When you go to a homeschool convention, you see vendors and their booths, all put together and looking pristine. They’re amiable and helpful, and surrounded by products arranged to look their best. You usually don’t see the struggles the vendors go through.
As a collective at Demme Learning, we have so many stories from homeschool conventions, this is just the tiniest sampling. If you want more, we make for excellent dinner party guests!
Was there a situation this year where you found yourself having to improvise?
Sandra: I hope nothing will ever beat last year, when our booth shipment didn’t arrive on time. I went to Oregon, and Sue and her sister Kelly discovered that our fair kit was not at the hotel, and not at the fair venue.
We went to dinner and came back, and still no fair kit. So we asked the guy at the hotel, and when it didn’t arrive the next morning, when it was time to open the fair, what did we have? We had tables, the sign that the venue put up that said “Demme Learning,” and we had our laptops. That’s it. We were sitting there with our Demme Learning shirts on, and we were able to take orders. Sue even did her workshop with nothing but a whiteboard and markers, and she said it was the best workshop that she ever had. It was clear that drawing the blocks is not nearly as effective as having the physical blocks, and it was a testimony of our quality products.
When the fair kit did arrive, the hotel did not let us know, so for the whole first day we had nothing at all. But we met our sales goals. With nothing, we met the sales goals. They were calling us “Math and Spelling You DON’T See” on the first day.
Melissa: At CHAP in Pennsylvania, we are breaking down the booth and packing everything up. Since it’s a local fair, we bring a lot of product to sell on site. As we’re getting all this stuff into the vans, there’s a giant storm coming. The sky was black! You could feel the tension growing among the vendors, because everyone was trying to get loaded as quickly as possible without damaging their product. And we almost beat the storm. But not quite. We were getting the book racks loaded, and most of us ended up pretty soaked and chilly.
What word can you use to describe the year as a whole?
Melissa: Complicated. There’s so much involved in each fair. It takes a lot to make sure the people have a good time, and make sure it’s a pleasant experience for both customers and employees.
Amanda: Inspiring. Because I have a background in learning struggles (vision-related learning issues, and things like that: my husband, one of my children), I connect with parents who are still in the place of feeling isolated and frustrated. I try to provide resources for them, and I can see their hope grow.
Linda: Is there a word called fantabulous? I love seeing people in person, hearing their stories, helping them, hearing of their struggles and their successes. They come back year after year with tears and smiles and explain the success they have had using our curriculum.
Mike: Craziness. You can do as much planning as you want, but when you actually get there, that’s when things get real.
Is there a customer story that stands out in your mind?
Linda: At a quieter time in the booth, a woman wanted to sit down with me and talk candidly. She said she had a 16-year-old daughter who just could not spell, and she bought Spelling You See from us last year. Her daughter was nearing the end of school, and this was seriously affecting her confidence; she had given up hope of learning to spell. The mother started to cry. Spelling You See had been the mother’s last hope. She put her arm around me and said through her tears, “My 16-year-old can now spell. She can spell! Do you know what that’s done for her?” She went on to thank me and our whole company.
Until you’ve hit that wall in learning, you don’t feel the relief. I was thoroughly taken into their joy. It changed her life. I hear the same stories about math, too. It’s what keeps me loving my job.
What event do you still chuckle about?
Seth: There was a young kid who didn’t think Steve Demme was Steve Demme. He said, “You look like Mr. Demme.” Steve said, “I am Mr. Demme.” And the boy said, “No, you’re not, but you sound like him.” Steve eventually pulled out his driver’s license to prove who he was!
Melissa: Carolyn and I were cashiers at a table together, and Phil was using the point of sale at a different table. We would occasionally “run the tape” to see how many transactions each person had. We noticed that one person had quite a bit more than the others. So it turned into a competition between the three of us to see who would get the most customers. It was extremely frustrating, because Phil, the super tall guy, would get a line of customers, and the two of us were standing there, having to call customers to us. He totally won the competition: he beat us two to one.
But we still provided the ultimate in customer service, because we didn’t rush people at all to try to win!
What was the most fun part of the year?
Amanda: Before the fair, my husband and I took all day Wednesday in Portland. We rented a car and drove up to Astoria, so my husband got to see the house from The Goonies. And then we went down to Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach, where the pirate ship comes out of the cave in the movie. So we got the whole Goonies experience. Not to mention that it was just stunningly beautiful.
Mike: I spend a lot of the day cold-calling people. But when I get to the convention, these are people who actually want to talk to you. The nice thing about the conventions is when someone comes up, and another customer is explaining the curriculum to the new person. I say, “keep doing what you’re doing! You telling this customer is a hundred times more valuable than me telling her. You have the experience, and you’re not getting paid to explain it.”
Sandra For me, I love being with the other Demme Learning workers. I still look at them as family.
Thanks for listening to our stories! You can read more in part 1.