Have a Great Weekend

The streets are full of Girl Scout Cookies tables, and the mailbox is full of seed catalogs. In addition, the North American Reptile Breeders Conference show runs in Arlington this weekend (I’ll be out there early on Saturday, as an attendee and not as a vendor). Yep, it’s time for my favorite gardening song:

Show Advice: The Costs of Doing Business

(Note: with the 2018 Triffid Ranch show season getting ready to start, a lot of bystanders and longtime customers interested in starting their own small businesses ask for advice and recommendations about attending and selling at shows. While asking me for business advice is comparable to asking Jeffrey Dahmer for tips on vegan recipes, these ruminations might be of some entertainment value, especially among those thinking about jumping into the show circuit.)

As of this coming May, the Texas Triffid Ranch celebrates ten years since it went live, and nothing over the intervening decade was as good a teacher as doing lots and lots of shows in various venues. It originally started with comic and science fiction conventions, and moved over to various craft fairs and art shows for years before everything moved to the first gallery in 2015. Lots of little shows helped nail down what works and what doesn’t: the items that clear out within the first ten minutes and the ones that don’t move at all, the displays and support gear that knocked everyone’s socks off and the ones that really needed to be thrown in the trash before the show. A book on camping that I owned when I was a kid recommended that beginning backpackers should make lots of local trips, then deliberate as to what they should bring with them after they get back. The phrase “every ounce that you didn’t need feels like a pound when you’re on the trail” applies equally well to everything that needs to be loaded and unloaded at a show location, especially if you’re the only one doing the heavy lifting and you can’t get your cart close enough to where it all has to go. The experiences and occasional scars lead to sometimes great after-show stories (I have friends at Texas Frightmare Weekend who still call me “Sparky” after my truck was struck by lightning before one show), but they also explain the occasional winces when someone asks “So, have you considered vending at (fill in the blank) show?”

It’s a very valid question, and one that’s asked all of the time. Sometimes it’s asked by bystanders who don’t want to purchase something right then who hope to snag it at the next show. Sometimes it’s asked by someone who came across a mention of a new event seeking vendors to fill a dealer’s room, or a pop-up show looking for something different. Many times, it’s asked by customers far enough away from Dallas that they’d be willing to travel to a halfway point, and other times by those who’d just love to see the plants in their own home towns. It’s the next question after answering “No,” “Why?”, that’s the entertaining one.

The reason for the entertainment is because no one answer applies, and each vendor answers it differently. Sometimes it’s because the show has bad timing with other events, sometimes it’s due to logistics such as access to transport or parking, and sometimes it’s because the vendor had such a horrible experience at a previous show that bankruptcy and homelessness are preferable to setting up another booth at the next one. A lot of times, though, it’s purely a matter of economics: unless a vendor is in his/her business solely as charity, the basic idea of being a vendor at a show or event is to try to make more money by the end of a show than what the vendor started with at the beginning. Even if the vendor IS a charity, the idea is to get more of a return, either by reaching more people or more unquantifiable reasons, than the vendor would get by staying home and slamming his/her head in a car door. Figuring out which shows and events are amenable to these needs and which ones don’t have any compatibility is a skill that has to be learned, usually from years of experience.

To start, let’s define why a vendor wants to go to a particular show, and vice versa. The motivations for the vendor were just mentioned, so let’s take a look at the venue. Some shows are nothing more than markets: the organizers rent or otherwise utilize an otherwise unused space, indoors and/or outdoors, and rent individual spaces to the vendors and anybody else willing to put down the money. These may or may not charge an entry fee to attendees who want to come in and look around. Some are tied to a charity or other nonprofit organization, where in addition to charging for vendor booths, vendors may be asked to give a percentage of their final sales. Others offer vendor spaces as a way to pay for other programming: a great example is with literary conventions, where fees for vendor spaces help pay for spaces for author readings, signings, and other activities. A real cynic would bring up the shows that are intended as private parties for the organization staff, where the only reason anyone else is allowed entry is to pay for the beer, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

While we’re at it, it’s time to bring up something that should be absolutely clear: the reasons for attendees to go to an event aren’t the same as for vendors, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Without fail, when anyone asks a vendor about setting up a booth at a show that didn’t work out that well, an explanation of the why gets at least one utterly enraged person whining “Well, I liked it!”, as if that neutralizes any of the vendor’s issues. It’s GREAT that you had the time of your life at a show, that you encountered the experience or the person that completely changed your world, or even that you found someone willing to take your extensive 35-year collection of Chuck E. Cheese game tokens. You’re coming in for an experience to take you away from daily concerns: for us, it’s work. (This is why most vendors will gracefully bow out of going to parties or any activity other than a medically induced coma after shutting down for the night. We’ve all been “on” all day or night, and while we love you all, all most of us want to do is sit someplace quiet with a drink of choice in hand and an hour or so of down time before going to bed.)

Let’s start with a breakdown of costs, to help explain which events make sense and which ones don’t. Above everything else is the basic fee for setting up at an event or convention, the shorthand for which is “Booth”. The Euclidean ideal of Booth is a space, usually 10 feet by 10 feet (the average floor area of a show tent) in which a vendor can put up tables, shelves, displays, and everything else needed with which to conduct business, and everything else is incidental. Many shows include a table and two chairs as part of Booth, some include electricity or wifi access, and others charge fees for everything other than the floor space. The prices are also wildly variable, depending upon the venue, any support required to set up, and the intended audience. Some shows offer discounted rates for educators or artists, but also segregate the discount spaces from the main vendor area and refer to the space as “Artist’s Alley.” Either way, if you hear a vendor bragging about how “I made Booth about an hour after we opened,” that means the vendor sold enough in an hour to cover the cost of the space and everything provided as part of the booth fee. As a general rule, the booth fee has to be paid long before the vendor can set up, and walking in and telling the management “I’ll pay you with the money I make at the show” usually gets a response of roaring laughter or short gestures with a taser.

Sidenote: To make sure that the vendors at a festival or show offer products that match the theme or tone, those events may need to prescreen applicants before allowing them in. Since this requires a staff to go through applications and determine who fits the show theme and who is showing up with a big crate of flea market vacuum cleaners (and don’t laugh: I’ve seen it) before any ill will starts between vendors, expenses have to be covered. Smaller shows roll those expenditures into the booth fee, but larger ones that have to sift through thousands of applicants may charge an application fee. More often than not, that fee is nonrefundable, but it’s also a small fraction of the price of a booth. If the application and fee go in and the jury decides that your booth is essential, then and only then does an invoice for payment go out. This is why having a separate bank account for business makes sense: keeping booth and application fees in the business account means that the fee money isn’t grabbed by accident to pay personal expenditures, and show management really like the vendors who can pay for their spaces nearly immediately instead of after multiple reminders.

Sidenote two: As with application fees, some fees and donations are completely acceptable in the business, but might be a dealbreaker for some vendors. For instance, many shows run by nonprofits may request a donation of an individual item or service for a raffle or auction, or a percentage of total sales over a day or weekend, with the proceeds going to the show. Just make sure that the event has clear wording on whether unsold donations are kept or given back to the vendor: a big first-time show of my acquaintance last year decided to host an art show full of solicited artworks, where the organizers assumed, “because that’s how it’s always been done,” that they kept all unsold artwork for themselves. One show of my acquaintance has a non-refundable “preference fee,” where paying the fee encourages the vendor’s room organizers to give preference for particular locations, but it’s not a guarantee. Likewise, although this has only happened to me once, any mention of an additional deposit to be refunded at the end of the show is a big screaming red sign warning “the only way we can keep vendors from packing up early and leaving on Friday evening is by holding their deposits hostage, because that’s the only money they’ll be getting the whole weekend.” If a proviso in an event sounds suspicious or otherwise dubious, such as one show that not only charged for booth space but required a $1 million insurance policy against possible damages (and the number isn’t a typo), bail if you feel uncomfortable making the expenditure.

Now we get into incidental expenditures, which are only incidental compared to booth fees. Unless you live literally next door to the venue, you’ll need some sort of transport to get inventory and displays to the venue location. Starting out, a car may work, but rapidly a larger vehicle becomes essential, and it’s completely your choice as to whether you buy it or rent it. Renting a van or truck makes more sense if you have fewer big shows in a year, but the convenience of not having to worry about depreciation and maintenance is offset in being charged by the mile and/or the day and whether the day of your show coincides with every apartment dweller in your neighborhood needing to move. (Very seriously, should you go for rental vehicles, reserve your chosen vehicle early, and always budget about three times as much time as you think you’ll need for setup and teardown.) Do you have a cart or dolly to haul heavy stuff to the booth location, or will everything you plan to sell fit into containers you can haul yourself? An equally important question: do you have someone who loves you enough to help you set up and break down without thought of compensation, or will you have to pay for assistance, both in compensation and in event passes? If the venue doesn’t include electricity or wifi access as part of Booth, these are usually covered as separate charges, and their use depends upon how badly you need lights or video displays. (With a lot of hotels, the electrical fees can be almost as high as the booth fee, and a disturbing number of hotels still charge for wifi as if it’s still the 20th Century. You laugh, but being stuck in a hotel banquet room where the manager has an illegal jammer for hotspots and charges $75 per day for slow and spotty access is something that still happens.) Local shows mean being able to sleep in your own bed and bring your own lunch, so consider hotel and food costs if you’re doing one out of town. And with outdoor events, you’d best have some kind of tent or other shelter, and tents of a suitable size can be expensive. Add all of this up with the booth fee, and this gives you the absolute bare minimum you need to make in sales before you break even.

Since we’ve covered costs, let’s look at time. Assuming that you’re a small vendor who still has to work a day job to pay bills, a remotely busy show schedule burns through accumulated vacation and personal time before  you know it, and every unpaid day spent at a show means a bigger chunk of disposable income gone if the show is slow. Don’t measure time just on days, either: there are the hours spent getting to and from the location, the hours unloading and setting up, the minutes spent trying to locate something that you SWORE you packed up before you left, the seconds of life left to the person trying to encourage you to take a chance on another show by shoving aside a customer just about ready to buy…it all adds up. Does the event location allow you to have a reasonably leisurely setup, or do you have to get everything in and at the booth within a half-hour or so? Is the loading ramp on the other side of the building from the booth location, and will you have to pass through crowds to get to it? If the event is outside, will you have paved spaces over which you can haul your stuff, or is the main area a combination of grass and mud? If you need a tent for an outdoor show, how much time do you need for tent setup and securing before the event starts, and can you drive your vehicle directly to the spot or will you have to haul tent and all across pavement or mud? And when breaking down at the end of a show, is that on a tight timeline, or will yours be laborious enough that letting the quick packers leave first makes more sense? This may sound pedantic, but a show that runs late on a Sunday and requires an extra four hours to get home and unpack might require taking Monday off as well to recuperate, and you have to decide if that’s worth the return.

Another aspect of time: how can that time be best used? Because of the rather limited belts of clement weather in Dallas before and after summer, a lot of unrelated events get scheduled for the same weekends, and determining which ones are worth choosing is usually gained from experience. For instance, let’s start with the assumption that Event A is a three-day event while Event B is a one-day event. On its face, a longer duration suggests that Event A might draw more attendees, but then consider that Event A is a three-hour drive away while Event B is literally down the road. Alternately, Event A very peripherally connects to your inventory and what your company is about, while Company B is loaded with exactly the sort of potential customers you’ve dreamt about your entire life.  And then there are the other factors, such as your inventory being perishable or living: can you risk being caught in a traffic jam in the middle of summer heat and an inadequate truck air conditioner? Do you need special permits to bring your inventory across state lines? Or, and there’s no delicate way of putting it, does the event have any indications that it’s overinflating the number of projected attendees, or that it’s going to have huge numbers but attendees who come out with one shirt and one $5 bill and don’t change either for the entire weekend?

Finally, the last big factor that every vendor should consider is experience. Every year, any number of organizations decide to start a big event and solicit vendors and attendees, and some of these events may turn out to be blowout extravaganzas sung about in myth and legend. Others fall flat on their faces due to poor organization or sometimes just bad timing. Even the successful ones may not get a second year due to logistical issues or an inability to find a suitable venue. Since blowout and dud shows can be indistinguishable a week before opening, experienced vendors tend to be leery of first-year events, and are much more likely to pay for booth space the next year, after they’ve compared notes with the people with spaces from the year before. (This isn’t completely dependable: certain sleazy operators are known for buying the names of shows where the previous organizers had to drop out of the business, pitching the new show to vendors on the reputation of the previous organizers, and refusing to honor any of the contractually obligated commitments promised. One show here in Dallas runs every few years under a brand new name, so as to avoid online search results, because the organizers know that the vendors don’t sell a thing but the organizers need the booth fees to pay for the after-show staff party.) It can be a hard thing to turn down what appears to be on paper a sure-thing first-year convention or festival, but from long experience, I’ve had fewer regrets on passing on excellent shows than celebrations on dodging bullets.

Is this everything? Not in the slightest. This hasn’t even touched on how to know when to cut your losses on a formerly successful show, at what times it’s best to ignore “being professional” and pack up before the show is over, or what to do when a show organizer simply won’t take “no” for an answer and keeps pushing to get you to register for a show when you’ve repeatedly declined. However, after considering these factors, when a vendor begs off repeated requests of “So why aren’t you at this show?”, the points already shared explain why.

Have A Great Weekend

Date Night at the Triffid Ranch starts on Saturday, but until then:

Show Advice: The Essentials

(Note: with the 2018 Triffid Ranch show season getting ready to start, a lot of bystanders and longtime customers interested in starting their own small businesses ask for advice and recommendations about attending and selling at shows. While asking me for business advice is comparable to asking Jeffrey Dahmer for tips on vegan recipes, these ruminations might be of some entertainment value, especially among those thinking about jumping into the show circuit.)

It’s every beginning vendor’s lament: why isn’t there just one kit available with all of the stuff I need to start selling my stuff at a show? It’s bad enough to discover all the things you should have had ready for your first show, but it’s even more embarrassing to discover that item or service that you absolutely needed for the fifth or twentieth show. “Worse” is discovering, long after you’d despaired and kludged together something that performs a very specific function, that someone else had a perfect solution that you didn’t know about because you weren’t asking the right questions. It doesn’t get any better as time goes on, either: consider the number of old-school vendors who purchased halogen lighting around 2002 for suitable light for ceramics or jewelry, who now grind teeth on LED kits selling for a fraction of their paid price, using a fraction of the power, and producing a tiny fraction of the ambient heat.

The reason that nobody makes an all-in-one beginner’s show kit, aside from an issue of units moved, is that every vendor has specific needs that a generic kit won’t fill. A glassworker will share certain bits of show equipment with a jeweler, but possibly more with a potter or a blacksmith, and probably very little with a painter or someone offering unique beef jerky. Needs change based both on increased inventory and on changing markets: aside from the halogen lights mentioned above, what may have been an essential item a decade ago might be pointless to carry today. (For instance, when I started selling plants a decade ago, I regularly brought out a small bookcase, full of various new and used books that applied to the subject at hand. Three years later, I left the bookcase at home for good because of Amazon and the then-new habit of customers scanning a cover and making a purchase online. I still make book recommendations, but the weight of the books and the bulkiness of the bookcase soon became more effort than they returned.) However, the need for a recommendations list still applies, and the organization of my list of recommendations comes from a rather unorthodox source.

For those who aren’t classic Volkswagen enthusiasts, one of the classic guides to Volkswagen repair and maintenance is the very thorough, very detailed, and very funny book How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive by John Muir. The pertinent aspect we need to focus on is that Muir broke down tool kits and collections into three categories. Type 1 tools were the ones any Volkswagen driver should have in the vehicle at all times, no matter what. Type 2 tools are ones that should be in the vehicle if possible, but absolutely should be available at home for more advanced repairs. The Type 3 toolkit was a collection of items that may not be necessary for emergency repairs, but that the Volkswagen addict would need for tuneups, overhauls, and extensive modifications. You didn’t need a Type 3 kit in the back of your 1973 Superbeetle for an everyday commute, but combining all three toolkits took care of pretty much everything that might go wrong with an air-cooled engine.

With this inspiration, a decade of Triffid Ranch shows hasn’t come across the full spectrum of possible necessities, but that decade managed to sift through “a lot of weight to haul around for something that gets used maybe once per year,” “nice to have,: and “I’ll set your grandmother on fire if you try to steal mine” items and accessories. Much like the aforementioned Volkswagen tools, this guide breaks them down into Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3 accessories. These include:

Type 1 Toolkit – Essential At All Times

A dependable credit card reader or POS (point of sale) system: Cash may still be king, but the introduction of Square and other mobile credit card processing apps immediately changed the game for most vendors: it meant being able to take credit card payments without expensive and irritating credit card processing systems. Fifteen years ago, anybody setting up a business license or applying for a tax ID number in the States was hounded for years with random unsolicited phone calls about purchasing credit card readers that may or may not have been legitimate, but Square and Paypal killed that market. (Imagine that.) Today, most attendees at any event you can imagine will tell you “I just don’t carry cash any more,” and any purchase that requires cash is probably one that won’t happen. If you can afford to have 40 to 60 percent of your potential sales walk off because you can’t or won’t process credit cards, knock yourself out, but everybody else this far into the 21st Century will have some kind of card reader and software ready to take that payment. Pick the card processing service you like the most, but pick one, preferably one with a reader that can process chipped cards, and have it handy for all shows. Later, if you have enough items that you need to track incoming and outgoing inventory, a point of sale system will make you and your tax accountant very happy, but worry about being able to process purchases before you worry about tracking them.

A cash box and sufficient change: Although paying by card is more and more of a standard, never, ever pass up any cash thrown in your direction. This requires (a) enough change to break larger bills and (b) a lockable and securable box to hold that change. Depending upon the size of the show, that means both making change for innumerable transactions under $20 and the occasional big transaction requiring more than $15 in change in return. Make sure that this box can be kept secure so that it can’t be snatched if your back is turned, nor set underneath a table or boxes to where reaching it is inconvenient. While I won’t tell you how much change you need, make a fair assessment on your inventory (most items under $15 will be paid for in cash) and bring at least twice to three times what you think you’ll need, in both bills and coins. Any excess in change at the end of a show is just that much more change that won’t have to be collected before the next one. Also, if you are selling in a state that charges sales tax, make sure not only to have enough coinage to handle a day’s transactions, but purchase a sales tax calculation card so you don’t have to punch the final amount into a calculator with every transaction.

Sidenote: everyone who has ever worked retail will tell you about That Guy who walks in right at opening and tries to pay for some tiny item with a $100 bill. You are not obligated to give up all of your change because he didn’t want to get his bill broken beforehand, and point out that you may not have any way to get change for anybody else. If this happens often enough, or if you have concerns that these are attempts to get rid of counterfeit bills, feel free to display a sign reading “We Cannot Give Change For Any Bills Above $X.”

All necessary permits and IDs: This category depends upon federal and state law and municipal ordinances at a show location, and requires research that depends upon what is being sold and where. DO NOT SKIMP ON THIS RESEARCH. At the bare minimum, in the US, register for a state tax ID number long before your first show, and keep a copy of the tax ID with you at all times. A tax ID confers a lot of privileges in most states, such as being able to purchase wholesale inventory, but it’s also vital for both state income and sales taxes. (For instance, here in Texas, residents do not pay a state income tax, but pay a state sales tax on most items purchased within Texas. Oregon has exactly the opposite situation, with a state income tax but no sales tax.) Since all businesses selling items within Texas are expected to collect and pay sales tax, tax agents can and will hold event organizers responsible for allowing sales without that remittance, so most events require proof of tax ID before vendors can start setting up. This also applies to food, alcohol, or other perishable permits, additional handling permits for restricted items, inspection tags, and anything else that may be regulated in the state in which you’re operating. If the cost of those permits is higher than the potential return on sales, then you might want to reconsider exactly how badly you want to do the show.

Sidenote: For a very long time, many movie and television intellectual property holders looked the other way when various small vendors offered products that infringed upon copyright law, partly because tracking down infringers wasn’t worth the time and partly because sales of little handmade items were seen as encouraging sales of larger and more expensive licensed items. Those days are as dead as Fotomats and milk delivery. IP agents can and will drop by shows and conventions and drop off cease & desist orders against individuals selling items that use the agents’ parent company’s intellectual property without compensation. The good news is that if you’re serious about a particular product, many IP holders are willing to negotiate licenses based upon expected sales: for decades, plastic and resin model kit manufacturers have worked with movie and TV studios on official licensed products that trade a very low licensing price in exchange for not being able to use the actual property name. If you get a license under those terms, bring that paperwork with you to be able to show any agents asking about your permissions to sell a particular item. Just don’t be surprised that arguing about the invalidity of copyright law with bootleg toys, clothing, music, or sculptures won’t go very far.

A dependable, sturdy cart and/or handcart: These come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but pick one based on the needs of your inventory and displays, as well as accessibility in elevators and in narrow hallways, and be reminded of the adage “Cheap is expensive.” If you can, spend the extra money and buy one with pneumatic tires. Hard rubber tires are okay on hard, smooth surfaces such as hotel hallways, but they always manage to get caught in tracks and elevator floors, and they’re nightmarish on irregular surfaces such as unpaved lots or trails. Much like discovering exactly how many inclines your “flat” neighborhood has once you start bicycling it instead of driving, hard cart wheels let you learn exactly how irregular and gravel-strewn that allegedly immaculate roadway or parking garage really is. Spend the money to get a good cart, because there’s no guarantee that the event location will have any to borrow (a lot of hotels are banning the use of luggage carts by event vendors, because they tend to disappear for the entire weekend and hotel guests can’t access them), and treat that cart as if your liver is strapped to the underside. That means respecting it and not bashing it around because you can, making sure the wheels are properly inflated (get a good bicycle pump, and not one of the bike-kit pumps intended to strap onto your bike, unless you like sitting around for the next three hours pumping up a flat or underinflated tire), and never EVER lending it to someone you don’t know who just needs to borrow it “for just a minute; I can pay you!” Even if you get it back, which isn’t always a guarantee, you have no guarantee that you won’t get it back damaged or demolished. If you trust someone enough to lend a cart, get something as collateral that requires that person to come back, such as car keys or at least two children. Anything else, and it’ll walk because “what I left is worth more than the cart,” and you still need that cart to haul your stuff back when the show is done.

Sturdy storage tubs: If you’re just starting off and can’t afford anything else, you can squeak by a few shows with those cheap Rubbermaid tubs intended for longterm storage of Christmas ornaments. If the total weight of items in each tub exceeds 10 kilos, you need lots of packing to protect fragile items, or if the items need to be protected from weather extremes, spend the extra money for locking, stackable storage tubs. Those Rubbermaid Christmas tubs can’t handle larger or bulkier contents for very long, they have a real problem with cracking or rupturing when used often, and stacking them with any significant weight in the upper tubs means that the lower ones probably will be flattened by the time you get to your destination. Stacking tubs means increasing the amount of inventory you can bring to a show that can be fitted into a vehicle, and tops that lock onto the tub mean that contents won’t go bouncing out if your vehicle hits a pothole. Most importantly, don’t even think of using cardboard boxes unless you like playing with cardboard slurry when setting up or breaking down in the middle of a thunderstorm. You may think it won’t happen to you: I thought the same before getting caught in a near-tornado in Fort Worth and watching fellow vendors make frantic dashes to their vehicles with containers that fell apart in their hands.

Pens, pencils, and Sharpie markers: You don’t have to go crazy with different varieties of pens and pencils, and you don’t absolutely have to buy pens and pencils with your contact information on it, but you WILL need some sort of writing implement at all times. It’s not just for you writing down essential information for transfer to more permanent media: it’s for others either getting information from you or giving it to you. Throw at least a pair of permanent markers (I recommend Sharpies, but I also recommend checking them on a regular basis both for ink flow and for unmashed tips), for marking packages, bags, and wayward children.

Flyers, postcards, and other physical media with your contact information:  You’d think that in the days of the internet, physical media wouldn’t be necessary. Put up a URL or QC code on a banner, and you’re golden, right? That argument is complete garbage for two reasons. The first is that while people are more and more likely to take a photo of a URL than in times past, that’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to read the final photo. “Vern, is that an ‘l’ or an ‘i’?”The second is that it might not be accessed in the first place. The best way to prevent that worry is to make sure you have plenty of physical media with your contact information. I am perpetually surprised at the number of vendors at shows who think that ripping up a sheet of lined spiral notebook paper and scribbling contact information in it is enough to guarantee a later sale.

Now, what you decide needs to be on your card, sticker, refrigerator magnet, or NFC chip is up to you, but a few tips based on experience. Unless you have a physical storefront location, don’t include your address on business cards, unless you want people to stop by in the middle of the night. (I’ve had a maildrop since the beginning, and the Web site specifically states that this address is a mailing address only, but I still get at least one person per month who goes to that address “to see the ranch” and blows a gasket to discover that they can’t just walk in to see the plants.) After you settle on a logo and design, pass it to a few friends for readability: if it’s so Illustrator-poisoned that a friend can’t figure out what you’re selling, then your customers definitely won’t. While supplemental material can be photocopied, don’t use photocopied flyers as the main promotion material: the only venues that still do this are old-school science fiction conventions where the head of promotion had to sneak access to his mom’s Xerox at work. These days, postcards are considerably cheaper than they were in times past (especially through online services that cut deals for bulk orders), they can look exceedingly professional, and they’re just large enough that they’re less likely to be dropped in a pocket and forgotten.

Batteries or other power sources, especially for phones and tablets:  Even with the best of shows, accidents happen that might cut off your electronic devices’ access to sweet light alternating current. Sometimes, it’s incidents outside of the event organizers’ control: a personal favorite was with the hotel that suddenly decided that the event couldn’t have access to electricity…after most of the vendors had paid for same. (The hotel manager stalked through the event the whole four-day weekend, making sure that nobody at the event was stealing his power by inspecting every last outlet on the floor.) In others, you only discover an issue when you arrive and someone breathlessly tells you “Oh, yeah, we don’t have power” because the organizer decided to spend the money on an ad…on AM radio. In all of these cases, anybody running a point of sale system or credit card reader is going to be wincing, and wincing even more if the phone or tablet doing the processing doesn’t have a full charge. Even if the event has the most dependable power source ever seen by humanity, purchase a power storage device good for at least an additional eight hours of continuous use, and KEEP IT CHARGED. Experienced vendors know from firsthand experience that a lot of transactions can occur long after official closing hours or in situations where you’re unplugged, and those transactions can’t be completed on a device that’s completely drained.

Clips and fasteners: Clothespins and paperclips for holding paper and light cloth together, heavy clips for attaching signage to your table, Zip ties for securing power cables, or bungee cords for holding folding items closed while transporting them: get good ones and make sure to have them in an easily accessible container.

Lightweight displays and table covers: With the shows that offer tables and chairs as part of the booth fee, most include tablecloths and table skirts to make the (usually beaten half to death) tables look better. If you have so little in the way of inventory that you can lay all of it atop your table, then you’re done. If you have more, or if it needs to be shown in a particular way, make sure to get or make displays that show them the best, because presentation DOES matter. Likewise, make sure to have at least a couple of good tablecloths to make your items stand out or to garner interest from passersby that you wouldn’t get from standard white tablecloths. Oh, and for those vending at shows over multiple days, bring a couple of sheets to cover your table and inventory once the show shuts down. Should you be a little late arriving the next morning, the sheet signals “gone Chopin, be Bach in a minuet” and minimizes the chances of early arrivers messing with your displays.

Type 2 Toolkit – Good To Have

A sturdy folding table and chairs: Many shows and events seeking vendors advertise tables and chairs as being provided as part of the booth fee. Others simply lease out the space to put said tables and chairs, and it’s completely up to you as to how you want to arrange it, and still others charge extra for them. One way or another, having a good table and chair set is worth the expenditure, especially if the provided items are inadequate to the task (which happens often) or they just aren’t available. For ease of transport and setup, I recommend tables that fold in half for storage, and I also recommend buying a new table instead of depending upon that one that a friend or neighbor had in the garage for the last decade. (Neil Young was right: rust never sleeps, and you don’t want to discover rust’s effect on support pins or table legs five minutes after getting all of your sale items and displays on top.) The most important thing to consider is how much weight that table will support, and whatever you do, do NOT assume that it will and bring it to a show without verifying this. Test  it first, preferably with something nonbreakable. Likewise, when doing outside shows, always bring boards or other supports to go under the table legs, unless you like your table sinking into the ground and dislodging everything atop it.

Banners and signage: Signs and banners serve two very valuable purposes. The first is to attract attention from a distance and encourage potential customers to give your booth a try. The second is to prevent particularly stupid people from wandering up and bellowing “WHAT’S THIS?” at your inventory over and over. (To be fair, some will do that anyway, either because they’re too lazy to read or because their lives aren’t complete unless they interrupt a conversation with a paying customer with a well-placed vowel movement. The best you can do is reassure yourself that the idiot will choke to death on his 42-ounce cup of Brawndo.) Even a few years back, banner options consisted of heavy vinyl either tacked to a backdrop or wall or installed in an equally heavy frame, but now vertical and horizontal banners are available in a wide variety of materials and print options. In addition, lightweight display stands are more and more affordable, allowing vertical banners to go up on tables or in front of extra inventory. Right now, many big-box office supply stores offer excellent online options for composing the layout of your own banners before sending them to print, thereby making sure that any mistakes in spelling or syntax are yours, and in matching the right display stand to the right banner.

Lights: The bad news: even indoor shows have problems with available ambient light, especially if the venue hosting the show hasn’t switched out its fluorescent tubes since the Harding Administration. Outdoor shows have even more problems: even discounting the problems inherent when the big yellow hurty thing in the sky ultimately descends in the west every night, sufficiently overcast days can make viewing unlit items a bit problematic. The good news: at the turn of the last century, most lighting options with a remotely decent lumen output involved energy-hungry and heat-intensive halogen or incandescent light bulbs, which were both delicate and dangerous to work around until they had enough time to cool after use. Today, LED options both provide similar lumens for a fraction of the energy of incandescents, but they can be used in places and around items that would have been a serious fire hazard 20 years ago. Any discussion of lighting options is an essay in itself, but do some research, look into power options (for venues without available electricity, running an LED array off a marine battery with a DC-to-AC inverter is now a practical reality), and consider the best light type and source for your inventory.

Heavy displays: Need bookshelves, heavy racks for large pieces of clothing, or wire racks for displaying jewelry or electronic items? These qualify as “heavy displays.” Obviously, the heavy displays depend upon what you’re selling, but make sure they’re kept well-maintained, and consider weight and fragility when bringing them to a show. Remember that plastic scratches, glass chips and shatters, metal gets metal fatigue or pops welds or rivets, and wood gets dry rot, and a catastrophic failure of your display could potentially lead to injury or death. Consider why you need a heavy display and why you’re bringing it: that big glass display case being discarded at work might make a great display for your inventory, but consider that glass is both heavy and fragile, and you’ll experience them both sooner or later, especially if you’re moving it by yourself. Without fail, really big shows have at least one vendor who gives up on trying to haul back a big set of metal racks or glass shelves that are a nightmare to move in and out of elevators, and they stay put because the other vendors know better than to take them for themselves.

Type 3 Toolkit – Nice But Not Absolutely Necessary All The Time

Tent and sidewalls: It’s possible to go through a healthy vendor career without ever needing to show items outside. During the extremes of summer and winter, the only people more happy to see a show listing that reads “Indoor vending” than the vendors are the customers. The rest of the year, though, having access to a tent opens up a lot of opportunities. Some events include access to pre-pitched tents as part of the vendor fee, but a lot will emphasize that you need to bring your own. Most vendors go with standard 10 x 10 pop-up tents: getting ones in custom colors or with custom signage built-in is at the discretion of the vendor, but they’re definitely not necessary. Just make sure that either the tent comes with sidewalls or that sidewalls may be purchased separately, and not just to keep rain out during a show. Outdoor events generally hire security crews to watch over vendor tents left overnight, but they expect that the vendors put up sidewalls on all four sides before the vendors leave for the evening or break down and move out any valuable items.

Tent weights: Anyone wrangling a standard pop-up tent into position can complain about the weight all day long, but consider that a typical show tent has a lot of surface area with a relatively lightweight structure underneath to give it shape. With a sufficient amount of wind, and that “sufficient amount” may not be all that much, a tent makes an excellent parachute. If all it does is bounce up on two legs before falling over and blowing across a parking lot, consider yourself lucky, because anyone doing outdoor shows long enough in windy places like Texas can tell you stories of tents flying up in severe winds before losing lift and coming down to crash. Pop-up tent frames are strong, but they’re not strong enough to handle the impact of falling two stories or so before slamming into a hard surface. The spectacle of flying tents can be minimized either by buying commercially made tent weights that wrap around the tent legs, or by making your own from concrete or metal. However you go about it, remember that tent weights don’t work if they’re left at home or they’re not attached to the tent in some way, and the word “weight” in “tent weight” is there for a reason. Remember that cart or handtruck in your Type 1 toolkit, and make sure beforehand that it can handle moving the tent weights, either all at once or one at a time.

Is this everything? Well, that’s a good question. Let me know after you’ve done a decade’s worth of shows: you’ll probably teach me a lot when we compare notes.

Have a Great Weekend

The streets are full of Girl Scouts selling Girl Scout Cookies; the mailbox is full of seed and bulb catalogs. In the gallery, the hot pepper seedlings are coming up, an old friend sent yellow dragonfruit seeds, and at least two more enclosures will premiere at Date Night next week. My favorite gardening song has never been more appropriate:

Have a Great Weekend

Because Dallas has a lot of interesting things worthy of a road trip this weekend, and because it’s not a real Dallas road trip without someone screaming “WITNESS!”

Enclosures: “A Canticle For Troodon” (2018)

A Canticle For Troodon

Description: The customer: a longtime customer and friend who had purchased a Nepenthes bicalcarata pitcher plant that outgrew its original container, and the new container needed to fit into the previous container’s alcove. The assignment: making a custom enclosure that needed to be “different”. The experiment: working with tumbled champagne bottle glass for its additional thickness and strength, on the structure of a resin Ceratosaurus skull. The finished skull is anchored via a shaft running into the base, and can be removed at any time for moving or maintenance. In addition, the skull is illuminated from within via two LED aquarium spot lights, and both lights may be turned on or off from outside the enclosure.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 18″ x 18″ (62.23 cm x 62.23 cm x 62.23 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes bicalcarata

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, resin, glass, glass taxidermy eye, polystyrene parts, found items, grapevine, aquarium spot lights.

Price: SOLD: custom commission

Shirt Price: SOLD

A Canticle For TroodonA Canticle For TroodonA Canticle For TroodonA Canticle For Troodon

Have a Great Weekend

An anthem for the new year: as someone once said, we have to create our future, or others will do it for us.

Electronic Rubberbands and Other Extravagances

Back in the 1980s, a regular joke among political science majors was that every major advance in weapons technology was sold as a way to make us all safe from the previous advance, culminating with what the Texas comedian Bill Hicks referred to as “Musket repellent!” Mass media work much the same way, but sometimes they go a bit backwards, like a river in flood seeking a new path. The original evolutionary progression from cave paintings was supposed to run from print to Web site to blog to social media posting, all forgetting that the gatekeepers in charge of each new medium had control until they were either supplanted or bypassed. Every single time, they were supplanted and bypassed by what seemed like a fad or frippery until it was far too late to do anything, and many of those fads and fripperies were misidentified as backwards. From that decay grew new verdance, covering the wreckage of the institutions that assumed they would survive it all. Evening newspapers, video rental stores, CD-ROM magazines, GeoCities, MySpace: the vast majority of those wrecks are ones that could have kept going if they hadn’t either assumed that they could tell customers how information was to be consumed or didn’t think this made a difference. Every single time, it didn’t seem like a pushback so much as a gradual retreat: tsunamis generally aren’t big overwhelming waves but a sudden rise in the ocean, and by the time you notice the water on previously dry land rising up to your knees, you’re probably already dead without knowing it.

Right now, that’s the situation with social media: Facebook has done an excellent job at choking off or assimilating any competitors, but it was already a mess for businesses that couldn’t afford the incessant boosts necessary for their followers to know about new developments. Twitter is turning into a specialist’s dream and nightmare, where it’s possible to cross-pollinate with a thousand experts AND leave in disgust because of one Cat Piss Man with nothing better to do that day. As for small businesses such as the Triffid Ranch that just want to pass on new developments without being drowned by algorithms that assume your Uncle Malvert’s contrail ravings are more important to you, it’s already time to look for something new. Or, in our case, something retro.

There’s a lot to be said about E-mail newsletters: a full quarter-century after people stopped asking “what’s that weird thing under your phone number on your business card?”, they’ve become the postcard of electronica. They’re dependable, they’re viewable in just about any environment and on just about any device, and so long as it has actual content as opposed to incessant “BUY MY BOOK” salesflummery, they’re the only form of push media that people actually want. That’s why the Triffid Ranch is proud to announce the opportunity to go back to the Twentieth Century in the hope of riding out the inevitable Facebook crash, and possibly get in some entertainment as well.

So here’s the situation. Sign up for the new Triffid Ranch newsletter either via the link below or via the “Newsletter” page in the main site menu, and you’ll get at least four notices about upcoming developments per year. This includes upcoming Triffid Ranch events and gallery shows, news related to carnivorous plants, and other developments, and will NOT be an excuse for ads. The standard privacy notice applies: your E-mail address or personal information will not be given or sold to any third party under any circumstances without specific written permission. If you like what you read, feel free to pass it along to others. If you decide that you’re done, feel free to unsubscribe without any hard feelings. Any way you look at it, it certainly beats having to sidestep Uncle Malvert to find out what’s going on, doesn’t it?

Make with the clicky

(A quick notice: if you sign up and don’t receive a confirmation email, you didn’t do anything wrong. Between the number of individuals of dubious ethics signing up everyone in their contact lists without permission, and the number of individuals of equally dubious ethics getting mailing lists from elsewhere and spamming everyone in sight, a lack of response may be less due to any error with signup and more with mail servers that have reason to assume any MailChimp mailings are spam. If you don’t get a confirmation within 24 hours, try again, but after checking any spam or junk email folders for the lost wayward confirmation. It’ll be a little traumatized and shocked from being trapped with Bitcoin and Russian dating site spam for so long, but it’ll eventually recover and thank you for saving it from that electronic Lagerstatten. One day, it might return the favor.)

State of the Gallery: January 2018

Doom and Gloom (mostly gloom) in Dallas in JanuaryAnd the holiday season is over. Well, that’s not completely true: we can’t forget the importance of February 2, when Sid Vicious rises from his grave, looks down for his shadow, and learns if he has to wait six more weeks until spring. The decorations are down, the last of the leftovers are dispatched (unless your grandmother is like mine and wants to see if she can make turkey-flavored Jell-O out of the carcass residue left in the refrigerator), the more gothically inclined are building dinosaur skeletons with the chunks Grandma couldn’t use, and everyone in retail can get rid of that twitch from overplay of the mandatory Christmas radio station. True, you don’t want to go anywhere near a gym for the rest of the month, especially in the parking lot as everyone fights for the closest space to the door, and we’re all keeping an eye on the skies for that one falling snowflake that convinces the worst drivers on the road that they need to switch things up by driving with their buttocks. All things considered, though, things are good.

Out here at the Triffid Ranch, it’s time for introspection, renovation, negotiation, and potential amputation. We may have 295 days until that happiest holiday of the year, but the work starts now. This includes cleaning and prepping new glassware, potting new plants, scoping out new shows and new venues, and trying to limit nervous breakdowns to every other Tuesday. In other words, just like every year since the gallery first opened. The highlights:

First and foremost, the emphasis in 2018 is finishing new enclosures, and that starts with getting commissioned enclosures out now. (A friendly reminder for those who purchased Nepenthes pitcher plants at Triffid Ranch shows in the past: now’s the time to ask about upgrades to give your plants more room.) This includes getting more photos with those enclosures, in order to enter enclosures in regional and national art shows and inform local media outlets of those shows. Right now, everything is being kept on a winter lighting schedule to encourage growth later, but when the timers switch to spring hours in March, the fun really begins. It’s not just a matter of viewing Nepenthes blooms, but trying some luck with pollinating flowers in order to develop a few new hybrids.

On the subject of shows, it’s no surprise that the first big Triffid Ranch show of the year is All-Con on St. Patrick’s Day weekend. The surprise was discovering the new venue for the 2018 event. For years, All-Con ran at the increasingly cramped Crowne Plaza hotel, but size limitations required a move to a larger venue. Two years ago, it moved to a much larger space with a bit of a parking problem: hotel management promised to augment its tiny parking area with access to the parking garages of the office buildings around it, which was a surprise to the owners of said office buildings. A majority of attendees discovering that parking options consisted of a muddy field across from the hotel wasn’t enough to kill the convention, and last year’s All-Con returned to the Crowne Plaza, which was now charging for parking when it wasn’t hosting meth labs. This year, though, All-Con moves to a MUCH larger venue, the Hotel InterContinental in Addison, right along Dallas North Tollway.

Why is this such a big deal? Well, for starters, the InterContinental, formerly the Grand Kempinski, is a legacy of Dallas’s great oil and development boom of the 1980s, back from the days when it was the tallest building in the area. Because the old Grand Kempinski was intended to compete for convention and conference business with the Anatole and Fairmont hotels near downtown, this meant having an absolutely gigantic ballroom on the second floor and an equally expansive ground floor atrium. This means that instead of fighting crowds in the artist’s alley section to get to the main dealer’s room, we have room to stretch out. Even better, this is one hotel where the promise of “multiple restaurants within walking distance” is quite actually true, and more than just a McDonald’s or Jack In The Box. (The hotel is just off Addison’s impressive Restaurant Row, which includes pubs, novelty venues such as the world-famous Magic Time Machine, and even a Whole Foods within a ten-minute walk.) A convention with food options other than the hotel restaurant and a convenience store? The mind boggles.

For vendors, the situation gets even better. The Hotel Intercontinental features two large entrances, big enough to allow two-way traffic while loading and unloading, and a large elevator sits right by the escalator leading to the second floor. (Those familiar with the absolute mess at the Crowne Royal can understand why this is a big deal.) With most of the club and Artist Alley tables on the ground floor, all groups involved won’t be fighting for room, especially close to opening hours. Parking is voluminous, and the loading lanes are big enough for small aircraft. Miss this one at your peril, because with the convention running during Spring Break for most of the high schools and colleges in the greater Dallas area, we’re going to see crowds at sizes we could have only dream about seeing at previous shows…and they’ll all have elbow room.

Not that All-Con and Texas Frightmare Weekend are the only shows outside of the gallery for 2018: these are just the only ones that can be discussed at the moment. Right now, the greater Dallas area has an excess of riches as far as art shows are concerned, and while the Deep Ellum Arts Fest isn’t an option this year, a lot of other events are going on at the same time. Right now, it’s all about confirmation, as well as making sure that schedules don’t conflict. Keep checking back for more details.

With the carnivores, the biggest change in the Triffid Ranch involves an expansion into Mexican butterworts and terrestrial bladderworts, two traditionally neglected groups of carnivorous plant. As mentioned before, this is just a continuation of plans set for last year before the gallery move, but with the advantage of many of the new species of butterwort exploding with new plantlets over the winter. Even better, both butterworts and bladderworts are now big and sassy enough to bloom in spring, adding an extra angle to the planned Manchester United Flower Show showing in April. Again, details as the date gets closer.

In hot pepper news, it’s time to start the new year’s first batch of pepper seedlings, and it’s time to make an admission. Namely, Carolina Reaper peppers are the Venus flytraps of the Capsicum world. Want to thrill me? start a discussion on comparing the colors and flavors of Black Pearl and Numex Halloween peppers both ripe and green. Compare the dishes best using Uba Tubas versus Trinidad Scorpions. Share a flavor combination for salsa with Bhut Jolokias that works even better than mango. (This may not be possible, but I’m always open to argument.) Carolina Reapers, though, are a one-trick pony. They grow to an impressive size in cultivation, but nothing about their foliage nor their shape distinguishes them from other peppers. The fruit, ripe or green, is only marginally more interesting than a standard green bell pepper, and once you get past the “you’ll pee fire!” heat, they taste like tomb dust. Aside from the subjective and often dubious Scoville Scale ranking, the Carolina Reaper has precious little distinction in growth, flavor, or idiosyncrasy. But what’s the one pepper EVERYONE asks if I’m growing? Ah well.

And if this is a roundabout way of hyping up the ZestFest 2018 spicy foods convention (https://zestfest.net/) at the Irving Convention Center at the end of January, so be it. ZestFest has a grand supply of salsa and barbecue sauce vendors pushing “no pepper is too hot for ME to eat!” neural overloads, but its main emphasis is on flavor, and the danger isn’t in not finding anything that tempts enough to buy a case or two. The danger is in not bringing a basket with wheels, because it WILL fill up by the time you reach the end, and all of those glass bottles and jars are heavy.

In any case, it’s time to get back to the linen mines. The plants won’t water themselves, and one of the new enclosure elements requires lots and lots of tumbled glass shards for the proper effect. Pictures will follow: I promise.

Have a Great End of 2017

The eternal question facing us at the end of the year:

On 2017

2017. Oh, where do we start? Talking about the new gallery after having to move out of the old one is definitely an “Aside from THAT, Mrs. Kennedy, what do you think of Dallas?” situation, but it’s a perfect summation of the entire year for the Triffid Ranch. In fact, this is the first week since before the move that things are relatively quiet. Not that this will last. The synopsis:

The Gallery

Although the short moveout notice led to a bit of a panic in the actual move and then a long rebuilding, it actually worked out for the best. True, the new gallery is about 120 square meters smaller than the Valley View location and it doesn’t have the big industrial sink in the back, but it also has a much more central location for just about everyone in the greater Dallas area. It also has direct access to a DART Red Line station, several excellent restaurants across the street, a nice grocery store around the corner, and some great neighbors, including the porcelain mask and glasswork dealer right next door. Meeting clients for consultations and viewings is much easier for all parties involved, partially because the local traffic congestion is so much less than around Valley View. And should I mention again the DART stop that drops people off right across the street, so they don’t have to deal with traffic congestion at all?

Another factor with the new space is the closed-off main gallery area, which requires artificial light for both finished enclosures and new plants in propagation. That may sound like a disadvantage, but this cuts out light pollution that might affect germination, growth, and blooming. This is a roundabout way of noting that the exceedingly popular Manchester United Flower Show event from 2016 is coming back next spring, and with even more bladderworts than before. The better light and climate control of the new gallery also means that the much-promised expansion into ultra-hot peppers and exotic succulents such as stapeliads, delayed this year because of the move (quite literally, we got the moveout notice two days before the planned pepper seed potting extravaganza), will happen as scheduled. The ultimate plan, since 2018 has five weekends before Christmas, is to offer Bhut Jolokia, Dorchester Naga, and Trinidad Scorpion pepper bushes as highly unorthodox but pre-decorated holiday trees during the Nightmare Weekend events. We’ll see.

Shows

Because of the gallery move and the resultant unpacking and organizing from February to June, signing up for new shows and events moved to the back of the “Things To Do” list, and they stayed there for most of the year. That wasn’t an absolute, but as it turned out, focusing on getting the gallery open was advantageous.

Why? Lots of reasons apply, but one of the biggest was the ongoing shakeout of conventions and fairs in the Dallas area and elsewhere. Ever since the Triffid Ranch’s first show in May of 2008, science fiction, fantasy, and horror conventions have been an essential part of the show season, and that isn’t changing. However, with the exception of Texas Frightmare Weekend and its dedicated and prudent staff and crew, it’s been a really rough year for conventions. To be honest, considering the spectacular and financially devastating implosions of conventions big and small this year, it’s time to pull out the writing-days duster to go with all of the bullet-dodging. Even with existing conventions, numbers are way down for most. Anybody familiar with convention circuit cycles knows that the current downturn was inevitable: the same thing happened in the 1980s and 1990s with big media-related conventions, as new fans grew up and discovered that hitting every convention within the timezone was incompatible with day jobs and new families. The only difference between this cycle and previous ones was in the length, mostly due to the influx of new fans brought in by movies, television, and costuming. A lot of the current generation of congoers are too young to remember the previous crash in the mid-Nineties, so it’ll seen like the end of the world, but I promise that with every bust is the promise of another wave. The big question right now is how long things need to remain fallow before that next wave starts, and a lot of the pain will be felt by vendors at these shows whose entire business history lies within the current cycle.

(Incidentally, the current implosion is why shows outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex require a LOT of vetting these days. For the last three years, Galveston of all places has been the focus of a series of intended conventions and shows that made huge promises of giant crowds and wild events, only for everything to disappear about a month before the start date. The things disappearing include booth fees and deposits: without fail, vendors receive cryptic letters about refunds “eventually”, just before the show’s Web site and Facebook page shut down in the middle of the night. Again, bullet-dodging: several friends lost a considerable amount of money they couldn’t easily replace on one show that fell apart when a fellow vendor called the hotel to find out about loading access and was told the hotel had no knowledge about the show at all. Even worse, most of these incidents weren’t due to any specific malfeasance, but instead from not understanding that telling friends “Hey, let’s put on a show” and actually launching an event have a lot of steps in between that are lubricated with elbow grease and the occasional liter of blood. Combine this with an absolute certainty that somehow, magically, everything will work out all right in the end, and you get shows that create rueful new memes for attendees and financial disaster for vendors and guests.)

Alternately, besides plotting new events at the gallery (many of which may include the previously mentioned neighbors, depending upon their schedules), it’s time for more outreach as well. The move precluded a lot of lectures and events at schools and museums, and it’s time to get that back up and going. Among other things, I’ve needed a good excuse to bug the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History about getting involved with one of its adult programs, and it may be time to do a black light show with traps and blooms to show how they glow under ultraviolet light.

Press and Publicity

When it came to local news coverage, 2017 was much more lively than 2016. It started with the final ARTwalk at Valley View, with the Dallas Observer reporting on plans for the remaining artists, and then with the Observer coming back for the soft opening last July. Suffice to say, nobody was more surprised than I was to win a Best of Dallas Award this year, or eighth place in the best date spots in Dallas. This coincided with a serious reevaluation of the Observer over the last couple of years: the paper is no longer the smarmy, bloated mess it was at the beginning of the century, and it’s now the paper we all wish it had been back when competitors such as The Met and DFW Icon were trying to usurp it. (In particular, I exaggerate not a whit when I compare dining editor Beth Rankin to the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko, one of my childhood heroes. Her articles are a wonderful blend of serious, funny, and thoughtful, with a constant subtext of “I gave you enough rope to hang yourself, so thank you very much for surprising me” like Royko’s best columns. And if you don’t think Dallas needs someone like her, just look back 17 years to when the Observer was facing, and losing, actual libel suits for its dining coverage.) Now that the gallery is established, it’s time to get more word out, and buying advertising means that supporting the new Observer goes beyond lip service.

Elsewhere, a shot of the old gallery even showed up in a pictorial in D magazine of Black Friday 2016 at the old Valley View space.  I won’t even complain about it being run a year late, presumably spiked in favor of the monthly “76,233 Best Doctors Willing to Pay For a Full-Page Ad” cover story: I’m just thrilled to discover that someone at D has an interest in plants and plant byproducts that never comes anywhere near the term “levamisole toxicity”. Miracles abound.

Plans

Strange as it may sound, 2018 is going to be “more of the same”. Most of the plans for next year include lots of alternatives to the shows in which it all started, starting with more events at the gallery. This includes more involvement with groups such as the Arts Incubator of Richardson, as well as gallery tour events through the Dallas area. In addition, it’s time to return to events sadly neglected while getting the old Valley View gallery going: among many other things, it’s time for future Triffid Ranch tables at local reptile shows, museum events, and one-day pop-up shows. Everything, of course, depends upon the Day Job and factors completely uncontrollable, but it’s time to go outside, and 2018 is the year to start walking.

As a sidenote, the upheaval prevented attempts to keep up with everyone online, and that’s already being rectified. In addition to an increased posting schedule, those efforts include a new mailing list that starts up at the beginning of the new year, improvements to the current site (some of you may already notice that the ads that infested the old site are gone, and now it’s a matter of going through all of the external links and removing or updating the defunct ones), and maybe even a bit of video. Now to develop a vaccine for sleep so there’s time to do all of this.

Synopsis

As always, time and tide melt the snowman, so 2018 might end on a drastically different note. As if anyone expected anything different. The main thing is that 2017 epitomized “Hold my beer and watch this,” and barring a truly unfortunate accident with temporal paradoxes, we won’t have to go through it again. Now let’s go explore the new year.

Have a Great Weekend

Getting ready for the last Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas of the year, and always looking for something to establish the mood:

Five Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas: The Fifth

For everyone else, it’s nearing the end of the holiday season. It’s now just cold enough in Dallas that coats in the morning are a necessity instead of an affectation, and we just might see sub-freezing temperatures by Christmas Day. Schools and universities are out for the year, and everyone not finishing up Christmas plans has a week to make plans for New Year’s Eve. Everyone at a job with use-it-or-lose-it vacation time is out and away, leaving the roads relatively clear of the worst drivers for those who still have to clock in. Next week will be more of the same: for all intents and purposes, the world returns to the eternal slog on January 8.

Well, that’s how it works everywhere else. The last four Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas are memories, albeit good ones, Now it’s time for one last Nightmare Weekend on December 23 from noon until 6:00. For those still seeking solstice gifts, Saturday gives plausible deniability to the idea that you just wanted to come by to look around, and it helps pay the rent, too. For those seeking solace from the madness of mall or big-box store crowds, it’s a safe harbor. For everyone else, if the newly updated Enclosure Gallery section doesn’t give you an idea as to what to expect, then come in and be surprised.

Not that things slow down after the holidays: far from it. It’s just that a lot of plans put off since the move from the old gallery space get to start up again. First and foremost is getting hot pepper seedlings established: the las Nightmare Weekend attracted several people asking about Bhut Jolokia and Carolina Reaper plants for bonsai, and last year’s batch were lost in a freeze the weekend of the final gallery move. This is in addition to getting ready for next year’s shows, starting with All-Con in mid-March, and finishing up commissioned enclosures. Want to have a hint as to what 2018 has in store? Check out the centerpiece for a new enclosure for an old friend and longtime customer, and consider that this is just the work in progress.

And for some additional fun, it’s time to remind everyone of Bat World Sanctuary in Mineral Wells and introduce them to adoptee Benger the Avenger, who came out of the womb more goth than any of us will ever be. If he isn’t a natural Nightmare Before Christmas stocking stuffer, I don’t know what is:

Dallas Comic Show 2017: The Aftermath – 3

And as far as the Dallas Comic Show is concerned in the future? That’s a very interesting question. The experiment in two shows in two weekends was a relative success, as in it didn’t kill me, even if the heat in the middle of September nearly did. The crew running it is professional, the fellow vendors were a lot of fun to have as neighbors, and the attendees are enthusiastic and very, very curious. These are all things to consider when the convention starts soliciting vendors for next fall.

Dallas Comic Show 2017: The Aftermath – 2

In an area where the the trend has been toward huge media convention extravaganzas in the last ten years, the Dallas Comic Show is an outlier. It’s still in the same venue as it was when I first encountered it in the early 2000s, and the only big change is the number of costume enthusiasts attending. It’s held at the Richardson Convention Center, which also holds the Richardson City Hall offices, so the loooooooooong hallway at the entrance is a bit surprising, but it works very nicely for both attendees and comics pros in the tables lining the hallway. The main dealer’s room is spacious and much easier to access than many at other conventions (having two separated doors that allow inflow and egress makes a huge difference), and said room blessedly has enough light that setting up lamps isn’t required. Best of all, since it’s not associated with a hotel, the convention only runs for two days, which means plenty of time on Friday to set up.

Dallas Comic Show 2017: The Aftermath – 1


It’s always good to remember your roots, and the Triffid Ranch got its start with little science fiction and comic conventions oh so long ago. That’s why, in a blast of inspiration partly fueled by sleep deprivation, it was time for an experiment: was it possible to run two shows on adjoining weekends? Part of the idea was to test logistics: with the gallery nearly open, was it possible to pot up, haul out, and set up enough plants for two shows? The other part involved friends asking if setting up a Triffid Ranch booth at the Dallas Comic Show was reasonable or sane. The experiment turned out pretty well, especially since the DCS locale was literally up Central Expressway from the gallery, and it answered a lot of questions about conducting more shows in the Dallas area. The biggest question: has anyone developed an antidote for sleep, and where can I buy it in bulk?

Have a Great Weekend

The fourth Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas is this weekend, with the gallery open on Saturday from noon until 6:00, with appointments available during the week. Until then, music.

Five Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas: The Fourth

Coming into the fourth Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas at the gallery (and, as before, the gallery is open to one and all on December 16, from noon until 6:00), a little explanation about the lack of traditional holiday viewing on the monitor in the gallery. Listening to friends fight over whether or not Die Hard qualifies as a Christmas movie (which is like arguing that Near Dark is a Fourth of July film because it features summer sun and explosions), I just remind people of a forgotten holiday classic. Oh, it may not be listed as such, but anyone who has ever had to work retail in a shopping mall during the holidays knows the film, even if they’ve never seen it. As a last tribute to the old gallery space at Valley View Center, which STILL hasn’t been demolished, I’d like to encourage everyone to take some time this holiday season to watch the best documentary about Dallas in the 1980s ever made:

Enclosure Gallery: Weather Station 228 (2017)

Weather Station 228 (2017)

Description: Travelers in the Columbia Gorge separating the states of Oregon and Washington may note various facilities seemingly extruded from the mountain rock: half-seen gates, windows, and doorways, in many cases belonging to automated weather forecasting stations watching for sudden storms or blizzards that could close off the Gorge. While they may be automated, they aren’t abandoned, even if years or decades go by between maintenance visits, and interfering with their operation is met with severe penalties. Keep that in mind.

Dimensions (width/height/depth):  18 1/2″ x 24 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 60.96 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant:Nepenthes bicalcarata

Construction: Glass enclosure, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: $ 250US

Shirt Price: $ 200US