Hey all! Sorry it’s been so long but we have been up to our eye balls in conventions and making product.
So at one of my last conventions I was talking to the Vendor Coordinator and it occurred to me that I spend a huge amount of time talking to people. Which I know sounds like a ‘No Duh’ moment but seriously, I spend hours talking to people at conventions and they aren’t all customers; I end up talking to other Vendors, Vendor Coordinators, Con Organizers, Volunteers and Reps from other conventions so I thought I’d take a moment and encourage anyone just getting started on this lifestyle (cause lets face it, this is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle) to take a little extra time and network like you’re being interviewed for a coveted slot on Face Off.
I’m not even joking by the way, If you’ve managed to beat the dozens (at some cons *Ahem*Dragon*Cough*Con hundreds) of other applicants for Artist Alley, or if you managed to pull together the money to invest in a coveted Dealer Space you should treat it like a job interview because a lot of Con Orgs and Vendor Coordinators treat it that way. They’re already thinking ahead for next years con before this one has even had its first rave of the night and if you make money at this one you absolutely want to do it again next year.
Repeat cons are my bread and butter; every con I go to if I feel like we’ve done well I ask the In Charge Person (Cause this is easier to remember how to spell), if they’re taking payments for spaces for next year. And if the answer is no I ask when next years application is up. In Charge People like having repeats, it cuts down on their own risk if they’re dealing with Known Factors. It’s a lot like brand loyalty, or that restaurant you go to every week and the waitstaff know you so well you don’t even have to place a drink order they already have it out and waiting on you as soon as they see you coming. It also eases the strain on you having to find new cons to go to, you already know what to expect and what sold really well and can plan accordingly. Anything you can do to maximize your sales and profits (Unless it’s illegal or unethical, let’s be professionals here) is worth a little extra effort.
And don’t be afraid to offer up suggestions for little things that might make things easier on you or other vendors. As long as you’re polite about it they will be well received, the one I make most often is signage surrounding where vendors are supposed to set up because let’s face it, sometimes those convention centers are a labyrinth of hallways that no one BUT the vendor ever has to see or navigate.
And after all, don’t we have enough to worry about what with driving to the Con, dealing with traffic and did the babysitter remember to give Little Johnny his allergy meds and oh God I think I forgot that really important thing, now where in the heck is the loading dock for the con? Did I just pass it? Yup, I just passed it.
See what I mean?
It should also be mentioned that the convention circuit is reputation driven so think of these repeat cons as job experience, you are literally building a Resume here.
Granted it’s nothing as formal or structured but Con Orgs who have been at this a while know to ask which other cons you’ve worked and they factor that into their final choices. And they communicate with each other so having a good reputation really helps because believe me, having a bad reputation (Bootlegs, overly picky, doesn’t stay in their own space etc.) will come back and rain all over you for years to come. I have a friend who runs a Cosplay Company who, in another cosplay group through no fault of his own got a bad reputation. Rumors were spread, names were brought into things and before he could even do anything his reputation was trashed. Now obviously he’s no longer with that group and he started his own Company but it took him years to reverse the damage. In the Con Circuit reputation is everything, I cannot stress that enough so anything within reason that you can do to build your Con Resume helps your reputation which adds to your Reputation and round and round.
And don’t underestimate the power of Volunteers. They are a tiny army of people who love the con so much they got personally involved and if you treat them well they treat you well in return. For some of the bigger cons we go to we make little ‘Staff Appreciation’ bags to thank the amazing staff who make it possible for us to do what we love best. It’s not much, a candy, a little bauble, a personal thank you but you’d be amazed how much they appreciate those little gestures. Pro Tip: This works well in the regular world too, try saying thanks to the guy who bags your groceries every week and see how well he packs your eggs next time he sees you.
Now networking with Con Orgs and Vendor Coordinators as great and helpful and should be done at every con but don’t forget one of your best resources. Other Vendors, I know in previous posts I’ve talked about how we as vendors are competing for a very limited resource: Other People’s Money; however that doesn’t mean we have to be mean to each other and in a lot of cases other vendors can be the most amazing people, I mean they’re doing the same thing you are, who else can understand the little foibles and eccentricities of Con Goers and Staff? Who else can understand the irritation and disgust of seeing that one booth in the corner bogged down with all the chinese bootleg and who else is going to understand and even laugh with you over forgetting your cash box or cash box key. (Note: This actually happened to us. Embarrassing and funny in hindsight).
You’re vendor friends are going to be your extended family when you’re out on the road for days at a time. I’m only home four days a week, I miss my husband and my roommate and my cat but my vendor family helps me cope.
If you’re like me you end up seeing these people at every con or at least a huge chunk of them and you’ll end up hearing all about their family, their business successes and failures and if you’re really lucky they’ll also give you really awesome tips on how to make the whole thing a little easier, or where to find the best Thai Food, or which cons to avoid. Take my advice, find a vendor you really like who’s been at this a while and become their padawan. Soak up everything they have to say like a sponge and make it part of your own business. Because this industry is really hard to make it in, and owning your own business is way harder than anything else you’ll ever do outside of delivering a baby. If you’ve been following along since the beginning you’ll remember what I said about owning your own business.
Ultimately you’ll get out of any business what you put into it. I’m just trying to help you put the best stuff in because this really is a hard life we’ve chosen. My friend Kitty Wynter said to me once that “We are the only people I know of who work 90 hours a week just to avoid working 40.” And it’s true. When you own your own business whether it’s a con business or one in the mundane world you spend every waking minute focused on it. It becomes your baby, your obsession and sometimes the bane of your existence. But it’s yours and that has to count for something.