After a disappointing holiday season trying to get invited into all the busy holiday fairs and being rejected by most of them, I set on a different path; I started to get the idea that I wanted to organize my own fair and my own network of vendors. In March of 2016, after paying for a weekend-long event with no foot traffic and awful sales, the idea of the Vine Vendor Network was born.
The name “Vine” came to me right away. I actually knew the name before I knew what business I wanted to operate. The “Vine” would be a network, a metaphorical grapevine growing, expanding, connecting micro-business to micro-business. Entrepreneurs and small businesses would have one “root” place where they could go to find information about vending at different events.
It started simply with a free Facebook group. As I met new vendors at different events, I would invite them to join my group. Some people trickled in, many at first didn’t want to bother. The few members, in the beginning, were active – they shared, they collaborated, it was growing into what I had envisioned. But it wasn’t long before a massive amount of people were requesting to join the group and there was no way for me to determine the legitimacy of the businesses. I learned some people were selling counterfeit items, many were in business without proper licenses; it became a hoi polloi of illegitimate businesses. That’s when I decided to create a cataclysm and I deleted anyone I knew was operating a false business. Moderating this group became tedious, but still worthwhile, and I was lucky to meet Sandra D’Auria and Brooke Haramija. I watched how they operated their businesses, their decorum, demeanor, and I asked if they would want to be administrators of the Vine, and so, Sandra became Vice President and Brooke became Chief Consulting Officer.
At that point, around October 2016, we changed the way we allowed members into our group; they were required to fill out a membership form so we could keep track of legitimate businesses and ensure that our group requirements were being agreed to prior to people joining. I started to work on the website which was completed by December 2016. We then started having the issue where we had to bowdlerize advertisements about individual businesses; to resolve it we removed repeat offenders.
By June 2017, we had soared to over 250 members, but at least 75% of them were not active. I started to notice how people would keep asking about fair information, but never post fair information. The core of my original vision was dwindling because I was trying to be open to too many people. I tried creating a “Gold” group, a smaller group who paid for membership, as an ancillary to the regular Vine, but my instincts told me that I needed to return to my vision now before it was too late.
I decided to deracinate both groups so I could create a volte-face. For any standing members, I asked them to pay a membership fee that would come with a new survey of questions. Anyone who did not pay the minimum yearly membership fee by September 1st was dismissed from the group. As can be imagined, our group quickly minimized. However, as we expected, the quality of our group soared. The payment separated those who were serious about their businesses and the network from those who were in the network solely for rapacity.
As of October 2017, our network continues to grow, filled with enthusiastic, empowering business owners – they are my “tribe.” We continue to strictly monitor our businesses. We’re building authority and reputation with organizers in our communities and the only way we can maintain that authority is through careful vetting. The same works in reverse – we will not advertise an event for a group or organization that is not reputable. Our whole existence survives on reputation and we plan to exceed far beyond anyone’s expectations.