Vendor Role in Convention Success – An Insider’s Opinion

What follows below is our humble opinion. While being respectful of the hard work and dedication of convention organizers, volunteers, guests, performers, and attendees, we just needed to have our say!

Much has been said recently about the challenges of being a con planner/organizer and being a con guest/performer. We thought we’d take this opportunity to add a third perspective – that of con vendor.

We acknowledge the difficulties faced by both planners and headliners of steampunk cons. On one hand, con planners are trying to fund and organize a weekend-long fun and informative experience involving diverse groups and individuals. On the other hand, guests and entertainers’ livelihoods depend on promoting themselves and getting paid or being treated to certain perks. However, we feel that none of the recent posts on this topic has indicated an awareness of or has acknowledged the vital roles vendors play in the success (or at least the occurrence) of conventions and the challenges faced by vendors.

When sourcing funds to secure both a location and entertainers to draw attendees, vendor fees play an important role in providing the funds that get a con off the ground. Most cons, even first-year cons, charge between $100 and $500 for a single table/booth space. Vendors pay this price up front, commonly before any details of location, entertainment, and attendance are available. This speculative investment makes vendors a solid part of the financial foundation of a convention.

Vendors also play a vital role in confirming hotel accommodations and establishing convention room rates. Vendors reserve rooms early and commonly reserve extra nights before and after the convention, which is an important step in convincing hotels that the convention can provide the room-nights that make it worthwhile for the hotel to reserve the block of rooms at a lower convention rate and allow the convention to take over essentially the entire hotel.

Vendors themselves are often a draw to the convention, attendees visit the vendor hall to see their favorite makers/sellers, to see what’s being made and sold, to get inspiration, to buy hard-to-find costume pieces, and to keep up on new developments in literature, gaming, technology, art, costume, and film. The vendor hall is the epicenter for this type of activity and information.

The problem is, once vendors have been contracted, vendor hall operations commonly take a back seat to other convention organization. Here’s a summary of potential pitfalls for convention vendor coordinators (in no particular order):

  • Careful vendor selection and balance must be maintained, so that you don’t have a room full of vendors selling similar wares. (And while we understand, for the above-mentioned reasons and for increasing attendees – shopping options, trying to book as many vendors as possible, planners really should consider the vendor-to-attendee ratio to ensure that vendors feel that the competition is reasonable.)
  • Often vendors arrive at a con having very little information about vendor hall layout, set-up/load-in, and tear-down/load-out procedures. This causes a lot of stress on vendors and can set the tone for the weekend.
  • Vendor hall hours are long and may fluctuate. Please consider how long your vendors will be cooped up in the hall, and make sure the hall hours are reasonable and solidly established before the day of the con.
  • Communication between vendor hall coordinators and vendors is frequently spotty. When one vendor asks a question, assume that other vendors want to know the answer. Set up a forum or other easily accessible way for vendors to get and share up-to-date information.
  • Most vendor halls have poor lighting and climate control, and sometimes security is sketchy as well. (Several conventions we attended last year did not even have locking vendor hall doors!)
  • Vendors aren’t always aware of who is con staff/volunteers and who is an attendee. Make sure the contacts and lines of communication are clear so that issues in the vendor hall can be handled in a way that is least disruptive to the vendors and to attendees.

Worst of all, vendors have to MISS the convention. That’s right, vendors pay the most to be there and get to experience the con the least. We stand on our feet for hours, watching the con walk by, but we don’t get to engage in the panels, workshops, entertainment, or leisure like everyone else. In exchange for this, we have the opportunity to present our wares for your perusal and the potential to make a little bit of our initial investment back as sales. All we ask in return is a little respect. Even if you never say, “Hey, man, thanks for being a fundamental part of my con experience,”please visit the vendor hall, interact with us, and leave us feeling like underwriting the next con is totally worthwhile.


the frenzygals

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