To our dealers and attendees,
As you already know, we've made several changes to the application process for RainFurrest's Dealers Den. Though we believe we've achieved the goals we set out at the start, the implementation has been less than smooth.
A large part of the rough journey can be attributed to lack of information. We worked hard to make sure everybody had information about how to apply, but we didn't think to post details on how the selection process would work behind the scenes. That was a mistake that we want to fix now, by giving you as much information on the process as we can.
First, let's start off with a bit of background.
In every previous year, the application process for the Dealers Den at RainFurrest has been something vaguely like first-come, first-serve. It wasn't ever actually that way (for various reasons), but most of the time, if you got your application in early, you were pretty much set.
But we started having some problems with that process. The more people wanted to apply, the faster the Den filled up - and in 2014, the room filled up in a little less than an hour. Because everything was so weighted towards sheer speed of application, a lot of other components to a successful Den were starting to be overlooked. Beyond that, any dealer with any technical problems had no realistic way to work with us to resolve them. By the time whatever needed resolution had been accomplished, the room was full and they had virtually no shot at getting in the room at all, no matter how great their products were.
In fact, one of the most frequent attendee complaints that our Dealers staff heard in 2014 was the lack of dealer diversity. That became a major focus for us, because when our attendees are unhappy, they don't spend as much in the Den - and that makes our dealers unhappy, too!
About the Selection Process
Our curated selection process was designed by collaboration between our Dealers Staff, the Business Executives, the Vice-Chair, and the Chair. We tried to keep these three principles in mind:
When we posted the information about the new application process, we were contacted by some dealers who had concerns about the changes. We listened to their feedback and used it to modify the process. For example, we put extra focus on ensuring that the reasoning behind our decisions would be communicated to the dealers after the selection process was complete.
The selection committee was composed of seven individuals:
When we began the selection meeting, the curation team first divided the dealer applications into several categories. New dealers were placed in their own category, since we had several half-tables reserved specifically for newcomers to our Den. Then we grouped our returning dealers by type of merchandise: apparel, costumes, fursuits, artists, publishers, crafters , etc.
Given that one of our primary reasons for making changes to the selection process was to increase dealer diversity, we went through the categories one at a time, starting with the category with the fewest number of applicants. We made sure to include at least one (but usually two, sometimes three) dealers in each category of merchandise.
In a category with only one or two dealers offering wares, the chances were very high for them to be selected. But as we continued on to categories with more and more applicants, dealers faced more and more competition from their fellow dealers for the remaining tables in the Den. Of course, some dealers sell multiple types of merchandise (for example, an artist may also sell hoodies or hats). If a dealer was not selected in a previous category, they would be considered again in every other category where they had merchandise for sale.
Within each category, we compared the applications based on the description of their products listed in the application, and the references that were listed. In some cases where no references were given at all, we attempted to find out more information about what the applicant's work might include. The more information was listed on an application, the more information we had to weigh in our decisions. Quality and originality of work were considered, as was the balance of art styles among the dealers selected.
Dealers who sold many types of product were more likely to be selected, for a few reasons. First, they were considered in more categories. Second, they displayed a breadth of work that would help contribute to diversity of product in the Den. Third, since they were considered in more categories, they would be considered in a smaller pool first (since we went from smallest to largest categories).
Dealers who displayed a unique style or great quality of work were also more likely to be selected. Unique styles are very valuable for contributing to dealer diversity. Quality of work also becomes important when competing in a large pool of applicants.
In short, a dealer could improve their chances by:
We did not consider whether a dealer already had a room reservation in the main hotel. We felt this could disadvantage local dealers who may have chosen to stay at their own homes, or visiting dealers who chose to stay with local friends. However, if a dealer indicated that they were based locally, we took that information into consideration as well.
Waitlisting and Denial
We also determined, based on prior history, that we would need to continue to have a 'waitlist', as sometimes dealers need to cancel their table, don't pay in a timely manner, or fail to supply a valid Tax ID.
Because of this, applicants who were not successful outright were further considered for waitlisting. We kept the waitlist categorical, so that if a spot opened up, we would be able to accept a dealer in the same category to maintain the balance of diversity in the Den.
Unfortunately, with the number of applications received, we judged that putting every unsuccessful applicant on the waitlist would simply produce a very long wait, and probably with almost zero chance of entering the den for most applicants on the waitlist. With that in mind, we selected dealers to the waitlist based on the same criteria as for the successful applicants. Then, in an effort to bring closure and certainty to the rest of our applicants, we unfortunately had to deny the rest of the applications.
The exact reasons for any denial were communicated to every dealer. This didn't happen immediately, as there's no really good way to send a personal email to each applicant through an automated system, but we committed to providing this feedback to our applicants, so that the decision could be as transparent as possible.
We received over twice as many applications for the Dealers Den as we had available spaces in the Den. (Over 120 applicants, for just under 60 spots.) Well over half of these applications were for artists. This also meant, unfortunately, that more artists had to be waitlisted or denied than in any other category.
Where do we go from here?
This was our first time attempting a curated selection process. We don't claim to have gotten it all right. As was said earlier, we overlooked the necessity of making the details on our selection process available to our dealers before the applications began.
For that oversight, we apologize.
But you can help us make the process better. Many dealers have already submitted feedback, before and after applications went live. You can contact our Dealers team by emailing them (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you are in the area, you are also welcome to attend a RainFurrest staff meeting in person - our meetings are open to all! (The meeting schedule is posted at https://www.rainfurrest.org/volunteer.php).
We're sorry this has been such a bumpy ride. We'll keep trying to improve, and with your help, we feel we can make future years much, much smoother. Thank you all for your patience and understanding.
The RainFurrest Dealers Team and the Curation Committee