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Review of our first season of Arizona shows

Our Arizona fall season is over and we’re sitting back reflecting on the experience of adding Arizona shows to our schedule this year. We left California headed to Arizona after participating in the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival and were so happy to have warmer temperatures and we were looking forward to our first Arizona fall show season. From a personal perspective we’ve absolutely enjoyed our first winter in the desert, loved grilling our turkey for Thanksgiving while wearing shorts and flip flops We’ve also taken advantage of some time off to explore museums, gardens and tourist attractions in this area, so nice to be enjoying the outdoors in November and December.

Back to the show discussion: All shows were 3 day shows, averaged almost $500 in booth fees per show and all 3 were large shows with 400-500 artists. End result? On average our sales were what we normally achieve in 2 day shows in WA/ID/OR and CA, only it took 3 days. Booth fees were higher than our typical WA/ID/OR shows, about the same as most of our CA shows. Yet more facts for us to consider as we think about our 2014 schedule and I put on my “accounting hat” and analyze our numbers.

Fountain Festival of Arts & Crafts – Nov 8-10, Fountain Hills AZ
Load in / Load out – fairly easy, the organizers open the road at 5 PM and expect the artists to manage themselves. No micro-managing, it’s a bit of free for all but worked pretty well for us. No long delays, no major difficulties. We needed lights to finish both the load in and load out, very few street lights in Fountain Hills and by 6 PM it was pretty dark. Festival provides free parking in a lot right behind the festival, including free overnight parking for RV’s which was convenient and saved us a few $$’s.

Show is very large, “L” shaped on 2 roads, about 450 artists (I think), spread out enough that attendees seemed to have trouble remembering where they had seen a particular artist. Heard more than one comment from attendees as they were wandering around.

Sales – very mediocre for us, a little lower than our 2 day show average and it took 3 long days to hit those sales numbers. Weather was perfect, lots of people in attendance, just not spending much. There was a lot of jewelry at this show which I think hurt all jewelers. Garden art seemed to be selling well, but other than that I didn’t see a lot of large art being carried out of the show. Friday sales didn’t quite cover booth, Saturday sales were fairly good and Sunday sales were pathetic. Artists we know who have participated in this show told us their sales were lower than usual.

We’ve applied for the spring show, hoping for better results, if not, this is one of those shows we’ll remove from our list.

Tempe Fall Festival of the Arts – Tempe AZ – Dec. 6-8
Load in / Load out – Micro managed, with load in times starting at 9 PM Thursday night. We had a 9:30 load in time and weren’t allowed on site until 10:15 PM so it was 12:15 AM by the time we were set up and back up in the truck headed back to our RV park for a few hours of sleep. Load out was a bit easier, but they still micro-managed the load out. We didn’t have any trouble getting our truck into the site, but our booth neighbor was hassled a bit for bringing his bus in which was kind of silly given that by that time the road was mostly cleared out of artists and other vehicles.

Show ended up being the same weekend as the Pack 12 Championship so many, many of the attendees on Saturday were there for the game, not the art show. It was also fairly chilly for AZ, highs were only mid-50’s each day so even when the sun was out, it never really warmed up, especially when our booth location was in the shade all day. Friday sales were good, I felt like we were off to a good start for the show, Saturday sales were about 70% of Friday and Sunday sales were dismal.

This is an expensive show to do, booth fees were $560 plus we had to pay $40 for parking over the weekend, and that was with finding free street parking on Sunday when the meters aren’t monitored. Our sales were better than Fountain Hills but with parking and RV camping expenses (Tempe does not allow overnight camping in your rig) our profit wasn’t any more than Fountain Hills.

This show also has vandalism issues, I heard of at least 6 different booth break-ins between Friday and Saturday nights including some very malicious destruction in a couple of the booths. We also had an issue Sunday AM when we arrived, realized the parking lots were still charging $30/day for parking, as we were getting ready to move the truck to the street where the meters weren’t monitored on Sundays we had a person who tried to get into our truck looking for bus money, obviously high on something and acting totally irrational had us quickly moving our truck. Not a fun way to start the day.

Most of the artists we talked to who have done this show before indicated sales were way down from prior years. We will probably apply one more time and hope there’s not a football game and see if the end results are a little better.

4th Avenue Fall Street Fair – Tucson AZ – Dec. 13-15
Load in / Load out: No micro-managing at all! Opened the streets at 2 PM for load in and the artists were on their own to figure it out. Vehicles could only be on one side of the street due to fire lane restrictions. We waited until about 4 PM to check in and lucked out, the artist behind us was just pulling out so I stood in her parking spot while Dale brought the truck around. Load out had the usual issue of people bringing vehicles in before they were fully packed down but we were still able to get the truck close and were on the road 2 hours after the show ended, so pretty standard for us.

This ended up being our most profitable AZ show this fall, nice to end the year on a good note. Sales were about 25% higher than Tempe, lower booth fees and the show paid for your parking if you parked in one of the two garages they designated for artist parking. Still didn’t have anywhere we could park our RV on-site but RV parks were much closer and less expensive than Tempe. Our sales were surprisingly consistent each day, less than a $10 difference for each day and definitely our best Sunday we had in AZ.

Crowds were fairly large for this event, we did seem to have more “sticker shock” at our prices at this show than our other AZ shows, but still achieved much more reasonable sales for 3 day event. Weather was better than Tempe, but still chilly for most Tucson area folks. Other artists told us that by 9 AM the streets were usually packed, not so this year, seemed like everyone was off to a slower start due to staying home until it warmed up. All 3 days the high temps were in the mid-60’s.

With the best sales and highest profit numbers of our 3 shows, this is one we definitely want to try again.

And with that, it's a wrap on 2013. We're now looking forward to our first Christmas in the desert, loving this sunshine and not missing the gray of Seattle in December at all!!

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Comment by merritt m menefee-johnson on December 23, 2013 at 5:30pm

I second everything Ruth said...I also participate in all 3 shows...and this is an honest and exact review. 

Fountain hills has no street lights...is extremely windy...and generally no one tells you to move yourself 5 feet out from the curb...it's dark to set up and dark to tear down.  We all look like miners with our head lamps blinding each other. sales were "okay".  patrons seem to like to buy from those they've seen before...and trying to keep in the same location from show to show is key.  Ruth's review is right on.  Also, this is not a ZAPP application show...it's very low tech...and our invites are mailed.

Tempe sales were much better than for me than Fountain Hills Chamber show...but not by much.  Ruth's review is right on.  I think the PAC game hurt attendance because of a fear of parking/costs.

Tucson show is my most favorite show and the reason I keep participating...but there are less artists than Tempe's show, which I think helps spread the love around a little more.  I should share that this show stinks so I have less competition...but...I love it.  Even though I pay for meals, travel, hotel...it's always a pleasure participating. 

Comment by Ruth Finkenbiner on December 20, 2013 at 4:20pm

@Gloria - yes, the small dusting of snow was  beautiful, never expected that in southern AZ.  I knew Northern AZ would be snowy and cold, but didn't know enough about this area to anticipate that for the Tucson area.

@ Gary & Maureen - loving this lifestyle and overal finding it far less stressful and less expensive than having a house with a huge yard to care for, plus when we don't like an area or get an crazy idea to explore somewhere new, it's a quick decision to pack up and move on.  Not sure about Florida shows yet, I hear so much about the market being saturated but there's certainly the appeal of warmer weather than we've experienced in AZ. Florida's not in the plans for this winter, we have some family things that will stop us in TX and OK for the spring and then we'll be headed (slowly) back to the NW again for the summer via California and a few shows along the way.

Comment by Gary & Maureen Shull on December 20, 2013 at 11:45am

We're so glad to hear you're enjoying the full-timer lifestyle.  We tow a mini-van behind our motorhome, and leave the RV parked like you do. We've traveled the whole US this way and have thoroughly enjoyed it.  Any plans to come to Florida?

Comment by Gloria Isackson on December 20, 2013 at 11:25am
Ruth, are you enjoying our rain today? The mountains are beautiful with the snow on the tops!
Comment by Ruth Finkenbiner on December 20, 2013 at 11:00am

Connie - our load in / load out vehicle is our only vehicle, a F450 DRW, so very large pick up truck, but certainly not as big as those that have the box trucks or tow large trailers.

We only had 12 shows this year, less than we've done in a very long time, but with all the house selling activity and other truck issues there were 2 we had to cancel and others that we chose not to apply for knowing our schedule wasn't going to work.   We're not missing the fall / winter shows in the Pacific NW, we're planning to be back up there for June - August next summer to participate in our favorite shows up there.

We move the RV between shows and find cool places to hang out in between, here's a pic of this week's "home base".

Comment by Connie Mettler on December 19, 2013 at 9:09pm

Great wrap up, Ruth. Lots of useful and helpful details. I'm thinking your focus on loading in and out has to do with what you are driving? Right? and what is that? I've never been to any of these shows. I knew they were big, but that is a lot of artists hanging out in Arizona.

Do you have a base that you are operating out of or do you move your RV from show to show? How many new shows did you do this year and are you missing the NW?

Comment by Ruth Finkenbiner on December 18, 2013 at 6:50pm

@S Brian - yes shorts and flip flops for a while on Thanksgiving day, but definitely not at Tempe.  We were wondering why I had decided to pack my boots when we packed the RV and sold the house, I was so happy to have those boots, that was  very chilly show.  We did the FH Chamber of Commerce show.

@ Brian Billings - sorry I didn't get to meet you, I walked by your booth on Friday but you weren't there at the time and that was the only day I did much walking around the show.

Comment by Brian Billings on December 18, 2013 at 4:07pm

@ S Brian, 2d does horrible at Fountain Hills chamber show. The crowd is mostly 70+ and they like to pick up small things for the grand kids.

Comment by S Brian Berkun on December 18, 2013 at 3:47pm

Shorts and Flip-Flops? You guys must be part of the "Polar Bear Club"! LOL!  I don't imagine you did that in Tempe, it was down right cold there over the weekend. Based on your reports I may bag Tempe and just go to Tucson. Which Fountain Hills show did you do? Chamber of Commerce or Thunderbirds? Cheers

Comment by Gloria Isackson on December 18, 2013 at 2:01pm
Ruth, happy to hear that sales improved after I came through and introduced myself! Hope to see you I again soon!

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