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Small Biz Buzz hosts Crystal Heuft and Derek Harju are joined by Kristin Rowan, the director of marketing and public relations and sales for Square Egg Entertainment, the parent company for Phoenix Fan Fusion, who discusses how to pivot and adjust when a large-scale event suddenly faces an emergency.
In this case, the coronavirus pandemic. When it started getting bad, everything changed when everybody started to realize this didn’t look like the seasonal flu, this was different.
Rowan’s team started planning early when it became apparent that Phoenix Fan Fusion wasn’t happening. For her small, but mighty team of six, they didn't have a team of PR people or lawyers or all of those who can revise what they needed to do. Any revisions, any statements that they made came down to one person and long hours were experienced by all.
“We pivoted from, ‘Hey. Here are all the guests we have coming out, and here's all the events we're planning and look at all this fun,’ to virtually nothing,” said Rowan. “When you're planning an event that gets postponed like that, we don't know which panelists are going to be available. We don't know which rooms we're going to have in the convention center. We don't know what guests are still going to be available. And their filming schedule was stopped the same as our schedule was stopped. So for us, it was not so much a pivot as it was a full stop.”
Click play for more.
Great. So Derek, are you ready to get this thing started? You're going to have to stay off mute man. Whether we hear Maxima or not, she's my favorite little star of all the Worst Business Ideas In History.
Yeah. Thank you so much for being on the show today. So I was curious how have you been handling the quarantine? Have you picked up any hobbies, Kristin or is it like me where I'm just binge-watching The Office for the third time in two months and listening to the Jim Dale Harry Potters over and over again.
There may be a little binge-watching and it may or may not be shows I've watched several times. But I really have taken the extra time to focus on stuff around the house. Boring stuff. I reorganized my garage, got rid of a bunch of stuff, and now we have room in there for more stuff to accumulate, I think is really what it is. But just those little things. We are cleaning and organizing and redoing things, and have really more been focusing on that. And then of course having two kids at home who are also still going to school every day and doing their Zoom meetings. I didn't really have a lot of extra time. You would think that I did, but yeah. Enough to do a little binge-watching.
This is Small Biz Buzz. I'm Derek Harju. And we are here today with perennial host Crystal and our guest today is Kristin Rowan. Kristin, do you want to tell our audience a little bit about what you do?
Sure. Currently I am the director of marketing and public relations and sales for Square Egg Entertainment, the parent company for Phoenix Fan Fusion.
Very cool. And for those of you who may not be in the know, you might know Phoenix Fan Fusion as Phoenix. Previously as Phoenix Comicon, I'm not certain, I didn't clear this with you, I only have a speculative idea as to why the name was changed and I don't want to make a apocryphal statement. So can you talk at all about why there was a branding shift?
The branding shift came through an agreement between Square Egg Entertainment and San Diego Comic-Con in light of the ongoing legal entanglement that they have with Salt Lake.
That is more or less what I had heard, but we hear lots of things that are not accurate.
So actually we changed the name for one year to Phoenix Comic Fest and that name change and rebranding predated the agreement with San Diego. Our CEO and our company as a whole made the decision that we wanted to remove ourselves from any of what was going on. We wanted to focus on having a great show. If you've been around and you've been a geek for any length of time and have been attending our show, you know that 2017 was a very rough show for us. And going into 2018, we needed to be able to focus on the show and putting on a great show for the attendees who were coming, and doing everything that we could do to make it a safe show for everybody who was coming. And trying to worry about whether or not we would be wrapped up in a different issue at the same time was just not something we were interested in doing.
So you opted to get ahead of it?
We did. We did the name change ahead of. We now have an agreement with San Diego. But we did the name change preemptively because we just needed to focus on our show. We put on a great show for people, and we really just wanted to make sure that it was as good as it could be without having to worry about anything else.
It's definitely a crazy world. All the things to have to worry about. Crazies, people, crazy pandemics, it's never-ending the stuff that gets thrown at events, especially these days. It's so much to consider.
Murder hornets. I mean...
Yeah. What's next?
I feel like it just gets... I don't know if you've ever played that game or seen mostly children play that game where somebody starts a story, the kids, "Once upon a time this happened." And then they pass the ball to somebody else and they go "And then, and then..." And it gets bigger and bigger and then a pandemic wakes everybody up and then murder hornets came.
Yeah. The last year, it totally sounds like an episode of Axe Cop.
Yeah. The murder hornets one really does get me on top of the pandemic. And then you see those pictures of the murder hornet, keep me away from that murder hornet.
Oh. Absolutely. Yeah.
So it's definitely bizarre.
It just gets worse. And now it's to the point of just ridiculous.
Yeah. Well, I'm a little curious as a marketer myself about rebranding. That can be a big process. So, what did you guys kind of do to ensure that you brought your customers and fans along with these rebrands and what did you do to get the name out there so people were able to associate it with the previous awesome events you threw.
Sure. Rebranding is never easy. I don't recommend it.
Definitely not if you don't have to.
Right. If you have an established brand don't change things. But what made it more difficult was that we rebranded twice in two years. To answer your question, what did we do from a marketing standpoint? The first thing we did was we started early. We had the advantage of course of Phoenix Fan Fusion only being a once a year show. So we announced the name change on the final day of Phoenix Comic Fest 2018. That I definitely recommend. If you're going to do a rebranding, start early. And do a lot of crossover. People associate with the old name, so use it. So we did a lot of Phoenix Comic Fest formerly Phoenix Comicon. We did a lot of obviously... We kept the logo the same.
We changed the name inside the logo, but we kept the logo. We kept the colors the same. We have some branded characters, cartoon animated characters that are a part of our show and have been for a long time. We kept all of that. Some of the elements inside the show, we kept the same and didn't change the names of those things. There are some of the smaller events that people have come to really know and love that we kept exactly the same. With the same wording and everything. So my advice is start early, repeat the old name and the new name together as often as possible, and keep as much the same as you can.
So I was really curious. For those of you who don't know and aren't familiar with comic conventions in general, Phoenix is actually one of the larger ones in the country. And if you haven't been, you might be imagining a conference center and some booth seller or your typical convention, and you would be super wrong. It absolutely dominates downtown. What's your current attendance count?
So in 2016, we were well past the 100,000 mark. The numbers since then... So our attendance has gone up, anywhere between 10 and 30% annually since 2010.
That's crazy bro.
Yeah. There were some years where we had a 30% jump. And what's crazy is, when you're planning a show like that, you usually count on a 10% increase because that was pretty much what we were used to. And then when you have that 30% increase, it's not accounted for, and you don't have enough staff. So yeah. It was a 10% to 30% increase every year from 2010 to 2016. In 2017, our sales and attendance we're on track to meet or beat that 106,000 that we had in 2016. On the opening day of 2017, all of that changed, and our attendance dropped considerably.
Can you speak to why that change happened?
We had an armed threat on site at Phoenix Comicon during opening day. Thursday afternoon, somebody came through with multiple live weapons. And unfortunately, at that point there were a lot of people who left and a lot of people who didn't feel safe coming back for the rest of the weekend. And about 50% of our sales happen on site when people show up to the show, and that number dropped dramatically that year.
That's absolutely staggering. And by the way, I was there. I was at the convention that day and found out basically the same way everybody else did. And I want to put this out real fast. The fact that I was in attendance that day and only heard it as rumors, you guys did an amazing job. You did an amazing job, the Phoenix police department did an amazing job, the LAPD did an amazing job. This could have been so much worse than it was. And that's a terrible thing for me to say, because I imagine you guys lost an impossible amount of money. But the fact that nobody was harmed in a world where this stuff happens way too frequently, I just want to say, hats off to you guys and hats off to everybody that was there that day that made sure that nobody got hurt.
Derek you are so right. And thank you for that. I think you are among the many, many thousands of people who were on site that day and had no idea anything happened.
You also made changes quick. I remember the news around it. You made quick changes and pivoted fast for-
... the following days. I [crosstalk 00:10:12] to say-
You had less than 12 hours.
I [crosstalk 00:10:16]-
You had less than 12 hours-
... to fix.
I was impressed because I worked at Arizona Mills, in their marketing department, and we did have a couple similar-type incidents. Did it change kind of the way you look at all the events going forward? Is that something you now consider each time?
Sure. But prior to the 2017 incident, we always did a threat assessment with the Phoenix Convention Center and the Phoenix Police Department, and had the level of security that we felt and that they felt was necessary for the show. After 2017, that completely changed. Yeah. We had less than 12 hours to completely change our security protocol, our entrance protocol, how our security company was running, whether or not we were looking for badges, all of that stuff. Everything changed. The prop check stations got moved outside overnight. The lines and entrances got moved overnight. And then we changed it again as we went along. And from my perspective, during the show, at that point, we had five directors and our owner who were all hands on deck. But the show was still going on. So we had guests arriving Friday morning.
And so our director of talent relations was with all of the guests handling that. We still had all of the programming and events going on. So our director of programming was busy doing that. So really that just left a handful of us. And the cues and the setup that we had for security Friday morning were not working. And so my job as the director of marketing was to be communicating all of that. Here's where you go, here's the best way to get in, here's the quickest way to get in, here's what you can bring in, here's what you can't bring in. Constant communication the whole time.
And then pivoting the plan as we're going along. This line needs to move over here, we need to do a no-bag line over here, we need to add an ADA line over here, we need to... It was a constant shuffle until by Saturday morning, which is by far the busiest day that we have, and the most people trying to get through security, we had that wait-time down to about 10 minutes for everybody, which was fantastic. But it was a 36 hours of constant changing the plan, updating, pivoting, changing it again, improving it and communicating that the entire time. And I think from that perspective, there's so much of that 2017 show that I just don't remember.
I hope you took a vacation after that. My gosh I would've needed a bottle of wine every night and a vacation immediately.
Right? Unfortunately, we went back to the office because we had to start putting out statements on how we were going to change things for the next year. We immediately moved into planning for the next show. And to make sure that we had all of the information out that we needed, we had to meet with the convention center to create a new plan for the next show, because it all had to be different. Yeah. There was so much going on at the same time. And just from a marketing perspective, constant communication. In a situation like that, the more often you can communicate what's going on... And I think that's why the media reacted the way they did.
Initial reports were... some of them were bad. But as we continued to put out information, as we talked about our new security plan, as we talked about the safety protocol we had, as we talked about all of the things that we were actively doing, immediately the media did kind of turn around and started talking about how proactive we were being in trying to fix that. So there was a lot of focus on other things, and I think that was really great. But the media did a great job. They covered what they needed to cover. They were there, they got the whole story, they talked to everyone who was involved. Our local media really did... They really did a fantastic job covering it. I was very pleased with how that kind of rolled out.
Yeah. I was impressed just being on the flip side of it in the past and being like, "Wow." I mean, it does go to show how important communication is. Because I think the more you guys were communicating and sharing what you were doing, the more the media was able to share a different type of story than just this is what happened. So I think that was really smart.
I wanted to ask Kristin, so we've discussed how huge this event is. And it is massive. People might be shocked at how many full-time staffers are with Square Egg. Could you talk about that? Because people might be asking right now, "This is a small business podcast. I'm not putting on an event for a quarter million people, so I don't know why we're talking about this."
There are a lot of companies that put on comic conventions and other types of conventions as their full-time job, and they have large staffs and they have huge teams of people. And so it's difficult to kind of wrap your head around why is this a small business. You guys are a small business podcast. On site, we have 250 to 300 part-time temporary crew along with some third party service providers that work with us. But year round we have six.
That is insane.
It's so amazing.
You're getting so much done with a core group of that size.
Right. And we joke a lot. A lot of the people who are on the staff have been with Square Egg since before it was even Square Egg Entertainment. A lot of them were volunteers. Some of them going back to 2006. People who have been with the show now for 10 or more years. So when our CEO started adding full-time staff, he added a lot of those volunteers. So they have a lot of experience with it. One of sort of the inside jokes we have in the office is that every one of us has sort of volunteered or worked in different areas of conventions or this convention, but we are now all in the positions we are meant to be in. The people that we have are so good at what they do.
And I don't want to say it's easy. It's a lot of work to put on the convention, especially with so few people, but we just have an amazing team. And so they're all really good at what they do, and that makes it a little bit easier. But we are most definitely a small business. We are a local, small business started in 2002 by our CEO who used to be a local anime store owner. He-
Wait. Which store?
I knew you were going to ask me that as soon as I opened my mouth and there's no way I could tell you that. I have no idea.
I was impressed actually, Kristin, by the list of jobs that you tackle, just even yourself. I can't even believe. I was reading... We have a little doc we put together to kind of prep for the shows and get a little familiar. And I saw, let's see, I saw marketing, obviously, social media, PR. I feel like I'm missing stuff. Those are the ones that I relate to because that's kind of what I do. But I was like, "I can't believe the list goes on and on from here." For this kind of event size, I was shocked that you do all that. Props to you.
I think when you work... Well, thank you. I think when you work in a small business, when you have that small business mentality, we all wear those hats. We all wear a lot of hats. Yeah. I do marketing, all of the social media, all of the customer service. So customer service emails, incoming and phone calls coming in, all of the paid advertising. I oversee all the graphic design. I am not a graphic designer. I don't do the graphic design, but I do oversee all of the graphic design. I do all of the PR, I do all of the on site PR. So all of the liaising with the local news outlets that come and cover the show, any on air or written press releases that have to go out I do. I also do all of our sponsorship sales.
So Crystal was talking about your expertise. I was curious how you managed to bring that expertise to bear on such a diverse set of niche interests. Because there's another misconception that a lot of people have about Comicon who've never attended. And that is that Comicon is for people that like comic books. And yes, that is tangentially accurate, but people go there for dozens, possibly hundreds of sub-interests, some of them having nothing to do with comic books. Some people go there because they're into cosplay or they're into sword replicas, or they're into custom dice, or they're into Y novelization or they just want to see. Or like I was there, I really wanted to see Curtis Armstrong, who was Booger from Revenge of the Nerds. And he was a delight. And that's part of the reason that I went one year.
There's a lot to do and a lot to take in. And I'll tell you, I have learned more about anime and steampunk, and tabletop RPGs, and 12-sided dice than I ever thought I would do. But again, when you're in that small business mentality, you draw on what you have and you find the support for what you don't have. Our director of programming knows everything there is to know about comic books. I grew up reading the old Superman comic books, and that's where my expertise stops.
I also saw that you like the Christopher Reeves ones. And I used to watch those with my mom, and I love the old... the Batman, the pow, bang. I used to watch all those. So-
Oh. Yeah. The Adam West Batman. Yup.
Totally. So I'm right there with you.
Yeah. I mean, my expertise with comics and comic book characters kind of stops like 30 years ago. But Joe knows everything. So when we have to write a social media post or an ad for a comic book artist that's coming out, I just go back to Joe and say, "Hey. Joe, what should I say about this guy?" And he will tell me all the stuff that is great about that comic book artist. And I'll put that out. Our CEO, Matt ran an anime store. He knows a lot about anime. So when we talk about the audiences for marketing and who we should be targeting for this anime crowd, I don't spend the time looking that stuff up. I go to the people that I know who already know it.
That's not to say that I haven't had to learn a whole lot of things that I didn't think I would, but when you run a small business, you always wear those hats, you always wear multiple hats. Small business owners, you guys know you are every department. And there's not time in a day or a week or a year to become an expert on all of the things that you have to be an expert as for small business. So I hire people who are smarter than me. We started doing a lot more social media in the last four years, and we have to do the Snapchat and we have to do the things that... I'm old and I don't do that. I don't understand it, I don't get it. So I hired somebody who has a similar background, has the same advertising expertise that I have, but is way younger and does the Snapchat.
I'm like, "Great. That's yours. Take it over." Right? "It's all you." So I think it's more about finding that support that we all as small business owners... And I've owned small businesses before I came to work here. We reach out to the people that we know. We reach out to the experts that we have, and hopefully as small business owners we're working together. As a small business owner for the last 15 years, I did a lot of trade. I did a lot of, "Hey. I'll do this marketing thing for you, if you'll do this thing for me." And sharing that expertise with other small business owners so we can keep each other afloat. And I think reaching out to those people, the networking stuff... Crystal, we were talking earlier about how this Zoom thing is kind of killing all of us because we're all at home.
But there are so many opportunities whether it's online virtually, or once we can actually do this in person to network with other small businesses. Find the people who have the expertise that you don't have and help support each other. And you become this sort of small business web that has the power of some of the larger companies. And I think that has been really key for us is that we have those people that we can rely on.
I think it's so imperative. At previous companies I've worked, I worked with small business owners in the past. And I think one of the main things I see there and working here that small businesses can do to really move the needle is working with other small businesses and doing outreach marketing and trade similar to what you're talking about. To really move the customers from one type of thing they like into something similar around the same area. And actually you do a lot of that with Square Egg because at the Fan Fusion, you guys also work with several small businesses that are vendors there. Right? Can you tell us what it's been like working with other small businesses and making that kind of vendor area come to life?
Yeah. So we work with anywhere between six and 800 different vendors in any given year, in addition to the third party companies that we work with. So we hire out for security and audio-visual and all that, and hire locally as well. And then we partner with local nonprofits and local organizations that work with us as well. And we do work with national companies. We're not going to not work with national companies, but so much of what we do is small business related. And I feel like because we're a small business, I think that we understand it a little bit more than maybe some of the other larger companies that do what we do. We set up the Facebook events during our show so that the vendors can post links to their stuff and tell people what their booth number is. Just now, because our show is actually supposed to be going on right now... Not sure if you guys [crosstalk 00:25:34]-
I know. We're definitely going to get into that too.
Opening day was yesterday. So we posted yesterday a social media post inviting all of the vendors to once again put their link up in that post so that if our fans and friends who are missing out on Fan Fusion this weekend decide they want to do a little geeky shopping, they can go straight back to the vendors that we already work with. So just trying to help support them, trying to help give them kind of a leg up. We offer discounted advertising in our program guide and on our website for our vendors that we don't offer to sponsors or outside companies. If you're part of the show, you're part of the family.
So we give you all those opportunities to do that. Because without them, we don't have a show. We're a small business, we have very few employees and we rely on the vendors and the attendees and the panelists and the performers. Those are the people that make the show. We organize it. I mean, we plan it, but they're the ones who are creating it. And without those people who are creating the show, we wouldn't have much of a show. And I think we appreciate that, and we try to give back to those companies as much as possible to make sure that we're all doing this as one. I feel like small businesses are more apt to do that than some of the larger ones.
Okay. So I was curious, with the 2020 having been kind of a brutal test bed for-
Brutal is right.
... remote work. I was curious if there's already been discussion about creating more virtual attendance portals for future shows. Being able to say being able to watch... You can't attend for some reason, you're in Taiwan, but you want to watch George Takei's keynote speech, any way to WebEx in on that or something like that?
So right now we don't have that capability. It is something that has been brought up. One of the disadvantages of being a small business, the logistics, the manpower, and the cost to do something like that are beyond our capabilities at this point. There are a few shows that have done it successfully. BlizzCon is one of them. BlizzCon offers a virtual ticket every year which is great, but-
But also blizzard.
Right. It's also blizzard. Right? They can afford. I mean, when you offer a WebEx streaming, some kind of a virtual ticket option inside the convention center, you have to have hard-line internet capabilities in every room that you're going to offer that virtually. It's not cheap.
Yeah. It's not. To have a solid streaming service setup, it's thousands of dollars. And that's for one day. It's a lot of money.
Right. And it's per room. So if we have our celebrity guests or a gaming tournament, or a live performance and we wanted to live stream any of that, it's about $10,000 in internet costs per room. We would need to be able to sell 100,000 virtual tickets in order to make that even viable. And then hiring people who have the expertise to do that.
And 24-hour IT staff, because the likelihood of that happening... Across the number of rooms you guys have, which I'm going to conservatively say is in the dozens across at least three buildings. Correct?
I mean, you literally would have to have an IT team on staff 24-
... hours a day for four days.
Right. And the alternative is that we only stream the really big deal panels. And then it's a matter of deciding which ones are people going to want to watch? What do you charge for a convention that you're only getting to attend to some of? What do you... So there's all of that stuff. And at this point, when have so few people working for the company, we have so few people who are focused on getting this off the ground, it's just not realistic at this point. We're already stretched, then we're already wearing all of these hats, we're already doing all of the jobs that we're doing. Adding this to it would require adding one or two full-time staff members year round, to plan all of that. There's not a lot of history in virtual cons for us to see whether or not it's a viable business model.
We know that there are people who are going to be uncomfortable coming back to large events this year, or even next year because of the pandemic. We know that there are going to be people who are going to be concerned. And maybe they won't come. And maybe the attendance will be down. We also know that trying to be everything to everyone, is not something that a small business can do as much as we want to. As much as we would love to be everything to everyone, one of the best things small businesses can do is to recognize their own limits. And that is one of ours right now. Like I said, it's been talked about, it's just not realistic for us right now.
Right on. And that's pretty common. It's going to take a while to vet whether or not that's going to be viable for you guys. For our listeners, if you need info on the logistics of running virtual events, we actually have a blog about that. If you go to bit.ly or bitly to people who are over the age of 20, /keapvirtualevent. That's bit.ly/keapvirtualevent. And we've got a blog post about virtual events on our website.
And I just wanted to hop in here and say, you kind of hinted about having to pivot once again with events because of the coronavirus. So can you tell us a little bit about what you guys have done? What you're looking forward to? And then the last question I'm going to have before we have to start closing this thing out is, I really want to know, what are the positives about events? Because I still believe small business owners, they might not be planning an event for a quarter million, but events are a great way to kind of connect. So I'd like to hear some of the things you're really grateful about events. But let's dive into this pivot real quick.
Sure. I mean, obviously everything's changed starting with when everybody's sort of started to realize that this was different, it doesn't look like the seasonal flu, this is different, there's something going on, we started planning and we started planning early and often. Because I think for a small business, what's different is that we didn't have a team of PR people and lawyers and all of those who can revise things. So any revisions, any statements that we make, it's one person. We sit down and we write stuff up, I give it to the CEO, we talk about it and it goes out. So working on it early and often, I still have the document with 10 or 12 different versions of statements that we would put out, depending on what happened over the few weeks between March 1st and whatever.
But for us, for event planners, pivoting from, "Hey. Here are all the guests we have coming out, and here's all the events we're planning and look at all this fun," to virtually nothing. When you're planning an event that gets postponed like that, we don't know which panelists are going to be available. We don't know which rooms we're going to have in the convention center. We don't know what guests are still going to be available. We don't know-
You're trying to coordinate the schedule for people whose bosses are Disney or Sony. And if they say you're working on a Wednesday, you're working on a Wednesday.
Absolutely. And their filming schedule was stopped the same as our schedule was stopped. And they don't know when it will resume. If it resumes a week before our show in September, they're not coming. So for us, it was not so much a pivot as it was a full stop. It was we're postponing, here are the new dates, here are the things you can do if you need to change your tickets around and then full stop. No guest announcements, no planning, nothing. We've put out one post for our creators' marketplace pointing them to the website where they could find all of the vendors. We did a couple of social media posts and communications through email about the hotels, because people who had hotel contracts needed to have that information on how to get out of their hotels and when they could re-book their new hotels.
And then we did a social media post only yesterday for what would have been the opening of our exhibit hall, again inviting the vendors to put their links up. But other than that, the marketing communication stops. It's different than a PR crisis. In a PR crisis you have to have the right information and you have to communicate it early and often and widely spread. When we postponed, we communicated it widespread immediately. As soon as we had all of the information, we put out social media, we put out emails, we put it on the website, we put it everywhere, we did a press release. It went out everywhere. And then we just full stop because we don't have anything else to say. There is no more information.
And for us to keep saying... Right now, our attendees want to know who's coming. They want to know what events are going to happen. They want to know what's going to happen at the show. And we don't have that information. If we talk at all, the only question is who's going to be there. And the answer is the same. We are continuing to work with all of the guests and agents to determine which ones of them are available in September, and as soon as we have that information, we'll let everybody know. But if that's the only answer you can give, it's like giving the same press conference over and over and over again.
Well, on the positive Kristin, I mean, you can say for all you furries out there, September is a much better month to wear your furry costumes than June or May. So-
For all cosplayers.
Yeah. So I would say-
For all cosplayers. Cosplaying at the end of May is terrible.
... there is a bright side. It is. And Phoenix, I mean, I don't know how they do it. I see them on the news and I'm like, "How are you wearing that right now? I wish I could walk around in a bathing suit. It's so hot."
But anyway, let's end on a positive. Because you definitely know the benefit of events, so what are a couple of the benefits that make all this pivoting worth it for you and for any other small businesses out there that are starting to dabble with this or with events?
I think one of the things especially for small businesses, that is so true, and I go back to this all the time, is why do you do what you do? As small business owners know we don't do it because we want to get rich because it's so hard to do that as a small business owner. We're not doing it for... Why do you do what you do? And if why you do what you do is important enough, then the benefits to it will still be there. And especially, I mean, there are a lot of small businesses that run completely online now, anyway. So, the whole stay at home thing hasn't changed anything. But whether you run events or whether you have a small storefront, or whether you attend events to promote your business, the human contact, the human interaction, the connection that we make, and I think that we are trained to make as small business owners, because so much of what we do is based on those relationships that we have is why we do what we do. And when people ask me what I love about this job, why do I do this?
I mean, I work about 18 to 20 hours a day for five days straight for this event. It's ridiculously exhausting. And it's a lot of work for a very small team. And people ask me, why do you do it? Why do you do it? And I tell them this story about an event that we put on actually in St. Paul a couple of years ago, about a young man who walked into the space for the comic event and he was nervous. He was unsure, his body language was very closed off. His arms were tucked in, his shoulders were hunched over, he was looking at the floor, and just not at all comfortable in his own skin.
And somebody helped him over to get his pass and he got his badge and he took a spin around. He went downstairs and went through the exhibit hall and he came back upstairs and it was like this was a different person. He was chatting with people, he was sharing stories, he did his Indiana Jones impression for me. He stopped me. I mean, I was standing outside sort of just talking to people from the marketing perspective, just sort of talking to a lot of the attendees, finding out how they were doing. He joined the conversation, started doing impressions, talked, and the guy talked a mile a minute. His face was lit up, he was standing up straight, he was looking people in the eye. These were two different people from the guy who walked in a little bit before that.
And that is what we do. We create a world where people who... And I know Derek, you said that you're a self-proclaimed geek in your own right. And Crystal, I know that you are as well. These people grew up on the outside. Being a tabletop gamer, playing Dungeons and Dragons was something that we kept secret from people. We didn't show people our obsession with comic books and anime movies, and any of the other genres that we were passionate about. We didn't share that with people because it was nerdy. It was. It was embarrassing and it made you different and it made you a geek and it gave people something to make fun of you for.
And we create a world where not only do you not have to hide that, but you can walk in any direction and find 50 other people who spent their entire lives not only passionate about the same niche genre that you are, but understand what it was like to live that way and to no longer have to live that way when they walk into this event.
Yeah. And you realize we're basically a whole world of geeks, nerds and dorks, because everyone has their thing they get excited about. I think when I hear it's like a quarter of a million people going to these events, it gets me really excited because you're not alone. Everyone is into this kind of stuff.
Our tagline for Phoenix Fan Fusion is "Discover your inner geek." And we firmly believe that there is a geek in every single one of us. We all geek out about something. And to be able to tell people that it's okay to geek out about whatever you want to geek out about, find that passion, find the niche that you belong to and find the world that makes you comfortable. And we get to spend every day leading up to a four-day show, creating a world where that's okay for so many people. And I've watched it so many times where I have watched people realize that they are in a safe place with people who love the same things they love. And that face-to-face interaction does not happen with an online convention. It does not happen with a web meeting. It does not happen with virtual shopping. It does not happen with online anything. So-
Do you know that I get a sense memory reaction from the smell of the convention center?
That's a real thing. I was there-
... for a symphony event.
Derek I thought maybe you went off crying.
I was there for a symphony event and I smelled the convention center and I got very emotional-
... thinking about going to Comicon next year.
It is just-
I thought Derek was so touched by what you said that he had started crying a little. Because I was like, "Why isn't Derek jumping in?" [crosstalk 00:42:56] giving me the chill.
No. But it does resonate. We are so over time, but I'm really locked in. I'm in my mid-forties. And so I grew up in the eighties when being a nerd was genuinely not cool. There was no upside to it.
You had to find other people that were also outcasts and hide the things you love from the rest of the world.
Right. So Derek you're [crosstalk 00:43:22] my age. Right?
Derek, first of all, you look great for your age.
Thanks. Oh. That's nice.
Yeah. If you [crosstalk 00:43:26]-
But we're the same age Derek. I got to tell you. I grew up with the comic books, I grew up with the Superman. I was a nerd in my own right but for different things than a lot of other people were. But in some way, I think I've been on both sides of it. Because I remember, I distinctly remember being invited over to my high school boyfriend's house. I was 16 and bright-eyed. And he said, "Oh. I'm having some friends over come over." And feeling all grown up, my boyfriend's having friends over. We have people. And I remember the feeling and I can still picture the horrified look on my face when I walked downstairs to find my boyfriend and the two of his friends playing GURPS.
I know GURPS.
I figured you did know GURPS Derek, because you grew up as a geek, too. And I tried. I swear. I tried. I sat down and I listened and I watched the whole thing. And I thought, this is my boyfriend and I'm into this and I'm going to do this because I love him and... I can't do it. Derek, Crystal, I can't do it. I don't understand it, [crosstalk 00:44:40]-
But by the way, for the folks at home it's Generic Universal RolePlaying System. It's basically a role... It's a baseline for other games.
Right. That's not my geek thing either.
Yeah. And it-
But I don't fall... I actually get amazed that people can do it. Like Dusey, our producer, he loves Dungeons and Dragons. I love all this stuff. It's just not my geek thing. I'm not good at it, I don't fit in, I can't figure it out. So yeah. The GURPS thing-
... I would have been out too.
Yeah. I tell you, I left that night thinking, "Oh. I might need to rethink this relationship."
GURPS is pretty deep in the nerd pocket. Because there's nerdy stuff that even other nerds are like, "That's too nerdy for me."
The thing about something like a comic convention, the thing about that, going to a comic book store, going to a video game arcade, going to these places in person, the thing is that it doesn't matter. Because if you walk into a local comic book store, you're going to find things that are not comic books. If you walk into a local tabletop gaming store, you're going to find things that are not tabletops. There's something for everyone. And finding that I think is the key. And I think, especially now we're all locked at home, people are upset, people are depressed, people are not handling things well. When we can go out again, all of the people who feel like there's something they're... that they're not okay, that they're not the same as everybody else, that there's something wrong with them, find that genre, find that niche.
So where can they find all things Phoenix Fan Fusion to make sure they stay up to date with the event coming in September, where can they go?
Well, the best thing to do is follow us on social media. @phoenixfanfusion on Facebook and Instagram. We communicate there more often and more regularly than anywhere else. But of course also the website at phoenixfanfusion.com. You can sign up for our newsletter directly from the website so that you get all of our email communication that goes out as well. But social media by far has the most recent and best information.
Great. We want to make sure that all geeks and nerds and dorks like all of us on this call find their home and can find it at Phoenix Fan Fusion. So thank you so much for being on today. It was a great conversation about all things events and pivoting and all things that small business owners need, and a little break from reality to be real.
Absolutely. It's a lot of fun to have a conversation with somebody other than my dog. So I appreciate that. Thank you so much.
And that's a wrap today for Small Biz Buzz.
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