Monday, May 5, 2014

San Diego was a bust...or was it?!?

, here is it, the ugly side of the craft business. The reality of losing money.

My business venture to try an out of state craft show was a bust.  I was looking forward to be going someplace else and taking my handmade items to a whole new audience. 

El Cajon, California on a beautiful clear sky day.  What could possibly go wrong?

I had spent months researching festivals across the country, meeting with my mentors, having friends over to critique my table design, making inventory and told everyone I was excited to be trying something new and going out of my comfort zone. 

But the Arab American Festival in San Diego was as rewarding as eating clear soup with chopsticks.

My rented hot wheels.
Let's start from the beginning.

Back in late April, when I called Ashraf Elgamal, the organizer, he said he was expecting a crowd of 30,000 because El Cajon has a 50% Arab population due to a recent influx of Iraqis.  He also said that the city was requiring liability insurance but he would give more information later.

So I sent in my application, along with a check for $350 for a booth in the "bazaar" area.  I was told that the bazaar area in San Diego does not include a tent, despite the photos of the bazaar area in the Arab American Festival in Arizona (which Ashraf also produces) having a tent. But I was okay with that, just to try to save a little bit of money.  I still had a plane ticket and car rental to pay for and saving even an extra little bit was a big help.

30,000?!? Maybe the other 29,900 will show up later?
This Tuesday, I found out that I would have to play an extra $50 to be included on the liability insurance for the Festival, or provide my own and mail a copy of it directly to the city.  After several calls to my insurance agent and multiple calls to various City of El Cajon staff, I found out a) Washington insurance would not cover California and b) the city does not charge to be added to the list of vendors on the Arab American Festival application.  Furthermore, I was suppose to be added to the list prior to the festival application being in, and it was already in their hands. The very helpful staff at the city also informed me that Ashraf had this information a month ago and should have shared it with me when I had my informational phone meeting.

So many chairs, so few people!
At this point I had already purchased my plane ticket/rented my car and was committed to this event. The next day, I got voice mail from someone in Arizona that I overpaid on my application and they can use the $50 to cover the insurance.  Thank goodness that was taken care of and now I could relax.

When I got to San Diego, I rented my car and headed to my friend's house.  We caught up on old times while taking her dog on a sunset beach walk through Del Mar.  It was quite lovely and I needed to spend some time relaxing after having taught three clay classes the previous day.

Trying to draw business on Sunday with steamers.
On Saturday, I was due to be on the Festival grounds at Noon, giving everyone enough time before the 4pm start.  When I arrived, I was never greeted and had to walk around the grounds three times before I finally found Jimmy, the lead organizer. He pointed me towards the bazaar, but there were no tables set up.  I was then shown the table pile, where I realized that the tables were eight feet long, while my hand made, fitted table cloth was for a six food table.  I walked around the grounds until I found a wonderful food vendor to trade me for his six foot table.  But it was covered in grease and Jimmy was unable to find any cleaning products on site.  So I just used the table, hoping that grease will just wash off later, only to have the entire thing break after I was set up.

I took the photo and then boom, the table went off it's axel.
Since I wasn't quite sure if I did end up on the city's liability insurance, I really didn't want a broken table to land on someone's foot. I started to look around for another one I could borrow.  At this time, Ashraf had shown up to speak to the shaved ice vendor that had been placed next to me.  The shaved ice vendor had been told they would be the only shaved ice vendor there, however, when they showed up, they were surprised to see another vendor with the same booth in the food court. Ashraf denied that they were given exclusivity and his staff in Arizona who had promised the shaved ice vendor that they were the only ones, could not remember the details of their conversation. Both vendors stayed and I hope at least made a little bit of money.

One of three empty booths on Saturday.
I waited until Askraf was done, introduced myself and asked if he had a different table. He told me the only ones he had were the ones over there and walked away.  That was the only time he ever spoke to me the entire weekend.  He never came back to see if my table situation got fixed (it did, I asked someone else), how my sales were doing ($47 on Saturday, $2 on Sunday), or even express concern that I was the only vendor that was not under a tent setting up on Saturday.  I'd like to think he might have felt a tiny bit of compassion and possibly offered me one of the three empty covered booths that were open and obviously available both days. But I will never know because the amazing Hector, who ran the eight inflatables behind me, felt pity on me and shared his canopy with me.  And I had the shade of the ice shave machine on the other side. Our three huddled masses comprised the Arab American Festival bazaar.

Rebecca from Arizona performing on Saturday Night.
I had hoped that since I was close to the entrance I would get traffic, but all I did was watch people go to the music stage. Except for the elderly Arabic grandmothers, who had thick Iraqi accents, colorful half worn hijabs and surprisingly strong arm grips, that complained about having to shell out a $5 admission fee.  They were a hoot.

The Elegant Man advertised the Festival!

Originally I was so impressed with the Arab American Festival application on their website, with such strict guidelines.  But then I saw several people walking around with political signs, I had a dog pee on a customer in front of me, and found advertisements on my rental car's windshield on Saturday night from a vendor who received the same guidelines as I did, forbidding all those things from the Festival. I also had someone at my booth for about fifteen minutes that was intent on selling me wrinkle free face crème. (I explained that I was from out of town and that I hadn't even made enough money to afford one of his bottles of miracle cure.) But I have to say the most inappropriate guideline breaker was a woman who walked around handing out flyers on how awful Islam was and we are all going to burn in hell for being Muslims.  Actually, now that I think about it, maybe the six bicycle cops, descending on my booth due to a fist fight breaking out in front of it, was the icing on the cake.

After the event, I found out that Ashraf never contacted any of the Arab organizations in town (the friend I was staying with helps run the San Diego Arab Film Festival and she heard about the event from me), or any of the local musicians (all of the singers and belly dancers were brought in from Arizona). I did mange to sneak away a little bit on Saturday to walk around El Cajon and take photos of the Arabic signs on the storefronts and found one poster advertising the Festival.  Yup.  One.

Here are some photos I took on Sunday of the event.

A second bazaar table showed up Sunday!

Ehab had traveled from Arizona with his booth.

Several church organizations went in on a booth.

CaliSnow had to move yet again on Sunday.

Summer Camp booth.

Solar booth

These guys gave out party horns. It was lovely. Not.

These guys came in from Canada.

Optometry booth

Second church organization booth.

Dish Network/ART also loved to put flyers on cars.

Second shaved ice booth.

I think this is a grocery store, but I'm not sure.

Another empty booth being put to use by friends catching up.

Finally!!! Arabic food at an Arab Festival...

...and more Arabic food!

And for dessert, there is popcorn!

In the end, I didn't even make enough money selling at the event to cover the insurance. And forget about the plane ticket, car rental, gas, food, and emergency ear plugs I had to buy at the airport that costs seven times as much as they do at Walgreens.
Turning my rust into a tan.

When I finally got home and counted my inventory today, I found out items had been lifted from my table. I'm not going to say how much, because it will only depress me more. I'm still due my $100 deposit, so I'll let you know if I ever get that back. But considering the customer service of this organization, I'm not going to hold my breath for it to appear anytime soon.

Looking back, I'm still glad I went and had this experience. It was a lesson I had to learn as a business owner about financial risks and those that don't pay off.

And despite all the negativity that occurred with the festival, I still got to eat some wonderful meals with some amazing lifetime friends, feed hard working, polite, tattooed men some homemade monkey bread and met an Arab American artist that I've admired from afar for years.

Plus, how can I hold grudges over a weekend that let me read, while trying to turn my Seattle rust into a California tan. And yes, a mandatory stop at an In'NOut Burger was budgeted.

Right before I hoped on the plane, I stopped at Balboa Park and visit the Joan Miro at the San Diego Museum of Art. I was given free admission because I happened to mention that I was touring Miro at the Seattle Art Museum and I was excited to see their piece. So my last memory of San Diego will always be this.
Joan Miro, Woman, Bird, Constellations, 1974 

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