Several Westman vendors are warning other home-based businesses to take extra precautions when signing up for trade shows after they say they were swindled by an unreliable organizer.
Dozens of people paid $50 or $100 to secure a table at a craft and vendor show that had been advertised for Nov. 11 and 12 at Clarion Hotel and Suites.
Betty Reykdal of Minnedosa is a Pampered Chef consultant — a venture she began in March. She relies on Facebook groups to connect with other vendors and learn about upcoming events.
"I’m new to the business, so most of the names aren’t familiar to me … but because the hotel was, I figured it was legitimate," she said.
Through Facebook messaging, Reykdal said she was offered a great deal by "R. Angus Frost" to be involved in the fall show, which she expected would attract a lot of Christmas shoppers.
"He said because he loved Pampered Chef so much he was going to give me two tables, and … if I paid that very day, he’d only charge me $50 for the two days," Reykdal said.
When businesses attempted to follow up with the organizer with questions about the event, he could not be reached.
"I noticed his Facebook page was totally deleted and all the messages that I had answered and asked was also deleted. So that’s when I thought ‘oh no, this is a scam,’" said Karen Nickel, who runs Karen’s Essentials — a homemade bath and beauty product business.
Several people contacted the hotel and were told the event was still tentative, as the organizer had not finalized the space.
Clarion general manager Aaron Tycoles said once they caught wind of the concerns, the hotel put pressure on the organizer.
"We gave him a deadline of last Friday at 5 p.m. to either pay for the space or we were cancelling the event," Tycoles said. "At which point I think he began to tell people that he was cancelling the event and wasn’t refunding their money."
The Clarion leases space for a wide range of events, including several craft and trade shows throughout the year.
"We’re not involved in the planning of these at all so when it was brought to our attention, obviously we tried our best to try to find out exactly what was going on, and the guy kind of gave us the runaround," he said.
Trade shows are the "bread and butter" of home-based businesses, Reykdal said.
"This is where we get our contacts from. This is our main source, so we’re not always bugging our friends and family," she said.
"To have us work so hard to be ripped off by somebody, it’s just so sad."
For some businesses, they are not only out the table fee, but they are on the hook for extra product.
"I have to order six to eight weeks in advance, so I’ve already ordered for this show to get them here on time," said one vendor who preferred to remain anonymous. "I am now out all of that money because there is no show."
This particular vendor had booked two tables for the event — one for her makeup business and the other for her leggings business.
"I’m really disappointed," she said. "If you look at what’s going on in the last two years in the vendor community, there have been multiple ... scams, and unfortunately as a vendor, it is getting very, very scary to do vendor events."
Prior to signing up for an event, she said she always checks for background and looks for reviews.
"I always check into recommendations, and I’ve been scammed by two people who have had great recommendations," she said.
The Brandon Sun attempted to contact the organizer via email, but our request was not returned. CBC Manitoba reported that the organizer responded to their inquiry to say he was "tied up with a family emergency." The worry is that this individual may be doing similar activity in other provinces as well.
"I actually found him in Moose Jaw, going by Jack R. Frost, and he’s also looking for vendors," Nickel said. "Then I contacted a couple people in Saskatchewan … and tried to warn them, but I guess it was too late."
Brandon Police Service Sgt. Dave Andrew said as of Tuesday afternoon, there have been no official complaints filed yet in regard to this trade show, but he encourages anyone who has been a victim of fraud to call police.
"They can contact the Brandon Police Service community services members, who can provide them with some sound advice, and perhaps provide a little bit of guidance," Andrew said, adding the age-old piece of advice still stands: "If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is."
If complaints are filed, an investigator would be assigned, Andrew said, and if necessary, it may lead to working with other police services across Manitoba or in other provinces to try to identify suspects responsible.
» Twitter: @jillianaustin