Why Does It Cost (and other tiny house festival myths)

Since the first week of October 2016 I spent nearly 60 hours a week putting together the 2017 TinyHouseNC Street Festival. Designed to be what I now call a “micro-fest” the idea behind the festival was to create something very specific in its target. I wanted to highlight the dwellers, builders, cottage industries, etc. in and around the tiny house world through the state of North Carolina. It was no easy task as nothing like it had been done and at moments I felt like even my idea was unattainable. On April 21, 2017 though, the gates opened and over the course of the weekend more than 5,000 people attended. It was a success on a number of levels and made those late nights, early mornings, and mountains of UPS boxes, worth it. As I look back though I am reminded not of the spreadsheets and emails, tiny houses that had to try and parallel park, or even the hugs and smiles I received. Instead I am reminded of the questions that were asked along the way, the challenges that were presented, and the negotiations I had to commit to.

What I had to realize early on is that no, not just anyone can put on a festival. Well let me rephrase that. Anyone CAN put on a festival but not just anyone can put on a public festival wherein they close down city blocks, halt traffic, and otherwise disrupt the daily flow of a town. That requires a lot of permitting, police and city official clearance, and compromise. That leads me to the first myth:

HOW HARD CAN IT BE?

Technically it isn’t that hard. Anyone with a little money, a lot of time, and even more desire, can put together a festival and invite people. Before I could announce anything, to anyone, I had to get the permission of the town and even blessing, you might say, to host the festival. The town of Pink Hill, NC is only a couple thousand on any given day so the possibility of bringing in several thousand could be a bit scary on several levels. Luckily I had a mentor on my side who helped me navigate the ins and outs of it all, as well as the support of my wife who gave me incredible insight into small town perception. While there was no formal permit required, I did have to present to the town council a map of the proposed festival, the dates, the involvement of the town, etc. This included having the police chief’s agreement, a number of businesses agreement, a date check, and more! And once that was all achieved I then had to get the message out to folks so someone would even show up.

JUST PUT IT ON FACEBOOK

I have to admit that very early on I thought the street festival would be like the movie Field of Dreams. If I built it, they would come. Turns out, no one was really interested in the early days. While I have cultivated a name for myself, for Tiny r(E)volution, and even for TinyHouseNC through the months and years, there was some skepticism about a festival in a small, rural town in eastern North Carolina. Just announcing a festival on Facebook was not going to be enough. By mid-October I had worked with a graphic designer to develop an awesome (and flexible) logo, a web developer to create a robust and reliable website, an experienced event planner to talk through logical steps, and tiny house luminaries to convince them to help me spread the word. Only at this point was the festival really starting to take shape.

HOUSES WILL SHOW UP

How can you have a tiny house festival without houses? How could I identify all the possibilities within the state and just beyond in order to stick to my original idea of celebrating the modern tiny house movement in North Carolina? And once I did that why would they want to come to an unproven, fledgling festival? I started immediately (even before I had a logo or a real branding) contacting professional tiny house builders in the Southeast region, asking them if they would be interested or how I might get them interested. What was the usual protocol for coming to a festival? I was at a disadvantage somewhat because I had never before worked with a festival or planned a large event. I didn’t really know what the cart looked like or where to find the horse! I chose the path of blatant honesty. I told most builders that I was unsure about a lot but that I was sure I wanted their house to be present at this festival and that I would be working harder than anyone they had seen before in making the festival and their participation worthwhile.

YOU CAN’T DO THIS ALONE

I was so naive in the beginning. Since birth I have been a determined boy. I have never been afraid to take the bull by the horns and get my hands dirty. I am a hard worker. My daddy and his daddy and his daddy were hard workers. By Thanksgiving I was determined to make this festival happen and I had committed to working 60+ hour weeks (in addition to my “day job”) to put it all together. I was the coordinator, the marketing manager, the publicist, the reservation agent, and so much more. I thought that I had to wear all the hats and what I realize now is that it was a case of being stubborn and self-sacrificing and wasn’t at all a wise move. I worked myself into exhaustion most weeks and I am sure now that I probably dropped a ball or two along the way. It is best to find a couple of volunteers (which I did by the first of the year) who will commit – with or without minimum pay – to helping shoulder some of the load. It will help things run more smoothly and keep everyone involved as sane as possible.

WHY DO YOU HAVE TO CHARGE

This was by far the top myth I encountered regarding putting together a tiny house festival. A number of people wrote Facebook messages, sent in emails, and emailed the contact form to ask why there was an admission fee. These same people felt like because they had been to church bazaars, town fairs, and other events before without paying, that this should also be free. Truth is, there are a lot of financial considerations in hosting a festival such as the 2017 TinyHouseNC Street Festival. There are permits, rentals, travel considerations, marketing campaigns, port-a-potties, police/security presence, garbage collection, and much, much more. Truth is, a festival is not really a money maker. Yes, a successful festival can provide a modicum of revenue for the host once ticket sales are tallied. But that money cannot be budgeted because it is truly hit or miss. A line item budget can only operate successfully if it is based on actual monies coming in (sponsorships, entry fees, pre-sales, etc).

Have you ever hosted a festival? What was your experience? Did I get any of the myths correct? Let us know in the comment section below. And as always, please share this article on your favorite social media platform!

By Andrew M. Odom for the [Tiny House Blog]

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Sue Resnik - May 21, 2017 Reply

Wasn’t it the 2017 street festival??? Must’ve been, since I was there! 😉

Greg Parham - June 27, 2017 Reply

Nice read, Andrew! I am helping to host the fist Colorado Tiny House Festival this summer, and boy howdy it is a lot of work, and I’m not even doing most of it! I need to call you up and pick your brain. We are still looking for builders vendors and speakers too. I see that you are going to the Byers event the following weekend. Interested in hanging out in Denver another week? 😉

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