Surviving Artist’s Alley

If you’re geeky, odds are you’ve either been to a Con or thought of going. For me, the idea of thousands of people, no matter how cool, kept me away. But, when I started making geeky jewelry, I knew that my niche lay in cons. After having weathered,“define geeky” to my 50th wreath-brandishing craft fair goer, I sucked in some socially awkward breaths, and plunked down money for three cons.  Having now survived my first con season, I can offer some survival tips if you choose to go “a-conning” with your wares:

My Con Booth!

  1. Always pick the Artist Alley – Even if you can afford a larger booth, invest in a double Artist space over a 10×10 booth. The crowds generally expect all the “handmade” stuff to be in the Alley. Even if you get more space, you’ll be placed in an out of the way spot and at a con, traffic is everything.
  2. Be a Good Neighbor – Your boothmates are awesome resources. You don’t have to befriend them for life, but know their names and what they sell. That way you can vouch for them should they need to run to the restroom, and vice versa.  Offer to grab food when you get it, and offer to watch their booths if they need to run off. They really can help you survive the weekend.
  3. Mind your Fences – as much as being chummy is good, it’s also important to remember you’re there to sell. Give people the time and space they need, and NEVER pitch to a customer looking at your neighbor’s stuff. Also, keep your display from creeping into theirs and keep the walkway behind you clear.
  4. Learn to Detach Barnacles – Thanks to artist Myranda for introducing me to the term. Booth barnacles are folks so excited to talk, they won’t leave. If you find yourself stuck in a conversation with someone’s half WWII  human/Time Lord/Overwatch hybrid character, you have a few options. First, if they’ve looked and not found anything,  you can say, “well … don’t think I have what you are looking for, sorry about that,” then smile, and slide your eye contact away. I kneel down for a drink. If they stay, be polite, but don’t lead the conversation. You can also glance at your phone and say, “oh shoot, excuse me, I need to get back with this PERSON regarding this THING.” Last but not least, you can ask a neighbor, “ you said you needed scissors…right? Here they are.” These things often detach the barnacle. It’s also good return the favor if needed. If a neighbor has made a sale, and you can see they are uncomfortable, you can say, “Hey, Jane, I have a question when you have a second.” Then the person can decide if they need the out.
  5. Pitch! – many artists are quiet, and can find the idea of reaching out to passers-by  difficult. One artist told me  they “never did well” at cons, and then read for most of the weekend. You have to reach out to people. Thankfully, you don’t have to be high pressure!  “What will get you into a Pokemon shirt?” is not the right approach.

    A Carol Corps Diva at Wiscon rocked one of my pieces! She almost walked by, but we got to talking about her supercute dress!

    However, asking about someone’s cosplay, or another purchase is a great starter. Also, condense your pitch so you can say it as people are walking near your table. Quite a few passers  will stop when I say: “Everything you see is made from recycled comics and 10 percent of my sales go to charity.” If they start looking, I add, “if there’s a character you love but don’t see, please ask, I have more stock than I can fit on the table.” Then I leave them alone. Don’t pitch to people walking by quickly or involved in a deep conversation.

  6. Have a Niche – Make sure what you’re selling is special. At a large con there can be hundreds of vendors vying for the same customers. Check the confirmed vendors and avoid duplication if you can. Also, make sure your prices are set so that people with pocket money and people looking to buy higher-end things can find something. My prices range from $5.00-$25.00 and it seems to work well.
  7. Pack Survival Gear – When I first started, I was so wrapped up in my stock and display, I forgot to pack water and food. That left me dashing for  mushy fries and overpriced water bottles all weekend.  I bring popcorn, nuts, and other quick snacks that won’t ick up my breath and I can eat between customers (No Funonions!). Also, bring tape, scissors, and marker pens as well as a tape measure and thumbtacks to fix signs. Additionally, an email collection list (with a discount incentive) can help extend your business beyond the Con and follow up with people who wanted specific pieces. Last, I bring my phone (for taking debit cards which is a must), earbuds for set-up/take-down time, and my tools. The tools are key, I’ve flipped a lot of yes’ into no’s because I could add an inch of chain here or change out a cord there.
  8. Don’t Veg – If the Con is slow use that time. I normally work on new pieces, Tweet/Instagram

    This whole family was too epic for words. Daisy, Mockingbird and Coulson! He even had business cards

    pics, or straighten my display. I was bored at a Farmer’s Market once and sold two pieces on Instagram.  You can also network.  Get cards from artists, cosplayers and other people in your community, and afterward, shoot them an email. Keep it brief “It was great to meet you at the con!” You never know where there might be a potential collaboration.

  9. Enjoy yourself – If you make geeky things, there is no place like a con to  be with your people. This is where your work won’t be liked, it will be loved. I’ve gotten high-fives, hugs, and smiles at Cons that remind me just how much I love this work. It’s worth the hassle!

Good luck!

Author: Lisamariepavia

Lisa Pavia-Higel is a St. Louis based writer, educator and performer. By day, she’s a mild mannered Communication and Media professor at a local community college and runs her own small jewelry company, Geekery Gal. By night, she’s a stage combat fighting, comic reading, critique writing, productivity advice giving mama. She loves trying things that she’s really not very good at, like sewing, painting and writing succinct biographies. She is indulged by her little geeklet Sofia and intrepid feminist, geeky husband Matthew. She’s too long winded for Twitter, but you can tweet to her at @geekerygal

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