There is this love hate relationship I have with conventions. In one hand, it can be a fun and uplifting experience to not only sell my art to a larger audience but also interact with those who enjoy my work. On the flip side, one of the banes of my convention existence is actually preparing for the event itself. Needless to say, I’m… usually at fault for being such a procrastinator when I prepare for conventions cause my ideas for my setup and my products tend to require a lot more time than most. However, for those looking to start getting into the convention scene, I’ve compiled a couple of points for you (in no particular order) as to some basic things you’ll need or are nice to haves when preparing for a convention.
Clear signs for pricing and items
It’s always good to mark the prices on your items right on your table. It saves the buyers time in figuring out how much they can spend, and it saves you some breath from having to constantly tell every single person your prices. HOWEVER be warned, even with price markings on items, there will still be a lot of people who gloss over your tags and will ask you the price of items on your table. So be prepared to remember all your pricing. Also be sure to have a sense of how much you plan to price commissions if you do them. There’s nothing worse then having to figure out pricing on the spot.
Print sleeves and product bags
Many con-goers expect the artist to supply them a sleeve for their print purchase or a bag depending on the items they are purchasing. Most print sleeves are the clear plastic types and in the past I use to collect plastic bags I got from my retail purchases to re-use during conventions. You can go for a more greener route if you have more of a budget and use kraft sleeves/bags from a bulk supplier which I’ve been doing during my later convention years.
This is always a good to have especially if you are advertising your website or even for getting off-convention commissions. If you’re starting out, a safe range of 250 is usually more than enough to last you a 3 day convention unless you’ve already established yourself outside the convention and in that case…bring a whole lot more… I always wonder if people eat my business cards sometimes…
There are a lot of inexpensive printers out there who can give you good prices for a large stack of card, then there are other places like MOO, who specialize in fancier cards that can help you stand out a bit more. Depends on how creative you want to be 😉
Vertical prop stands and display cases
Even if you have only a small amount of items to sell (i.e. just enough to fill your table by laying them all flat), consider investing or making table stands to prop your items so that visitors can see your items without having to walk right up to your table. Things that a visitor can see straight in their line of sight will be good for attracting attention. Stands for prints can be easily made using foam core or hard cardboard. If you have small craft items, many people buy grid wire storage cubes to shelve their items in higher view.
Even if you only have a small number of any particular item, it’s always good to know how well certain items sell compared to others so that you can better cater your inventory needs in the future. So make sure to keep track of your inventory before the event and count them afterwards.
Food and drinks
It’s a lot easier for you to bring your own food and water/pop to the convention than it is to buy it there since you probably wouldn’t want to leave your table for extended times besides for washroom breaks or unless you have a helper who you can trust to man the table for a long time. Plus you won’t have to wait in long food stand lines and you won’t have to spend money on over-priced food.
If you’re planning to do commissions, always make sure to have enough paper and your needed art supplies handy. These are also good for those lull periods when you don’t have people asking you to buy something. Oh yes and for those who use a 0.5 mechanical pencil like I do…bring lots of led… you don’t know how many times in the past I was running around to neighbours like a headless chicken trying to find someone with 0.5 led… ugh. If you craft things by hand, bring material you can work on during the convention as well. I’ve had times where I was sewing my dumpling plushies during conventions and even my cosplays haha… Whatever the case, bring things that can keep you productive during slower periods.
Cash box with the right change
Depending on what you’re selling, your ratio of coins to bills can vary. If you are selling a lot of items that don’t round nicely into small bills (i.e. $5, $10, $20, etc.), you will most likely need to make sure you have more coin change. I tend to have items that are priced like $3.50 or $7 which requires me to split my till to around 70% coins and 30% bills. Most of the time during conventions, people will be going around with large bills so you need enough cash to give them change.
Make sure to count your till after the end of each day like any retail business and always put back your starting till to start fresh each day (i.e. if you brought $100 in total till initially, at the end of the day, put aside $100 to put back into your till for the next day and count the rest which is your profit). Also…don’t forget to actually bring your till ever day…even now I’ve had times where I’ve driven back to my home just to grab the till I’ve forgotten…it’s a big pain…
If you are going the online payment route with services like Square, be sure you have data to do online transactions. Don’t rely on the offline option because you won’t know if the transaction is approved until you re-connect to the internet. More and more people are asking if people accept credit cards/interact, so looking into such a service might help you land some extra sales especially for those who don’t bring enough cash.
Depending on how big you wanna go, having banners with your logo or advertising your story/art can better attract attention to your table. Some people use overhanging banners over their tables, some buy the stand up banners to prop to the sides of their tables, and some use smaller banner signs propped up right on top of their table. Go with whatever you can fit in your budget or make. If you can’t afford to make or buy the needed stand items to create an over hanging banner, try placing the banner right in front of your table where the table cloth normally falls. This tends to get covered/banged up when people are standing in front of your table but it’s actually better than not having anything.
For my default brand table setup, I have my brand banner propped above my table and a custom airbrushed table cloth with my logo. If you are selling prints, you can stick them in clear print sleeves and tape them together to form a big collage of your art pieces to hang overhead.
Friendly and positive interaction/mindset
I know artists aren’t necessarily the social type but you’re in a convention flooded with people. Being approachable will help you in more ways than one. So greet and interact with those browsing your table, stand instead of sitting all the time (I normally stand unless I’m doing a commission), have discussions with your fellow neighbouring artists, and don’t let sales be the deciding factor as to whether you have a good time during the convention. If you don’t make enough to cover the cost of everything that you spent, use that as a learning experience to better analyze what your next action steps will be. Take what you’ve learnt from your conversations with visitors to also help you figure out what you might want to cater to next time. There’s always something to learn and something to take out of the experience.
Well, that’s my basic list which I hope will be helpful for those planning to get into the convention scene. I hope you have a fun experience during the convention!