Wine Festival II coming next November

December 16, 2008
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Promoters said they got the crowd they wanted to attend the inaugural event, but they didn’t get the profit they had hoped for.

Still, the show will go on next year, with a few adjustments.

The Convention and Arena Authority and Showspan Inc., co-sponsors of the Wine and Food Festival held last month in the Steelcase Ballroom at DeVos Place, reported a loss last week of $25,000 for the first-ever, three-day tasting event, after optimistically hoping for a surplus of $30,000.

“We’re OK with losing money in the first year,” said Steven Heacock, CAA chairman.

The CAA and Showspan will split the loss from the event that drew 8,000.

Showspan Vice President Henri Boucher said the attendance figure and more than 100 exhibitors made the event the biggest wine festival in the state. Boucher also said the real loss was closer to $9,000, as they have $16,000 worth of items from the event that won’t have to be purchased for future festivals.

CAA Executive Director Rich MacKeigan said the per-capita spending on tasting tickets was $13, or about half of the $25 promoters had hoped for. That outlay came after most attendees bought a $15 admission ticket. But Boucher said the free tickets that were given to the exhibitors “fed the red” ink that spilled over the ledger. Despite the monetary loss, the CAA and Showspan were happy with who showed up.

“We really reached who we wanted to reach. The slice that we wanted to get was the emerging (group),” said Boucher, of the crowd he characterized as having fewer than 20 bottles of wine at home. “This show got a lot of younger professionals.”

A sampling of about 100 attendees showed that 43 percent were between the ages of 21 and 44, with 25 percent 34 years old and younger. Sixty percent reported having earned an undergraduate or a post-graduate degree. Ninety-three percent said they had household income exceeding $40,000 a year, while 29 percent reported income of more than $120,000 annually. Thirty-five percent were single. Eighty-five percent owned homes, roughly the same percentage who said they had toured a winery.

“I think we got the breadth — the people we were looking for,” said Boucher.

As for the event itself, slightly more than half arrived in the afternoon and spent from one to three hours at the festival, while 43 percent were there from three-and-a-half to six hours. Sixty percent attended on Saturday, while only 13 percent showed up on Sunday — a telling statistic that will affect the 2009 event.

MacKeigan said next year’s festival is set for Nov. 12-14, a week earlier than the inaugural one, and it will open on a Thursday and close on Saturday night.

“I think we can do better on Thursday than Sunday. We’re going to give that a go and see what happens,” said MacKeigan, also regional general manager for SMG, the firm that oversees daily operations at DeVos Place and Van Andel Arena.

MacKeigan said they hope to earn a profit of $30,000 to $50,000 from next year’s event and increase attendance by half to 12,000. He also said he hopes to have more restaurants involved with the second event and that a retail component may be added to next year’s festival.

As for the exhibitors, many said they were more than pleased with the event.

“Like many other suppliers, I was a bit skeptical when I first heard of it. We were all wrong,” said Rhonda Riebow, of Chateau Grand Traverse. “Bang for the consumer buck, I think it was a better event than the Cincinnati Wine Festival.”

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