Dealer Survival Guide
For first time dealers the looming deadline of a convention can be overwhelming. There's a lot to do and sometimes knowing where to start can be extremely stressful. That's why FAU and crew have created this guide to help make things easier. Read on for advice and suggestions from fellow dealers and convention planners to help make vending smooth and relatively hassle free.
The Cardinal Rule
Do. Not. Procrastinate. Deadlines creep up before you know it, and you want to be prepared for your customers.
Pre-prep is the single most important part of being a dealer. The con will go by quickly while you're there so you want to make the most of it. How things go can come entirely up to how well you plan ahead.
- Make a Plan - Ask yourself important questions: What do I want to sell, how much do I want to sell to make it worthwhile, and how do I want to sell it? Whether you're selling buttons, shirts, merch, prints, or doing traditional commissions, it's helpful to have a roadmap and a checklist so you can mark things off as you go.
- What to Sell - What you sell is entirely up to you. There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but we can give you one piece of solid advice: know your audience. Talk to other dealers, artists, and con goers and ask what they like and don't like, what works for them, or what they've always wanted to see. Unique items that tie into the convention theme tend to work particularly well and can build memories for customers.
- Do the Math - Building merch and inventory costs money. Naturally, you want to make a profit (or at least break even) so you're going to need to do some planning. Estimate Estimate the time items take to produce, the cost of materials that go into them, and shipping or transportation costs. Tally those costs into your final price.
- Getting Inventory - Sites like Smartpress, Custom Ink, and Vista Print offer affordable and customizable printing production to help you get inventory to sell at cons. The can help you create items like magnets, booklets, prints, posters, stickers, decal, shirts, hoodies, and more. Their sites are also easy to use, easy on the wallet, and have fairly high standards of quality.
- General Supplies/Necessities - Ask yourself a few simple questions. Are you going to need bags for your sales? If you're selling prints, do you need something to put them in so customers can protect their purchases? Are you going to need basic supplies like scissors, tape, displays, signs, pens, or business cards? If you're taking credit cards do you have your Square or Paypal card readers?
- Naughty Bits - First and foremost, if you plan on selling adult work or portfolios make sure the convention permits them. Also, take the time prior to the con to make sure your items comply with con rules (e.g. no visible "bits").
Setting Up Your Table
Whether you're a first timer or a con regular you'll want to give people a reason to want to come to your table. Consider that your table and its wares are the first thing an attendee sees. You want your table to stand out and say "Hey, come on over and check me out!"
- Stand Out - Decorations, posters, and displays can help attract people to your table or booth. You don't have to go all out or get overly elaborate, but consider things that can make your table "pop" and reflect who you are and what you're selling. A simple decorated sign with your name on it can go a long way.
- Price List - Make a price list (printed, hand drawn, it's all good!) with your prices CLEARLY listed. And make sure you can read the prices from at least 5ft away.
- Safco Wire Shelving - Every dealer's best friend. Safco wire shelving are affordable, modular shelves that can be assembled to create storage, displays, and even to help frame your table. They're extremely versatile and affordable and generally readily available at Target or Walmart (both online and in store).
- Table Cloth - Hotels and convention centers typically provide generic white cloth to drape over tables and booths. Consider going to a fabric store and getting some cheap, colorful cloth. A little bit of color can go a long way to make your table stand out. Just be sure to get measurements for the tables ahead of time. For example, if the table is 3x6ft you're going to want about about double that so the cloth can drape around the edges and just about touch the floor.
- Stage Your Table - Before going to the con try to stage your table at home. The most common table size is a 3x6ft table. If you have a table available try to plan out how you want to arrange your items, sale boards, and inventory. Ask opinions from your friends or fellow dealers to get their opinion on it.
At the Con
- Don't Panic - Hey, you've got this! It's going to be great.
- Communicate - Be outgoing, smile, and greet everyone who comes up to your table. Even if you're having a rough day (we've all been there, trust us!) a simple smile, nod, or "Hey there!" can go a long way to break the ice with a potential customer. If people approach your table and feel ignored they may be inclined to keep moving. You don't have to stop what you're doing, but take the time to acknowledge those who approach. Personality can go a long way to help make a sale.
Feel free to talk, get lost in conversation, and potentially make a new friend. Get to know your booth buddies as well. You're all in it together and good attitudes can go a long way. At At the same time, don't be afraid to say, "I need to get back to work!" when needed. You are there for business and sometimes you really need to focus.
- Window Shoppers - Don't feel discouraged if people stop by, look around for a bit, and move on without buying anything. It happens. Remember: like you, attendees have limited budgets and are trying to plan what to buy and where. They may genuinely want your wares but not have the funds to purchase them.
This is where business cards come into play. Business cards give you the opportunity to network. Give your cards out to anyone and everyone. While you may not make a sale today, a business card could be just the connection you need for a sale tomorrow.
- Incentives - If you have the means free things and discounts are always a great way to get people to your table. Everyone loves a deal! Depending on what you're selling "buy 2, get 1 free" deals can go a long way to making your sales more appealing. Likewise, a "Spend $X, get Y for free!" can be just the ticket to convince someone to spend a little extra.
- Get Contact Info - Take contact information, especially for commissions. Email, phone number, Twitter, Telegram, FA, or other contact information can come in handy if you need to reach out to commissioners/contacts.
- Dealer's Den Staff - If you need a hand be sure to ask the Dealer's Den staff for advice or assistance. They're there to help! The staff want you to succeed so don't be afraid to approach them with questions or concerns. Just remember that staff can be incredibly busy, so if they're not able to help right away don't take it personally.
- Cold Hard Cash - Most customers come to the con with cash on hand, and ATMs tend to get raided the night before and first day of the con. You'll need to be able to provide change so be sure you bring plenty of small bills ($1s and $5s) and proper coinage. How much will you need? Generally, about $100 in $5s, $1s and various coins is the best recommendation to make sure you cover all the bases, but $50 should be about the minimum.
- Accepting Credit Cards - Taking credit cards at a con is a breeze, and there's no sign up or merchant fees needed to get started. We generally recommend Square or Paypal card readers, as they're compatible with a wide variety of smartphones and tablets and are generally familiar to most attendees.
- Sales & Use Tax - Sales tax varies from state to state. For FAU, our sales tax is 6% (VA) and requires a Virginia Sales and Use Tax license (you can download the form here), but you can always check out www.zip2tax.com for other conventions. Pop the con's zip code into the site and it will let you know the correct sales tax percentage to charge.
Most conventions require vendors to sign up for a Sales & Use Tax license. Be sure to get one at LEAST 45 days prior to the con.
- Documentation - Documents, documents, documents. Receipts, invoices, expenditures - anything you spend: keep and make a copy of it. Put in an envelope. Scan it. Use an app or your phone (or even take a picture of it for your records). Keep your paperwork in order and together. It will make life blissfully easier when tax season cometh.
- Keep an Inventory - Keep an inventory of everything you take with you to the con as well as what you've sold. There are plenty of apps available to help keep track of items (and for free). Square, for instance, allows you to take an inventory of your items sold AND allows you to accept credit cards as well.
- Write Offs - First the legal disclaimer: we're not CPAs, and only your CPA and tax advisors can give you the final say on what you can or can not write off. For self-employed artists, crafters, or merchants, conventions can be a great place for write offs. Your food and lodging? Convention/dealer registration? If you're going for business purpose (e.g. to deal) they're potential write offs, too.
Anything that you purchase to legitimately improve your business can be written off. The items you buy to decorate your table (tablecloths, racks) or promote (flyers, signs, ads) that you're going to be at a con can generally be written off. Even the miles you drive or the plane ticket you purchased to get there are all write offs. Not only that, but any processing fees (e.g. Square, Paypal) can generally be written off as well.