I knew attending a convention as a vendor was no “walk in the park”, but it wasn’t until I helped my wife run a booth at Geekkon that I truly realized that convention vending is a job like any other. Actually, I would say it is much harder than a lot of jobs. As a convention attendee, I will never take these people for granted again!
So in honor of geeky vendors at conventions near and far, let us count the many reasons why convention vending is a lot harder than attendees realize it is…
#1 Applications and Job Interviews
Not just “anyone” can be a vendor at any given convention. You have to plan way ahead what conventions you want to try to attend, and then you APPLY like you would for any other job. If you don’t have a unique offering that fits with the convention theme, you probably won’t get in. Depending on what you plan to sell, you generally have to supply a website or other proof of your ability and professionalism. Essentially, you apply and interview for the job. And by the way, if you are lucky enough to get the job, then you are granted the opportunity to buy space to set up your vendor booth.
#2 Making Travel Plans and Finding Shelter
If you’re lucky, the convention is at least in your region, so that you can drive. Still, the vendor has to pay for gas and hotel just like anyone else going to the convention. Except that nearly all vendors haul a lot more crap than you could ever hope to fit in a suitcase. Also, most vendors have some other job, so taking time to attend a convention might mean taking vacation, or an unpaid leave of absence.
#3 Lift With Your Legs
Whether loading the vehicle before the drive, or unloading at the convention, sensible lifting strategies are a must. There is a lot of stuff to transport into the convention hall, so be sure to use a cart or dolly to save your back. The last thing a vendor needs is a back injury at the beginning a convention.
#4 Booth Setup
Once all your precious cargo is carefully transported to your booth, then you spend a few hours making it pretty. You know how I mentioned vacation/leave in #2? Booth setup generally occurs a day or two before the convention even starts!
#5 The Convention Begins!
People finally start walking in, looking at your stuff, and walking away. Why isn’t anyone buying anything? Because hardly anyone with a “full” convention badge buys anything on the first day. The first day is for window shopping, but at least the con-goers haven’t turned into sleep-deprived zombies lumbering by your booth quite yet.
#6 Endurance Challenges
Congratulations, you’re on a convention-long diet plan! You won’t be eating, you’ll barely have time to use the bathroom (unless you have multiple people helping at your booth), you won’t be sleeping enough, and you’ll do more standing than at any other time in your life. Oh, and did I mention the booth is open for 10 hours every day? Think of all the calories you’ll be burning (assuming you don’t subsist exclusively on soda and snacks).
#7 Selling Enough to Cover Costs
Taking time off + gas + booth fees + hotel = a lot of money. A lot of vendors don’t even really consider their ~12hr/day time investment in the equation. For a three day convention, April and I clocked a combined total of about 50 working hours. With a booth that did fairly well, at a convention one mile North of our home, we did not even reach minimum wage after expenses for our time. It can be a depressing notion, which I guess is why most vendors don’t think about it.
#8 Enjoying the Convention Yet?
If you are lucky enough to have any interesting events scheduled after the vendor room closes, you probably won’t have the energy. So that convention badge that came with the vendor booth is hardly a “deal”. And if you don’t get enough food/sleep after the vendor room closes, the next day’s endurance challenges will be all the more hellish.
#9 Making Money? HAH! That’s Funny!
Seriously. That’s hilarious. See #7. Sure, booth prices always seem high, like vendors intend to gouge con-goers, but in reality, most of these people are not making that much money. Really, they’re not. If you think about all the time, energy, and resource investment that vendors put into just being at a convention, you can see where most of the profit goes.
#10 Final Day Deals
Lots of people wait to buy from vendors at the last minute, hoping that a vendor will sell something for less rather than haul it back home. This situation sucks for vendors, especially if they haven’t covered their costs yet. Sure, desperate vendors are willing to deal, but each discount tears out a little piece of their soul. This seems ironically appropriate to me, as con-goers are little more than sleep-deprived lumbering zombies at this point in the convention. Some of them just wander up and down the aisles of the dealer room, staring off into space. I was at the front of our booth waking people up with my insidious Easter European accent. It was funny to watch people “waking up” mid stride in reaction to my subtly threatening tone of voice.
But seriously though people, not generating enough sales to cover costs really, really sucks. I’m glad this did not happen to us our first time through. In particular, we heard horror stories about folks in the Artists Alleys have been known to break down into tears after conventions where no one bought any of their work.
#11 Packing Up
Goddamnit! We hardly sold 30% of the stuff we brought with us!!! Well, time to pack it up and haul it back again. I guess all that money we spent will remain locked up in this inventory…
#12 Seriously, Lift With Your Legs
This phase of the convention vending gauntlet is particularly dangerous. You are exhausted, malnourished, stressed, and possibly frustrated. It is very easy to hurt yourself with improper lifting techniques.
#13 Driving Under the Influence of Fatigue
If you have a long way to drive after the convention, it is critically important that someone responsible is tasked with getting enough sleep, and not drinking too much at the rave the night before the convention ends. Fatigued driving can be just as bad as drunk driving.
#14 Recovery, Inventory, and Follow-up
Dump all the crap back into your house or storage and fall unconscious for a week. And then pick up the pieces of all the other parts of your life you’ve neglected just before, during, and just after the convention. Do inventory, tally the accounting books, and follow-up on any sales or collaboration leads from the convention. Think about attending conventions other people recommended to you. Oh, you thought a vendor’s work was over when the convention ended, did you? Nope, now it’s time to get back to work replenishing stock, and preparing for whatever is next. Oh, and blogging. Lots of blogging or videos, or social media, or newsletters, did I mention blogging?
#15 Why Do People Do This to Themselves?
I’m not sure I have enough vendor experience to answer this question properly, but I hope the answer for most vendors is something like, “I have something I want to share with people at this convention, even though it is hard work”. Granted, this is not true for every vendor, but I think it is for most vendors who produce their own products. Distilled down to the most basic essence, then, I believe vending is an act of giving, in much the same way that panelists and convention volunteers give of themselves to make a convention great.
That said, I’m sure we’ll do this again. April had a great time introducing people to the fruits of her crafting skills, and I had a good time working on my voice acting and staying in a different character at the front of the booth each day.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Have you ever run a booth at a convention? Did I leave anything out? If you have only been a convention attendee, do you have a greater respect for the work that vendors put in?