The Big Con: Convention Accounts
The Life and Times of the Artist Alley – Dragon Con!
Back in May, I had the pleasure of interviewing two of my friends. They were working in the Artist Alley at 221B Con for the first time. They shared with me what they learned, what not to do, and how best to get sales.
Now it’s my turn.
I attended Dragon Con 2015 in Atlanta as a vendor with Rock Shop Music and Comics, the comic book store I work for. This was my first time working in the dealer’s room. This is what I learned and what I would do different for next year.
Working in a dealer’s room starts before the convention
Weeks before Dragon Con even started, our entire staff had discussions on what to take with us and what to leave in the store. Dragon Con takes place during Labor Day. We needed to leave product in the store for our own three day weekend sale but take enough for our convention booth.
We recently got in merchandise signed by Stan Lee. While they would sell well, should we risk taking them to the con? What if they broke? What if they were stolen? What about it being Force Friday during the convention? We received Star Wars: The Force Awakens toys a few days before we left. Should we leave them in the store? Should we take half? What comic back issues should we take? How many shirts? What toys should stay and go?
This went on for a couple weeks leading up to Dragon Con until we finally decide what merchandise to take.
The Monday through Wednesday before we left was all packing. A lot of it was moving comics in the back issues and packing them in fresh long boxes. Much of the packing was physical work which wasn’t the rough part. My biggest mistake was not getting enough sleep those prior days. By the time the convention actually rolled around, I was exhausted! I made myself sick and open to the con crud. My pre-working-the-dealer’s-room advice for any newcomers is to get plenty of sleep and take vitamins before you even leave.
The magic of setting up
I didn’t help with the load in Wednesday night, but I heard it was long. You have to wait your turn on the loading dock and pretty much dump everything in your spot as fast as you can when your turn comes. It makes sense when you have so many vendors in a small space trying to go at the same time. My co-worker and the store owner were gone for a good five hours to unload at a convention only forty minutes away.
When I arrived on Thursday, I found the space we had to work with.
We had reserved two tables for our booth. This is what you get. You have to have creativity to make those amazing shops in any vendor room. You have to think vertically. We had metal gridwall panels to put together that were six and eight feet long and were given two tables.
Then the magic happened.
The actual set up wasn’t bad or even that hard. It took us about four hours. A good chunk of that time was trying to figure out where everything was going to go. In the end, we didn’t get to put out all the merchandise, because we ran out of space. That’s when you decide what you want to sell more. You don’t have a back room to store extra merch. You can’t put it behind or to the side of your booth. If you do that, then you’re in another vendor’s space. What we didn’t use got stored in my owner’s truck. Over the weekend, we would bring in new items each day as space became available.
After a lot of hard work, we ended up with a pretty amazing booth:
Throughout the weekend, working the booth wasn’t hard at all. In fact, I didn’t do anything different than what I did in the store. I used the same retail skills I use every day. What was ultimately different were the details and the location. The entire convention was a learning experience for the next year.
Vendor friendship is magic
The biggest advice I would have is to make friends with the booths around you. You are all stuck in one place together for a long period of time. You might as well get to know each other. For one, a lot of vendors do the same conventions every year or travel similar routes. I know there were a few booths I’ve seen at Anime Weekend Atlanta, MomoCon, and of course, past Dragon Cons. Like any business, it’s important to make good connections so they can also spread the love of how great you are. Contacts are everything in the business world. You don’t want people thinking negatively of you. You can also trade merchandise or get discounts. Several of the booths, especially the ones across from us that we chatted with during the convention, gave us lower prices for their items since we were also vendors. Lastly since you’re stuck there a long period of time, you can’t always get food. I took some food orders for our neighboring booth since she was manning it alone until her next person came. In return, I got some cute charms for my time.
Making good and positive connections will help people remember you for the next year.
It’s a guessing game of what will sell
I had a few people at the con asking if we had Rat Queens. When I mentioned it to the store owner, he told me he brought Rat Queens the year before. It didn’t sell well which is why we didn’t bring it this year.
It’s a fine line of what to bring and what not to bring. With Dragon Con being a science fiction and media convention, we took comic back issues of Star Wars from Dark Horse, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Sleepy Hollow, Flash, Arrow, and other comics from popular media. Many of the actors from these television shows were at the convention. We thought it would be a hit.
What ended up selling the best?
Husband-Wife team Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti were also guests at the convention. As a last minute addition, we added a Harley Quinn section of back issues with their work. We sold more of that one comic than all of the previously mentioned titles above. I knew Harley was popular in our store, but I figured big names like Tom Mison, Stephen Amell, John Barrowman, and Peter Mayhew would bring people to the other comics. Boy, I was wrong. We even sold our graded first appearance of Harley in The Batman Adventures for a pretty penny. It just goes to show that what’s popular in our store transcends to the convention scene as well.
We also had to think on the fly through the convention. We had a section for Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick with titles like Hawkeye, Captain Marvel, and Sex Criminals. Understandably, the couple left halfway through the convention when Mr. Fraction’s father suddenly passed away. Their comics sold well the first two days. The third day of the convention, I don’t think we sold a single issue. My owner and I decided to focus on the guests that were still at Dragon Con. We pushed more Peter David, Brenden Fletcher, and of course, Harley Quinn. Changes happen in a convention. You have to be able to roll with those punches.
It’s hard to know what will sell well. Paying attention to current popular fandoms is a must to be able to plan accordingly.
What to do differently
The biggest thing I would change from the entire weekend would be the floor of our booth. We were standing on concrete for hours on end. That simply kills your legs. For someone like me who ripped a muscle in her knee last year, I was pulling out my brace by closing time. Of course we can’t change the actual floor. We can, however, bring mats, carpets, or something to help our legs. I heard some of the other vendors had these. Home Depot sells interlocking foam mats. It’s not just for us but for our customers as well. We had comic long boxes under the tables. Customers were kneeling on the concrete to flip through them. This is uncomfortable for them as well. I’m insisting we get some foam mats for next year.
I probably would have sprung for new tennis shoes too. I get new shoes for work about once a year. My current pair is still holding together, but they’re definitely worn down. Standing for that long, I should have went ahead and got my new pair with better arch support. At the very least, I should have bought some insoles.
As mentioned above, I cannot stress enough to get sleep before and during the convention. I was exhausted for most of Dragon Con and ended up getting sick afterward. Having hand sanitizer at your booth is a must. You’re in close quarters with thousands of people from all over the world. You’re bound to run into germs. Drink plenty of fluids and eat as well as you can. If you know you have to work the next day, don’t party so late. You have to take care of yourself through the weekend.
You don’t see much of the convention
This was a weird year at Dragon Con where there wasn’t that much I was itching to see. I’ve been going to the convention for fourteen years. Some years are better than others with guests and events. I was telling the store owner if this year was like last year when many of the actors from Once Upon A Time attended and I was helping Once Upon A Fan with live tweeting, it would have been difficult for me to work.
That’s because when you work as a vendor, you don’t see much of the convention. The hall is open from 10am-7pm when a majority of the programming happens. If there was something I wanted to see, then I needed to get it cleared ahead of time. For example, I was on the season four recap panel for Once Upon A Time. My store owner and I planned ahead of time for me to miss that hour at our booth. You just have to be willing to give up seeing the convention to work. I was being paid to be at our booth not to joyride through the convention. Luckily, we had a small booth that could be easily manned by one person. If we wanted to take a long break, we would schedule different shifts for ourselves. I was still able to see my friends, go to a couple meetups, and see some actors. I just had to plan around the work schedule.
There was still plenty of costumes to see at our booth as well. We would pull in awesome cosplays to take pictures for our facebook page. Check out the gallery below to see some of the people who visited our booth.
Breaking down was the worst part
Once the convention finished, we had to break down our booth to leave. Packing everything up and taking down the grid wall wasn’t difficult at all. We got it all knocked out in a little over an hour. The worst part was what I heard about with load in. You have to wait your turn to get a spot in the loading dock to pack up your truck. There was a two hour period of sitting around just waiting. By that time, my owner and I were already so exhausted from the convention that sitting around simply drained us. One of us had to be with the merchandise at all times. While he was signing up our loading spot, getting a cart, and packing up the truck, I just sat there staring at our boxes. Hell, I even read some fanfiction on my phone to kill time. It sucked, because I couldn’t help him pack the truck. We had to go one load at a time, because our handcart was only so big. It would have gone faster if we both did it together, but we didn’t have a third person to watch our things.
I also wish I ate beforehand or brought food with me. Being my first year, I honestly didn’t know how long it would take. In the two hour period that we were waiting our turn, I could have ran and got something to eat. The thing is we were waiting for a phone call to signal our turn. What if they called when I was gone and we lost our spot? We would have to wait longer then. I know now to bring some extra food with me. We were packed up by 6pm, but with all the waiting around, we didn’t actually get home until almost 11pm that night.
Would I be a vendor again?
Heck yes! While it was a lot of work, I had a great time working in the dealer’s room. I got to see a lot of our regular customers and met so many nice people. While missing the convention was a bit tough, there will always be more Dragon Cons. This was a great experience to see a new side of a convention I’ve been to for half of my life.
Enjoy the pictures below I took at our booth and around Dragon Con!