Ah, the Vendors’ areas of a convention (like this one from Fan Expo, taken by my friend Bruce). Where else can you can you find Dante’s coat from DMC, a dark chocolate Millenium Falcon, or a black and white sketch of The Dark Knight under one roof?
So when I decided to write this blog, I put some questions out to the Facebook crowd to get an idea of how both fans and vendors felt about this area. The topics that came up in discussion were; venue space, debit/credit cards, and pricing/promotion.
Let’s start things off with one of the biggest issues of any convention….space. It is an ongoing concern for vendors. A busy con, while great for business, normally means smaller booth space and the possible loss of business if fans decide that an area is just too crowded to explore.
Crowds on a convention’s busiest day are to be expected, however, the venue itself plays an important part. Does the venue size offer the space needed for the vendors? One vendor told me that some cons, like Hamilton’s Comic Con, have changed venues to accommodate their growth, and for a smaller con, that is an option. Larger conventions, like Toronto’s Fan Expo, cannot relocate as easily, due to their size. It’s home base is the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, and this particular convention is a staple in the city. So, if relocation or expansion isn’t an option, adding more days could definitely be a way to go. Fan Expo did this a few years ago as one way to address its growing attendance, and now runs as a four day event.
Fans can also take advantage of the different times of the day to get the most out of their shopping experience. Attending on a quieter day, looking around at the beginning or very end of the day, are all options that can allow you to see as many vendors as possible without having to deal with the crowds. These quieter times are also a great opportunity to talk to the vendors more about their products without feeling rushed.
The second topic was the option of using debit/credit cards to make purchases. While it would make things easier for fans, the wifi issues that can exist at a venue can make this service difficult to offer. Even the fees charged by the venue to get their wifi service can sometimes be too steep for a vendor and not be worth the cost. I have found that the vendors we’ve dealt with prefer cash. However, there is a possible solution with services like Square and Payd. The vendor does pay for the service, so they would have to decide whether the additional cost would actually help with sales. If you are curious about either Square or Payd, the links to their main sites are below…
Which brings me to the third topic…pricing/promotion. For the vendor, it’s a balancing act between the cost of the convention, the exposure for their business (promotional value) and their product’s pricing. One of the first considerations is cost (can they afford this convention?). They don’t just have the cost of the booth, but also the cost of moving items, hotel room, storage, etc., and it can quickly add up. On the cost side, smaller cons are cheaper, but don’t draw in the larger crowds. Larger cons are more expensive but you have the advantage of a larger customer base (more promotion). A vendor has to decide which way works best for their business, although I have seen many do both. Then there is the actual price of their product. Are you a vendor that offers an item that can be found at other booths, or do you offer something unique?
Those with more familiar products (say, action figures), realize that they have to compete with other vendors, and that fans have the advantage of shopping around for the best deal. They rely more on competitive pricing to get sales. On the other hand, vendors who sell more unique items may focus more on promotion, as they offer items that can be more expensive. They would use the convention exposure to encourage fans to check out their products firsthand, and either purchase them on site, or through their business (which could be either online or a shop). A vendor can also chose to promote themselves prior to a convention, in order to give their customers a chance to plan their budgets and buy their products in person. There is also the very popular “con special” which is the practice of offering a special deal that can only be found during the convention.
So, where does the vendor’s bottom line fit into this? Well, it comes down to why the vendor is attending in the first place. If the convention is used as their primary source of revenue, they have to keep an eye on costs in order to increase revenue. If they do it more for the promotion, they may be more willing to take a loss or break even if it helps to increase their online or shop sales later. I was glad to hear from both types of the vendors on these topics, as it gave me the chance to see the different things that they have to consider when deciding to attend any con.
A fan has to do their homework as well. They have to take into account their own costs, like ticket entry, travel, accommodations and what are they looking for. Can they find this product elsewhere? How much would it normally cost? If it’s unique, how much are they willing to spend for it? I would also include the “impulse buy” because there will always be something that you will see that you didn’t expect to find.
I think that it’s also important to realize that we, meaning both vendors and fans, are there to explore, shop and have fun. Vendors, we know that you are business people, that this is your livelihood. We appreciate what you do, even if we don’t always show it. We know that you are happy to see us (even if you have a forced smile on your face because you haven’t eaten in 12 hours or slept properly in a week). We appreciate it when you explain how your product is made/where it comes from, are willing to give “con” pricing, and thank us for our business. From the fan’s side, realize that we are trying to do what is probably a week’s worth of stuff in only a few days. We will stress out over things that under more normal circumstances, probably wouldn’t faze us.
Finally, there is one last aspect, both as a vendor and a fan, to think of when walking through the vendor’s section….Enjoy it! As one vendor said, “In the end, it’s you and your product that makes your con experience what you want it to be.” The same quote can be used as a fan. It’s easy to get stressed out in this area. As a fan, you can just decide that it’s not worth the hassle, and leave without having seen everything (or get frustrated at not being able to find what you were looking for). A vendor can become discouraged from the lack of sales, pushy customers and long hours. Take a breather. Fans, check out areas as soon as your arrive. We always do a walkabout, so that we can scope out the vendors that we want to focus on before the floor gets busy. Or, take a last minute stroll at the end of the day, when things are winding down. Vendors, have a buddy watch your booth, so that you can have the chance to walk away from the madness for a while.
I want to thank both the fans and vendors who gave me their opinions for this blog. I realize that I have only covered some of the things that were discussed, so feel free to send me any feedback on this site, or on my FB page, http://www.facebook.com/writteningeekblog . I’m looking forward to doing some serious shopping in a few months, and who knows, maybe I will see some of you on the show floor!
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Pictures © Written In Geek blog or used with subject’s permission (2016)