Six Secrets From the Vendor’s Floor

An interesting way to gain a different perspective on con-going is to work one. Having now participated as a vendor and as a speaker, I’ve learned some neat stuff that seemed worth sharing, so today I’ll let you in on some secrets of the vendor floor.

We have to load in really early.

Depending on the con, vendors may be setting up their tables more than 24 hours before the doors open to the con members. The contracts we sign usually have a clause that we have to be 100% ready for browsers by the time they arrive, and that we’re not allowed to leave early, so that attendees at all times can have the same experiences.

“Neighborhood” is everything.

While there are many notable new experiences I’ve had since I started vending at cons, the biggest and best surprise is the strong feeling of community amongst the people who do this. Work enough cons in a region, and you get to know familiar faces and tables. I’ve been wonderfully lucky over the past year and had nothing but wonderful neighbors: fun people who are entertaining to talk to, possess a font of tips, and truly embody an unspoken community code, that resources exist to be shared. It’s hard not to wax a little utopian about con vendor culture on a day when you’ve gotten to piggyback on someone else’s wif-fi hookup, given others a safety pin or band-aid as needed, and known all day that everyone will keep an eye on the goods during non-covered bathroom breaks. All of this is especially important, considering that…

Lulls in foot traffic are awkward as heck.

In the blink of an eye, a con floor can mysteriously go from “swarming with cosplayers” to “postapocalyptic desertion.” Then you start making a lot of eye contact with the booth across from you, whether or not you want to. A LOT. You’re both sitting at tables. Staring at each other. It’s awkward. Fun neighbors make it less awkward. Having helpers at your own table as built-in conversational partners is also a tremendous boon. But typically these lulls happen at points in the day when we’re tired too, and hence, ample opportunity for staring self-consciously into space, public transit-style. It’s also a good time to do a little shopping at your neighbors’ tables, because you have far too much time to contemplate just how shiny their merch really is.

Your cosplay gives us life.

At least it does for me. When you’re on day two of giving the same spiel over and over about your stuff to anyone who pauses at your table, cosplayers walking by really do help keep a magical feeling alive about the whole endeavor. I have been known to cry out character names in genuine delight, and never knowing just who you might see adds a real festival sense to the proceedings. True story: Last weekend at Empire State Comic Con, I was in an elevator with Black Widow, Hawkguy, Loki, Dr. Strange, and Rogue. Best.

My mouth may be full of a sandwich, but please check out my table anyway!

We’re here first and foremost to vend, not to eat lunch. Since most of us aren’t robots, lunch has to happen anyway, but I know I’m not the only vendor who struggles to look approachable while eating and worries about scaring people off while tending to this basic human need we can totally multitask through. We can munch, you can browse, it’s all good, and I promise to clean my hands before packing up your stuff!

And finally, the biggest secret:

Vending at cons is a way to get paid to go to cons.

If the stars align correctly, your table is a gateway to having tons of great interactions with fellow fans, see all the cosplayers, and make some money, all while having a guaranteed place to sit and stow your bag. You miss out on the panels, which is a bummer, but you get all the other trappings, and this can make vending at cons the best job in the world, some weekends.

Who are your favorite con vendors/artists you’ve gotten cool stuff from in your travels?

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