Hey everyone! As I promised way back when I started this blog I have interviews from other vendors. I’ve chosen 6 people to interview to give you a small cross section of the vendor community. Now not everyone’s experience is typical so bear in mind that everyone runs their businesses differently and has different experiences.
How long have you been working for yourself?: As O Christmas Geek, five years, but I did lots of freelance work before that. I started OCG in 2013.
How long did it take you to build your business?: I’m still building it! I was lucky enough to have really great mentors in Aradani Studios and Crimson Chain Leatherworks, so I could as a lot of questions. I think you never stop building and developing your business. Stagnation, especially in a geek world, is death.
When did your business start being able to pay you? How many months or years did that take?: If you mean completely supporting me, I’ll let you know when that happens! I have a seven-year plan which should get me there, but luckily I am also qualified as a VERY fine-dining waiter….
I guess that is what I mean. So I take it you have another means of paying the bills? A Day Job as it were?: I went into the black on my second year, though, by penny pinching and cutting corners. Yes, because my plan has always been to plow all the profits back into the business for seven years.
What made you choose to start your own business?: It was something I have wanted to do my whole life. I do better on my own, but it took me years to find what would really suit me. OCG is really a happy accident.
I take it it just kind of happened organically?:Sort of. I work as a regional sales associate for one of the largest Christmas wholesale companies in the world. We have a lot of licensed things, and of course, I was the Queen of the Geek; all the reps who have no clue about doctor Who, GOT, etc, come to me for information.
I was working with a darling little lady from God-Knows-Where, Kentucky, and she asked me about the licensed items. Of course, I told her she needed a TARDIS. She looked at me, utterly confounded, and replied, “But I don’t know how to sell that.”
And I couldn’t tell her. (I lost that part of the sale…)
The next morning on the train in, I was thinking about how to tell someone in that position how to sell licensed stuff. And it hit me, like a ton of bricks, that “Aha!” moment I’d been waiting for my whole life.
I knew how to sell this stuff. Geeks were my people, and this was what I’d been looking for.
I texted my partner, “I just made us a million dollars. Not immediately, but eventually.”
And by the time I got off the train I had three yellow pad pages full of brainstorming. I grabbed Dan, sat him down, laid it out for him, and he couldn’t find anything wrong with it. And here I am!
Now you sell Christmas Ornaments and the like, Why did you choose the product you sell?: Honestly? Because when I started working at this company, it was because I love Christmas. My tree is so geeky; I used the little Hasbro Titanium BSG ships as ornaments, and my topper is a rubber chicken. When I saw the stuff at this company, I was furious; “Why have I never seen this? Why do I not own this?”
What advice would you offer someone who wants to start their own business?: I do a panel at conventions on beginning vending, and the first half-hour is always devoted to copyright laws and infringement. One thing I always say, is “Decide if you want Disney to take your paycheck, your car, or your house.” If you violate a copyright, and make money off of it, all the fair use in the world won’t save you. Everything I carry is legally licensed. And always will be.
Do you ever worry that you’ll lose your business?: Only if I do something stupid and Disney sues me! Or I run afoul of the IRS
How did you fund your business?: Totally bootstrapped it. Started small, at tiny little cons that were local, so my overhead is low. My first year I was $2600 in the hole at the end of the year, paying for big cons like GenCon and DragonCon. In 2014, I showed a profit.
Do you have kids and is this something you hope to pass on to your kids?: No kids. A couple of cats, who have shown no particular business acumen or sadly, tax deductibility. I may leave it to a younger friend who is showing aptitude for it.
How far do you travel to get to cons?: Ugh. I’m going to Washington DC tomorrow for AwesomeCon, then my next out of state show is GenCon in Indianapolis. I am looking at Salt Lake City Comic Con, but the logistics on that one are taking some deep thought!
Do you enjoy the Travel portion of this business?: Oooh. That’s tough. It really depends. I went to Orlando for MegaCon last year and wanted to kill myself the whole trip; it was long, hot, boring, and I was still getting used to the van. But I travel with a friend to GenCon and last year we stopped the whole way to catch Pokemon. It had just released and we had a ball. He’s definitely my favorite travel partner.
Do you have a brick and mortar store or do you sell solely at cons?: Online and at cons. Part of what made me start OCG in the first place was that geeks don’t shop brick and mortar (although ThinkGeek may change that up a bit). We shop at cons and online!
You’ve said you have a seven year plan, Where would you like to see yourself and your business in ten years?: Ideally, I’d like to be a professional massage therapist tester while my happy, well-fed employees do all the work and throw buckets of money at me.
Sakura Sisters: That is the ideal isn’t it? To have a business doing so well you can sit back and let it work for you.
O Christmas Geek: Realistically, I’d like to grow the online portion of OCG by 150%, have a show team who can take some of the burden off travelling, and work primarily in new product development. It would be great, but I get bored. In addition to OCG, I have sponsorship of a feral cat rescue, I perform at renaissance festivals, work for the wholesale company, and do restaurant.
If you had to do this all over again what would you change about your business? : Oh, man. I would have started carrying much higher-ticket items much earlier. And started my “marketing focus group” much earlier, too.
What advice do you have to offer on the topic of Branding?: So many con vendors sell the same things. In the end what you are selling is yourself. Make your brand as unique and strong as you can; pick a name and stick with it. Think about ways to serve the brand so it serves you. And always be nice.
How do you feel about the number of Cons in your region?: I think smaller shows are starting to reach a saturation point, and some of the cons are dying out due to shifts in the culture; steampunk was huge, and now it’s phasing out. A lot of the bigger shows cannibalize themselves; too big, and too much.
What improvements would you like to see in Cons?: More women’s restrooms.
Sakura Sisters: Really?
O Christmas Geek: Also, give the dealers accurate gate counts, don’t price the con so high that the attendees can’t afford to have fun. Yes, really. Bathrooms for women at the big shows are a NIGHTMARE.
Sakura Sisters: Fair enough.
What do you look for in a convention?: *laughs* Placement near the bathroom.(Not kidding. Whenever a con asks where I want to be, I say “Near the ladies’.”)
I sound like I have a problem bladder or something.
When you do shows by yourself….
Sakura Sisters: Oh believe me I understand I do cons by myself as well.
So your needs and requirements are fairly simple?: I look for good attendance, reasonable dealer’s fees, shows that jury the room. Too many shows take anyone who applies to make money and then disappoint the attendees. *Phoenix Comic Con* *coughs* *MegaCon*
What is your dream Con?: That exists? Or that I would make up?
Sakura Sisters: Either one, or both if you like.
O Christmas Geek: My favorite show I do currently is GenCon. The people are awesome, the gaming is just great (I love playing Catan with strangers at 2am), the city just embraces the con. The load-in and out is so efficient, and Fern, the show management company, is amazing. And the food trucks….oh my god, the food trucks. Second favorite is DragonCon, because I live in Atlanta, and…DragonCon. My favorite small show is here too, CONjuration, which is Harry Potter and magic themed, and I just adore it. They do the best job.
Sakura Sisters: Good Variety?
O Christmas Geek: At Gen, you walk out the front door of the convention center and there is a closed off street LINED with food trucks. My favorites are Der Pretzel Wagen and the doughnut truck.
Sakura Sisters: That sounds amazing.
As you know I’m doing these interviews to garner advice for new business owners, what would you have most wished to hear back when you started?: I was so lucky; my mentors helped me avoid some obvious mistakes. Paul (Bielaczyc, of Aradani Studios) gave me one of the best pieces….. “Pay your taxes.” I would have liked to hear that show setup is always a pain in the ass. And that a gel mat for the floor is your best friend.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, do you have any parting remarks? Don’t be late?
Sakura Sisters: Well that’s always a good one.
O Christmas Geek: No I do, Love what you do. It’s super important, because people can tell. And be brave, because starting is the hardest part.
To see what this Vendor sells please go to http://www.ochristmasgeek.com/