An Observation…Dude

Years ago I had visited Chicago. It is an awesome city in the summer time and cold as…well, you know, in the winter. But summer in Chicago opens the door to numerous festivals around the city. It is a place where people can gather and just have fun. Bands play and local businesses hock and market their wares.

During these festivals,  I noticed that some businesses had crowds of people at their stand while others had few. There are certainly a number of factors that play into that fact. However, I did notice one such characteristic of all the successful ones. The most successful one understood that it is vital to clearly understand “Why go through the hassle of displaying at a festival booth”.  The story and our finding goes something like this…

The weather was terrific, kind of typical for July in Chicago. For me, it was doubly better.  It was a great relief from the Florida humidity. Along the Lake Michigan waterfront, it was gorgeous; and the breeze off the lake carried a cooling chill, a bit unusual for July, but I enjoyed it.

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The first thing I noticed was that if The Gatekeeper Rules, Everyone Else Drools. The first festival stop was on Navy Pier. In the brochure and advertising, the festival description sounded great, complete with lots of awesome food and terrific experiences. The festival was located indoors, not necessarily a bad thing even on a great summer day. The brochure was so well done it hooked us. Baited by the awesome sounding description on the brochure, in we went, up the escalator and into the entry area. “What!” That’s not a question, just total surprise. “A $15.00 per person entry fee,” I exclaimed, internally.

“Ok, calm down. Grab hold of yourself. The brochure did mention the 15 dollar co-pay”.  But my stomach was yearning for the “palate pleasing” promised in the advertising brochure. It might be worth it, I thought, arguing with the hunger pains rumbling up from below.  But wait, I grabbed hold of myself. I didn’t just fall off the festival truck.  Let’s see what our 15 bucks gets us. A peak at the goings on inside the fee based area is in order.

Peering into the gargantuan convention hall, we spotted sports cars, and booths of vendors ready to hock their wares,(key word, ready), to any fee paying player, of which there where few to be seen. In addition to the scarcity of fee based players, the fluorescent lights “over lit” the area and washed out the pleasantries.  Our answer became clear. Fifteen dollars, a convention hall you could hit a golf ball in and not hit a person, and the great weather outdoors was enough to kill the awesome written description the brochure for this festival provided us.  At that point, even my appetite subsided, thinking that if there are no lines for this promisingly tasteful fare, then maybe it didn’t exist. Out we went in an instant.

An interesting twist of this story is that our own curiosity may have pulled us into the event had the entry fee been waived.  More than likely, because of our love for food, we would have purchased some sampling and stayed a while before moving on to the next festival. But because of the 15 dollar gatekeeper, the success of that party was probably mediocre. I cannot imagine we were the only ones to pass, and judging by the vacancy, we probably weren’t.

Before I take the party to the next festival, please understand it’s my attempt to show observations by using real life examples, both good and bad. That is the only way I have learned business success. My own failures and successes, and those of others I have watched throughout my lifetime and those that I continually learn from provide me with valuable information.  So please don’t take this as criticism, but more as constructive examples and simple observations to success as I see it.

The next festival proved to be opposite. If  The Gatekeeper Does Not Rule and the Others can Prosper.

Two miles across town was our next festival stop.  We could hear the band a block away.  It sounded awesome. If I could remember the name I would tout them here because they were great. As we got closer to the event, our excitement rose. My partner read the brochure, which described again great food and great music, and oh no, a $5 suggested donation. Suggested donation, we questioned who was the beneficiary. As we walked in, we both seemed to reach the same conclusion. It is only a suggestion. Ah, yes, thanks for the suggestion. Now it is not a question of being cheap. They did not give me any real cause for the donation other than to benefit the neighborhood. Not sure what that meant and unable to gather a complete understanding, we walked straight through the gate smiling and greeting the gatekeepers, as we entered without incident.  After-all, I would much rather trade my dollars for something more mutually beneficial.

The entire street was blocked. The vendors lined the sides of the street hawking their wares from their make-shift booths. The place was packed. Our first decision was to eat something, obviously. We immediately surveyed each vendor before deciding. Tickets for the food were offered at one dollar per ticket. We now had the formula with which to decide value vs. benefit.

The first booth offered mini tenderloin sandwiches which looked awesome, but at 6 tickets per sandwich, we needed to see what else was available. Maybe it was a good value, maybe not, we needed a comparison. At the next booth, the cookies looked great, but at 3 tickets per cookie, we again balked. Now you might be thinking that comparing cookies to tenderloin is not good research.  So, we proceeded down the street, booth after booth applying the same comparison value v. benefit formula. We could not see the value of eating while standing in the middle of the street as compared to exiting this party to a quaint sidewalk café. More time was required before our departure. The atmosphere was electric, and the band played some great rock music from the 80’ 90’ to today. We just had to give this place more time. It was packed with people.

Ah, just ahead a crowd had formed a line for food. Could this be it? Pulled again by our curiosity, we pushed ourselves into the line wondering what this particular booth had to offer. We peered over the shoulders of those in front of us. We desperately tried to see what we were missing.

Finally, it was our turn at the counter. The food looked awesome. We asked the vendor for the “program”.   The young, aggressive, but pleasantly confident young man offered up a full chicken breast, and a couple heaping sides. Basically, he offered up a gargantuan plate of food and the makings of a pocket satisfying value. He closed us with his price. It was the ultimate “deal we couldn’t refuse”. Watching the countless satisfied patrons before us walk away with mounds of food, we were in.  Our value vs. benefit ratio, ha, had reached its highest point of the day. We smiled and gladly accepted our spoils.

Ok, Ok, you might be asking quantity vs. quality, I understand the thinking, but stay with me because that is not the point of the story. Remember we are attempting to answer our initial question of “why is it worth a business to go through the hassles and the headaches to set up a booth at a festival?”  Nevertheless, I had my doubts as to food quality, as we stepped away from the counter with an overloaded plate.

To my pleasant surprise, the taste was tremendous.  In fact, as we “wolfed it down”, “packed it in”, and enjoyed every morsel, not even leaving our famous debris field, I wanted to know what restaurant represented this booth. It was the only one I even cared to ask for such information. It was the only one I remembered, and the only one I wanted to remember.  But being a desert freak, dinner wasn’t quite over yet.

We now turned our attention to baked goods. Again, we instituted the same selection process, booth after booth. Interestingly, we ended up at the same booth for desert. Our dinner booth nailed the formula again.  The same young man greeted us, and unable to remember who we were because he was obviously ruling the festival, and seeing countless faces sampling his fine fare and enjoying his great value.

He again offered up the “deal you cannot refuse.”  Again his confidence was infectious, and because of his great tasting food and awesome value, once again we cranked down the cookies.

At that point, I couldn’t help but to compliment our host by offering my thoughts that he did it right. He had a clear definition of his purpose for going through the hassles and the headaches of setting up his booth. I knew he got it and most importantly, as we spoke, he knew he got it. He shared his purpose, and that he had initially suggested to the festival producers that all vendors should give the food away. But the other vendors resisted, loudly. I shared the observation that he was the only booth packing them in, and that I know the name of his restaurant, and even where he was located by landmark. I stressed my compliments to the food quality, and again reiterated that he nailed the purpose of the festival. To which he exclaimed with confidence, “I know. It’s advertising… Dude”.