Horses

Downtown equestrian festival vendors complain about lack of crowds

Brothers Calvin Ditlefsen, left, and Shaun Ditlefsen of Toronto and Connecticut modeled clothes by Horze Tuesday as a sparse crowd including exhibitors Tim and Marcia Spencer of Georgetown watched. Vendors have been disappointed at the number of visitors to the event at Lexington Center.
Brothers Calvin Ditlefsen, left, and Shaun Ditlefsen of Toronto and Connecticut modeled clothes by Horze Tuesday as a sparse crowd including exhibitors Tim and Marcia Spencer of Georgetown watched. Vendors have been disappointed at the number of visitors to the event at Lexington Center. Angela Baldridge

Organizers of the International Equestrian Festival at the downtown Lexington Center are pumping extra money into promoting the event, days after vendors there complained about paltry attendance.

Vendor Spalding Labs bought a booth primarily to showcase its "Fly Predators" fly-control product to future customers. It's also offering "Bye Bye Odor" products and hats and T-shirts for sale on site but hasn't had any buyers so far, employee Toni Dunn said.

"We've mostly been talking to the other vendors, which is fun to get to know them all, but it's not really the reason we're here," said her colleague Jill von Ilten.

Anne Buchanan, founder and CEO of IEF's organizer, Horse Capital Productions, said $350,000 was spent on promotions and marketing before the event, and that she's now spending close to $100,000 more to draw crowds. The event includes many vendors but also seminars with equine professionals and performances by horsemen, including Guy McLean of Australia.

Among the plans are more outside and indoor banners, signs in nearby hotels, newspaper advertisements, and fliers promoting the exhibitors, seminars and performances, according to a letter sent to vendors Monday. Buchanan met with them Sunday night.

The International Equestrian Festival is running at the same time as the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, but the festival is not affiliated with the Games. Over the summer, a lawyer for the WEG Foundation sent a cease and desist letter, asking the festival to stop "attempting to market their event using the Games as a marketing feature."

Buchanan said it's evident there's interest in the festival because its Web site, Internationalequestrianfestival.com, received 100,000 unique visitors Thursday after a marketing e-mail message was distributed to subscribers of equine publications. The interest crashed the site, said Buchanan, whose experience includes organizing a stallion auction. She noted that her colleague Kimberly Brown has organized flooring wholesale trade shows with her family.

Buchanan attributed the small attendance to visitors' difficulty finding Lexington Center and nearby parking.

"The new materials we made last night have a lot more directional information on them," she said.

She added that she's confident in the Games and their ability to attract visitors to the city.

"The big competitions are coming up starting on Friday night, so we expect the people to be coming in droves on Friday," she said.

That's the desire of some of the festival's 200-plus vendors who said business has been slow for the most part.

"I've been to shows where there are a million people who walk by my booth, and it doesn't cost as much as this one," said Jeremy Eiss, who is promoting Impact Gel, a product used in saddle pads to absorb pressure and shock.

He declined to say how much the booth cost, though he said that at this point, it might be tough to make back his money.

Vendor contracts on the IEF's Web site lists prices for booths from $5,500 to $25,000.

Vendor Nora Swanson, who is selling her handcrafted jewelry, also said business has been slow but complimented Buchanan and the organizers on addressing their concerns.

"There's been more of an emphasis on positive problem-solving, which is good because we all want to see this succeed," she said.

A vendor with a large presence at the festival, Kentucky Horse Supply, is meeting expectations, said President Roxana Reed. The Louisville-based company has partnered with others, including the European horse-goods brand Horze, to offer an array of apparel and riding gear.

"It was steady on Sunday, ... not much different than what we expected," Reed said. "We'll see how this weekend and the last Friday, Saturday and Sunday goes. ... That's when we expect to see more people."

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