I am hesitant to write this post because I am still waiting for my money to refunded to me. But I felt a need to get this all off my chest. Also, a lot of people have been asking questions. So, I'd like to share my experience with what happened with The Mermaid Convention scheduled for August 9-11, 2019 at the Turf Valley Resort in Ellicott City.
I saw a post in a Facebook group called Event Vendors in Maryland. I already have to be on high alert for any event scheduled from this group. In fact, every event I've scheduled from this group has bee an absolute disaster. Perhaps I'll write a separate post on that, at a later date. The group is just so large that it's hard to keep track of people, and numerous people have been scammed out of money from there.
So, naturally, when I saw this post, my first red flag was that it was just a typed out, seemingly impromptu Facebook post. However, curiosity got me and I sent her an e-mail.
She disclosed through e-mail that crafter booths were discounted, and advised that my friend (another crafter) an I could share a space. She said that crafter booths were $75 for both days. That is extremely cheap, and with two of us splitting it, it would be very easy to turn a profit, even if the event was a flop. Naturally, I was wary of this seemingly cheap price, and I did call Turf Valley Resort to confirm that the event was booked, and that this person was indeed the correct contact for the Mermaid Convention.
I was already suspicious of the event, but losing $75 wouldn't be the end of the world. I was searching for vendor events outside of the conventional fire hall fundraisers. Don't get me wrong, I love me a good fundraiser. But, I have a unique product and want to get out of my comfort zone. So, I took the leap of faith.
The event was supposed to be at Turf Valley, August 10th and 11th (a Saturday and Sunday) from 9 am to 4 pm. We never did get the discount code that she promised in the e-mail.
Upon examining the website, it did seem to be slightly bland and lacking, but I chalked it up to this being the first run of the event and there were still months to go, and that there would be further tweaking. After a couple of weeks, I noticed that neither my friend's business nor mine had been added to the Vendor list. Neither had anyone else. Half of the vendors were Direct Sales companies, such as Scentsy and Paparazzi. This was also surprising to me, as most events of this type (such as Faerie Con, for example) really try to focus on and showcase handmade items, crafters, artists and truly unique products / services.
The main focus of this event was supposed to be, "educating on ocean preservation. We will have swimming, classes and workshops, guest appearances and speakers, activities for kids, paint night, and vendors." (Taken directly from the website).
So, I understood that the focus of this event was not simply a vendor show, but to raise awareness and money for a good cause, with Mermaids as the draw to grab attention and lure us in (as Mermaids traditionally do). As a vendor, I was more than happy to promote this event on my page and also through word of mouth to my friends, many of whom were already marked "interested" in the event on facebook. Like other conventions of its kind, it would have been a draw for the Rennie culture crowd, as we love any excuse to get together and wear our fancy garb.
The next problem that I encountered was the ticket price. The ticket and events section have since been removed from the main website, and I did not have a chance to grab screen shots of those. This was available from Eventbrite:
$15 was for a kids ticket. The organizer was asking for about $50 per day, per ticket. As you can see in this image, the event was eventually expanded to 3 days, now including Friday, August 9th. We received no notification of this. Upon periodically checking the website, I noticed that there were now vendors listed for Friday, as well as Saturday and Sunday.
Yet, we still had not been added to the list of vendors. The vendor list for Saturday and Sunday had not changed since April when I paid. I sent the organizer a message, and she informed me that Friday was for "the children's event," and that I could have that night for an extra $50. I declined this offer, yet could not find anything about what exactly the children's event was on either the main site or Facebook.
Sometime after the event had been expanded to three days, the ticket prices had changed on the main site. A pass for all three days was now $50, but a one day ticket was still $45. This included only entrance to the con, as well as vendors, "classes and activities," next to none of which had been listed anywhere on any of the Mermaid Con's resources.
The website mentioned open swim in the resort pool, as well as Mermaid tail purchase and rental, with instructional classes on how to swim in them. Yet, no instructors were ever mentioned, nor what classes would be like, who they are appropriate for, etc.
The website also outlined other events which would have an extra cost. One was a Mermaid Ball with dinner. There was no description other than something along the lines of, "Make sure to purchase your ticket early, because prices will go up at the door!" I inquired about specifics of the Mermaid Ball, so that I could advertise on my own page, as that is something my friends would have really enjoyed. I was eager to share the details. The organizer simply replied, "It was cancelled due to lack of interest." It escapes me how an event with absolutely no details or description could possibly gain interest, but I left it alone.
The "free events" included with ticket purchase were a meet and greet with Disney animator Philo Barnhart, and a comic drawing class with Charles D. Moisant. I have not reached out to either of these individuals to confirm if they truly had booked this event. However, profiles which appear to match the two individuals did comment on the cancellation from the Mermaid Movement, stating that they had been looking forward to the event.
Other events listed on the website included "Watch Splash with unlimited popcorn and wine," and "Watch Pirates of the Caribbean with unlimited popcorn and beer" for an added ticket price of $40 per viewing. Again, I did not get a chance to grab screen shots before they disappeared from the site, but I believe there were also a couple events listed regarding kids activities with vague to no description. Nothing that I can recall regarding any classes or activities on ocean preservation, which was supposed to be the main focus of the convention. However, I may be mistaken on that.
I had become convinced at this point that the organizer had bitten off more than they could chew, and that this event was going to be a total flop. I thought, maybe if the convention doesn't draw a lot of guests, if they could at least open the vendor area up to resort guests, we would at least make our money back. My in-laws live about 30 minutes from Turf Valley, so we were going to haul my stuff 150 miles down the mountain and make a weekend of staying at Grandma's.
My friend and I both put a lot of time and money into creating products for this event. All the while keeping in mind that this event may not turn out to be so lucrative, and hopefully we will be able to ride the Mermaid wave at other events to unload our products at another time.
So, let's talk about the Mermaid Movement.
This was another red flag that the Mermaid Convention wouldn't be quite as successful as we had hoped. At this point, we had heard very few details regarding the events of Mermaid Con and the posts from this shop had very little following on social media.
To this day, I'm still not exactly sure what the Mermaid Movement is. An event space? A shop? Something else? Having been in the Town Mall in Westminster several times myself, I've seen many promising shops go down the tubes, following the pattern of too many shopping malls as of late. I was hoping to see that it was taking an upturn. The Mermaid Movement facebook page appears to advertise that they host kids craft events, where patrons can pay to come glue pom poms to paper crowns and such.
I was starting to become more and more concerned with each passing day, due to the lack of following and promotion on social media. Nobody had heard of the Mermaid Convention unless I told them. The number of interested guests on facebook hadn't budged. Months went by without a post, website update, or any further information.
I started to wonder if the convention was even going to happen. My friend and I had been promoting the event for months through posts and progress photos of items we were working on. I e-mailed the organizer asking how I could help to promote. She replied just to keep posting (which I had been doing for months) and that she would give me promotional material or discounts to hand out. None of this ever happened.
The price of the tickets combined with the low interest on social media had me very worried about the turnout for this event, but I still held out hope that it would actually happen. That the organizer would drastically reduce ticket prices at the last minute to boost sales. After all, events such as Faerie Con range from $20-$30 and feature much more activities and vendor access than this. But, I was excited to help create what would hopefully turn into an annual event. I held on to the hope that she was promoting everywhere possible (as I live a couple hours from the event, it wasn't feasible for me to check if the organizer had been promoting locally and/or do promoting there, myself).
Then, on August 2nd, with just one week before the event that so many of us diligently prepared for, we received this haphazard message.
To be completely honest, I'm not sure if any of us were truly surprised by this. I live so far away that a part of me was relieved that I didn't haul my kid, my tables, my stuff, merchandise, dogs and myself all the way there just for a flop. And I guess I should be grateful that the notice wasn't even shorter than it was.
Some suggested in the comments section that the organizer should host the vendors for free at the location of the Mermaid Movement, which would have been slightly, ever so slightly reasonable, yet no word back.
You might infer from the message on facebook that we are not getting the full story. A misunderstanding with the venue, yet we aren't looking for another venue? Everything is just flat out canceled? No details about what this "misunderstanding" is? And where is this new instruction class going to take place?
Some of the concerned vendors received an anonymous private message regarding the half-truth we received. It read:
"The girl for the mermaid convention owns a mermaid “store” in townmall,of Westminster and it looks shapes to me. She asked us about this convention (I own an art studio) months ago and we never heard from,her again. Looks like she sold like 10 tickets and that was it. I thunk she backed out on them or she didn’t meet the minimum or something. It’s fishy for sure."
Despite the pleas of many would be vendors and guests, the organizer has yet to respond to any questions, or refund anyone's money. I remain optimistic that this was a person who is probably going through a very tumultuous time right now, and facing a bump in the road of trying to accomplish their dreams. Not a malicious money hungry person just out to scam people for money and attention. I do not currently hold any ill will toward the organizer, only disappointment.
I hope that she does the right thing and goes through with owning her mistakes and refunding the money. It truly is a shame, because many of us would have loved to make this event a success. The lack of planning definitely played a part, but the high ticket prices probably prevented most potential guests from snagging a ticket ahead of time. Most people I spoke to in person were practically sold at the mention of "Mermaid Con," yet the website appeared sloppily thrown together and largely incomplete, just weeks out from the event.
Days before announcing the cancellation, the organizer posted that the schedule of Events would be released that day (July 31st? Less than two weeks before the event?). Surely somebody must have known, at that point, that this was a bust. What was the point of keeping us all hanging on? I have a feeling there are a lot of questions we won't have answered any time soon.
Even if this were a simple mermaid-themed craft / vendor show with a couple of guest speakers and open swim, it could have gathered a lot of attention. Many people love a reason to put on their fancy clothes and meet up with their friends in their fancy clothes. This could have been really cool, and it hurts me to see it just fall to pieces with no plans to relocate or reschedule.
As a vendor, much of the burden falls on us to research events, venues and organizers before paying events. It's stressful to try and get all of this done quickly, while organizers warn us that we must pay immediately to secure our spot before it goes to someone else. I have to take every social interaction with a potential colleague with a grain of salt, because we never know who somebody is online. Festivals and events are an enormous financial risk on crafters and other small business owners.
The reason I wrote this article is because many of my friends and relatives, as well as other vendors, asked me what happened. The truth is that I don't know, but we can probably draw a fairly accurate conclusion as to what happened. This was just a tool for me to lay everything out in somewhat chronological order, organize my thoughts, and easily share them with people who ask.
I may come back later to edit or add more thoughts as they come. This bit took me the better part of a day to put together. So, if you made it this far, thanks for hanging out with me and let me know if you were also affected by the Mermaid Convention (or lack thereof).