After two years of turning a profit, shows at the Harvester Performance Center came just shy of breaking even in 2018.
Harvester CEO Matt Hankins said the town-owned music venue recovered 98.5% of the expenses associated with shows last year, falling roughly $27,000 short of bringing revenues in line with expenditures.
“Still a really good year for us,” Hankins said.
The financial figures were shared with town council members during a Monday evening work session at the Harvester, which marked its five-year anniversary in April.
For the last two years, Harvester shows supported themselves and turned a profit, while the town covered building and personnel costs. In 2016, the first profitable year, the shows garnered less than $1,000. But in 2017, the shows earned the center an $18,328 profit.
Hankins attributed some of the 2018 losses to cancellations. He said about 5% of the Harvester’s shows were canceled and not rescheduled last year, often for reasons out of their control, like the illness of an artist.
Though frustrating, Hankins said cancellations are part of the business. He said the industry standard is 7-10%, so the Harvester is still below that range.
Those cancellations have an impact on the venue’s bottom line, Hankins explained, as money has already been spent on ticket processing fees and advertising.
“We are out some real dollars for those that we lose,” he said. “So we try our best not to lose any, but realistically we’re going to lose some.”
The Harvester also had a number of successes in 2018, Hankins said, selling out 17 shows and reaching at least 85% capacity at another 17 performances.
Hankins said officials continue to evaluate the Harvester’s practices to ensure it operates leanly.
In November of last year, the Harvester implemented a facility or convenience fee to its ticket prices. Each ticket now includes a 9.999% fee. The Harvester had previously charged a $2 per ticket processing fee.
Hankins noted that many venues charge such fees, typically in an effort to recoup processing and credit card costs. The decision was not made lightly, he said, but ultimately it was decided that these costs should be passed on to the customer.
Hankins said he hopes the fee would create a cushion, particularly as the Harvester prepares to pay monthly rent for the first time, starting in July.
Other measures have been taken as well, Hankins said, such as reducing printing costs by switching providers. Marketing is the second-largest operational cost at the Harvester.
Hankins said he hoped the formation of a nonprofit Friends of the Harvester group would also help to boost fundraising to support the concert venue.
Things are looking up in the first quarter of 2019, based on figures shared by accountant Andy Turner. Harvester shows generated a $42,701 profit during the first three months of the year. Officials said this was due in part to a very busy March.
“It’s exciting from my aspect of doing this over the years to see we’re certainly trending in the right direction,” Turner said.
Town Manager James Ervin said many things have turned out differently than officials expected when the Harvester first opened, often for the better.
Ervin said it’s important to think of the Harvester not as a money maker, but an economic engine that brings people to Rocky Mount.
“Plus or minus 1% is that sweet spot,” he said. “We don’t want to overcharge such that we don’t get the volume, and yet we don’t want to undercharge such that we can’t pay our bills. That’s a very delicate balance.”
The five-year mark is a time to reflect. Ervin said opening the Harvester was clearly a smart call by town leaders. He urged them to think about what other big projects Rocky Mount should tackle next.
Rocky Mount Mayor Steven Angle told The Franklin News Post he felt the presentation showed a positive economic impact and credited The Harvester with making Rocky Mount a destination.
“People are coming to Rocky Mount,” Angle said. “People are leaving with a good impression of the town.”