We’re about to fly off to do two major conventions tomorrow and it’s a bit scary in someways. We’ve thrown a bunch of cash at it already, so at this point it’s mostly a sunk-cost but that doesn’t mean it’s not a big bet. We’ve never done Regina before and the costs involved is very high, especially when it’s not a (mostly) sure bet like Calgary. We’d love to try Toronto one day but getting into the show is a bit of a struggle – they are booked up so fast, even on the waiting list, we still aren’t able to get in yet.
Conventions outside your main city is always expensive. There’s no way around it as you tack on a series of additional cost that aren’t present in local conventions. Among the additional expenses:
Travel costs. This is not just the ticket but also the travel time of your employees (in Canada, you have to pay for the hours traveled at their regular rate)
Accommodation costs. Yeah, everyone needs a place to stay. Also, a side hint for business travelers – AirBnB is becoming quite, quite useful for budget travelling especially if you prefer to cook for yourself.
Transportation costs. That’s transportation from the airport to your accommodation and back and of course, to the event itself if you aren’t staying in walking distance.
Freight costs. You’ve got to get your products there somehow. Figure anywhere from $300 – 700 per pallet.
Insurance costs. Depending on your insurance, you might need to get an additional rider (or just a separate insurance package) to cover your tradeshows / conventions.
Opportunity cost of lost shows (a bit more hard to quantify, but in our case, we’ve got our stock out of the warehouse for a good 3 weeks at least).
On top of that, you have all your usual costs too:
Table / booth fees
It’s what makes most organisations decide not to do conventions, or in some cases, just do conventions. There’s also a lot of economies of scale involved in doing conventions outside of your province. If you are shipping a pallet for example, the cost per pallet goes down the more pallets you add. If we are staffing, there’s no real difference in staffing 2 booths to 3, while 4 booths only require a marginal increase in hours. However, if you are a small or new business, losing 2 or 3 valuable staff members at your main location can be a major issue.
For us, we’re not a large organisation so putting out all this money and taking myself and Elise out is a big bet. If you’re in Calgary or Regina though and read the blog, come say hi. We’ll be working hard but promise to at least give you a smile.
Finally all caught up after Gottacon with all the work that was backlogged as we went to the convention and came back finally caught up. Well, most of it – we still have to log a bunch of a dice we brought in just for the convention. And of course, just as we are getting back on track, we’re back onto the grind to another convention – Terminal City Tabletop this weekend in Burnaby.
The truth is, most conventions don’t generate a lot of profit. When you add in all the travel time, the staffing hours, the packing time before the event and the unpacking after, you need to generate a ton of revenue just to break even. That’s not even counting the emotional and physical wear & tear these conventions have – I know I was feeling Gottacon for days afterwards.
Gottacon was interesting for us as it has probably the largest number of direct competitors in-play at any one convention. It’s a microcosm of the industry and it tells us a lot about how things are going – and what we are failing at.
For one thing, in general, we have a wider range of stock than most stores. We certainly carry more esoteric games and from a wider series of sources than most game stores. We concentrate on the long tail a lot more than your ‘average’ game store – many focus on the bestsellers.
Another thing that came to light (and always does) is that no matter how many games you have, there’s always going to be something that someone wants that you don’t carry. We brought 50% more games this year than any other year, but we still forgot / weren’t able to bring quite a few.
On the other hand, we are also missing / not able to tap into one of the major sources of revenue / profit in gaming – Magic. As an online store, without a physical location to do casual gameplay / etc., unless we wanted to ‘churn’ boxes, it’s really hard to generate any real revenue. It certainly is the cash cow of cash cow’s in the gaming industry right now.
Overall, conventions continue to be fun to do, if draining. This year I won’t be at TCTC myself, but the staff should be able to handle it. We won’t know till we try it.
So, as mentioned, we’ve created a small Online Game Retailer Group on Facebook. If you’d like to join (as an owner / manager of an eCommerce store dealing in gaming products), you can find the link here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/754728627968431/
Lots of prep going on for the upcoming convention (GottaCon) and then Terminal City Tabletop Convention 2 weeks after that. I’ll try to get an article up in -between but it’s pretty buys so I have no guarantees on that.
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.
I’ll write a much longer blog post later when I have time, just got back from the second convention in a row that we have gone through and am still somewhat bushed. On a personal good note though, I have managed to somehow miss the Con-lurgy. I too am amazed.
We did GottaCon at the start of this month and the new location and format had both it’s high points and low points. Being based downtown, the convention was amazingly well situated with food options easy to get to and hotels a short walk away. The fact that the convention was split over multiple rooms and floors was a bit of a problem in terms of concentration of events, but it did mean that con-goers could just focus on what was most important to them. It was also really, really nice to have carpeted floors to stand on.
For us, the big problem was having to move-in / set-up the day before and setting up for the school event that was a huge bust. The children basically paid no attention to us as vendors, which was understandable – but it did cost us a significant increase in funds to arrive a day early and staff the booth. Hopefully, this will be changed again.
The board game section was once more buzzing – there were 22 ‘main’ tables and another side room with another half-dozen tables, all of which were packed during the busiest periods. In fact, there weren’t enough tables at some points during Saturday.
Overall, we enjoyed ourselves at GottaCon and will definitely be back next year.
As for the other convention, we visited as Fortress Geek; so I’m going to just say that if you do live in Toronto; the Toronto Comic-Con is a ton of fun.
One of our biggest areas of growth in the past year has been participation in the geek convention scene — we’ve gone from attending 2 or 3 gaming-specific events to almost a dozen anime, fan, and gaming conventions a year. It’s been a lot of fun to get in direct contact with so much of the community, but we’re finding ourselves stretched just a bit thin bouncing from event to event.
As a result, we’re looking to add a new member to our team, in the position of Event Coordinator. It’s a seasonal, part-time position that puts you in charge of running the sales booth at the events that we attend as our sister site, Fortress Geek. We’d love to have a friend or regular customer take on this role, as it’ll need someone with a passion for both the geek community and our company in particular. If you (or someone awesome you know) think you’d be a good fit for this position, please send a resume and cover letter to Kaja at email@example.com by Friday, January 17th, 2014.
Full Position Details
Are you a part of an Anime, Fan, or Gaming community? Would you like to get paid to attend conventions and sell awesome geeky toys, kitchenwares, collectibles and games to your fellow fans? If so, then this is a great opportunity for you.
This is a part-time position with a schedule based around the yearly gaming, anime, and fan convention season. Our e-commerce business attends 6 – 12 of these events per year, and needs a dedicated staff member to organize and manage customer service and sales at each event.
The Event Coordinator will be expected to attend each convention that we are booked for, and perform the following tasks: supervise inventory packing, load-in, and load-out; manage staff schedules and booth coverage; sell product to customers and manage other sales staff; keep accurate transaction records of event sales and deposit cash collected; liaise with convention organizers to handle any issues that arise on site. As the primary representative of the company at each event, the Event Coordinator is expected to present a professional and friendly attitude, and be able to quickly and knowledgeably address customer and event staff’s concerns. They will also be responsible for the appearance and layout of the sales booth.
The Event Coordinator’s schedule is tied to our convention plans. They will be informed of upcoming events at least 2 months in advance, and must be available for the entire duration of each event, including load-in and load-out times, and any necessary travel time. Upcoming events that we will be attending include: Toronto Comicon (March 7-9, 2014), FanExpo Vancouver (April 18-20, 2014), and Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo (April 25-27, 2014). Travel and accommodation for out-of-town events will be covered in full, and all travel time will be paid.
We will provide training on our convention and cash-handling procedures, and the Event Coordinator will be given ample opportunity to familiarize themself with our inventory prior to their first event. If further training is needed, we will provide the necessary resources for the Event Coordinator to be able to perform their job in full.
Requirements: Availability for 3-5 consecutive days, up to 12 times per year (schedule to be provided in advance). Strong customer service and organizational skills. Experience with cash handling and basic account-keeping an asset.
Expected Start Date: February 17th, 2014
Rate: $14/hour, plus travel and accommodation costs for all events outside Vancouver.
We just came back from Gottacon and while we are still recovering from the 15 hour days. Gottacon this year was as big, if not bigger than last year and it was an interesting year all around.
Load up and go. We generally pack the day before and just load the van in the morning to catch the 11am ferry and this year was no different. Load out was easier this year in general too – we tried our best to restrict what we were bringing across to games we knew were going to sell and dropped a bunch of other games. It didn’t help that sales throughout the week were good enough that we actually had less of some bestsellers in-stock than we had expected.
This year we skipped staying at the Howard Johnson in an effort to save our backs (horrible beds) and booked another motel (the Super 8). We had about 2 minutes in the room, long enough to drop off clothing before we had to rush to Gottacon and begin unpacking. As usual, a single booth never seems enough space when you start out and we certainly ended up with boxes unpacked and hidden beneath the tables. A quick walk-around showed that we had a lot more competition this year too – there were a total of 5 game stores and another independent seller at Gottacon this year. That was obviously slightly worrying for us, but it seemed many game stores had decided to ‘specialise’ in one area; whether it was miniatures, CCGs, accessories or board games (us).
Once the doors opened at 5pm, the next 6 hours passed by in a blur. Con-goers were streaming in much more quickly this year, which meant people were playing and shopping immediately. This was a major change from the year before and we have to give kudos for Evan & Carson for fixing the lineup problem that arose last year.
Game tables were packed almost immediately between the various demos, tournaments and open play. If anything, we definitely needed at least another 3 tables for open play it seemed. At 11.30pm we decided to call it a day, though we might have to look at staying open later next year. Certainly con-goers were still running around shopping it seemed, though at a significantly slower pace by that time.
Day 2 started at 9am for us (okay, 9.05am when we got to the Con) and almost immediately we started doing sales. Sales moved in fits and starts throughout the day, with customers coming in waves as various games and panels finished. This helped us pace the day, giving both Kaja and I time to take quick breaks to look around the Con.
There was definitely a lot to see – the board games tables were constantly packed with players with over 16 tables in-play at any one time. Day 2 was also the day of the costume contest with some amazing costumes on display. On the left is our favorite of the con.
The other sections of the con were always busy though we didn’t see much of it at all. Certainly the miniature section was very busy whenever we glanced over.
The silent auction as always had some amazingly good deals, with a wide range of items ranging from board games to miniatures to fantasy books available. The silent auction is probably one of the better parts of the con with such a wide range of products available at sometimes a steal of a price.
Starlit Citadel was running 2 tournaments ourselves, the first a Race for the Galaxy tournament in the morning that had 12 participants and later, in the evening a Dominion tournaments with 23 participants. The Race tournament went off without a hitch with a lot of happy players and I’m quite happy with the new format (single game elimination with the winner going to the final round where 3 games were played for a $15 gift certificate prize).
The Dominion tournament on the other hand was a bit of a mess, with too many games played (i.e. too much time) and too much confusion. I’ve definitely got to edit the tournament format; though thankfully everyone involved was generally happy with the overall experience. Certainly, the finals was nail-biting – everyone ended up winning a game (tie in game 1 between 2 players) so the winner’s were decided by overall points. The overall winner came from behind and won by amassing 40 points in a last round filled with Witches & Curses.
Sales were busy but started tapering off towards the evening, which meant that Kaja managed to make it to the RPG Improv for the Standard Action Panel. In Kaja’s words – “I got to play a Goblin“. That might have been followed by a squee. I understand there were props, plot cards, singing and a video.
With most gamers having wandered off by 12.30am; we decided to call it an evening and headed to bed.
Day 3 – the final day – started at 9am too but really, most people wandered around like zombies till at least noon. With sales and traffic slow, I took the chance to do some gaming and broke out Glory to Rome Black Box and Clash of Cultures. Both were great games to play, with the new edition of Glory to Rome doing some things better (easier sorting and design) and others worst (diagonal stripes that hurt the eyes – really?). Clash of Cultures was a lot of fun, it’s a streamlined Civilization game that is to civilization games what Eclipse is to Twilight Imperium. I’m definitely looking forward to trying that one again.
In the afternoon things picked up, with more customers coming by to purchase last minute products. At this point it seemed some of our over-zealous streamlining of products brought hurt our sales with quite a few games out of stock. There were also some customers who came by looking for last minute con deals who left disappointed as we don’t do con deals. Overall, sales were much slower than last year’s con – a factor it seems due to the last minute deals the rest of the vendor’s room was conducting.
Packing up was murderous – long days made both of us move a lot slower than normal and the lack of a proper load-out option meant that load out took forever. Gottacon definitely needs to work out a better plan for that since by the time we drove to the ferries, we had missed our reservation window.
GottaCon was a lot of fun and certainly (in terms of sales for us) worth going. While the increased competition did hamper us a bit, the increased number of con-goers seemed to make up for it. I certainly think most attendees had a good time as well, with the amazing amount of gaming that was going on. The larger number of demos and tournaments were great and the panels seemed to do very well with attracting interest from players who wanted a break from pure gaming.
As a gaming event, Gottacon is probably the biggest there is in BC by a large margin. It’d be nice to see a similar event in Vancouver, with the current closest options being VCon and Bottoscon in October & November respectively.
Some things that could have gone better include:
more ventilation (especially by Saturday evening, it was just ridiculous how stuffy it was)
more variety in dealers booths (and a larger dealer area). While I personally wouldn’t want more game stores, I do believe the con could do with a wider variety of dealers
a better load out plan – having the main loading area blocked off during load out because the video gamers were busy was a pain
more water – having volunteers drop by with water was great. Having them drop by only twice during the 3 days was not
healthier food choices – while I understand we’re all gamers, it’d be nice if the cafeteria had some healthier food options rather than just pizza / donuts / chocolate bars on offer.
We have been doing VCon (a local science fiction & fantasy convention) for 5 years now; and this year as always was great fun. We always enjoy doing VCon as a convention – both the dealers and the guests are really nice and the atmosphere is fun. However, instead of doing a con report (which really, would be boring since we never see a Con as we work all weekend long); I thought I’d discuss the various sales lessons I’ve learnt watching all the vendors work.
Lesson 1 – Have Fun
Professor Whovianart epitomizes this – he just thoroughly enjoys himself at the con. He’s always happy, bouncy and just exuded fun. It makes congoers stop; chat with him and hang around his booth. He doesn’t have to sell his products to you, you sell it on yourself because you just enjoy your time with him. That sense of fun is easily picked up, and his tables are always busy.
Lesson 2 – Looks Matter
VCon is filled with beautiful costumes, corsets and clothes. There generally are 3 to 4 vendors selling those items, and all of them look gorgeous. Most importantly, most of the time the clothes are well displayed which just slows down the congoers, long enough for you to interact with them.
Another method I’ve noticed is the gimmick. Whether it’s a particularly well-displayed, outlandish or just cool item; it helps you attract attention and strike up a conversation.
Lesson 3- Put it in their Hands
Felix & Kitty do this really well by dressing up anyone who even looks mildly interested in their clothes. By putting someone in their clothes, letting them see themselves how beautiful / handsome they look; they break down another barrier of objections. The more expensive the item is, the more important this is.
Lesson 4 – Keep them comfortable
Oh yes, definitely do this. More than a few vendors pull customers aside, giving them a space to browse / view their products in peace. Whether it’s a changing room or just a corner to take funds, keeping customers comfortable means they are more inclined to spend time with you, which leads to a higher chance of a sale.
Lesson 5 – Ask for the Sale
It doesn’t have to be a hard sell, but you have to ask for it. Sometimes, the very act of asking the question ‘should I write this up for you?’ or its ilk is enough to make the sale when a customer hesitates. Sometimes, it’s what you need to get them to tell you what they actually want – which might not be the game / jewelry / item you are looking for.
Lesson 6 – Take it all
I mean payment types that is. The vendors who have the most options for taking payments often do the best, especially on later days as ready cash runs low.
Lesson 8 – Grease the Wheels
This is something VCon does very well. They give $2 away to each attendee ($1 if you are there for a single day) to spend in the Vendor’s room. This is the only place you can spend the money; which makes certain that most attendees (a) visit the vendor’s room and (b) are looking to buy something
Lesson 9 – Variety is the spice of life
Lastly, and leading on to the above; it’s always good to have a variety of items that can be bought at different price points. BC Chains does well with their mini-badges that can be bought for a few dollars as well as their more expensive items. It also includes just variations on the same thing; like a corset design in multiple colours / fabrics or earrings with different stones.
Lesson 10 – There’s Space for Everyone
This year, among the vendors there were 2 individuals selling Chainmail jewelry / items, 5 (or was that 6?) clothing vendors, 2 book publishers, a leather worker, 2 game stores and a leather-worker. That’s pretty close to what we’ve had for 5 years, with a few new vendors coming and going. Everyone builds their own clientele, their own sales and the atmosphere is pretty cordial. It’s not a zero-sum game, and so everyone just has fun.
We recently made a request for some guest bloggers to help us write and review more games. We currently have 3 writers rotating through on a weekly basis. Let us know if you are enjoying reading the new guest reviews and who you enjoy reading the most – that includes Tao too!
We have a short Cos & Effect Con Report. Overall, not a bad first year though sadly there wasn’t an actual gaming location unlike what they promised us.
Lastly, we have VCon occuring between September 30 – October 2, 2011 and Bottoscon (a local wargaming convention) on November 4 – 6, 2011; both of which we are sponsoring and attending.
Dixit : Odysey finally arrived on September 2, 2011 and all pre-orders have shipped. We still have a few Dixit pre-order cards available so we are shipping them with Dixit : Odyssey orders till we run out. The Twilight Struggle reprint has been pushed back again to mid-October.