TreasureFest had already outgrown its original location on Treasure Island before Covid-19 arrived. This past Memorial Day weekend the flea market was set to open at the Marin Center in San Rafael. Instead, Charlie Ansanelli, CEO and Co-Founder of TreasureFest, decided to reinvent the festival virtually. On May 29 through the 31, anyone can go online to find arts and crafts from vendors who have participated in previous festivals. Ansanelli writes on the website that all proceeds will go directly to the vendors. “The TreasureFest Online Marketplace is a way for us to connect these incredible designers, artists and chefs to our large fan base and keep future TreasureFest attendees engaged in what makes our organization so special.”
The move to an ecommerce model isn’t a huge change for Tom Bayless and his company Bata BoomBox. He started making and selling vintage and retro bluetooth suitcase speakers about four years ago. Bayless is retired now but he used to do sales and marketing. Because of his past experience, Bata BoomBox has a healthy online presence on Etsy, Instagram and Facebook. He says that, with some fluctuation, half of his revenue comes from online sales and the other half from in-person events like TreasureFest.
Bayless attends the live events with his best friend and his daughter. They’ll go for the day, drink beer and listen to music. But what he appreciates most about the experience is the interactions with the public. “People walk by and they see these things. They look and go, ‘What the heck? Whoa, that is too cool.’” He sells many of them that way because customers can pick them up and stream their own music on his homemade suitcase speakers. Bayless will often post a picture of a satisfied customer on his Instagram account.
Both SuJean Dabney and Tara Eglin say that the crisis, in conjunction with the online festival, have motivated them to make their online presences more robust. Dabney is the owner of Sonoma Shop Girl, “Home of the Floating Wine Glass Holder.” She’s a woodworker who repurposes wine barrels to create merchandise like cutting boards, signs and tables.
“I started with the Ansanelli Family when they first started the flea market almost nine years ago now,” Dabney says. “I’m considering myself unemployed right now. But this festival’s giving me an opportunity to get my online business in order.” She used to plan her schedule around outdoor events. In 2020, Dabney had enrolled in 27 markets. All of the ones through mid-July have been canceled. “The ones for the fall are holding their breath and waiting to see what happens.”
“We don’t know what the TreasureFest is going to do yet,” she says. But Dabney believes that the Ansanellis’ events stand out because they’re incredible promoters. “I’m hoping that they’ve figured out a way to navigate this new world that we’re living in. Something above and beyond Etsy and eBay.”
Eglin runs Honour Brand with her business partner Chris Mock in Alameda. Their company’s tagline is, “History you can wear.” She described what they sell as “vintage-inspired graphic apparel.” Up until now, Honour Brand has been an event-based business. “70% of our sales are event based and 30% online,” Eglin explained. She and Mock are working on a new website design, which they’re planning to launch for TreasureFest. She feels that they need to be better at social media marketing but they do try to send out thoughtful posts rather than being merely promotional.
Recently, Honour Brand did participate in a different online festival. The upside was that customers could access a chat feature to ask specific questions. The downside was, “We didn’t have any sales.” Eglin wasn’t sure if the publicity didn’t work or if the shift from outdoor events to virtual ones is still at the bottom of a steep learning curve.
Dabney agrees that the concept of an online festival is a new experience for everyone. “People are being really tenacious and they’re coming up with all these creative ways to solve the problem of what we’re dealing with right now.” But for her, there’s nothing like the real thing. The element that’s lost when you move a festival online is the community of other artists. “You don’t get to shake their hands and talk about the process like you do when you’re there. Or making the store look beautiful and battling the wind out on Treasure Island.” After years of going to festivals, she says that the customers have become her friends. “And I miss them.”
Eglin and Mock wanted their business to eventually move in an online direction but they weren’t expecting it to happen so quickly. She says that it’s fun to meet people in person but with only the two of them it’s a tremendous amount of work to prepare for an outdoor event. Financially speaking, they’re still paying the bills. Their landlords were kind enough to let them defer part of the rent. They did apply for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), a Covid-19 related assistance program, but they haven’t heard anything.
“Production wise we’ve come to a halt,” Eglin says. “Talk to me in six months and we’ll see where we are.”
The online TreasureFest Marketplace will be open from May 29th – May 31st.