Despite the growing success of the show, it was not, nor was it originally intended to be, an overly profitable venture. In most years, the show covered its costs and would yield a marginal return. 42 Unfortunately the financial structure of the show was setup where the board members had to personally back the annual note the conference held with its bank. This put a lot of pressure not only on the staff, but also on those board members, as they would be personally responsible for any shortfalls. As the show continued to grow, so did its bottom line, which over the years only further increased their personal risk. The board members also had to find a replacement for Marx who tendered her resignation, after the 2001 show.
Though the departure was on good terms, it was a significant loss. Marx had been a huge driver of the show. She had pushed the show to a higher level of professionalism and reached a much broader market than the early shows. Further, the 2001 show, which was on pace to be one of the best conferences to-date, took place only a week after 9/11, and consequently had lackluster performance. All of these factors came to a head in 2002 when, for the first time, the show took a financial loss, leaving the board members responsible for the shortfall. Having to make the decision
whether to write personal checks to creditors or look for another viable option, the board sold the show in 2003 to Western Interiors and Design.
As Western Interiors and Design was preparing for the show in May of ’03, the conference and the colony of Cody area craftsmen suffered a tragic loss when its founder, J. Mike Patrick, lost his life in a car accident.
Mike’s passing signaled the closing of a significant chapter in western design and Cody’s history. Different than many of the craftsmen in this industry, Patrick had the vision and commitment to bring together a group who until then worked mostly in isolation. In the January 2004 article in Log Home Design, Marx stated, “Mike was very much the guiding light of the conference. He had a vision and was very intense about following it.”
On the heels of the sale of the show and Marx’s departure in 2001, the loss of its Patrick would prove to be too much for the conference to bear. The show would operate for several more years under the ownership of Western Interiors and Design, but despite a growth in participation (2005 had 110 exhibitors) the show did not thrive in its new incarnation.
Carol Decker, the founder and CEO of Western Interiors and Design, stated, “The goal is to encourage the continuation of creativity and beautifully crafted work. We want to nourish and support these artists and craftspeople.” Western Interiors aim was to make the show profitable and thus sustainable. In 2003, for the first time in its 11-year history, the Western Design Conference became a for-profit venture.
While Western Interiors intention may have been to follow the framework set forth by Patrick and the early boards – the belief that bringing artisans together to share ideas and philosophies benefits all – the for-profit motivation was at odds with those earlier sentiments, and the show began to take on much more of a “trade-show” feel. This eventually tarnished what had been a gathering place for the craftsmen and artisans, and the show attendance and profitability began to fall off. In 2006, Western Interiors looked for suitors for the show. Initially, Decker sought out the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, as a possible buyer for the show, but, after negotiations over the pricing fell through, the museum was not interested in the purchase of the show.
In 2007, Western Interiors did find a buyer when Powder Mountain Press and Jackson Hole News and Guide partnered to purchase the show. Once the ink was dry, the new owners moved it to its current location in Jackson, Wyoming. The sale and move of the conference left Cody area craftsmen and all of those who had travelled to participate with a void. Cody had become synonymous with western design, and the Western Design Conference had become not just a place to meet prospective clients or show ones latest and best pieces. It had become a gathering place for friends who shared a common bond. Many exhibitors had been coming to Cody for nearly a decade or more. While many craftsmen would follow the show and participate in Jackson, a core group would come together for what would become a renaissance of the old ideas in a new setting.