One of the most trying positions to fill for a show manager could arguably be the position of Vendor Coordinator. A rather fancy title for a person who has to handle all the vendors who come to their horse shows. Vendors are often labeled difficult, hostile, dramatic, sociopathic, or even Princesses. (I got that one up in Sonoma because I kept asking if I was ever going to get access to power. I know, how dare I want to turn my lights on so customers can see my inventory!)
We apparently all want to be in the same spot. You know, where the customers are. And we want to set up and tear down whenever and however we like. We also don’t want certain vendors to be allowed into our shows, because let’s face it, there just isn’t enough money to go around after your show bill, your groom, your Airbnb, your overpriced show food, etc ad nauseum. So of course we do not want a million vendors competing for the same 100 people, and we especially do not want the vendors who tend to use unethical business practices to undercut prices, make sneaky deals, and create an unhappy work environment. Unlike show managers, we don’t measure the size or success of a horse show by how many horses are attending. Horses don’t wear hunt coats.
Most of us are on the road for at least 30 weeks a year chasing that next big sale. Some of us still might have a brick and mortar back home that is just barely hanging on. Many of us have children, dogs, and if we are lucky a horse. If we are really fortunate we might have time to actually ride said horse. And the harsh reality is that many of us are one bad show away from going under. We are one of the luckier ones, so most likely it would take 3 bad shows for us to really lose our marbles. Or one bad Thermal would probably do the trick too. And yup, here we are!
The Vendor Coordinators usually change from year to year, because frankly they just cannot handle most of us. We are opinionated, sometimes bitter, never satisfied, and usually negative little nellies. But our attitude could be attested to our treatment. At best, we are an afterthought to most of the show managers. In the grand scheme of show managing, we don’t generate them any money. Many of us no longer pay to sponsor the show, because frankly we never really got anything out of it, and couldn’t afford to anyway. But in the beginning, we were naïve and thought that extra $5,000 would make us $50,000. It did not. Or we were bullied into sponsoring because that was apparently the only way we could be a vendor at that show. That’s what happened to me anyway. Little did I know that wasn’t in fact the case, just a way to squeeze more money out of a newbie who didn’t know better.
So why do we continue to do it, and how do we actually survive? After 16 years, 7 which have been spent on the road, I ask myself that question every day. And every day I find new ways to both love and loathe what I do. I mostly love it though. I love many of the people in this industry, including other vendors, and many of the show staff we work with, and even a show manager here and there! We really are a misfit traveling circus. And I of course love our loyal customers. They keep us in business, and they bring us food, diet coke, and even Benedryl when needed! They also share life stories with us, most of which involve horses, dogs, or their children with horses and dogs. And the dogs...we love the dogs.
And despite the many obstacles and battles we go through each new show week, we have managed to be one of the most successful equestrian retailers in recent history. I am able to support 2 employees and myself. I have helped build some of the most prominent brands in the sport, and have developed a few of my own. Our little business supports horse shows, haulers, and manufacturers both big and small. We make money to spend money on other small businesses as much as we can. We are a rarity in today’s economy, a small business that continues to generate money to put back into our industry, and manage to support a few people in the process.
We survive because we work at it every day. We evolve every day. We push the boundaries of our industry standards every day. We provide service to our customers every day. We post on social media, we make new custom items, we find new brands, we are honest with our customers about how they look and do not sell them on something just to make the sale. We show up, look nice, put out good product and good service. And we have to do it every minute of every day. We have to spend money when we don’t have it, and we have to eat poop sometimes to make other people happy. There is no quick road to success, no sponsored rider or sponsored show, no social media influencer or special event, that will catapult your business into stardom.
I am not going to lie, the amount of hard work and pride swallowing it takes to run a successful retail business wears on your soul, and questions your faith in humanity almost daily. I often ruminate on other ways to make a living that are more altruistic in nature, where at the end of the day I can say I did some good in the world. Most of the ends of my days are worrying about a button coming off a $1000 hunt coat, and how to deal with the hunterzilla in my face the next day. Not exactly the kind of job that will give me brownie points to enter the pearly gates when this beautiful fucked up life comes to an end.
My boyfriend is always quick to remind me how good I have it compared to other people. And I know. I have had other jobs. It wasn’t exactly sunshine and butterflies their either. I just watched a fascinating documentary, An American Factory, that follows the story of a former GM factory, bought and rebuilt by a Chinese mega investor. Long story short, while culturally we are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to how we view work, at the end of the day the workers have the same life struggles and inequalities from their billionaire bosses. And yes, I have it 1000 times better than they do. I get to dress people up in beautiful clothing and look at pretty horses all day long. Not too shabby I suppose!
So how did an educated driven woman go from taking a bankrupt business at the start of the recession, build it into a multimillion dollar grossing retail business, to stomping her feet in the desert like a spoiled child mid tantrum? Well, when I find the answer to that question I will let you know! Until then I am going to just giddyoverit, and enjoy my cushy little vendor life at the bottom. Being at the bottom isn’t so bad in the global scheme of things…there’s only one way to go from here right???
Friend and Model featured: Farina Rowland
Photographer: Lori Ovanessian @ www.simpleefocused.com