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Calgary Expo – The Wrap-Up 2019

The Calgary Expo wrapped up on Sunday and it was one of the most unique and unexpected results in the six years I’ve done this show.

At the beginning of the weekend, I was thinking this might be my last one and said as much in my previous blog post. While I stand by all I said in the most recent post, and there is a lot of room for improvement on the part of the organizers, I had great sales. With just a couple more prints out the door, I would have beaten 2017, which was my best year.

So, on that front, I’m very pleased with the results.

Let’s start with what I didn’t like about this year’s event.

Informa, the company that now owns the Calgary Expo cast out the soul of this show, in my opinion. Plenty of people I spoke with, both vendors and attendees had choice words to describe the shortcomings. The attendees weren’t happy with the guests this year. Sure, they had Michael J. Fox and the Back to the Future cast, but they had them last year, too, except Fox had to cancel, so it was almost a repeat. Other than that, only one or two I spoke with were excited to see some of the other guests.

Communication in the run-up to the show was poor, especially compared to their predecessors. I could elaborate at length, but it would be boring. Let’s just say they’ve got nowhere to go but up. Clearly efforts to slash costs, a lot of little corners were cut.

There were quite a few empty booths at the show this year, so much so that I know quite a few vendors who got to expand their own space into the empty areas beside them. That’s unheard of for this show, but since I was one of those who got to add two feet to my booth and have some storage beside it, I was happy to take advantage. A number of vendors told me that this was their last year. Some attendees said the same.

The weather. This one is just bad luck, nobody’s fault, springtime in Alberta, what are you going to do? Saturday is traditionally the busiest day and we got walloped by a BIG snowstorm. Shonna usually drives in from Canmore for the day to help me out on Saturday, but since the weather was accurately forecast, I called her that morning from the hotel and told her not to come. It just wasn’t worth the risk.

It was a good call.

She would have been driving home right around the time that buses, semis and cars were careening into the ditch on the Trans-Canada. They closed the highway as a result. Walking the six blocks back to my hotel that evening was an adventure, horizontal snow and stinging wind, right in the face. I took a cab back the next day as I couldn’t roll my little suitcase through the snow and the sidewalks were skating rinks.

With people heading home to beat the storm, it got real quiet the last couple of hours on Saturday. That no doubt hurt sales, but they were still quite good.

The upside? There was plenty of that, too.

My booth location was the best I’ve had. I was right by a main entrance to the other building, a perimeter thoroughfare close to the exit from the Corral where the events were held. I really couldn’t have picked a better spot. No doubt that contributed to my great sales. Last year, some of my regular customers had a hard time finding me. This year, quite a few said I was one of the first booths they saw.

The vendors around me contribute a lot to the experience. When setting up, tearing down, when it’s slow, or you just need someone to talk to, the people around you can make it very dull or really fun. This year, it was most definitely the latter. My neighbours were all talented artists, each with their own unique styles. More than a few times, we were crying from making each other laugh.

It’s always great to see vendors I’ve known for years as well. When they found out I was alone, one couple came by a few times on Saturday and Sunday to watch my booth so I could take quick bathroom breaks. I had brought plenty of good food and could steal quick bites at the booth, but getting away was tough. So that thoughtful courtesy was greatly appreciated.

Patrick, Dani, Jamie, Marvin, Sebastian, Brock, April, if you’re reading this, thanks for making a tiring weekend a lot more fun.

The new product was well received and it was great to have such a variety to share. In addition to the usual prints and canvas, quite a few magnets, coasters, calendars and aluminum art pieces went home with customers and many remarked on the great quality of the goods from Pacific Music and Art. Quite a few people mentioned they’re seeing my stuff in different places, too, a result of that new license. One man said he recently saw a display of my work in The Banff Springs Hotel. I’m looking forward to checking that out.

Last, but certainly not least, I enjoy the people who come to see my funny looking animals.

There are so many return customers who buy my prints year after year, some who rival my parents in how many prints they have and they keep coming back. Many of them follow my newsletter and gave me positive feedback about videos I’ve recorded, stuff I’ve written about, told me animals they’d like me to paint, and were just great to talk with, often more than once over the weekend. More than a few of them greeted me with warm handshakes, hugs and big smiles.

It’s a pet peeve of mine that I’m so good at remembering faces, but not names, even though they all forgive me for it every year. As they’re fresh in my mind right now, I could run down a list of people I was happy to see again, but that might invade their privacy and I would invariably leave some out.

If any of you are reading this, hopefully I adequately conveyed my great appreciation for your continued support when I saw you in person. And even when you run out of wall space, as some of you have and many are close, please continue to come by and say Hello. A purchase is not required.

You are the best part of my Calgary Expo experience.

As the price of booth rental only went up a little, and I was guaranteed my same booth space if I renewed at the show, I put down the deposit for next year with hopeful, but realistic expectations.

My neighbour Jamie put it well when he said that our current Expo grievances, while well founded, might also be a simple case of resistance to change. Nothing stays the same and even though there’s plenty with which we’re not happy, there’s still good reason to hang on a little longer and see how it turns out, give Informa and Fan Expo the opportunity to listen to the complaints and try to make things right.

I’m willing to take that chance, at least one more time.

Cheers,
Patrick

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The Start of Calgary Expo 2019

If you’ve followed my work for any length of time, you already know that the Calgary Expo has been my biggest undertaking of the year for the past six years. For people who do trade or gift shows on a regular basis, this sort of thing is routine, so the big deal I make about it each year seems like nothing to them. If I did these sort of shows a lot, I would easily see it from their perspective, but it’s not just the show that’s a challenge, it’s getting away FOR the show.

As half of my business is editorial cartooning, which requires following the news for  a living and producing satirical illustrated commentary almost every day, taking five days away to focus on this show is more difficult than getting away for a vacation. My newspapers still have to be covered and when I get home exhausted late Sunday night, I’ll still be up at 5am on Monday morning drawing cartoons.

Managing the logistics to prep for this show is a lot of work because I also have to keep my papers supplied with cartoons while I’m away, which means drawing more in the week before and hoping no news of great importance breaks while I’m gone, because I can’t just abandon my booth or drive back to Canmore to get a cartoon done in between the show hours.

I’m also an introvert who spends most of time working alone in the comfort of my home, so this event takes a lot out of me, having to be ON for five days, surrounded by a lot of people.

That being said, it’s usually a fun show. Once I’m there, I really do enjoy it, even though Sunday will be a very long slog of a day. I rarely encounter somebody at this show who doesn’t want to be there and few who aren’t having a good time. Each year, my booth gets better, I learn something new for the next go ’round and streamline the process.

I recorded a video this past weekend which showed the booth set up in my garage, offered some thoughts on why I set things up the way I do, and shared it with my newsletter audience. You can watch it here if you like.

Here are some images of the prep this week. Beginning with the two sides of the booth set up in the garage, this is something I do every year to make things easier when I’m on site. With no time pressure, I’m free to leave it set up for a couple of days, nitpicking print placement and trying different things. Then I take photos of the setup and refer to it when I’m on site.


Once I’m happy with it, I pack it all up, go over the checklist and have it all together in one pile, ready to load. The snowshoes stay home.

My trusty Pontiac Vibe may not be the most flashy or cool car around, but you can sure put a lot into it. The cargo capacity on this thing is impressive. There are two six foot tables in here, four 2′ X 6′ pieces of gridwall, two 1′ X 6′ pieces of gridwall and everything you see above. That being said, there is no room for anything else.

“Is there a problem, Officer?”

Once on site Wednesday, I set it all up, made everything nice and tidy, ensured the lights were working, in order to leave as little work for myself as possible when I returned on Thursday.

All that remained was to hang the canvas and aluminum, put the prints in the bins, the magnets on the board, the floor down and turn on the lights. It took about an hour yesterday to finish getting it show ready, the result below.

As I’m writing this in my hotel room Friday morning after the first evening, I was pleased with the first day’s sales, all things considered.

On the positive side of things, quite a few of my repeat customers I’ve gotten to know over the years came by to add to their collections and just to chat and catch up. That really is my favorite part of this show. Some of these people have been buying my work since my first year and I’m always grateful for their support. When more than a few customers greet you with a hug, you’re doing something right.

That being said, there is initially a different feel this year, confirmed by my fellow vendors and some attendees I know pretty well. It doesn’t appear that they sold out of exhibitor space this year which is a bad sign. Usually this show is FULL early on. There used to be a long waiting list.

This year, there’s actual empty space between some booths, you can see that in my above photo. When I arrived on Thursday, my neighbour on the right side of the pic had moved closer to me and said I could take advantage of it as well. I moved my far wall another two feet.

Having extra space at Expo is bizarre. We’re usually fighting for every inch. I know a couple of other vendors in the hall who had the same luxury.

Fan Expo bought the Calgary Expo a couple of years back and while changes were evident last year, the old familiar faces were still around and on the team. I haven’t seen anyone in administration that I recognize this year, so clearly they were obligated to be part of last year’s transition. In my opinion, it was those hardworking folks who made this con what it is and set the tone for the culture.

While clearly a commercial venture on all sides, there was always a feeling that we were all in this together, vendors and organizers. I’ve seen no evidence that exists any longer. Even the announcers sound bored.

Fan Expo (a subsidiary of Informa Exhibitions) doesn’t seem to be popular with the fans. At one time, I had considered doing the Edmonton, Regina and Vancouver Expos, but vendors talk with each other and there’s no incentive for me to give that any more thought. Many have become dissatisfied with those experiences and are abandoning them.

While my sales Thursday night were good, comparable with last year, I credit that to my great location on a main thoroughfare near an entrance, because there were noticeably fewer people in attendance. Thursday is usually quieter anyway, but this was the quietest I’ve ever seen.

Rumblings among the vendors is that the best days of the Calgary Expo might be behind us. One of my close friends, Michelle, a loyal Expo attendee, decided to skip this year. I’ve heard a couple of my neighbouring vendors say that this is their last year and depending on how the weekend goes, we’ll see how I feel about rebooking when Sunday comes.

If this good thing does come to an end and I bid farewell to the Calgary Expo, I’ll be disappointed, just as I was when I stopped attending Photoshop World for very similar reasons. But hanging on, expecting it to become what it used to be would be myopic, foolish and just bad business.

That being said, I still plan to have a good time this weekend, try my best to help others do the same, and I look forward to meeting and greeting my customers, both old and new.

Cheers,
Patrick

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