MOUNT VERNON – After 20 years of steadfast leadership and dedication to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, Executive Director Cindy Verge is set to retire this fall.
Verge joined the Tulip Festival in 1999 as the Sponsorship Coordinator and was named the Executive Director in 2003. During her tenure as Executive Director, Cindy successfully navigated the festival through the Great Recession and the prolonged COVID period, finding creative ways to keep the festival alive during these difficult times. By applying for grants and PPP loans, and creating virtual events and videos, the festival emerged from COVID with solid financial standing and an engaged audience of tulip fans. The 2023 Tulip Festival saw the return of several in-person festival events and a bump in attendees, despite weather and bloom challenges.
“Retirement is a fun prospect for me,” said Verge. “The festival is in a great place right now with four tulip venues, solid signature events, and up-and-coming new events. I knew when I retired, I wanted to leave with the festival in a good place. I think I have done that. It’s a great time for a new director to start a new chapter.”
The Tulip Festival attracts visitors from around the world, often seeing visitors from more than 85 countries. To foster that, the festival has been an active partner in the World Tulip Organization for decades. The Tulip Festival initially became involved with the organization in 1999 and in the last two decades Skagit Valley representatives have attended numerous Tulip Summits in Australia, England, Turkey, and Canada. In 2010, Skagit Valley hosted the World Tulip Summit, elevating Skagit County agriculture on the world stage.
“These international visitors often sleep in local hotels and eat at local restaurants,” said Verge. “This year we were fortunate to partner with the Skagit Tourism Bureau to further engage with travelers and promote the area. It’s an exciting relationship that will help all of us to further showcase our incredible Skagit Valley.”
The Tulip Festival has evolved over the last 20 years. With a small team and a tight budget, Verge created new growth opportunities to keep the festival strong. In 2003, the festival featured an official beer and wine. Today the list of official products has expanded to include ten products. Official products allow the festival to promote local businesses while also generating revenue to support festival operations.
Verge also started selling Tulip Festival merchandise both in-house and online early in her tenure. The concept started with selling posters and has expanded to include a wide variety of items – from shirts to puzzles – featuring the Tulip Festival Logo and poster art. In the last fiscal year, online sales of merchandise generated 14% of the festival’s gross income.
“At the start, we used hand-written receipts and a knuckle-buster credit card processor that required manual input of all receipts,” recalled Verge. “One of us would take a hand truck with shipping boxes down to the post office to send out orders. It was a lot of work, but we found that tulip fans loved the merchandise.” The festival has since implemented a few versions of online stores, and recently expanded to online sales through social media.
The Tulip Festival Board of Directors expressed their gratitude and appreciation for Verge’s commitment to the festival over the last two decades. “Cindy’s leadership brought the Tulip Festival to where it is today, which is a very strong and stable place,” said Terry Gifford, owner of Willowbrook Manor and President of the Tulip Festival Board of Directors. “There were no smart phones or social media platforms 20 years ago. Activities as simple as communication and information sharing are entirely different now. Cindy’s efforts to keep the festival current by building new systems leaves us in a great position for the next chapter.”
The Tulip Festival has begun recruiting for a new Executive Director. The job description and qualifications can be viewed here. Candidates can submit interest via cover letter and resume to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival hiring committee by email at TulipFestivalBoard@gmail.com.