Has a family member ever asked of your sheep venture, “Is this a profitable enterprise or are we just doing it for fun?” Many of us have heeded the siren song of turning a hobby farm into a money maker. Many entrepreneurs found their way into the fiber business in just that way, advancing from only raising fiber animals for their own consumption and satisfaction.
The intoxication of fiber is rampant all over the country. It’s a wonderful experience, each fiber person finding his or her own niche.
Attending a fiber event for a day or a weekend provides a wealth of ideas for the “fiberholic.” It’s precisely such an experience that led to the creation of Carolina FiberFest.
Members of the Twisted Threads Fiber Arts Guild, The Ol’ North State Knitting Guild, the Triangle Weaver’s Guild and others were going to events near and far and returning with stories of wonderful fiber events. Those stories fueled the idea that formed the Carolina FiberFest.
By gleaning the good, the bad, and the “not in my backyard” stories from each of these trips, we all dreamed of the “perfect” event which, of course, would be in our backyard instead of so many miles away.
Through state fair experiences with other sheep growers and fiber event experiences, our group began to see how a purposeful event could take place under our direction.
Sharing The Dream
It’s necessary to have a group of like-minded individuals who “share the dream” and are willing to pool their resources and time. Connections within such a group and their connections to the rest of the world create the foundation.
This foundation is essential to the core of the event. By studying other events you can learn the various committees needed to run an event. Asking for people to step up and take on the job of committee chairmen may seem daunting, but those who want the event to develop will take on the challenge.
In our electronic age acquiring help can become an easier task than before by asking your committee members to pass along requests for help to everyone they know.
Volunteers are the backbone of the event. Before, during and after the event, many hands make the work light.
Wool fiber contests, demonstrations and classes always bring out a crowd when well located, well-planned and well-publicized.
Finding A Venue
Taking a survey of the committee members and others you wish to include in the event will help to determine where the event should be held. If there’s a county or state fairgrounds nearby it’s a logical first choice as the infrastructure is already in place.
The public prefers easy access to events and the highway situation needs to be considered in choice of venue.
How far out of the way will people travel for an event, especially a beginning event? If they already know where they’re headed it makes “selling the travel” easier.
Travel websites will make finding even a smaller-sized venue simpler. There may be an event already organized which may welcome you as part of it and will benefit both their group and yours. Considering a wide variety of choices makes the final decision more comfortable.
Convincing The Fiber Growers
Today’s consumerist society enjoys finding new, unique and indulgent goods to buy. Having great variety is a secret to pleasing the largest number of event attendees.
A strong connection with fiber growers throughout the region will make setting up the event smoother, and fiber organizationsas well as farm and animal organizationsalready have the connections. Meeting and speaking with these organizations can vastly increase the number of people in your sphere of influence concerning the event.
In the past we may have had to speak personally at their meetings (and that is still preferable), but in today’s electronic age, bulletins are commonly passed to the organizations, which in turn pass them to their members: More threads to the world at large.
Offering the organizations free space in exchange for their promotion efforts involves them more deeply in the event.
Fiber growers want to find something to do with all that fiber. If they are not interested in sales personally, your event offers them the power to connect with those who love the sales end of the business.
Be A Resource For The Groups
At some events, official state sheep organizations have a booth where they sell products on consignment in behalf of their fiber growers.
Promotion of locally grown goods is on the rise. The trend to choose locally grown products over stuff brought in from elsewhere needs to be part of your marketing plan. It will strengthen your ties to your fiber organizations.
Promoting small farmers who might not have the resources for large scale advertising helps provide a strong base of fiber and fiber products. Encourage these growers to attend the event in order to broaden their knowledge of what is happening beyond their farm. Importantly, as you involve these smaller farmers you endow them with a sense of ownership in the event: They come to realize how necessary their help and knowledge is in putting on a large event.
Including fiber animal displays and/or contests at your event is a big plus, but it brings more work and detail in the setup. Even just a display of live animals requires health department regulations, which must be scrupulously followed. The draw of fiber animals is wonderful, but needs to be tempered with caution. The general public is not acquainted with health hazards of animal interaction. The warm fuzzy feeling takes over and they forget basic common sense; for example, washing their hands. Your event committees need to take into account and provide amenities like hand washing stations and remind the public to use them.
The general premise of a fiber event is to connect those in need or want of fiber and related items with those who can provide them. Education and exposure of the general public to fiber animals and fiber art always goes hand in hand with this. Beyond that connection, entertaining experiences at the event create memories that tie people to the event.
Presentations, contests, speakers, music, classes, and demonstrations all create an atmosphere, an aura, which permeates the event. The connections your event planners have sought and made will go far in finding and attracting those who have such talents to share.
The combined thought processes of your committee members will help decide which attractions will go best with your event. Remember: You need to have things available for a variety of people. Some of your event’s attendees will actually not be so enthusiastic about fiber. Those people will be grateful for a place to sit and watch what’s happening or to listen to soothing music.
While you’re planning these extra experiences you’ll need to have someone organizing the additional equipment needed for each of these areas.
Wool crafts contests, auctions, raffles and showcases involve sheep producers, flock products consumers, the curious public and hopeful contestants in making your sheep event “their” event.
If you’d like to have sheep herding presentations for example, find out that attraction’s requirements; learn what accommodations the herders need, anticipate the comfort of the general public and what could go wrong (and right) during the goings-on of the event itself.
It’s advisable to assign a separate person as head of each area, with an assistant to lessen the burden and stress associated with organizing each department.
Classes, for example, require a large amount of organization and follow-up. First a slate of classes needs to be arranged from among the teaching proposals sent in. Then, collection of money from the students. Teacher’s needs must be considered and arranged, classrooms set up, coordination and synchronization of teachers at the event, where teachers should also be evaluated and of course, paid.
Class registration together with tuition and fee payments may all be handled through the internet. Demonstrations too, can be arranged in many ways: Hands-on, “make it and take it,” or just fiber artists demonstrating their art.
The more the public is involved in these demonstrations the more people your planners need to have alongside the event to handle it. One way to arrange this is to schedule specific times for those affairs that are more involved and allot volunteers to help.
A children’s area is a wonderful idea, but requires many assistants. Often the guilds can take the lead in this in order to promote the future of their art. Again, bringing local guilds and clubs early in the process allows for better planning.
Guilds and clubs can be instrumental in developing contests for your fiber event. Beginning with small, easily handled contests gives you a strong base for expansion at later events. Seeking and keeping a record of feedback from contestants and visitors will help you plan for future events.
Vendors & Merchants
An early decision your event will need to make is the type of vendors or merchants you will be accepting.
Should they all be fiber related? Or should other handmade products be included? What about food? Although you can revamp your decisions later, criteria for acceptance should be in place from the beginning. You can be sure that somewhere along the line you’ll have new merchant ideas to assess. That’s good: You always want to have new ideas to include (or not). But at least to limit your own liabilities, rules that apply to vendors or merchants need to be clear. Just as good fences make good neighbors, good rules keep everyone clear on what is and is not acceptable. Vendor fees will give you operating money and help you pay for the event site. A picture sent with the vendor application is a good practice, especially if the businesses are unknown to you. Remember to see it as the public will see it. Poor relations with a vendor/merchant will leave a bad taste in the mouth of a customer.
Successfully promoting sponsorship and soliciting sponsors for your event puts funds for advertising at your disposal. Many companies sponsor in order to have their names promoted to the public. Most companies have an advertising budget and will consider sponsorship as part of that budget. What can you offer these companies? Your website offers the most complete way of rewarding sponsors. Their logo can easily be uploaded and promoted on your website. Programs, banners and posters may also include the sponsor’s name or logo as added incentive.
Don’t forget to include lots of hard-to-find specialty items like children-oriented crafts and beautiful, luxurious sheep pelts.
Many state and county facilities require a certain level of insurance. It’s a good idea for you to arrange insurance for your vendors in case they don’t already have it. It’s fairly simple to do through event insurance companies and should not be overly expensive. Include the option right there on the vendor’s contract. It’s not an involved item for you to take care of and you’ll be assured of getting the coverage the event needs.
Advertising can be one of the most expensive items in your budget. Advice about where and when to advertise can often be gleaned from local advertising companies. Make use of the internet. Many fiber and animal websites allow you to list your event free of charge. Many others will list your event for a small fee. When one considers the vast numbers of people who peruse the internet it makes sense to use it to your best advantage.
Print advertising is much more expensive, but it will reach many audiences not covered by the internet. A balance of different types of advertising makes sense.
Sheep and wool events may be set up on a grand scale with tens of thousands attending. Or they may be smaller and more personal and still gain profits, recognition and valuable connections.
Either way, the key to victory is agreement on what attractions to host, delegation of responsibility for them, involvement of all potential stakeholders in their implementation, anticipating the requirements and coordination of the public, and establishing a way to rate the success of each.