I have a love / hate relationship with conventions. They can be decent marketing opportunities and decent sales, but they disrupt our regular work and are extremely draining. Some conventions are better than others (in both terms of sales and physical drain); but I thought it might be interesting to discuss a convention from the perspective of a dealer.
When you think of a convention, you think of it starting on a Friday or Saturday and ending that Sunday. It’s a 2 to 3 day event, mostly with a ‘decent’ 8 to 10 hours. However, that’s not what it is for dealers. It starts the day before, when we pack up for the convention. That can take 3 to 4 hours easily. Then, we start 3 to 4 hours before the event doors open, setting up the booth. There’s the games, the shelves, the pricing all to be completed.
Once the event starts, we’re standing up talking and dealing with customers and browsers all day long. Once the doors close, we’ve got another 20 – 30 minutes of clean up (and waiting for the last stragglers to leave) before we have to input that days orders in. At best, most days are 9 hours long, at worst we can be doing up to 16 hours in a day (GottaCon!)
Through all that though, we have to be happy and chirpy and on the ball. We get asked questions, recommend options and search through our memories for stock while smiling. It’s physically and emotionally draining and in 3 days we can do 30+ hours.
Then of course, once it’s all done we’re back at work on Monday (at least, some of us!)
Building a Mini-Store
At a convention, we’re basically building a mini-store. It’s great training for owning a retail store I’d think – you have to think about traffic flow, the potential customers, merchandising and the checkout process. If you can’t run a convention booth well, perhaps you shouldn’t run a retail store it seems to me.
What’s Going on Where?
Working a convention is just that – work. Many conventions do not have after show events, so once the vendor hall closes it’s hard to go do anything. Breaks during the day are often only an hour to two hours long – not really enough time to watch a panel especially when you consider those breaks include lunch / dinner. In most cases, after talking to people for 4 hours straight, we just want to find a corner and hide!
So for us, most conventions revolve around the vendor hall. We get to see customers, maybe watch them play a few games and talk to them; but actual events at the convention are often missed.
One amusing part of being a vendor is that you often see the same vendors at other events. After a while, you start making friends, shaking hands and commiserating over bad sales days or your aching feet. You network, and it’s kind of fun because often you aren’t in direct competition (except for that event); which means you can be somewhat more open. I can tell a clothing retailer much more about my business than another game store owner, even if we both don’t really understand each others markets that well.
After doing 2 conventions in a row, I wanted to talk about the aftereffects too. Conventions throw things off by a large amount, more than you’d think – we have a significant number of staff ‘disappear’ for days on end. To ensure we don’t go into too much over-time, we have to cut their hours during the normal work week which leaves us short-staffed. Projects that have a more flexible work date are pushed aside while we get ready and then do receiving, and of course; there’s always a little damage to the product through all the moving. Conventions are hard on the business and the staff, and it’s no surprise that so many businesses who do conventions just do conventions.