PERSIANS at "MEET THE BREEDS" ~ by Susan Cook Henry

The Persian booth planning had its beginning at the Persian Breed Council meeting at the Annual in Palm Springs. At this point, “Meet the Breeds” had recently been announced, and our council was very interested in participating. But where do you start with such a large base of breeders and exhibitors, not to mention such a popular breed with seven divisions? You have to start somewhere, and the inspiration began simply enough with two volunteers at that meeting … Donna Minardi (New York resident) said she’d love to bring two of her Bi-Colors, and Danielle Griggs (South Carolina) offered to make matching cage drapes for our booth (plus bring a Himalayan kitten or two). That was a start and we moved forward inch by inch from there.

Early on, there were so many questions and the scope of what we were entering into was at times overwhelming. Claudia Hasay did a great job of communicating information to the MTB Group online, and was very quick and efficient at getting answers to some tough but important queries. We were given the same financing as the other breeds, but in deference to the seven Persian Divisions, we were given the opportunity for a 30-foot wide booth at no extra charge. Mark Hannon, Nancy Petersen and I were debating the obvious, and our first thoughts were, “How are we going to fill 30 feet of space? Would 20 feet work?” How silly those questions seem to us now as I’m sure most booth attendees would agree that the spaces looked MUCH smaller in person than they did on paper! (The suggestion in retrospect that the minimum booth space be 15 feet wide, rather than this year’s standard 10-foot width, is well-advised). We also knew that we were going to need something special to make our booth shine in addition to the cats, and our tried and true, road-ready Persian pop-up display was an obvious choice. Beyond that, Persian breeder Sophia Staples (New Jersey) had a background in graphic design. She was more than happy to help us, but we had to be patient and wait for her to complete her show manager duties for William Penn on the Jersey Shore in August. Seemed enough time, but the clock was definitely ticking.

Meanwhile, other considerations began, such as committing people and cats to the event. Not easy AT ALL! This was no doubt the toughest part of the concept, as we were intent on having all seven Persian Divisions represented. We made the decision early in the process that CFA’s funding for the booth would go into decorating the booth and volunteer workers would have to pay their own expenses, such as hotel and travel. Obviously, it made sense to have people who were relatively “local” to the area or who were willing to travel at their own expense. Originally, we had six of the seven divisions lined up, but as weeks and months went on, one thing led to another and eventually we ended up with five divisions represented. We also wanted to have Persians there in a full as well as a modified (5-month growth) lion cut – I brought those two for their breeder Kate Preston to present, as she was local to the event area (New Jersey). To find a Smoke Persian, a referral led us to Dr. Jenny Freeman from the Boston area who brought not only four Smoke kittens and one adult for the display, but a cat for Joan Miller’s breed presentation as well. Carol Krzanowski (New Jersey) offered her Blue Tabby National Winner and stepped up to the plate with a black kitten when the Solid Color we planned to use was no longer available. As previously mentioned, Donna Minardi and Danielle Griggs brought Bi-Color and Himalayan representatives. We were set for cats … and offered the possibility of putting enclosures under the skirted tables to switch out or rest cats if necessary.

The nuts and bolts of the booth layout design were made so much easier by the PowerPoint program created by Mary Kolencik , whereby we could move tables and cages (all sizes, all to scale) around grids measured at 10 feet deep and 10- and 20-feet wide. I obsessed about getting the most out of our large area, and we knew we ran the risk of making things tight, even on paper. The size and height of the tables were changed and rearranged several times before settling in on our final design. Our pop-up display would be the centerpiece, standing on a 30-inch tall 8-foot table. Flanking the display on each side were two doubles on an 8-foot table. In front along the aisle, we settled on two centered 6-foot tables with two doubles – the extra space at each end of the front tables was to be used for cat display area at one end and continuous photo loop on a 22” monitor at the other. We opted to seat the cages on taller tables for visibility and to lend height to an otherwise long, narrow area.

Danielle had searched for fabric appropriate for the elegance of our breed, and found a lovely wrinkle-resistant fabric in royal blue, as well as a more sheer fabric in the same color to cover the tops of the cages allowing more light in to improve visibility of the cats. A decorative border with a pattern in an “Asian gold floral” was the final touch to make the drapes truly eye-catching . (It was a bonus was that not only was the fabric beautiful, it was absolutely a dream to put on the cages. Even with two steam irons at the ready, there were few wrinkles to iron so we didn’t and the cages looked fabulous!)

As booth design brainstorming happened, we continued to think of elements to add to the history of the Persian, and I came up with the idea of it being “A Journey from Isfahan,” which was the ancient and glorious former capital of Persia (now Iran) along the famed Silk Route. Being a fan of Persian rugs, I had a couple at home -- plus a camel saddle, a lantern with a battery-powered candle and some other middle-eastern elements which made an interesting still-life arrangement which I wanted to incorporate in the booth somehow. Of course, space would dictate that ability.

In September, Sophia began work in earnest on her idea of a time line to outline our breed’s history. She found some amazing information via Google (everyone’s good friend!) and when she sent me a preview of the first 5-foot wide/2-foot tall vinyl banner which was to go on the left end of the booth area, I was in awe! Her skills as a graphic artist are amazing and her choice of colors superb as they totally complemented the fabrics and other elements of our booth.

She continued her time line as a salute to all Persians who became Cats of the Year even before CFA began such awards … back to the mid-1940’s. That she found photos of some of those cats in high enough resolution to be used in this project still astounds me! Her historical time line continued in three more 5 x 2 banners; one on either side of the pop-up display, and the fourth on the right end of the booth area. We had also discussed using photos of an “old-style” Persian to honor the history and a recent winning Persian to celebrate the future of our breed. Sophia’s idea was to make very large vertical hanging banners of these photos and to “veil” them with a blue tint … not a stretch since both cats are blue! This was very effective, and the banners (4-feet wide x 7-feet tall) made a dramatic statement at each end of our booth area. And it turned out that there was enough room at the “entrance” end of our booth to stage the still life items. The setup of our area went very smoothly and probably more quickly than any of us would have imagined, with four of us there to do it. The icing on the cake were the two 6-foot palm trees obtained by the center’s decorator and donated by Mark, which really added appeal to either side of our pop-up display.

We decided to take advantage of CFA’s offer to accept items shipped to them and transport to the Jacob Javits Center, then back to the sender. I sent the Persian pop-up display ahead, and Danielle sent all the cage drapes. It was a reasonable deal for $100, and it saved us time and space in our packing/travelling plans. We already had the $100 deduction for the bus transportation, and now the other nickels and dimes beyond the heavy purchases like fabric and banners began to add up, such as electricity, extra tables, carpet, etc. Two of our participants lent grooming tables for display purposes, and I had purchased a variety of very reasonably priced “antique Persian rugs” to use on top of the tables and front display area. Each set of cats had its own rug, so when shift change came so changed the rugs. I also found a number of tassels of different sizes to add to just about every part of our display, and they were a nice enhancement. One decision made at setup was to lower the tables for the front cages to 30”, as the view into the area would definitely be compromised by using taller tables there. When all was said and done, our booth was extremely elegant and eye-catching… Everything had come together so fantastically well and our Persians were part of an awesome showcase.

What would we do differently next time?

When the crowds came on Saturday, it was readily apparent that our largest “error” was in trying to establish one end of the booth as the entrance and the opposite end as the exit. It just wasn’t practical. On top of that, our decision to have two double cages facing the aisle was a big distraction and in fact kept more people out of our booth. Spectators seemed to prefer to see and touch the cat on display on the front area, even though two or more other cats were out on the inside grooming tables at all times. Not nearly so many people as we’d expected came into our area to look at the timeline up close, nor the photos/information on our pop-up display. They also missed the fabulous color acceptance timeline on which Sophia had worked so hard. Perhaps it is something too esoteric for the casual observer, but it is certainly pertinent to our breed’s history. Pat Jacobberger saw the worth in that project, and will incorporate it at some point in her LH presentation at the Breed Awareness and Orientation Seminar in conjunction with the CFA International Show. In the future, we will open up the booth more by putting a shorter table in the front and face the cages towards the inside of the booth with a grooming table in front, and still have something eye-catching on the backside of those cages facing the aisle. We can perhaps encourage more of the crowd to flow through our booth that way, and all people/cats will have more even attention.

We could have used a few more cats and kittens, as it was really grueling on the limited number of “kids” we had there. As our schedule worked out, each person and cat had a 1 hour +20 minute shift, two shifts on one day and three on the other for all. On the 3-shift day, the rest between went quickly, but the cats were all such troupers … and they were absolutely exhausted by Saturday evening – as were their people. But they all seemed to rally on Sunday and although obviously tired around the edges, they gave their best under the circumstances. We had the luxury of space in our area, however there was still little room to put a “time-out” Sturdi or other enclosure under the tables, with so much other stuff to be kept out of sight. I would hope that next time there is more space made available to all of the booths to put our extra supplies and suitcases, etc., which would provide more under-table space for enclosures to keep the cats rotating.

A suggestion was made that we have two shifts of people – one set for Saturday and another for Sunday, but several of the participants indicated that if they were going to be there one day they might as well be there for two. Of course, much of this depends on one’s residential proximity to the event – but there was so much to absorb as a spectator when not tied to the area with a cat on display that being there for the full two days seems more appropriate. That argument will continue to be debated and will depend on the will of participants next time around.

In all, the entire MTB experience was very rewarding, as plans gelled and came together with very few glitches not only for our booth, but apparently for all of the participants. No doubt, we were jazzed by the entire event. It was a lot of work for sure, but so worth it. We did CFA proud, and let AKC know they have a valuable partner in showcasing the most popular pets in the world!

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