Don’t Fret Over an Empty Store. Profit!
Conventions offer you a great opportunity to make new customers, clear out unproductive inventory , and take a break from the normal routine. They’re exciting, high-energy concentrations of gaming and fandom that recharge both you and your alpha gamers. Done right, they can put bucks in your pocket.
Attend the Right Convention
Asking around the gaming community is a good way to find some conventions. Internet searches work, too. Finding a large company and tracking their con plans is another method. Conventions often have a “free stuff” table or bulletin board where other con organizers advertise. Check for that.
Go to a convention where the attendees will be your customers. If you sell anime and manga, an anime convention will be good for you. If 70% of your volume comes from Magic, then a con with no Magic in the program book probably isn’t your best bet. If you sell a good mix of games but only games, then a fandom convention with costume contests and late-night parties probably won’t be very fruitful.
Start small. Go to a local convention first. The risk is small, and you’ll need a place to experiment with minimal risk. If your can keep your out-of-pocket expenses to less than $200, then even if you sell nothing you don’t endanger everything you’ve built so far. Risking all your cash and closing your store for the weekend to attend GenCon for your first convention attempt is a disaster.
Plan Your Presence
If you’ve never been to a convention, attend one. It’s $30 or $40 well spent. Walk around, check out the spaces, talk to the dealers. Watch the ebb and flow of traffic (tip: vendor activity takes place between game sessions).
Advertise your intentions for the convention ahead of time among your customer base. An ad in the program book might be worthwhile at the right price. Don’t spend much; most customers will discover you by seeing your booth or sign.
Make a schedule for the store and for the convention. Take enough people for the expected activity. You might manage a small local con yourself. For a small , you might need 2 people (or you might want 2 at all times anyway, just to cover breaks). For one of the biggest conventions, take everybody you can get in with your passes and extras as needed (you typically get two passes with each booth/table space you buy).
You want a sign. You can order vinyl signs online starting at about $20. You can get much larger sizes for bigger and better impact, but scale your expenses according to the scale of the event. If you’re a new store without much appropriate inventory, and you’re going to a con with fewer than 300 expected gamers, don’t spend $2,000 on a sign.
You need a way to collect payments. Cash is good. For handling cash you can use an old cash register. Your POS might offer multi-station or offsite use. A box with change works fine for the lowest budgets.
For credit card payments, you can take a knuckle-buster, but there’s a better way. Squareup.com offers a free smart phone app and free hardware that let you accept credit card payments anywhere you can get a phone signal. It’s painless, free, and instant. The transaction fee is only 2.75%–comparable to your normal credit card fees.
How will you track sales? If you’re using an extension of your POS, you can do it just like in the store. You might use a laptop or tablet to record sales as they occur. Writing it down on paper works; just enter sales into the POS when you get back.
Plan how you’ll set up your area. You typically have one or more tables in your space, but you’re free to set up your space any way you want. You can remove the tables, put them on the sides, or position them how you like. Some people find it more comfortable without a table between them and the customers. If you go this route, you can wear a pocketed apron for making change. There’s no “off-limits” space, which means you can merchandise your entire area.
Box your administrative stuff together—cash, business cards, etc. Box your inventory by where you’re going to set it up. Put the table-top stuff together, anything going on a shelf goes together. If you put stuff out in boxes on the floor, keep that together—all this minimizes your setup time and lets you start selling sooner.
Packing everything in similar containers makes things easier. Some people use plastic bins from the dollar store. Some owners like milk crates. Similar shapes makes stacking easier and allows you to consolidated boxes as things sell through.
Part II discusses what sells and what doesn’t. It has a small section on fine-tuning your procedures based one experience and a nice crunchy discussion of the finances, including inventory levels, costs, and expected sales.