Serious news, starting with a joke. Depending upon the artistic venue, the word “hiatus” has different meanings, most of which are unofficial and many are insulting. For instance, officially, “hiatus” refers to a period of diminished or stopped activity, as in “the business is going on hiatus until economic conditions improve.” In the comics business, as my friend Mischa Jones likes to put it, “hiatus” means “I’m tired of doing this, but I don’t want to quit just yet.” In publishing, particularly with small-press magazine and book publishing, “hiatus” means “we’re overextended and in debt up to our eyeballs, and we’re taking a break in the hopes that our creditors will forget about us.” Depending upon the business, “hiatus” is a remarkably versatile word.
Anyway, as of next year, the Texas Triffid Ranch goes on hiatus. In the first definition, with caveats and a cherry on top.
The finale, of course, was last week’s Icepocalypse 2013, which was a lot stronger than anybody expected. Even with a new greenhouse, with about two tons of water as thermal mass, and with lots of contingencies to fend off the cold, everything went to hell all at once. The five-hour power outage on the first day wouldn’t have been so much of an issue, if one of the panels on the main greenhouse hadn’t blown out from the wind and the ice through that whole period. Sub-freezing temperatures for hours, combined with greenhouse repair tape that absolutely refused to adhere in the cold, and the damage was fairly intense. The worst part is that the real extent of the damage can’t be ascertained until spring, because a whole line of Capsicum pepper bonsai prepared for next year’s shows won’t show the worst of the frost damage until and unless they bud. Until then, it’s a long wait.
Problem is, this was just the finale to a kidney stone of a year. With two exceptions, most of the Triffid Ranch shows in 2013 didn’t turn out anywhere near as well as necessary to turn a profit. At this point, with most companies announcing a hiatus, right here’s the point where the owner writes a self-serving, passive-aggressive tirade about how “if customers really supported us, we could stay in business.” If I wrote that, it would be an absolute lie. I watched regular customers and new ones come by, look over plants and arrangements, and sadly walk away, because they simply couldn’t afford to buy anything. I couldn’t blame them in the slightest, because we’re all being hit by the ongoing Great Recession. Increasing the number of shows on the schedule doesn’t increase the income from the shows, because the costs of getting to the shows, setting up, spending two to four days on point, and then breaking down and going home haven’t changed. While teaching new carnivorous plant enthusiasts was an absolute joy, the teaching wasn’t paying the rest of the cost, and the only option was to shut down for a while
To their eternal credit. several friends offered to start up a Kickstarter campaign to replace the plants lost in the freeze, but this would only prolong the issue. For individual events and one-shot projects, Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and other crowdsource funding systems are great, but a successful Kickstarter campaign doesn’t fix current economic trends, and it definitely doesn’t fix a lack of customers with disposable income. Tempting as it may be to take these friends up on their incredible generosity, I was just reminded of the number of independent bookstores all running Kickstarter projects, with no thought as to what happens when the current money runs out and the underlying reasons for the downturn continue.
Another factor to consider with a one-person operation such as the Triffid Ranch is further learning and expansion. A lot of outstanding projects intended to be completed over the last five years have had to sit on the sidelines, between commitments for shows and commitments to the day job that pays for everything. This includes further experimentation with triggerplant cultivation, more elaborate plant enclosures, and testing new fabrication techniques. This is in addition to working with new species of carnivorous plant, getting further expertise with plants generally considered too difficult for beginners or the moderately knowledgeable. All of this requires time, and much of that time was spent both doing shows and preparing for shows.
So here’s the plan. The blog stays up, with lots of new updates. The Web site stays up, and undergoes a long-delayed update. I’ll still be open for lectures and events, especially kids’ events, and consultations on school science projects. Two previously scheduled shows, All-Con in March and Texas Frightmare Weekend in May, are still on, but then nothing for a year. May 2015, if everything works well, everything starts back up, with a new focus and a new initiative. At that time, with luck, the economy will have recovered to the point where the business side of the Triffid Ranch can be self-sustaining. That’s the plan, anyway.
As always, I can’t thank prior customers and supporters highly enough, and I’m looking forward to taking care of all of you before the shutdown next May. In the meantime, take care of yourselves.