User:DuncanDaHusky/Midwest FurFest 2006 Registration Report
Another year, another Midwest FurFest Registration report.
Executive Summary: Good heavens, where did all these people come from? But we made it work anyway.
After six years of running Registration, you’d think it would be old hat by now. But there’s always new challenges, new improvements and, yes, new problems that come along each year. I’m extremely fortunate that MFF staff is full of excellent and capable folks who are always up to the challenges and are able to face them with good cheer. As I say every year, this report is my way of summing up the year for me, a way to look back and reflect, and to make notes for the following year and years to come. Your comments, suggestions, and questions are always welcome, though!
We had no real issues with pre-registration, fortunately, but the big news was just HOW MANY pre-registrations there were! I’ll get to the exact numbers later in this report, but suffice to say that we were nervously facing a huge increase in attendance. I worked with my dear husband Takaza to compare the pre-registration numbers to the room reservation counts, and we were able to say with reasonable certainty that the sharp rise in attendance was going to be real. This allowed is to make some predictions about how many items we were going to need for sponsors and attendees, and adjust our order quantities accordingly.
The sponsor goodies were fun to order this year. My first idea was awesome: a custom-printed, tin lunch box. If we could have pulled it off, everyone would have been blown away. Alas, when I finally tracked down a source, the best price I could get was well over twice the amount I had budgeted, so that idea had to fall by the wayside.
My old standby for custom-printed items, 4imprint, came through with a couple of good possibilities: a color-changing light the size of a jumbo egg, an attaché bag, a set of four pint glasses, and a couple of other small geegaws. After consulting with the staff and our chairman (Linnaeus), we decided the light was cute but useless, the attaché bag looked cheap, but we really liked the pint glasses. The problem with them was that a set of four of them took up a lot of room and was rather heavy; also, to fit into our budget, we could only go with the cheapest imprint available. After re-thinking things a bit, we elected to go with a single pint glass, with deluxe, four-color printing. This left a little in the budget, so we splurged a bit and bought 1,000 custom-made chocolate coins from Chocolate Cheers, 500 milk chocolate and 500 dark chocolate, to go in the glasses. Although we had always bought 125 items for sponsors in the past (and never had more than 110 sponsors), I decided to stretch a bit and order 144 glasses, just in case.
We also had to order the usual stuff, including registration bags from 4imprint. Why pink? Well, I didn’t want to repeat a color we had used in the past, so that left clear (ick – imprint doesn’t show well), gray (looks like it’s from Home Depot), or pink. Besides, we were going with our County Fair theme, so it wasn’t pink, it was “cotton candy”!
We also had a wonderful design for the cloisonné pins that Custom Pins did their usual outstanding job with. I want to send a heartfelt thank you to Neowolf and his lovely wife for receiving and storing all of these packages before the convention – you were real lifesavers!
One other problem came up as I was preparing for the convention: badge blanks. In the past, we were able to get what was essentially a digital color copy on the badge blanks; it was cheap and easy to do. Unfortunately, since we were putting these through a laser printer that was no longer an option – if you put a toner-based print through a laser printer again, there’s every chance that the printing will flake and smear. Our next cheapest option was offset printing, which we were able to do through Insty Prints of Elk Grove Village. They were very easy to work with and did an excellent job. The only drawback is that offset printing is much more expensive than color copying, meaning that what was normally a $175 expense suddenly became a $750 expense. Fortunately, we were able to absorb the cost, but it was a surprising increase, to say the least.
Finally, we had the usual chains and stanchions rented from Indestructo Rental, only this year I decided to save a little sanity and have them delivered and picked up. It cost and extra $100 on the bill, but it saved a lot of grief, and allowed us to rent a couple of extra projection screens (which never would have fit in my Element!).
As for equipment: We started out the year with a rather large capital expenditure request for some additions to the Registration system: three new laptops and three new printers. I’d gotten tired of have to rely on the “beg and borrow” method of having laptops for use at Registration, plus there’s always concerns about liability should something happen (like, oh, I dunno – a fire alarm, maybe?).
The inkjet printers that we had used since 2000 were pretty much done by the end of last year’s MFF; the paper feed on one was shot, and was going fast on the other one, plus the annual expenses of new cartridges were unpleasantly high. We switched to laser printers this year, Samsung ML-2010’s, and they worked like champs. The laptops and the printers all came from Newegg, which had great prices and fast delivery times.
We had some last-minute difficulties getting everything configured (note to self: next year, all technical configuration MUST be done by November 1!), but with the help of Neowolf, Roho, and Rustitobuck we were able to get everything whipped into shape. We did have a nasty issue when it came time to import the pre-registration database into the Registration server. I keep the pre-registration database as an Excel spreadsheet, so when it comes time to import it into the Registration server’s MySQL database, it’s always a bit of a fight. We thought that we had a good enough handle on it that I could do it myself this year, but some of the records got munged in the process. This didn’t affect a lot of records and we didn’t lose any irreplaceable data, but it was enough to slightly throw off my count of sponsors, create a couple of duplicate records, and, unfortunately, mess up the badge print time/date field, which means no traffic analysis this year. This sucks, because we kicked butt in terms of service speed, but it’s only a minor annoyance, not a crippling breakdown. It could have been a lot worse.
Staffing preparations this year were smoother than ever before, mainly because with a couple of exceptions every staff member from last year returned, and I had a couple of new volunteers. While this enabled us to have an insane number of people working on Thursday night (nine or ten at once, I seem to recall), it does bring up a question: By convention rules any time volunteered before or after closing ceremonies counts double towards rollovers; a number of folks are volunteering for Thursday night only, working five hours and then they’re done for the weekend. While this is perfectly legal (and I don’t fault these folks at all, I want to stress!), I’m left wondering if this is really good for the convention? Given that at seventeen people, I had the largest staff I’ve ever had (or any other department at MFF, for that matter), I’m wondering if the convention would be better served by having fewer people on staff who would be willing to work more than just ten hours then they’re done. As it was, I had to stretch to schedule everyone who wanted a rollover so that they got the ten hours they needed; is it better to have twelve people who work ten hours each or ten people who each work twelve hours, and save the convention the cost of two rollover memberships? This is going to bear more consideration in the coming year, and I welcome everyone’s thoughts on the matter.
Scheduling was a bit of a wreck due to an unusual situation: a week before the convention my second-in-command, Neowolf, let me know that due to illness he was not sure he would be able to work at the convention. I turned to Rasslor, a Registration veteran and a very dear friend, who readily agreed to take over the position should it become necessary. I made two different schedules, one with Neowolf and the other without, and sent out the one without him. Fortunately, Neowolf recovered in time for the convention, so we fell back the other schedule – which I had failed to circulate to the staff. Ack! It wound up being a mishmash of the two, and as I’ve said in past years, it didn’t much matter because we had people working whether they were scheduled or not, making sure that we had adequate coverage at all times. Have I mentioned how much I adore my staff? Many, many thanks to Rollie Bear, Cobalt Fox, Little Wolf, DaveQat, Synicism, Tecknow, Rama, Cheesecake, Tsuki, Rasslor, Shy Matsi, Osiris, Stormdog, Moira, Woody, Bullet. You were all tremendous!
Bag stuffing went well. We traditionally do bag stuffing on Wednesday night before the convention and this year was no different. Special thanks to Rbear and Faolan for their help, as well as all of the MFF staff who pitched in. 1,600 bags is a lot of bags to fill! For the first time this year we ran into a problem, though: we ran out of boxes to put the filled bags into! Usually, the empty boxes of con books, restaurant guides, and pocket programs are enough but not this year. We’ll need to remember this for next year and plan accordingly.
At The Convention
Thursday night was the usual rush to get everything ready in time. One of the wonderful benefits of having the same staff each year is that they know the equipment, and they know how stuff needs to be set up. Between that and excellent direction from Neowolf, my role in setup and teardown each day was purely supervisory, and I have to admit I'm not complaining! We had all of the computers and printers and chains and stanchions in place by a little after 6 PM, but we had one small problem: we were missing the credit card terminal. Ack! My heart goes out to the one heroic staffer who shall remain anonymous drove frantically for a good two hours to locate the missing terminal and eventually found it in the back of their vehicle where it had been all along. To fill in the gap the Hyatt graciously lent us their credit card imprinter and forms to process cards manually, and we managed to open exactly one time (as stated on all of our signage). For next year we need to re-program the credit card terminal to show the proper mailing address for the corporation (it recently changed) and we should consider getting a second terminal so we can have one at Registration and one at Art Show at the same time.
This year we decided to try something new and combine Thursday night Registration with the Thursday Night Mixer. The mixer was a tasty ice cream buffet, as well as a cotton candy machine (to tie in with this year's County Fair theme). Both were a big hit, as was the co-location with Registration, so you can be sure that this is something we will be doing again (even if the cotton candy machine did periodically sound like a 747 taking off).
The Registration setup was a sight to behold - ten terminals, three laser printers, and separate lines for sponsors, pre-registered attendees, and attendees registering at the door. Unfortunately, I miscalculated what the ratio of at-the-door and pre-registered attendees would be and wound up with a huge line of pre-registered attendees. A few quick resets helped move things along, but next year we need to remember to allocate a larger number of stations to be dedicated to pre-registered attendees. I apologize to anyone who had to wait in line, and I hope it was a reasonably brief wait.
One of the things that gets a bit problematic when you think through the registration process before the convention is the flow of process. We discovered a critical flaw shortly after we opened: sponsors would register at one end of the tables, then walk fifty feet down to the printers where they would receive their Registration bag, as well as their sponsor goodies. The critical flaw was that there was nothing marking the badges as belonging to sponsors as they came out of the printers, so the printer attendants didn't know who to give sponsor goodies to (and many sponsors didn't know they had goodies coming to them). Once we figured out the problem, we moved the sponsor goodies to the sponsor-dedicated terminals and that worked better, but about a half-dozen sponsors came by later asking for their goodies, and we got them to most of them. See later in the report for the problems there. In the future, we need to keep the sponsor goodies at the sponsor terminals from the beginning.
The rest of the weekend went reasonably well, including the initial rush of Friday morning. Although the quarters in Mayoral Foyer are still somewhat cramped for that brief time, we managed to process everyone quickly and efficiently. The rest of the weekend ran like clockwork, and I was very happy the performance of my staff and the registration system. One small problem came up by Saturday, though: we ran out of sponsor glasses! Between far more sponsors than expected and the problems we had on Thursday night of sponsors not picking up their goodies, a couple of sponsors did not get all of their items. Fortunately our vendors have been very happy to help us with re-ordering, and I should be mailing out the missing items after the first of the year. Many thanks to our sponsors for their patience!
Temporary badges on Friday and Saturday nights worked flawlessly this year, for a change. The addition of writing the attendee's name on the back of the badge was a good security feature, and we had no problems with people exchanging their temporary badges for real badges the following morning. We have a slight problem with Operations opening at the same time as Registration on Saturday morning, which means that the money and list of names from Friday night's temporary badges is still sitting up in Ops when people wanting to redeem them are clamoring for badges, but we can work that out better next year.
There's not much to say about teardown except that the Registration staff is amazingly efficient and thorough to the point where I had to go back to the MFF storage unit a few days after the con and retrieve some of my personal items that packed with Registration! :-) Still, I can't complain - once again I was relegated to a supervisory role as they swooped in, packed everything up, and carted it all up to Regency Coat Check for loading onto the truck to the storage unit.
So, what needs to improve for next year? Here's a first pass at items that I thought of:
- Single package to hand to sponsors, not two separate items (envelope and glass)
- Order sponsor items earlier! (although to do this, we'll need to get art from the Guests of Honor earlier)
- Better integration of the production database with pre-convention database
- Better handling of single-day registration in the registration system: auto-populate price field, append XXXDAY ONLY to name field
- On Thursday night, devote 2 stations for sponsors, 3-4 for pre-reg, the rest for at the door
- The hours the Registration was open were good; should keep these for next year
- Fewer Thursday-only staff; it’s nice to give rollovers, but is it good for the convention?
- Registration staff was huge; could we operate with fewer?
- Better communicate with staff and dealers about where to get their badges
- Sign at Registration stating dealers can get their badges in the Dealers Room?
- Put something else on the “tail” of the badge besides a Registration form? Coupons?
Traffic and Demographics Analysis
Normally, this is where I crow about how fast we processed people and when we had the peak traffic, etc. etc. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, due to the database getting munged at the beginning of the convention, the data I have for this is incomplete, and we'll have to do without it this year. Sorry!
As I hinted above, this year was tremendous in terms of growth in attendance. How good was it? I'll let the numbers tell the story:
|Total attendees (staff excluded)||446||482||639||748||885||1008||1339|
|Total attendees (staff included)||473||511||685||800||959||1066||1422|
|Percent increase in attendance||---||8.1%||32.5%||16.8%||19.9%||11.2%||33.4%|
|Pre-registered attendees (sponsors included)||n/a||212||344||386||446||559||769|
Notable in this table is the dramatic 33.4% increase in attendance; we ordinarily assume approximately 15% growth, so this was a big, though pleasant, surprise. You can believe that we've spent a lot of time speculating about the cause of this growth, and my personal conclusion is that it is a sum of three factors: Anthrocon moving to Pittsburgh (new hotel, new city leads to uncertainty and a feeling of "I'll wait this one out and see how it goes"), Conifur's cancellation, leaving a gap in the late fall/early winter con season, and just plain good word of mouth. I'd be interested in anyone else's speculation about this, though.
The % sponsors stayed about the same, which was also a bit surprising given that we increased the sponsorship rate from $100 to $120 this year. My only guess about why this is so is that past sponsors were happy with what they received in return and new sponsors had a higher perceived value of a sponsorship, making it more desireable. Either way, the support is gratifying, and tells us that you think we're doing something right. Thanks!
Finally, I'll note that the final number attendance figure here is slightly fewer (19 fewer to be exact) than the number announced at closing ceremonies; this is due to me finally getting the time to winnow out duplicate database records and refunded memberships.
Graphically, the attendance figures look like this:
The projected 15% growth takes us to 1,635 in 2007. I believe that the 33.4% growth we saw this year is not sustainable, and that something closer to 15% is a more accurate prediction. I've been wrong before, though!
The geographic distribution of attendees breaks down like this:
|Midwest||66%||70%||66%||66%||63%||66%||59%||(IL, WI, IN, MI, MN, OH, MO, IA, NE)|
|Northeast||6%||8%||5%||6%||5%||4%||6%||(NH, VT, MA, NY, CT, RI)|
|Mid-Atlantic||5%||5%||5%||4%||5%||5%||6%||(PA, MD, VA, WV)|
|South||n/a||12%||12%||11%||9%||12%||13%||(NC, SC, GA, FL, AL, TN, KY, MS, LA, AR, TX)|
|West Coast||7%||3%||4%||5%||7%||5%||7%||(CA, OR, WA)|
|East Coast||15%||16%||14%||14%||14%||13%||17%||(ME, NH, VT, MA, RI, CT, NY, PA, DE, MD, VA, NC, SC, GA, FL)|
|International||-||-||-||-||-||0.6%||1.0%||(Non-US or Canada)|
From this, we can see that Midwest FurFest is continuing its slow trend away from being quite the solely regional convention that it once was. The drop-off in proportional population from the Midwest is offset by incremental increases in all parts of the country, which further points to the convention becoming a nationwide draw. It's also notable that we're seeing an increase in international attendance, with attendees from Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.
This concludes the Midwest FurFest 2006 Registration Report. All comments and questions are welcome, either as a comment here or e-mailed to Midwest FurFest registration.