Dear Up a Creek Without a Booth;

Your frustration is understandable. Putting all that time, money and planning into an event and then having the whole thing fall out from under you is a terrible experience emotionally and financially. You geared up, set your expectations and then had it snatched away from you by the weather. Floods in Fort Collins. Who knew? Bad Earth! Bad planet! Stop that!

Let’s start with the legal stuff. As you let us know after sending your original email there was in fact a clause that covered situations just such as this.

12. ACTS OF GOD, FIRES, STRIKES, ETC. In the event that any outside cause, such as war, fire, strike or other emergency, prevents the Sustainable Living Fair from being held, the Fair Management may retain Exhibitor’s payments for expense compensation.

Just as you invested time and money to gear up for the event before it happened – or didn’t happen in this case – so did the Sustainable Living Association (SLA). Were I in your position I’d be unhappy as well. However if you look at this the other way ’round I think you’ll see that it really does make sense. The organization coordinating an event like this can’t afford to refund deposits when the event is cancelled. Especially when they didn’t think to buy insurance that covers flooding or event cancellation.

Floods in Fort Collins? By the river? Who knew?

One glimmer of light I’ll offer you is this. You’ll notice the clause says “the Fair Management may retain Exhibitor’s payments.” The key word here is “may”. It never hurts to ask. Maybe they will be willing to refund 50% of it. Or maybe they would be willing to apply a portion of this payment to a booth at next years fair. I think there are assorted deals which could be worked out.

Providing they do eventually communicate with you. Which brings us to their lack of communication.

Finding out the event was cancelled 24 hours after you were suppose to arrive and set up for the event is really inexcusable. I have devoted months of my life to ranting like a demented old man about how people communicate less despite being attached to cell phones 24 hours a day. But you can’t fix other people. That includes their communication skills, or lack of.

Posting on a Facebook page is something I regard as being almost useless in a situation like this. An organization such as the SLA doesn’t really have much incentive to respond to a question about returning money in a public forum while they are simultaneously asking people to give them money. Blah blah blah social media blah blah transparency blah blah blah blah. Yea I know. Good luck with that.

What to do about it?

Take the negotiations behind the scenes and directly to the person who can make a decision and implement it. Try my suggestions of asking for a partial refund or some carry over to next year. Ask about an opportunity to be present and handing out your materials at other SLA events in the upcoming year. Ask if you get in on the additional fund raising events SLA is going to be putting on to recover from the flood.

Come up with other opportunities to utilize the marketing materials you’ve purchased. What if you unite with some of the other businesses and organizations that got their money washed away and did some kind of event? You are not alone here. By your count there are something around 250 other businesses or organizations in the same boat (groan) as you. I have a feeling many of them might be just as grumpy and frustrated as you are. Is there some way you can contact them and join forces.

In the future when renting a booth you now know two questions to ask. What is the refund policy in event of cancellation? Do you have event insurance? Ask for proof of insurance in writing. Event insurance covers three things:

  • Death or injury to people during the event and on event grounds.
  • Damage to or theft of property during the event and on event grounds.
  • Cancellation of all or part of the event.

What to not do about it?

While it’s temping to focus your frustration and anger on the SLA that isn’t going to do you any good at all. Do not publicly attack or demonize the Sustainable Living Association. This will not make you any friends. You will lose and lose badly because you will end up being portraid as someone who hates the Earth.

I’ll critique the SLA’s performance next week in our first Unsolicited Advice because I already have enough friends.

I’m not saying you should forgive and forget. I think that whole approach is over rated in most cases. You do need to take all that frustration and point it in a direction where you can make forward progress. Posting on Facebook pages is about as far away from forward progress as you can get. Contact the decision maker at SLA. Contact other businesses that lost their investment.

This isn’t the first time things didn’t go the way you planned ’em and it will not be the last. Take some time to bang your fist and rant, get it out of your system, then do something brilliant because that’s what a small business owner has to do.


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