Sunday Mailbag

August 31st, 2008 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: I worked doing retail caricatures I know that it is hard to hire someone trustworthy and is a good artist. Especially to be a manager at one of your concessions. Here in L.A. we always had someone (even managers) pilfering from the till. Are the artists permitted to display their own samples? Will you ever acknowledge them (not the criminals but the worthy artists) on your blog?

A: I don’t often write about the business side of the retail caricature business here because I don’t think that is a topic that anyone but a very small few might care about or get anything out of. Therefore I have tried to devote this blog to the art side of live caricatures when I address it at all, with perhaps the occasional comment on the business side of it. I will, however, be happy to answer your question(s).

Business is business, and it doesn’t much matter whether your business is selling caricatures, widgets or chicken soup… the challenges of operating a business are almost universal. One of the toughest ones is finding good, reliable people to work with/for you. It’s very hard to find people who are reliable, honest, hard working and who place a high priority on their job. With retail caricatures, you also have to throw in the extra wrinkle of needing to be talented as well, and that’s the hardest part. Any business needs people like that, and they are not easy to find.

Each season we go on a recruiting search in art schools and colleges, via newspaper ads and lately via Craigslist and other online resources to find artists to work with us at my various park operations. We work very hard to put together the best crews we can, because the better the people we have in place the easier the rest of the season goes. I estimate we need to interview at least 4 people for each one opening if we expect to fill it with a decent artist who will do a good job. More than a few times we never got those four to choose from, and that leads to mediocre artists who do mediocre jobs.

You ask about stealing and how to prevent it. Only an owner who is either very naive or very stupid believes no one is stealing anything from their business. There is only three things you can do to deter that from happening, and those things are to pay attention, make stealing as difficult as possible and to deal harshly with anyone who is stealing.

That last one isn’t really prevention in and of itself, but it is still the most effective deterrent. My method is to dismiss thieves instantly and very openly. There are no second chances when it comes to theft. No one can argue they didn’t understand it was wrong, or that they did it by mistake. They just didn’t think they’d get caught. The way I look at it, you are doing them a favor by sending them packing, and embarrassing them in the process if possible. They will get another job and in that way get a second chance, but they might remember that incident and think twice about stealing from their new employer. The other reason for the public dismissal is to send a message to the rest of the people that work with you that you are paying attention and that you have a zero tolerance for that kind of thing.

The other two steps for prevention is to pay attention and to make it hard to steal. These go hand in hand. Ultimately you need to trust the people who work with you, but that doesn’t mean you do it blindly. Most theft occurs when otherwise honest people believe no one is watching and there is no way they will get caught. If they think there IS someone watching that will deter 95% of all theft. Most people logically value their jobs more highly than the extra $20 they might get with sticky fingers. The theme parks make this easy for me, as they have a large loss prevention team and secret shop everybody, us included, as well as watch in plain clothes behind us at random to see they things are rung up properly and the money is handled correctly. I have had a few artists caught doing something naughty and they have suffered the consequences.

Some people might argue that paying people more might deter them from stealing, but that is absolutely false. Paying people more is what gets you (hopefully) more loyalty, harder work, more willingness to put the job higher on the priority list of life… there are a host of benefits to paying your people as much as you can and still have a healthy business. I have always done that. The theme parks take a ridiculously high percentage of the gross sales as rent and I cannot pay as well there as I would like, although despite a constant increase in percentage for the theme parks over the last 12 years I have not reduced the percentage I pay my artists one fraction… I have eaten the reduced profit out of my own pocket instead. However in other venues who take a lesser percentage in rent I pay that extra directly to the artists, keeping my profit margin the same. That hopefully gets me better people who stay with me longer, but it does absolutely nothing to deter theft. People very seldom steal because of NEED. They steal because of WANT, and they will do that no matter how much they are paid. They do it for multiple reasons… it’s amazing how people can justify something like that in their minds.

Good management is the key. I have been offered many other parks to expand into and have turned most down for one main reason… I had no one I felt was a reliable manager ready to take on such an endeavor. When I do find someone with the work ethic, responsibility, organizational skills and ability to handle people that constitute a good manager I actively look for a place to put them, and they are paid accordingly. Good management is essential to any business. I don’t mention them here on the blog because that’s not what this blog if for, but I do have at least one person with these special abilities in place in each of my locations. They either share in the profits if they manage the crew or get a large percentage of their own work in exchange for overseeing the workings of a smaller booth, but they are well compensated and are treated as partners and not as just workers. My current managers are James Hungaski at Valleyfair, Ryan Roe at Six Flags St. Louis, Alex Hughes at Six Flags New England for caricature and tattoos and Rich Carper for airbrush t-shirts, Jim Batts at St. Louis Union Station and Andy Blakeborough at Nickelodoen Universe. I consider myself very lucky to have these guys in place I treat them right.

As to your other question, I encourage all my artists to have their own samples on the display walls. All samples need to be approved of course, but I consider that a necessity. At least one sample should be up for each artist.

Thanks to Michael Garisek for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. Michael Garisek says:

    Thanks for such a complete answer. May you continue to prosper!!


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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