Now we are haggling about the price

by Shannon on March 2, 2009

There’s an oft-quoted exchange between Winston Churchill and some socialite at a dinner (which may well be apocryphal):

Churchill: Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?
Socialite: My goodness, Mr. Churchill… Well, I suppose… we would have to discuss terms, of course…
Churchill: Would you sleep with me for five pounds?
Socialite: Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!
Churchill: Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.

Where am I going with this, you ask? Our industry’s trade group recently sent out a survey to shop owners which attempted to determine just how much bribery it would take to get them to come to their tradeshow. The possible incentives offered ranged from predictable (free hotel room, free flight) to just plain outrageous (scratch tickets? seriously?).

I’m in a unique position here — I co-own a retail store, I design, I teach, I publish and I edit a magazine. Maybe this is just me seeing this from a big-picture perspective, but I don’t think so. I can’t imagine that no one thought through what I like to call the…

OUROBOROS OF SUCK!

(this is an ouroboros…representing a neverending, never-changing cycle)

What is the Ouroboros of Suck, you ask? Ok, here’s the cycle at work:

  • Event does not offer what you want or need. For example, you, as a shop owner, like to go take classes, and look at new products on offer.
  • Class selection isn’t good, because teachers aren’t pleased with the organization’s policies and aren’t submitting classes.
  • Without classes you want to take, it’s hard to justify spending money in this economy on what is, essentially, a yarn company rep visit in a much bigger room.
  • As a vendor, you see attendance is down. You decide against doing a booth, or you do a smaller booth.
  • When attendance goes down, show organizers attempt to bribe shop owners into coming; vendors realize attendance must really be down, and decide against coming altogether, or at the very least, to stop as soon as their contracts run out.
  • Now there are no good classes and fewer vendors than usual. Shop owners don’t have an incentive to attend (believe me, your value proposition is seriously skewed if you think that offering up freebies is a way to get someone to attend your show — you are just saying out loud “We don’t have anything worth your time at the show that would make you attend on your own.” Trust me, I’m sure Oprah didn’t have a hard time filling out her show audience even before she started giving away stuff).
  • Meanwhile, back at the Independent Designer and Teacher Ranch, for those who did submit class proposals, they get cancelled for lack of attendance, leaving those teachers high and dry with airline tickets and day-before-show hotel reservations, etc of their own

See where I’m going with this? It’s a self-defeating situation. If people aren’t coming to your show, bribes are not the best way to get them there. It comes down to content management.

How many of you have canceled a magazine subscription because the articles/etc in it were no longer relevant to your interests? The company sent you about a zillion “OH, BUT IF YOU RENEW NOW IT WILL ONLY BE $9.99″ letters, right? Ok, did you resubscribe? If you were really on the fence about it, maybe. But are they going to get you back if you well and truly believe they don’t have anything to offer you?

Should they pay the people who write articles for the magazine less in order to free up more money to bribe you? They can’t afford to turn the tables and pay YOU $9.99 to subscribe in order to drive up their numbers, not without cutting into the budget they have to pay freelance writers (as in my example here, or independent teachers/designers/etc).

They probably shouldn’t use existing subscribers money in order to pay people to come back. What they should do is work on making the most kickass magazine ever — the magazine you absolutely have to read because all your friends are talking about it and it’s a must.

Sadly, the Ouroboros of Suck does not lead to creating a must-go show…I mean magazine. Ahem.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Annie March 2, 2009 at 5:56 pm

Well put – thank you for writing this!

The standard way of doing business is not working for so many of these companies, and they are so resistant (allergic?) to change that their idea of brainstorming is put all the ‘safe’ ideas in a bag and pull one out.

The crux of the matter is when the economy is scary, you have to give your customers a REASON to continue patronizing your shop/mag/show/classes. This isn’t happening, and mark my words – they will try to blame the ‘mean’ designers and teachers who KNOW they can help a failing business model succeed.

Arabella March 2, 2009 at 6:12 pm

I like your illustration there, the “OUROBOROS OF SUCK!” should have a wiki entry alone.

I’ve not heard that Churchill quote. I do like the one that goes,
Lady Astor: If were married to you, I’d put poison in your coffee.
Churchill: If I were married to you Nancy, I’d drink it!

Shannon March 2, 2009 at 6:39 pm

Ah, let’s go back to ol’ Winston again, shall we Annie?

“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.”

And for you, Arabella:

“Bessie Braddock: Mr. Churchill, this is a disgrace. You are quite drunk.
Churchill: This may be well and true, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.”

ysolda March 2, 2009 at 6:49 pm

maybe it’s time to organise an indie meetup!

Shannon March 2, 2009 at 7:10 pm

Starting to think it may be the only viable option, Ysolda… have done some investigating on that front since you (all) know me… can’t stand to sit still and watch ouroboroi of suck propagate when there are other possible solutions.

(bonus geek points to ME for knowing the proper plural of ouroboros!)

kristi March 2, 2009 at 8:19 pm

Yes, I saw the “free pizza” survey. (In college our wacky perfomance group called a show “Free Pizza!” on the grounds that this was a sure way to attract an audience.) Surely, the members of TNNA are a bit more introspective on the “what’s in it for me?” question than free pizza.

Rather than assuming that these little incentives will solve the problem, why not ask the harder and more honest questions? Why did you choose to skip the convention this time? What would make the next convention more worthwhile to you? What could we be doing differently?

m.k. March 2, 2009 at 11:47 pm

Excellent points. One that bugs me may not be relevant to the tradeshow magazine you are thinking of: location and timing. The Midwest in the middle of summer, for example. I happen to love the Midwest, except in July and August, and sometimes June, September, and even part of October.

Shannon March 3, 2009 at 8:53 am

Because it’s not easy to ask the hard questions, Kristi? (Trite but true) Not to mention asking the hard questions means having to confront your other business practices under the cold, white light of the microscope…?

Jennifer March 3, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Interesting post. I’m not that in tune with the issues in the fiber world, but I do know it is happening in many places. Fact is, it doesn’t matter how much free stuff you give away – if it’s crap people don’t want it anyway. And if I offer you something for free if you take something you don’t want, can’t afford, or don’t need right now, chances are good the free stuff isn’t going to change your mind today.

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