TABLING AT DETROIT’S DALLY IN THE ALLEY
The speed at which the “Dally” street festival is growing is astounding. In the 1990’s I lived in the same north Cass Corridor neighborhood that hosts this amazing urban street fair. I can remember when the event was confined to the long alley behind buildings. I remember when it expanded to neighboring streets. Now the event has overflowed onto a large chunk of Midtown Detroit.
The fair is twice the size of what I remember from 1998 or thereabouts. It’s as much as 50% bigger than the last time I attended it, when I was in town in 2008. In some respects for vendors it’s become too big. While the Allied Media Conference in June didn’t have enough traffic to suit our purposes, the Dally at times had too much; the vendors jammed helplessly in their spots watching the unending flow of people who were not there to purchase but instead, frankly, to get drunk. This was late evening, once the sun vanished.
How did we do from a sales standpoint?
I’ll use the mantra, “Not as well as we hoped but better than we feared.” For about a three-hour window we did very well, catching interest with Kathleen Crane’s eye-catching “ALOHA FROM DETROIT” t-shirts (soon to be on sale at the main http://www.newpoplit.com site), as well as with our prototype lit journal with its equally eye-catching Alyssa Klash cover. There were scores of other vendors selling Detroit t-shirts. Everyone who commented to us on the matter–at least a hundred people– said we had the best.
The weather was quite cool, and threatened rain for much of the day– moments of dark clouds overhead punctuated by occasional drops. We took a risk in that we were one of a handful of vendors who didn’t have a tent. (A big change from Dallys I remember from the past.) I’d decided not to spend $75 on renting a tent! Low overhead is how NEW POP LIT has decided to operate. It will remain the case as we move further into print book publishing. This is how we plan to takedown the bloated book giants– with a fast, streamlined operation.
Toward the end of the evening, when vendors had more time to chat, one of them complimented us on how we operated. He said the way to do it is to focus on a few products– your best movers– instead of having a ton of stock, which he had. Many vendors had large tents and many racks, holding as much merchandise as a store in a shopping mall. Their operations took hours to set up and take apart. He pointed out to us a rack of clothing he was selling at a large discount– items created or acquired long ago for another festival. Yet behind this rack were many, many other arrays of clothing and other products– a large investment which would have to be moved at event after event after event.
We had as much merchandise as we thought we would sell. We sold a large percentage of our main features. Some of the authors’ books we had with us were more problematic.
This was for a number of reasons. First, in face-to-face selling you can focus only on one or two items (much of what we sold was with sharp verbal effort). You’re focused first on what people ask about. Display– the look of a product– is crucial. Second, with our own products we were free to use creative discounting. I sold the NEW POP LIT prototype at two dollars off the cover price, because it’s not a finished product. (The real printing will take care of minor glitches and typos.) For the t-shirts we varied the price depending on crowd interest, which started slow in the morning, peaked in the afternoon, then dropped off a table when the beer drinker partyers arrived by the tens of thousands. (The Dally is one of the best pure parties anywhere– and I’ve been to a few, including the Indy 500.) Our attitude was that of vendors at a European or Arab or African open air bazaar– we were ready to bargain, and did so. In hindsight, we should’ve gotten permission from the authors who’d sent us books months ago to do likewise for them. But then, many books can’t be discounted and avoid a loss.
The great artist-writer “I’m not Picasso” Dan Nielsen had given us permission to do what we wished with his entertaining chapbooks, which added to our flexibility, because on a couple occasions when potential buyers were hesitating I said, “I’ll throw in the Dan Nielsen art-lit book,” and made the sale. Kudos to Dan. All marketing experts say it’s better to add value than to drop the price much. There were price points beneath which we wouldn’t go for anything. Well, except at the very end of the night when we were ready to pack up! Most of what we sold was close to the original price we’d set, but not at it.
There was much to take note of. One is how few real punks there were at the event– though punk bands dominated the stage inside the alley itself. (We were positioned closer to the techno/house music stage.) The Dally in the Alley was traditionally, for decades, a mainly punk affair– but except for the fashion-punk variety, the real punk person seems to be a thing of the past. With exceptions. A wild punky couple were struck by the photo of Jessie Lynn McMains we had at the front of our table and bought anything by her they could get their hands on– including the NEW POP LIT journal, which contains an amazing story by Jessie– one of the best stories you’ll ever read anywhere.
The punk couple, and other readers, will be sure to equally enjoy Kathy Crane’s tough “Aloha from Detroit” story in the journal. Inspiration for the t-shirts.
The vendors on either side of us were FANTASTIC. Unbelievably friendly and helpful, seeing that for this event we were virtual neophytes. I sold at many zinefests in the past, but the Dally in The Alley is an entirely different creature. Especially what it’s morphed into. But it retains the same DIY cooperative vibe it’s always had.
It’s hard to describe here the full experience. I parked our vehicle almost a mile away– yet when the festival reached its peak, the crowd had expanded that far. On sidestreets outside the designated grounds, vendors had set up unofficially to hawk their wares. Bars on all sides had their own music events taking place. Is the Dally now comparable to Mardi Gras? To the big Austin music festival? It’s getting there.
Kudos to the neighborhood folks who put the Dally on, keeping the legacy going. They did an amazing job.