What does it take to prepare for a show?

I’m often asked why we don’t do more shows.  My wooly ones, we want to!  We plan to!  We are applying to!  But it often comes down to time.  As you all know, both the shipping Wombat and I work full time (and then some…) jobs and then we come home to work on things in the store.  We work around conferences and work travel.

That means we choose our shows very carefully. We choose them to maximize our contact with you all as best we can.  And we are slowly but surely building the number of shows that we do.

Next up is the Maryland Alpaca and Fleece Festival on November 11-12 at the Howard County Fairgrounds, and we thought we’d give you a sneak peak into what it takes to prepare for a show

First, of course we select all the goodies we bring.  I normally build a spreadsheet so we can check everything off as it goes into the truck, selecting just the right fleeces and variety of things to bring with us.  I pick tools, books, and fibers; we decide on what special feature we will have for the show.  Sometimes we assemble a special sampler – available only for that show; other times we feature a specific sale.  We make sure any special goodies have arrived whether its wheel oil pens or sheepy measuring tapes.  This normally takes place a month or two in advance, especially if we need to order anything.

Next we stage everything.  Did we bring enough?  (Answer: almost never.)  What are we missing?  Luckily for Maryland Alpaca we’re close enough that we can bring more on Day Two – or even Day 1 if set up proves that we may be short on something exciting.  Did I forget the shetland?  What did I do with the power cord?  We even have a bin dedicated solely to admin with power cords, and zip ties, and energy bars!  I always stage the weekend prior to make sure I have time to look at everything and make changes.

packed and ready

How many fleeces did we stuff in there?

Then we pack the truck. My friends, I think I could pack a flock of sheep into my truck with all its nooks and crannies, and yet we are always over stuffed and in need of more packing space.  Luckily, for Maryland Alpaca we can use two cars – but for PLY away and the farther shows we only get one and we must pack wisely. Vacuum bags and laundry bags are a space saver I appreciate dearly. We can get over 100 fleeces in the car in addition to tables and cubes, and books and tools that way!  Packing happens the day before we leave for the show.  It allows us to get an early start and not feel rushed.

Driving to the show for set up is always fun – I once spent 16 hours holding a bag of wool with my head so it didn’t slide into the driver’s lap!  But once we arrive we set up.  We’re pretty good at getting ourselves set up.  Every vendor I know has their own special way of setting up – some pile everything in the middle, some put away their walls whole!  As you know, we are known for our Wall of Fleece.  And shows always feature our Traveling Wall of Fleece!  It’s just like walking into the store – only smaller and tailored to the show we are at.  Sometimes, we feature only American Heritage breeds when we are at a Colonial Farm.  Other times we bring one (or more) of everything!

Setting up the booth

Bringing order from chaos!

The Shipping Wombat assembles all the cubes and tables while I ready the fibers and stuff cubes.  Then we attack everything so you all see what you love – do  we have combs? Why yes! Cards? Yup! Spindles? Of course – care to try one?  Scour? We do!  Some sources say we hold the booth set up record, I don’t know about that but I know the fastest we’ve done it is 2 hours.    We are a well oiled machine.  Mostly we like to keep our set up/break down time efficient – we want to get to you all arriving for the show!

After that the fun begins:  Several days of very early mornings, and late nights as we welcome our wooly friends to huff our fabulous fumes.  (I swear, shetland smells like crayons!)  Answering questions and inviting you to fondle fibers.  Packing your baggies of goodness.  Exploring combs and cards.  Comparing the merits of different washes and scours.  This is the best part.  Seeing all of you!

When the show is over, we do it all in reverse. Depending on the show, break down can happen in as little as 45 minutes but it usually takes about 3 hours – re-stuffing fleece in vacuum bags is a wee bit tricker if we have no room for the vacuum. Then we head home, empty the truck. Pick up some BBQ.  (It’s true – our post show guilty pleasure is BBQ!  Meats, slaw, corn bread, beans, collards and a tall cold beer.  Oh yeah…..) Catch up on the paperwork. And at some point, put everything back where it normally goes!

So there it is.  A little snapshot of our show prep.  I’m sure we missed many things.  But don’t let us miss you at Maryland Alpaca!

The Spinning Loft