Saturday, October 23, 2010

Charlie Brown Can Swarm! Can You? (Review of the Salt Lake City Cricut Swarm 2010)

It was advertised as a big deal. The celebrity crafting ladies (at least, celebrities of the blogosphere) pumped up the big event. Provo Craft was hosting a spectacular, inspiring, dazzling swarm of awesomeness - unlike the entire crafting universe had ever known! It was officially known as the 2010 Salt Lake City Cricut Swarm - 12 hours of pure crafting bliss, with demonstrations, projects, instructions, prizes - and a chance to personally put your hands on all kinds of Provo Craft equipment. Every participant would receive a gift bag "filled-to-the-gills."

At first, only members of the elite Cricut Circle Club could purchase tickets to this swarm. For those who live in a cave, Provo Craft created the Cricut Circle Club program where members could pay $274.99 annually to be a member. As a reward, they would receive four new and exclusive cartridges for their Cricut machine. It might not be surprising to realize that ladies who can afford the $275 annual admission price to the club didn't hesitate to throw down the additional $135 to attend this event. They signed up from all over the country - laying out additional money for flights and hotels to attend.
I was aware of all of this news, but largely disinterested. After all, I'm not a Cricut Circle Club member, and even if I felt like I could afford it, I have other priorities to which I'd prefer to apply $275 a year. Though I admit that I was mildly curious what they would do.
"Just pay me your money and hop right aboard!"
So they clambered inside. Then the big machine roared
And it klonked. And it bonked. And it jerked. And it berked.
And it bopped them about. But the thing really worked!
- Page 11, from The Sneetches and other stories, by Dr. Seuss
I heard that they opened up registration to the general public. Still not too interested. I also learned that they were offering a Gypsy as part of the gift bag for every participant. I already have a Gypsy, so still no real interest. Then my husband suggested that I could sell the Gypsy, make back the all or most of the admission price, and be out nothing.

I became interested.

It happens that I live just south of Salt Lake City, and could travel to this event in about 40 minutes time. My husband offered to take care of the kids, and I could make it a day-off for me. I took the bait and signed up one week before the event, though I still had reservations because I would be attending by myself.

Almost by chance, my friend Simply Pam also signed up at the same time. When she learned that I was going, she arranged to meet up and travel with me. I was excited and relieved to know that there would be someone else attending that I knew.

After signing up, I expected to receive some kind of communication from Provo Craft. Except for the receipt that they automatically emailed to me and a small rather undetailed e-mail message, there was nothing of real value. Pam didn't hear anything either. From looking at blogs and promotional materials, we decided we needed to prepare by bringing ribbon, tags, and treats to trade - although we really didn't know any details about how that might work.

The morning of the swarm arrived. I met Pam, and we took the TRAX train downtown to the Gateway just before 9am, when registration would begin. We took our place in line. It was a very cool October morning, and I was glad I had worn a sweater.

I was even more glad when next, they asked all those who were not Circle Cricut Elite members to step to the side (waiting outside in the cold). This was to allow Circle Club members to register first. Although we were originally about 25th and 26th in line, we waited outside for another 45 minutes until all of the Elite members were allowed to enter. Only then,  did they allow those of us without superior social privilege to begin entering the building. As a side note,  I knew they were going to give the Circle members a 'fast-pass' to the front of the registration, but I didn't know that we would have to wait outside in the cold. Let's just say that we were thankful it wasn't raining.
Then, quickly, Sylvester McMonkey McBean
Put together a very peculiar machine.
And he said, "You want stars like a Star-Belly Sneetch...?
My friends, you can have them for two-hundred seventy-five dollars each!"
 - page 10, adapted from The Sneetches and other stories, by Dr. Seuss
Once inside, the registration process could only be described was slow and inefficient.
As I waited some more, I watched them pack my"filled-to-the-gills" gift bag (apparently it was too much trouble to have them ready ahead of time, so instead they packed them while the registration was being processed). Here it is:

The contents included:
  • Gypsy
  • Two Cuttle-bug embossing designs (one of which I will probably NEVER use and I love my Cuttlebug)
  • Paper Crafts magazine (September / October 2010 issue)
  • Cricut Imagine sunglasses (leftover giveaways from the Chicago tradeshow)
  • A handful of imaginisce Snag 'em Stamps (crab, dolphin, whale, and blowfish)
  • Plain orange bag (to be decorated myself at the YuDu display)
Soon, I began to notice some class-distinctions in the making. As part of registration, they stamped our hand. Circle members received one kind of stamp, while the regular folks were given a different kind. Later these distinctions reminded Pam of the Dr. Seuss book The Sneetches, and I agreed that it described the occasion.

Next I observed that Circle members received two dark-blue tickets for the drawings, while regular Janes like myself received one light-blue entry. Any hope of winning a drawing immediately vanished, because surely the folks in charge will be taking care to draw as many dark-blue tickets as they possibly could.
"We're exactly like you! You can't tell us apart.
We're all just the same, now, you snooty old smarties!
And now we can go to your Cricut Swarm parties."
- Page 12, adapted from The Sneetches and other stories, by Dr. Seuss
This was my first time at the Gateway Grand Hall, which was the former Union Pacific train station. It was a beautifully restored and repurposed building, with tall ceilings forming a large open space. I noticed my friend Pam was shivering. The air-conditioning was running at full steam, and it was colder inside than it was outside. Unfortunately for Pam, the temperature would remain like that the entire day.

"Simply Pam" and me

With all of that space, I was excited to enter the main room and see how beautifully they would decorate it. After all, the ads had hinted at lavish Halloween decorations. I was disappointed to find that Provo Craft's idea of lavish decorations was to hang vinyl in the bathroom and a banner and decorations at one treat table as well as a large scale model of the Haunted Mansion from the Happy Hauntings cartridge. Was this the best that the collective creative genius of Provo Craft could muster?

One lonely decoration to set the mood...

The treat table had some Cheetos and candy. I took a small bag, anticipating that I could return later in the day and get some more snacks. Much to my surprise, within a few hours they took down this table featuring their decorations - though to their credit they did leave soda and water available to grab through the day.
The swaps of ribbon and tags were well underway by the time Pam and I entered the hall, and if there had been any direction given about them we had long ago missed it. Actually, if there was any direction given over these loudspeakers, it is quite likely that no more than a dozen people on the front row of the stage understood it, because their sound system was dreadful. All through the day, we suffered through the audio onslaught where nearly everyone sounded like Charlie Brown's Teacher. There were very few of the presenters who were real pros and figured out how to adjust the position of the microphone correctly to make their voice heard. Later in the day, someone brought additional speakers to try to help the situation, but it didn't really work. Needless to say, the advertised demonstrations that I had looked forward to viewing were very difficult to enjoy.
Charlie Brown Teacher: Any speech that has been slurred from drunkenness, distorted by lousy loudspeakers, or rendered incomprehensible by other means.
To make matters worse, the hostess was trying to play games with the ladies who were winning prizes, including having them give their best witch cackle into the already struggling sound system. The sound system was already distorting everything so badly that at one point, the hostess was roaming with a wireless microphone, and was standing five feet behind me. And I still couldn't understand what she was saying! But those witch cackles came through really well!

They started with a Yudu demonstration and then we were able to use the YuDu to decorate our orange swag bags. We glanced around to see where the YuDu projects were taking place. They were not too hard to find. I soon discovered the long line of ladies who were waiting to use the two machines that Provo Craft had so thoughtfully provided. I had to wonder to myself how Provo Craft expected 2 machines to serve over 200 people? Since I had already waited in the extended registration line, I had no desire to stand in this line as well, and so my bag was never properly decorated. I soon discovered that the same planners had brought equally pathetic numbers of Cricut Expressions (2), Cricut Create (1), and Cricut Imagine machines (2) for use too. This was no less than an EPIC FAILURE on the part of Provo Craft, who knew how many people had registered and prepaid, yet planned such a dismal number of machines for such a large group. Later in the afternoon, they must have recognized the short sidedness, because they brought in two or three more Cricut machines (in fairness, those might have been there all along on the other side of the room and I hadn't noticed). But even with those few extras, they still didn't have enough to properly satisfy their frustrated paying guests. Especially those (me) who hoped to try out the Cricut Imagine for the first time.

Provo Craft brought in the Home Shopping Network girl for a special guest appearance. I know a lot of people just adore her, but that girl was full of more bologna than an Oscar Meyer warehouse. Living not too far from the Provo Craft warehouse, I've met a few employees over the years. I know some of the inside stories. This girl on-stage was spinning out lies faster than a politician that is 20 points down in the polls. (I suppose they are not called lies - they are marketing embellishments.) I was glad when she took her painted-on-clothes and made-for-tv glossy smile off the stage. After her heartfelt speech about being "one big Provo Craft family," I was amused at how quickly she found her way out the door and away from the beloved and adoring fans. Maybe it was just a bad first impression, but I wasn't about to kiss the ground she walked on.
"Wah wah woh wah wah" - Charlie Brown's teacher.

To create a little Disneyland-like atmosphere, the Cricut and Cuttlebug walk-around character were on hand to pose for pictures. That is, if you got in line in the first 5 minutes, they were no where to be seen after about 10-15 minutes tops. They tried to make their appearance as brief as possible, making many people wonder why they even bothered to dress up and come? My daughter would have like to see a picture with me and the bugs, but I didn't catch them at that time.

Unfortunately, as we sat at our tables and worked on projects, yet another short-sided provision came to light. The brass at PC had set us all at round tables. Those may be good for conversation, but are not so good for providing space to work on crafting. We all balanced our projects and tried not to bump elbows as we made the best of it. But it sure would have been better thinking to have the round tables for dinner and conversation, and use square or rectangle tables for crafting.

The best parts of the day occurred when anyone except the disorganizers from Provo Craft were in charge. American Crafts took the floor and shared their make-and-takes, of which they were well planned. The man distributing parts was working hard given the poor constraints that he had been placed into by Provo Craft. Even in the air-conditioning, he was working up a sweat running back and forth to satisfy his customers.The food from Le Croissant Catering was delicious, and dinner was a highlight of my day (I wonder if they sell their raspberry poppyseed salad dressing? If they do, I'll be stocking up my pantry).
Then, of course, from THEN on, as you probably guess,
Things really got into a horrible mess."
-Page 19, The Sneetches and other stories, by Dr. Seuss
Besides Pam and me, the other ladies at my table had all traveled great distances to attend this let-down of a party. I asked my table how they felt about it, and everyone agreed that Provo Craft did not deliver what they had promised. Provo Craft insisted on dragging the party out until the very stroke of 9:00 pm, and most people did stay until the end because they stretched out the prize drawings until then. The hostess was not just drawing tickets out of the bowl, but was also trying to play games with the winners (or as she put it, "You've gotta earn your prize!") by making them dance, sing, strut like a chicken, or other things. Eventually the people closest to the stage must have yelled at her to just draw the stupid tickets and get on with it. She seemed genuinely disappointed that no one wanted to play along, and she started awarding some of the prizes without strings attached - but not all of them. She insisted that the largest prizes still needed to be earned. One lady at my table left about an hour early, admitting it was not worth it. She left her tickets with us, and said if she won, we were to put all of our names into a hat and draw to see who at the table got her prize. It didn't matter - ultimately, nobody at our table won anything.

My table of new friends

At any time during the last half of the day, I looked around the room to see people leaning on the table, resting their heads in their arms, zonked out. I wish now that I would have taken some pictures.

At the end of the day, we found the reluctant Cricut running around the hall avoiding everyone. I managed to corner him in the parking lot, and I did get that picture for my daughter, although he was acting so silly I don't know if it was worth it.

In the end, I'm glad I went and satisfied my curiosity. Even though it was disappointing, if I had not gone, I would have wondered and thought that I missed something great. I'm also really glad that I didn't waste much money traveling there, or I probably would have been truly upset over the way things turned out. Since I did go, I know that it wasn't that spectacular. I know never to go to another Provo Craft sponsored swarm, and I won't feel one bit of regret passing up the next invitation.

P.S. I emailed Le Croissant about the raspberry poppyseed salad dressing. They send me back a reply right away apologizing that they don't sell it separately, but appreciated my comments and invited me to attend more events catered by them. I'll be glad to, as long as Provo Craft isn't hosting the party.


  1. Thank you for sharing your experience it's really great. Nice post.

  2. Ohh Gloria! I am so sorry the Provo Craft swarm was such a disappointment! I, like you, am not a Circle member and I may never be because of the cost. Like you, I can use that money for something more useful. I don't live anywhere near Utah, so to pay to go to a swarm there is never going to happen. I thank you for sharing this as it does definately put to rest any thought that "I am missing out!"

    I hope the next swarm you go to just blows you away!


  3. Well, that doesn't sound like much fun. I'm really sorry you didn't have a better time. Did you at least get a bit of crafting done?

  4. OMG Glora 2 expressions machines for 200 people?!!!! DISSAPOINTING! What were they thinking????

    As you, I'm just a simple crafter and a Mom trying to stretch my $$$. I'm so sorry Provo Craft is just about the money and not about "us" people. I do have my own situation with them about the "reward points" but this is another story.
    Thanks for sharing. What a company my Gosh!

    Gina Lindsey
    happymom2010learning at gmail dot com

  5. Ahhh.... Memories.... :D Thanks for the flashback and great review of how it really went. Love it! :)


  6. Thanks for your honesty in your post about the PC Swarm. I am not a circle member also due to the high cost. But when they opened up the swarm for anyone I actually thought about going. Now I'm glad I saved my money. It's nice to hear the truth from real people and not the used card sales pitch. Thank you!

  7. I was so disappointed when I couldn't go and I am on the east coast so I am happy that I was not able to come up with the travel funds for this party. Sorry it wasn't enjoyable for you though :(

  8. I am a Circle member and did spend money to travel to UT from CA. Having said that, I want to THANK YOU for writing a very truthful review of what the swarm was REALLY like. The very next days there was tons of posts in the cricut MB about how great it was and what a wonderful job PC did and I was like... when was this? i was there and I must have missed the whole wonderful action.

    I actually left the place right around dinner time as I could not bear to be there any longer, since I traveled from out of town I did not have any projects to work on and I had already said hello to the few people i wanted to say hi to. I am glad I left early as I at least got to spend time with my friend that lives in UT THAT was the highlight of my trip not the swarm... which was LAME ... I have been to better swarms put on by local ladies that have 1/10th of their budget and to do 10x a better job. Save your money ladies you wont be disappointed your did.

  9. Glora,

    It took guts to write such an honest review!!! I am so sorry you didn't enjoy it more...but I'm glad you didn't have to travel far to get there! I tend to think of Provo Craft as just a corporation-even though it's easy to forget when you feel like you get to know the people who blog for them...It's all about the bottom dollar! And I happen to hate their reward program, too. If you are truly showing your appreciation for your customers, you would charge actual shipping-not exorbitant prices! And the pickings have been so slim lately-at least for us lowly non-Circle Members! ;)

    Thank you so much for taking the time to tell it how it really is!!! I really appreciate it! I know you probably just got more aggravated re-hashing it, but if you save one person from making the same mistake (and you have-me!), hopefully it was worth it!

    Crafty hugs,