ice storm spreading through the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex that kept a lot of potential participants off the roads, and encouraged a lot of those who attended to leave early before the roads were impassable. This just means having to hold more events and showings during more clement conditions. This leads to:
Numero uno, things on the site are going to be extremely quiet through the end of next week, all due to the first external Triffid Ranch show of the year: All-Con in Addison. As in previous years, All-Con is a four-day show, running from Thursday to Sunday, with Thursday offering “try before you buy a weekend pass” free admission all day Thursday. Combine this with the already huge spring break contingent, and everyone is VERY glad the convention is running at a new, larger, and much more conveniently located hotel. Easy access to the hotel via DART buses, a wide range of restaurants within walking distance, a tremendous lineup of lectures and workshops…my only regret is that All-Con has that many activities scheduled through the weekend, but getting out from behind the table is pretty much an impossibility. This, of course, is a good thing.
Numero two-o, the next big show is seven weeks later, and if Texas Frightmare Weekend didn’t already exceed everyone’s expectations every year, people might be surprised to hear about plans for the next Triffid Ranch booth in May. Let’s just say that when running a booth in a convention already so packed that the convention announced that it has no more room for further guests, and that the host hotel has been booked solid since last year and attendees spill into FOUR more overflow hotels, getting away with a merely average display is unacceptable. In addition, not only is this the tenth Frightmare Weekend with a Triffid Ranch booth, but the end of the show falls on the tenth anniversary of the first-ever Triffid Ranch show, at the late and much-missed CAPE comic event off Lemmon Avenue in 2008. This, of course, demands a suitable anniversary celebration, so let’s see if everyone can pull it off.
Numero three-o: in between these two, don’t assume that the intervening six weeks will just be full of the usual panic about potting, casting, gluing, and painting, along with the usual snot-bubble crying of “I suck! I suck! I wanna go back to the mall!” in the corner. Since last year’s move preempted plans for a 2017 event, the Triffid Ranch proudly announces a return of a wildly popular event from the old ArtWalk and presents the Second Annual Manchester United Flower Show on April 6 and 7 from 6:00 to 10:00. Yes, it coincides with all sorts of other events in the Dallas area, including the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, but that happens all through the city in the weeks before the weather really heats up. Besides, where else are you going to go in the Dallas area to view carnivorous plant blooms and bracts and the plants that produce them?
Oh, to close up, and for the barest hint of what else to expect at the Manchester United Flower Show, here’s a sample of the centerpiece to a new enclosure:
Yes, this is a Cryolophosaurus skull, so anyone familiar with previous discussions on my fascination with the flora of pre-Pliocene Antarctica has an idea of what to expect. It and other enclosures premiere in April, so make plans to see the final enclosure after it’s planted and ready. See you then.
Comments Off on The State of the Gallery: March 2018
(Note: with Triffid Ranch show season getting ready to start, a lot of bystanders and longtime customers interested in starting their own small businesses ask for advice and recommendations about attending and selling at shows. While asking me for business advice is comparable to asking Jeffrey Dahmer for tips on vegan recipes, these ruminations might be of some entertainment value, especially among those thinking about jumping into the show circuit.)
So you’ve made the big leap from talking about starting a small art retail business to doing it, a feat roughly as terrifying and as awesome as finishing flight school and starting the solo flight. The fear never goes away, nor should it, but that’s combined with increasing confidence in your abilities and skills. This is where you get to discover whether you’re suited for selling your work or if you’re better off putting it on consignment elsewhere. It’s also the point where, like not watching for that flock of geese or filling your auxiliary tanks with black-strap molasses, you’re going to have a whole new set of worries as you evict the old ones.
Right now, the small retail show or vendor’s room is facing stresses and trends that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago. Living in the future means having plenty of options to take payments that don’t involve cash. The same technology, though, means having to focus on uniqueness, which really affects niche events such as science fiction conventions: the days where a vendor could clear out the local Walmart of Star Wars figures and sell them at a 200 percent markup are as dead as Y2k panic, and for as long. Smartphones mean that if you’re selling a commercially available product of any sort and it isn’t perishable or otherwise in immediate need, customers can and will stand right in front of you, price-compare, and make same-day-delivery purchases right then and there. Alternately, one quick picture send out via Instagram or Twitter might mean having a crowd in front of your table in an hour. For those of us who remember having to lug cash registers and halogen lighting to shows, it’s a strange and terrible and wonderful time.
Even with that, it’s always nice to know what concerns are worth worrying about and which ones aren’t and when they switch. For instance, most beginners worry about custom bags and packaging with their contact information emblazoned on it, which should never be a concern to anyone making less than six figures’ worth of sales per year. Even with those who do, a well-placed business card has more of an impact and is less likely to be used as an emergency cat litter box liner. Likewise, the things to worry about can look a lot like the things that should be kicked down the road or kicked off a cliff. While this isn’t a comprehensive or even a coherent list, it hits on the important notes of a decade of Triffid Ranch shows, and here’s hoping my pain is someone else’s enlightenment.
Things Not to Worry About:
Your neighbors selling more than you. A very common fallacy among hubristic vendors at shows is the assumption that any money going to any other vendor is money that’s being stolen from them. It’s a slightly understandable feeling, aggravated by that feeling when you’ve sold maybe three items over a three-day weekend and the vendor next to you has completely sold out of inventory by Friday night. Sometimes that fallacy gets poisonous enough to say something completely inappropriate in public, such as the vintage bookseller who comes to shows and badmouths anybody not selling books before he and his brother set up. Sometimes it gets even worse, where those vendors throw tantrums to the show staff about having to play well with others and threatening never to come back unless the offender is banned forever. (This is one of the reasons why I no longer bother with being a vendor at literary science fiction conventions, especially the big industry events such as World Fantasy or World Horror: the official excuse as to why new vendors aren’t admitted is that “the previous year’s vendors already reserved their spaces for the next event,” and the conventions are very careful not to rent vendor’s room space big enough to expand because they don’t want to deal with the bookseller tantrums.) On a much smaller scale, there’s the grumbling and snide remarks made in passing, which make the event a lot less fun that it could have been.
Instead, here’s what you should do as a vendor when someone else is cleaning up: celebrate it. don’t grumble about your poor sales, especially since you don’t know how long that may last at that show, and the situation may be reversed by the end of the show. Instead, congratulate them when they come up for breath. If your neighbor has a crowd five people deep in front of the booth, use that time to spruce up your own display or otherwise be productive instead of sulking behind your phone. If this continues through the whole show, just break down, pack up, congratulate them again, and acknowledge that you just didn’t find your audience at that show. (If you have several shows in a row with similar experiences, then either you’re picking the wrong shows or your inventory just isn’t clicking, but that’s a subject for a different essay.)
Yeah, you’re tired and you’re disappointed, but you WANT your neighbors to do well. Firstly, the better you treat your show neighbors, the more likely they’ll reciprocate at the next show, and that sort of goodwill is infectious. Secondly, as anyone who has ever worked a carnival or fair will tell you, attendees who see someone else with a new purchase and a big smile are much more likely to buy something themselves, so by cheerleading for the currently hot vendors, you’re increasing your own odds of the show becoming something great.
People “stealing your ideas”. Anybody familiar with publishing knows the ongoing schtick about beginners afraid of someone “stealing my ideas”. Based on the very occasional publicized lawsuit involving a movie or television production company stealing source material from published fiction, the assumption is that every writer with some vague idea of a short story had best go to extreme and legally unsound ideas to keep unethical editors and publishers from swiping that vague concept and making money from it themselves. There’s no need to go into the fallacy of mailing story ideas to yourself as a “poor man’s copyright” or how those lawsuits are based on someone high-grading a creator’s already-completed work, with the emphasis on “work,” and how the plagiarism prevents the original creator from being able to leverage their own work. The main thing to take away is that if you have a truly innovative item or concept that you wish to sell, get it copyrighted, trademarked, or patented, right now.
The reason why I bring this up is because with nearly 8 billion people on the planet, the odds are pretty good that at least two people with the same exposure to the same influences might come up with the same general concept. What turns this from daydream to a marketable concept is the work necessary to implement it. Patent and copyright law in most countries is intended to protect the work, not just the idea. Everything else…well, as tempting as it would be to assume that you’re the only person in the history of humanity to make little wooden chests decoupaged with old comic book pages, you’re probably not. If you’re showing your little chunks of your heart and soul in public and they’re not something that can be protected under the law, there’s not a whole lot you can do to keep someone from seeing it, thinking “Hey, I can do this!”, and trying it themselves. If that weren’t the case, we’d probably still be paying royalties to the Neanderthals for use and development of flintknapping techniques.
So how do you keep someone from walking up to your booth, looking over the items you lovingly knitted, sewed, forged, sintered, potted, or 3-D printed, and getting the same gleam in their eye that some Denisovian had about Mousterian hand-axe construction? You get passionate about your work. The moment somebody planning on hitching themselves to your wagon asks “Is there a lot of money in this?”, tell them, honestly and truthfully, “that isn’t why I’m doing this.” Instead of making lots and lots of the same exact item, continue to expand your range, so that the wannabes see that they need the same level of dedication to catch up. Take the time to explain to customers why your inventory is so special, so even if someone else offers a product roughly similar to yours, they want to buy from YOU. You don’t need some alternate persona or some schtick: be yourself. However, that passion is infectious, and the passion also implies that you’ve put so much more work into your work. If you inspire someone to find that same level of passion, just run with it and welcome them. If they don’t, then they’ll drop it and move to something easier. Either way, your work stands out, and anyone attempting a half-assed knockoff will stand out as such.
Non-customers poking about your sources. It sounds insulting, and it definitely feels insulting: that person coming up to your booth who has no interest in buying anything, but who has to know where you get your materials or components. Note that you as a creator are under no obligation to reveal your sources on anything that isn’t affected by state or federal law, although it’s definitely in your best interests to be completely upfront about materials and components that might be dangerous if misused, especially if it might come into contact with food or drink. However, the vast majority of these non-customers aren’t interested in competing with you or even in trying to get an in with your sources: they’re exactly like the people who have no intention of becoming stage illusionists but who obsess about how to replicate every one of Penn & Teller’s illusions. They don’t want to compete against you: they want to know how you do what you do so they can brag to their friends about this supposed inside knowledge, “direct from the artist,” and be able to provide references if they’re called on it.
Want proof? Respond to a poker with something along the lines of “Oh, the supplier went out of business about five years ago” or the completely honest “I make my own,” go into a little bit of detail, and watch their eyes glaze. Expect the same who want to know about your techniques or who ask if you teach classes: they’re more interested in knowing that you’ll share your knowledge than in partaking of it.
The “You Should Just” crowd. A subset of the pokers are those who have just enough knowledge of your field of expertise that they’ll drop the most esoteric and exotic fact they can find. In the case of carnivorous plants, it’s always a very rare and very hard-to-grow plant that only a couple of people in the United States have the room or the time to give the proper care, such as demanding to see a Nepenthes rajah up close. Upon hearing that you don’t have one, no matter the reason as to why it makes no sense to have one available right then, they’ll cluck their tongues and exclaim “Well, you SHOULD.” This isn’t about a customer with a particular need. If you say “I have X, but it’s back at my shop/in my gallery/in the inventory I haven’t unpacked because I don’t have the room,” they’ll wander off, because it’s all about claiming superiority. If you simply don’t have it, they’ll keep fussing “Well, you should just carry one…” until either you shoo them off or they find another bright shiny object to chase.
If three or four potential customers ask about an item, this suggests a legitimate demand among the community, and you should cater to their needs as quickly as you can. However, if it’s one person who keeps insisting that you really NEED to carry one obscure and expensive item, and doesn’t want to put down a deposit or otherwise confirm an actual interest, ignore them. If you succumb and get that one item just for them, they’ll cluck their tongues, rush off, and make absolutely certain never to see you again.
The $5 crowd. Do enough shows, and most vendors can recognize the people who are only there to snag as much free stuff as they can carry off. (I want to emphasize that a huge distance lies between those who may not have money now but who are interested in your inventory, and those whose sole interest is in getting everything they can for free. The secret here is to treat everyone with respect and consideration unless they prove they don’t deserve it, because that 8-year-old who is in awe of your stuff but who is dead broke usually grows up into an 18-year-old with disposable income who remembers treatment from a decade earlier, even if you don’t.) The more insidious ones are those who somehow get it into their heads that your items should be at some magical price that’s usually way below your cost. I refer to them as “the $5 crowd,” because they get upset that everything isn’t priced at $5US. I’m not sure if this derives from memories of some magical time in the early 1970s when anything short of cars, houses, and nuclear weapons could be purchased for less than $5, or from some strange mental default that sets this value to everything.
Either way, this leads to pointing at an item that incorporates $40 in materials and sneering “I’ll give you $5 for it,” or scoffing “I wouldn’t pay $5 for that.” Sometimes it extends into blatant lies, such as claiming “I saw something JUST LIKE THAT last night on Home Shopping Network that was selling for $5,” or insisting that some magical store three timezones away has something exactly like your handmade and hand-designed item “and THEY only sell it for $5!” It all comes down, though, to the Euclidean idea of the issue, and that was demonstrated to me last year by an East Texas goofball who crashed an art show and harangued every artist there with the same question: “Do y’all know someone who makes something EXACTLY LIKE THIS, but just not for so much?”
The important thing to remember, with these and the people who offer to trade your handmade items for “exposure,” is that your work is important. Your time is important, even if you horribly undercharge for it. You aren’t doing yourself or anybody else any favors by conceding to the $5 Crowd, because not only will they not appreciate the favor, but they’ll then use that as a cudgel against other artists and vendors by screaming “Well, THEY let me have it for $5!” These people are not your customers, and you want to know how you’ll know this? You’ll know when they wander off and then contact you six months later after buying some cheap bootleg knockoff for $5 from Amazon or Walmart or Etsy and demanding that you help them get their money back. (Oh, and don’t even bother to respond to those requests. Just tell them “You might need to bring that up with the person you bought the item from,” because that’s all you owe them.)
Things to Worry About:
Having Enough inventory. Yes, I understand. You work a horrible 40-hour-per-week job for a control freak who clocks your bathroom breaks and collects urine samples every week as a cheap alternative to Budweiser. The commute to and from work makes you wonder if some of your fellow commuters have to be kicked in the chest to be reminded to breathe. You drag yourself home after ten hours of nightmare seemingly designed to bring out your worst misanthropist impulses, and instead of sitting on the couch or bed and crying yourself to sleep, you’re hard at work on making the items that make you live. You subsist on ramen and assorted captured insects so you have money for metal or fabric or glue, and you risk hallucinations from sleep deprivation in order to work way past a normal bedtime. You hear about an upcoming show, further risk rickets and night blindness by spending your grocery money on the booth fee, and gather your available inventory together. You’ve got enough to present yourself at the show, right?
Seriously, and with as much kindness and as much love as I can muster, if you haven’t been a vendor at a show before, look at your existing inventory. If you can put everything you have on one six-foot table and not have anything else on standby, cancel that show and don’t sign up for another one until you have three times that amount. And don’t settle for three times of the same items, either. Increase the variety as well, so that every potential customer that walks by your table will see SOMEthing that catches the eye. If you’re doing clothing, focus on a strong line of items instead of a little bit of kid’s clothes and a little bit of men’s clothes. If you’re doing jewelry, offer options other than just necklaces or rings. While you’re at it, offer items at multiple price points, because the crowds interested in high-end items and penne-ante pieces change between shows. My wife refers to the small items as “bread and butter,” because you can make your booth fee on 40 $5 sales as you can on one $200 sale, and those $5 sales increase the likelihood of those customers coming back, either at that show or at subsequent ones, and buying a lot more.
If any advice to new vendors was the most important, it’s this: too much is better than not enough. Bring out too much inventory, and you’ll have to pack it up and haul it back home when the event ends. That’s a lot better than selling most of your stuff in the first few hours and then having to sit at an empty booth for the rest of a weekend. Much more importantly, even if a potential customer goes over your table and checks out every last item without finding anything, it’s still an opportunity to engage, to ask “So what are you looking for?” and even talk about custom assignments. If the table is mostly empty, odds are that the attendee won’t even get that close: s/he will do a quick driveby, see nothing of import, and scoot out and never return.
For us veteran vendors, nothing is more heartbreaking than seeing someone with undeniable talent and skill who didn’t make a single sale because every last item had to be spread out in an attempt to fill the space. The table doesn’t have to groan and threaten to buckle from the load, but it should always have a reason for a show attendee to stop and give it a chance.
Another reason to have more inventory than you have room to display? Accidents and emergencies. You get to a show and discover that the entire contents of a box or tub are damaged or otherwise unsellable, which happens more often than you’d think, or you realize that the one remaining tub is sitting on your kitchen table. The last thing you want to have is a massive hole where a big item was supposed to be, and sometimes a lot of smaller items can fill the space in both table and sales just as well.
Having your own space and display in order. After a little while, every vendor doing events and shows has at least one story about a particular folly in displays and signage that almost made sense at the time it was first used. The big wooden rack that held paintings but that kept catching the wind and going airborne. The glass display case that looked oh-so-impressive but that required three people to move it into a vehicle and threatened to decapitate the driver during sudden stops. The backlit sign just marginally longer than the available truck bed, causing it to disassemble from road vibration on longer trips. The aspect that nobody wants to talk about: the displays and signage that the business outgrew but couldn’t be pitched because “I paid good money/this was a gift when I started out/I really like it”.
Your display space reflects upon your business as much as the inventory, which means that regular maintenance and upgrading is necessary. With wood furniture, paint or stain the inevitable travel scrapes, and seal the wood to prevent staining from rain or hands. (April Winchell of the much-missed site Regretsy was absolutely right about how bare wood was hipster catnip, and the individuals who go on and on about the authenticity of unfinished wood in displays obviously haven’t been around long enough to see the grodiness of a display after five or six shows, what with Cheeto-covered hands, spilled drinks, and the occasional sneeze.) With metal, carry polishing cloths or bottles of Brasso, and don’t put off fixing broken welds or popped rivets. Plastic? Invest in any number of plastics-safe polishes, and be prepared for the inevitability of plastic and resin eventually going yellow and/or brittle, a lot sooner if you do a lot of outdoor shows. If something breaks to the point where the repair is more noticeable than the rest of the display, replace it with a new one, because if it breaks again, it’ll most likely be on the existing damage.
(Sidenote: If you can possibly help it, set aside a separate fund in your show budget for display upgrades and maintenance, and go through a regular brutal assessment of your displays, lights, and accessories about every six months. Ask friends and family to assist, and ask for their honest opinions on your final arrangement. Are you making contemporary jewelry, but still using New Kids on the Block sheets as a tablecloth? Are your shelves and racks so patched and duct-taped that they could be props on The Red Green Show? Are you still using incandescent or halogen bulbs that were purchased back in the Twentieth Century? Does your assembled display suggest “Fun Shopping Experience” or “Telethon for Tetanus”? If you see issues, that’s what the display upgrade budget is for. At the very least, take advice from professional retailers and upgrade your displays every couple of years just to spark new interest. Yes, it’s money that could be used for inventory or transportation, and that’s why it’s usually severely neglected.)
(Sidenote two: unless you’re struck by lightning at the end of a show and wake up six months later in a body cast, clean up your damn messes when you leave. Yes, shows have either volunteers or paid personnel whose final responsibility is to sweep the floor and dump the garbage after you leave, but dumping your detritus all over and chuckling “Job security” to the poor person having to do final cleanup is a jerk move. That behavior comes back to bite you, especially if it gets back to the show organizer that your area looked as if Hunter S. Thompson had camped there for a month. I know two vendors who somehow managed to leave more junk at the end of every show than they’d packed in at the beginning, and they’re only now starting to realize that the only shows willing to take them are ones desperate for ANY vendors. These are usually shows where the vendors outnumber the attendees, so you understand the importance of cleaning up after your filthy self.)
Timewasters and parasites. As you continue in your small retailer career, you’ll find people who, to be nice, want to be involved but who don’t necessarily have your best interests at heart. This includes people who nag endlessly about “any room for an assistant?”, but who can’t do anything besides sit behind the table and text all day. You’ll be hit up by alleged organizers of big shows who want you to sign up and pay the booth fee RIGHT THEN, and who refuse to go away when you decline. You’ll get the people who work for other shows and come to yours to badmouth their competition. Expect the guy who camps out next to your table and creeps out potential customers with his very loud reviews of his very extensive hentai collection. You’ll get the ones who comment “Gee, you have a nice table here” and either ask if they can have “just a corner” to sell their own items or ask to put a big fat stack of flyers for a direct competitor right out in front. And it’s nearly a rite of passage to get that one seemingly enthusiastic customer who swears on four grandmothers’ graves that s/he will be “right back with the money if you put that item in reserve for me” and then disappears forever. Being a retailer, in any capacity, is an immersion in the human condition, and that includes lots of mixes of stupidity, arrogance, cluelessness, greed, and/or delusion that parade around in skin suits. If you think you might have it bad, just consider what anyone working the front counter at a comic shop or a movie theater has to deal with every day.
Sadly, since nobody has developed a surefire jerkwad repellent (and that person would be the richest person on the planet within weeks of developing it), you’ll have to deal with these people and more, and one technique works well in 97 of 100 cases. The moment someone pops up to try to take advantage of your basic human compassion, just tell them “I’m not in a position to do so right now: could you come around after the show is over?” Well, this works on everyone but the hentai creep: in his case, ask him nicely to move elsewhere and call loudly for security if he refuses.
Always remember that you can say “NO” at any time, and also remember that your ultimate responsibility is to customers, as in “people who exchange money for your inventory.” If that Etsy trunk show organizer shoves one of your customers aside to tell you all about her event next week and doesn’t respond to “could you come by after the show?”, you have no responsibility to be nice or even civil afterwards.
(Sidenote: Many shows and events are sufficiently large or of enough specific interest that they may get bands of roving reporters and photographers wandering around for reaction shots. If your inventory or your backstory has enough of a hook to attract further interest, you might even get a followup from one of those reporters, either asking for a few words and a quick photo of your display or for contact information for a more formal interview. Without fail, they’ll come around right at a time when your booth is completely overwhelmed by curious attendees and returning customers. A quick and easy way to spot the difference between real writers and wannabes is to see how they respond upon seeing a crowd around your booth. Anyone with any actual experience in reportage, or at least any without a major “You, OF COURSE, know who I am, don’t you?” hubris infection, might pop in during a lull between four separate conversations, make a quick introduction, and ask “Mind if I ask some questions when you’re not so busy?” It’s the frauds and incompetents that literally shove people aside and demand that you pay attention to them RIGHT THEN, and blowing them off in order to take care of customers won’t affect you in the slightest.
Last year, I had one such charlatan not only interrupt two people with serious questions, but who huffily asked me “could you get an assistant to take over so I can interview you,” his words, right then and there. He sulked off when I explained that an interview might be better after the show, only to come back when the crowds abated somewhat. Not only has that interview never appeared in any publication, print or online, but the only subsequent contact from him was a solicitation to write blog posts at truly entitled prices.)
Getting enough sleep. No matter how much practice or preparation, the last week before a big show is a cascade of sleep deprivation. If you aren’t staring at the ceiling wondering if you took care of that last-minute thing or coming up with a new concept right when you should be unconscious, you’ll be getting up extra-early to get everything to the show in time. There’s always the joy of thinking “I can get this last thing done in an hour,” getting to work, and looking up to realize that you’ve worked the whole night through. If you work a day job, you have the joys of balancing the last-minute emergencies that always happen as you’re trying to get out the door with show prep.
If the show is far enough away that you have to stay in a hotel, there’s the aggravation of late-night searches for a 24-hour grocery or drugstore because you packed the cat instead of the toothbrush, or discovering that the night manager already gave your hotel room away and the only option is to pay $500 per night for the last room or go to another hotel. If the show has food vendors, those carrying coffee or high-caffeine soft drinks are the angels to incoming vendors, especially in the last few hours before breakdown. I won’t even start with the well-meaning friends who assume that because you’re in town and have a whole six hours between the end of one show day and the beginning of the next, you have to get together with them for dinner or a party. If you’re smart, you’ll bow out on those invitations unless you know you can get enough sleep, because you’re no good to any of your customers if you’re so sleep-deprived and hallucinating that you alternate between extolling the virtues of your work and waving a marlin spike around while yelling about reptiles.
I don’t have any personal stories to relate about particular sleep horrors, although I discovered last September that I can go approximately 40 hours without sleep before I encounter my inner William Burroughs. However, I was neighbor to a vendor at one big show in Fort Worth who ran into everything that might interfere with a good night’s rest. He came in on Sunday morning about a half-hour before the show opened to the public, uncovered his table, told everyone about how he’d driven three hours to be there because his wife had to work that day, sat down in a little folding chair, and promptly passed out. Customers coming by his table couldn’t ask him questions because he was insensate, and his snoring started drowning out sales pitches from other vendors and announcements over the hall intercom. Finally, as the show ended and the rest of us started breaking down our displays, he nodded, stretched, and complained loudly about how he hadn’t sold a thing all day and how he hoped his wife had done better the day before. We didn’t have the heart to tell him that she did the same exact thing, and hoped he’d do better when his turn came. I haven’t seen them at any shows in a while: I hope they’re getting enough rest…
(Note: with the 2018 Triffid Ranch show season getting ready to start, a lot of bystanders and longtime customers interested in starting their own small businesses ask for advice and recommendations about attending and selling at shows. While asking me for business advice is comparable to asking Jeffrey Dahmer for tips on vegan recipes, these ruminations might be of some entertainment value, especially among those thinking about jumping into the show circuit.)
As of this coming May, the Texas Triffid Ranch celebrates ten years since it went live, and nothing over the intervening decade was as good a teacher as doing lots and lots of shows in various venues. It originally started with comic and science fiction conventions, and moved over to various craft fairs and art shows for years before everything moved to the first gallery in 2015. Lots of little shows helped nail down what works and what doesn’t: the items that clear out within the first ten minutes and the ones that don’t move at all, the displays and support gear that knocked everyone’s socks off and the ones that really needed to be thrown in the trash before the show. A book on camping that I owned when I was a kid recommended that beginning backpackers should make lots of local trips, then deliberate as to what they should bring with them after they get back. The phrase “every ounce that you didn’t need feels like a pound when you’re on the trail” applies equally well to everything that needs to be loaded and unloaded at a show location, especially if you’re the only one doing the heavy lifting and you can’t get your cart close enough to where it all has to go. The experiences and occasional scars lead to sometimes great after-show stories (I have friends at Texas Frightmare Weekend who still call me “Sparky” after my truck was struck by lightning before one show), but they also explain the occasional winces when someone asks “So, have you considered vending at (fill in the blank) show?”
It’s a very valid question, and one that’s asked all of the time. Sometimes it’s asked by bystanders who don’t want to purchase something right then who hope to snag it at the next show. Sometimes it’s asked by someone who came across a mention of a new event seeking vendors to fill a dealer’s room, or a pop-up show looking for something different. Many times, it’s asked by customers far enough away from Dallas that they’d be willing to travel to a halfway point, and other times by those who’d just love to see the plants in their own home towns. It’s the next question after answering “No,” “Why?”, that’s the entertaining one.
The reason for the entertainment is because no one answer applies, and each vendor answers it differently. Sometimes it’s because the show has bad timing with other events, sometimes it’s due to logistics such as access to transport or parking, and sometimes it’s because the vendor had such a horrible experience at a previous show that bankruptcy and homelessness are preferable to setting up another booth at the next one. A lot of times, though, it’s purely a matter of economics: unless a vendor is in his/her business solely as charity, the basic idea of being a vendor at a show or event is to try to make more money by the end of a show than what the vendor started with at the beginning. Even if the vendor IS a charity, the idea is to get more of a return, either by reaching more people or more unquantifiable reasons, than the vendor would get by staying home and slamming his/her head in a car door. Figuring out which shows and events are amenable to these needs and which ones don’t have any compatibility is a skill that has to be learned, usually from years of experience.
To start, let’s define why a vendor wants to go to a particular show, and vice versa. The motivations for the vendor were just mentioned, so let’s take a look at the venue. Some shows are nothing more than markets: the organizers rent or otherwise utilize an otherwise unused space, indoors and/or outdoors, and rent individual spaces to the vendors and anybody else willing to put down the money. These may or may not charge an entry fee to attendees who want to come in and look around. Some are tied to a charity or other nonprofit organization, where in addition to charging for vendor booths, vendors may be asked to give a percentage of their final sales. Others offer vendor spaces as a way to pay for other programming: a great example is with literary conventions, where fees for vendor spaces help pay for spaces for author readings, signings, and other activities. A real cynic would bring up the shows that are intended as private parties for the organization staff, where the only reason anyone else is allowed entry is to pay for the beer, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
While we’re at it, it’s time to bring up something that should be absolutely clear: the reasons for attendees to go to an event aren’t the same as for vendors, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Without fail, when anyone asks a vendor about setting up a booth at a show that didn’t work out that well, an explanation of the why gets at least one utterly enraged person whining “Well, I liked it!”, as if that neutralizes any of the vendor’s issues. It’s GREAT that you had the time of your life at a show, that you encountered the experience or the person that completely changed your world, or even that you found someone willing to take your extensive 35-year collection of Chuck E. Cheese game tokens. You’re coming in for an experience to take you away from daily concerns: for us, it’s work. (This is why most vendors will gracefully bow out of going to parties or any activity other than a medically induced coma after shutting down for the night. We’ve all been “on” all day or night, and while we love you all, all most of us want to do is sit someplace quiet with a drink of choice in hand and an hour or so of down time before going to bed.)
Let’s start with a breakdown of costs, to help explain which events make sense and which ones don’t. Above everything else is the basic fee for setting up at an event or convention, the shorthand for which is “Booth”. The Euclidean ideal of Booth is a space, usually 10 feet by 10 feet (the average floor area of a show tent) in which a vendor can put up tables, shelves, displays, and everything else needed with which to conduct business, and everything else is incidental. Many shows include a table and two chairs as part of Booth, some include electricity or wifi access, and others charge fees for everything other than the floor space. The prices are also wildly variable, depending upon the venue, any support required to set up, and the intended audience. Some shows offer discounted rates for educators or artists, but also segregate the discount spaces from the main vendor area and refer to the space as “Artist’s Alley.” Either way, if you hear a vendor bragging about how “I made Booth about an hour after we opened,” that means the vendor sold enough in an hour to cover the cost of the space and everything provided as part of the booth fee. As a general rule, the booth fee has to be paid long before the vendor can set up, and walking in and telling the management “I’ll pay you with the money I make at the show” usually gets a response of roaring laughter or short gestures with a taser.
Sidenote: To make sure that the vendors at a festival or show offer products that match the theme or tone, those events may need to prescreen applicants before allowing them in. Since this requires a staff to go through applications and determine who fits the show theme and who is showing up with a big crate of flea market vacuum cleaners (and don’t laugh: I’ve seen it) before any ill will starts between vendors, expenses have to be covered. Smaller shows roll those expenditures into the booth fee, but larger ones that have to sift through thousands of applicants may charge an application fee. More often than not, that fee is nonrefundable, but it’s also a small fraction of the price of a booth. If the application and fee go in and the jury decides that your booth is essential, then and only then does an invoice for payment go out. This is why having a separate bank account for business makes sense: keeping booth and application fees in the business account means that the fee money isn’t grabbed by accident to pay personal expenditures, and show management really like the vendors who can pay for their spaces nearly immediately instead of after multiple reminders.
Sidenote two: As with application fees, some fees and donations are completely acceptable in the business, but might be a dealbreaker for some vendors. For instance, many shows run by nonprofits may request a donation of an individual item or service for a raffle or auction, or a percentage of total sales over a day or weekend, with the proceeds going to the show. Just make sure that the event has clear wording on whether unsold donations are kept or given back to the vendor: a big first-time show of my acquaintance last year decided to host an art show full of solicited artworks, where the organizers assumed, “because that’s how it’s always been done,” that they kept all unsold artwork for themselves. One show of my acquaintance has a non-refundable “preference fee,” where paying the fee encourages the vendor’s room organizers to give preference for particular locations, but it’s not a guarantee. Likewise, although this has only happened to me once, any mention of an additional deposit to be refunded at the end of the show is a big screaming red sign warning “the only way we can keep vendors from packing up early and leaving on Friday evening is by holding their deposits hostage, because that’s the only money they’ll be getting the whole weekend.” If a proviso in an event sounds suspicious or otherwise dubious, such as one show that not only charged for booth space but required a $1 million insurance policy against possible damages (and the number isn’t a typo), bail if you feel uncomfortable making the expenditure.
Now we get into incidental expenditures, which are only incidental compared to booth fees. Unless you live literally next door to the venue, you’ll need some sort of transport to get inventory and displays to the venue location. Starting out, a car may work, but rapidly a larger vehicle becomes essential, and it’s completely your choice as to whether you buy it or rent it. Renting a van or truck makes more sense if you have fewer big shows in a year, but the convenience of not having to worry about depreciation and maintenance is offset in being charged by the mile and/or the day and whether the day of your show coincides with every apartment dweller in your neighborhood needing to move. (Very seriously, should you go for rental vehicles, reserve your chosen vehicle early, and always budget about three times as much time as you think you’ll need for setup and teardown.) Do you have a cart or dolly to haul heavy stuff to the booth location, or will everything you plan to sell fit into containers you can haul yourself? An equally important question: do you have someone who loves you enough to help you set up and break down without thought of compensation, or will you have to pay for assistance, both in compensation and in event passes? If the venue doesn’t include electricity or wifi access as part of Booth, these are usually covered as separate charges, and their use depends upon how badly you need lights or video displays. (With a lot of hotels, the electrical fees can be almost as high as the booth fee, and a disturbing number of hotels still charge for wifi as if it’s still the 20th Century. You laugh, but being stuck in a hotel banquet room where the manager has an illegal jammer for hotspots and charges $75 per day for slow and spotty access is something that still happens.) Local shows mean being able to sleep in your own bed and bring your own lunch, so consider hotel and food costs if you’re doing one out of town. And with outdoor events, you’d best have some kind of tent or other shelter, and tents of a suitable size can be expensive. Add all of this up with the booth fee, and this gives you the absolute bare minimum you need to make in sales before you break even.
Since we’ve covered costs, let’s look at time. Assuming that you’re a small vendor who still has to work a day job to pay bills, a remotely busy show schedule burns through accumulated vacation and personal time before you know it, and every unpaid day spent at a show means a bigger chunk of disposable income gone if the show is slow. Don’t measure time just on days, either: there are the hours spent getting to and from the location, the hours unloading and setting up, the minutes spent trying to locate something that you SWORE you packed up before you left, the seconds of life left to the person trying to encourage you to take a chance on another show by shoving aside a customer just about ready to buy…it all adds up. Does the event location allow you to have a reasonably leisurely setup, or do you have to get everything in and at the booth within a half-hour or so? Is the loading ramp on the other side of the building from the booth location, and will you have to pass through crowds to get to it? If the event is outside, will you have paved spaces over which you can haul your stuff, or is the main area a combination of grass and mud? If you need a tent for an outdoor show, how much time do you need for tent setup and securing before the event starts, and can you drive your vehicle directly to the spot or will you have to haul tent and all across pavement or mud? And when breaking down at the end of a show, is that on a tight timeline, or will yours be laborious enough that letting the quick packers leave first makes more sense? This may sound pedantic, but a show that runs late on a Sunday and requires an extra four hours to get home and unpack might require taking Monday off as well to recuperate, and you have to decide if that’s worth the return.
Another aspect of time: how can that time be best used? Because of the rather limited belts of clement weather in Dallas before and after summer, a lot of unrelated events get scheduled for the same weekends, and determining which ones are worth choosing is usually gained from experience. For instance, let’s start with the assumption that Event A is a three-day event while Event B is a one-day event. On its face, a longer duration suggests that Event A might draw more attendees, but then consider that Event A is a three-hour drive away while Event B is literally down the road. Alternately, Event A very peripherally connects to your inventory and what your company is about, while Company B is loaded with exactly the sort of potential customers you’ve dreamt about your entire life. And then there are the other factors, such as your inventory being perishable or living: can you risk being caught in a traffic jam in the middle of summer heat and an inadequate truck air conditioner? Do you need special permits to bring your inventory across state lines? Or, and there’s no delicate way of putting it, does the event have any indications that it’s overinflating the number of projected attendees, or that it’s going to have huge numbers but attendees who come out with one shirt and one $5 bill and don’t change either for the entire weekend?
Finally, the last big factor that every vendor should consider is experience. Every year, any number of organizations decide to start a big event and solicit vendors and attendees, and some of these events may turn out to be blowout extravaganzas sung about in myth and legend. Others fall flat on their faces due to poor organization or sometimes just bad timing. Even the successful ones may not get a second year due to logistical issues or an inability to find a suitable venue. Since blowout and dud shows can be indistinguishable a week before opening, experienced vendors tend to be leery of first-year events, and are much more likely to pay for booth space the next year, after they’ve compared notes with the people with spaces from the year before. (This isn’t completely dependable: certain sleazy operators are known for buying the names of shows where the previous organizers had to drop out of the business, pitching the new show to vendors on the reputation of the previous organizers, and refusing to honor any of the contractually obligated commitments promised. One show here in Dallas runs every few years under a brand new name, so as to avoid online search results, because the organizers know that the vendors don’t sell a thing but the organizers need the booth fees to pay for the after-show staff party.) It can be a hard thing to turn down what appears to be on paper a sure-thing first-year convention or festival, but from long experience, I’ve had fewer regrets on passing on excellent shows than celebrations on dodging bullets.
Is this everything? Not in the slightest. This hasn’t even touched on how to know when to cut your losses on a formerly successful show, at what times it’s best to ignore “being professional” and pack up before the show is over, or what to do when a show organizer simply won’t take “no” for an answer and keeps pushing to get you to register for a show when you’ve repeatedly declined. However, after considering these factors, when a vendor begs off repeated requests of “So why aren’t you at this show?”, the points already shared explain why.
Comments Off on Show Advice: The Costs of Doing Business