A Bazaar of the Bizarre
May 12 and 13 saw my artist friend and me at Oddmall: Inside Out. It was our first experience attending the event ... and it will be our last.
On the plus side, the event benefited from strong attendance despite the venue being changed from Akron to Canton and the inclement weather. Vendor booths populated the Stark County Fairgrounds inside and outside. A plethora of food trucks offered a variety of cuisine to tempt anyone's tastebuds.
Oddmall: Inside Out bills itself as the "Emporium of the Weird," and attendees comprised an interesting cross-section of the local population. All generations were represented. There was a lot of ink. I don't believe I've ever seen so many tattoos in one place. The tattooist did a brisk business during the event, inking skin during the show. An interesting variety of vendors populated the event: chainmail, polished crystals, spiked vambraces, video game paraphenalia and merchandise, cakes, pillows, and ... you get the picture. Many attendees and vendors indulged in cosplay, some with quite elaborate costumes and makeup. It made for entertaining people-watching. There were only a couple of other authors and artists there, so Cindra and I didn't have much in the way of direct competition. We received lots of compliments on our paintings and lots of empty "I'll be back" promises.
We spoke with some of the other vendors—some who were returning vendors and others who were first-timers like us. They reported similar experiences to ours: a lot of people, but not a lot of sales.
My experience with the event was tainted before I arrived. After registering as a vendor and paying a premium for a prime vendor spot, I checked the event web page to ensure I was listed as a vendor. No, I wasn't. I also noticed that the location information wasn't the same as I had originally recorded. What happened?
I contacted the organizer. The upshot: the event had outgrown its original venue and been relocated to a new venue. I had not been informed. I had been dropped from the vendor list. The organizer offered me a vendor spot of "equal" value at a future Oddmall event, but neither a partial nor whole refund. I was not happy.
The organizer did return me to the prime spot (which I'd paid for) and eventually added me back to the vendor list. Then we arrived. Signage should have been more prominent and obvious.
Entering the building, we had trouble finding our space. We got help from another vendor who was also a volunteer with the organization. He consulted the online map of the vendor hall and we found what was supposed to our spot. An hour or so later, we learned that it was not our spot. Our spot had been moved. Neither the volunteer nor the affected vendors (including me) had been informed.
I was not happy, nor was the vendor who wanted that prime spot to which she was now assigned. However, with my tables were already set up, she agreed to move into the reassigned spot. The level of disorganization experienced—especially for what I paid—left a bad taste in my mouth.
The event hours were brutal. The event ran from 5 PM to 10 PM on Friday night and from 10 AM to 11 PM on Saturday. Vendors began leaving around 5 PM on Saturday. Exhausted and dispirited, we left early, too, about 9 PM, on Saturday. I don't know anyone stayed until 11 PM. In our not-so-humble opinions, the event would have done better to conclude earlier on Saturday.
Attendance, as stated earlier, was strong overall and despite the rain. Some attendees mentioned that they didn't know there was anything inside the building because there were so many outdoor vendors. Signage, also as stated earlier, should have been more obvious and prominently displayed.
For an author, profit is not the primary indicator of event success. An author goes to in-person events to build brand/author awareness and build his or her fan base through personal rapport and interaction. For an artist, profit is a primary indicator of event success. Since I flatter myself as being both author and artist, I hoped to at least break even if not make a profit.
I didn't. In fact, my expenses exceeded revenues. Cindra reported the same dismal economic results. We were asked to sign up for future Oddmall events ... and we noticed that vendor registration rose $75 for those future events. Neither of us found the increase in price merited.
The upshot: we're not going back to Oddmall. However, we have just finished a 3-day event, the Springfield Antique Show & Flea Market Extravaganza (May 19-21). In my next blog, I'll publish a report of our experience and our decision regarding whether we'll return to the event in 2024.
The Springfield Antique Show & Flea Market Extravaganza is a 3-day event larger than any I have attended as a vendor. With over 1,500 vendors outdoors and countless more filling the Arts & Crafts, Annex, Mercantile, and Youth Buildings as well as several of the Clark County Fairgrounds' livestock barns, this is a big, big event. Most of the vendors are indeed antique dealers, with fine antiques located in the Youth Building. About 25 to 30 percent of the vendors were more of the flea market variety selling a diverse array of food and wares. Hen House Publishing was located near the front of the Mercantile Building between a dealer selling Amish-made cheeses, jellies, and pickled vegetables and an antique dealer selling old dolls and vintage clothing and across from a dealer selling pork rinds and sundry snack foods and another dealer selling Tupperware.
I thought the flea market aspect of the event coupled with the large numbers of attendees (reported between 19,000 and 22,000) would make for a likely venue to sell books and paintings. I truly thought the paintings, being original artwork and unusual for such an event, would draw the most attention and sell better than the books. I brought only my four latest titles to sell: Focus, Knight of the Twin Moons, Russian Revival, and Double Cut. As usual, my best friend, Cindra Phillips of CR Ranch Creative, joined me. We set up three tables: two with our paintings and one with my books. As customary, I draped two of the tables in glittering gold tablecloths with easels and one in maroon. Cindra strung blinking Christmas lights to attract attention. I erected my bannerstand. We set up two floor easels to display more paintings. We rearranged the tables a couple of time until we found a configuration that suited us within the 10 X 10 space. The smallest table draped in maroon was at the front and displayed my books.
Cindra and I quickly discovered that the organizers did not fail their promise to bring in the crowds. We had no complaint about event attendance; there were a lot of people, many of whom made it to the Mercantile Building and wandered through more than once. Several attendees brought their dogs which were all quite well behaved. We enjoyed meeting the dogs. Several food concessionaires also joined the throngs of vendors: the usual "fair food" types.
Friday's hours were long: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday's hours were shorter: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday had the shortest hours of operation: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday's hours were ridiculous, far too long for a weekday when most folks were still working. Saturday's hours worked well. Sunday's hours could have started later and ended an hour earlier. (I would have liked to have been able to go to Mass without a conflict in business hours.)
So ... sales. Sales were, in a word, disappointing. Cindra sold, if I remember correctly, two paintings. I sold two paintings. I sold quite a few books, though. Both Friday and Saturday evenings, I departed with a list of titles to restock from at-home inventory. We couldn't blame a paucity of attendees for poor sales; we accredit the lackluster performance to a mismatch of audience. The Springfield Antique Show & Flea Market Extravaganze is not a good venue for us; the audience isn't a good match for what we sell.
All in all, I did make a small profit over what I call "direct" expenses (mileage, food and beverages, registration fee). If I count in the cost of inventory, I could probably cut the profit by half. If I count in the hours spent (27) working the event—even if I only paid myself state minimum wage ($10.10 per hour for Ohio)—then I lost money.
On the upside, the event was well organized and ran smoothly. We met some really nice people. And a couple of the attendees swore that they'd read and/or purchased my books before and recognized my author name (Holly Bargo). It's gratifying to know that brand awareness of my author name is building. I hope the folks who bought my books enjoy them and, perhaps, will leave positive reviews.
As for the Springfield Antique Show & Flea Market Extravanganza ... we won't return as vendors. It's a great venue for the antiques and snack foods sellers, but not for us.
Until the next event: the Ohio Authors Book Fair on Saturday, May 27, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Jeffersonville Outlets, Jeffersonville, Ohio. Cindra and I hope to see you there!
We use the phrase "unintended consequences" to refer to the usually negative and deleterious ramfications of decisions or actions. These consequences may surprise us, although the application of common sense suggests that we should have known better.
I have recently benefited from unintended consequences, so I'm not complaining.
My latest book, DOUBLE CUT, is the sequel to TRIPLE BURN, which was never intended to be a series starter. In fact, TRIPLE BURN didn't do well when it was published.
The editor liked it. I liked it. The cover was great. The sub-genre crossover (science fiction reverse harem romance) was popular (and still is). It was marketed via social media and various book promotion services.
Readers didn't like it. The most common reason I could glean was because the story had a bittersweet ending rather than an unqualifed HEA ("happily ever after"). TRIPLE BURN struggled to get ratings and reviews.
A few years later, I wrote a sequel: DOUBLE CUT. The editor loved it. I like it. The cover is great. The sub-genre crossover remains popular. It is being marketed through social media and sponsored ads on Facebook and Amazon.
Readers like it. In fact, since the debut of DOUBLE CUT, readers have been downloading TRIPLE BURN ... and they're liking it. The little book that struggled to get three reviews now has several and over 40 ratings—the majority positive.
Who would have thought that publishing a sequel to a poorly selling and poorly received book would have such a positive effect? Not I.
But I'm grateful. I am grateful for every copy sold.
The positive response to the newly named series (Triune Alliance Brides) inspires me to continue the series. So, I've got a third book planned for release this year—maybe even a fourth. We'll see.