Artist Alley Checklist Part 3: Items to Bring (and make your life easier)
Here is the last and final part in what unexpectedly turned into a three part blog on Artist Alley tabling. If you’ve stuck with me this long, you are awesome, lol! This one will cover the little behind the scenes things that are yes, kinda boring, but really help to keep your experience running smoothly.
Cash – Bring about $150 in change. A good breakdown is $50-75 in ones, $50-60 in fives and a smaller amount in tens. Ones will go FAST at first. Some suggest that you don’t need tens, but I found that it helped me not go through my fives as fast (which then helped with my ones). After the first day, you should be fine. I also set my prices at even amounts as I didn’t want to deal with coins.
Seller’s Permit – This is ESSENTIAL. I keep mine in a folder with my registration receipt and inventory lists. Some cons will ask for a copy for their records. Check your contract to see what you will need and prepare accordingly. For CA sellers, you can obtain a temporary permit (location and event specific) at the Board of Equalization website. Hint: if you can visit one of their offices in person, you may be able to obtain a permit same day. Otherwise, factor in about 2-3 weeks for processing and mailing of your permit if you do it by other means.
Inventory Sheet – Mine are nothing fancy, just something to keep track of sales at con. I made a table in Word with columns for date, name of event, cost, qty, paid and any notes. Obviously, they will be paying at the time of purchase, these are sheets that I use for all my sales, not just con sales. At con, I’ve started using the paid column to indicate if they paid by credit card. I was tracking how many sales were made that way that I may have otherwise lost. Having an itemized list also helps with stats later on. I can then see what sells best and what I might consider dropping from the next con. I keep all my events separate so that it’s easy to find totals per event when it comes time to do sales tax. If you sell at multiple locations, you will need to allocate the sales made in that location and if all your sales in one year are all in a jumble, it’s going to make for a headache. Taxes are complicated enough!
Some people do receipt books. I have one that I bring with me in case a customer wants a receipt, but generally, I find that they don’t and it’s lots of little papers to keep track of rather than a few large sheets. It’s up to you and what you find works best.
Card Reader. As smart phones and tablets are taking over the world and more and more companies are coming out with credit card readers you can use with these mobile devices, it’s changing the way things are done in AA’s slowly, but surely. It used to be expected that AA’s were the smaller sellers, i.e. not some big company with the resources to have a credit card machine. It was pretty rare to be able to buy something there with anything but cash. At Fanime, I did not have a card reader (I actually didn’t even have a cell phone, I was a hold out). I actually had some people end up not buying because they didn’t have cash. True, there are often ATM’s in the convention halls, but a) they charge large fees to pull money out and b) you don’t want to bet your sales on the fact that they will come back. I think I’ve had only one or two people actually return from the ATM. Cons are overwhelming and it’s easy to get distracted and forget what you were pulling the money for or relocate that table. After Fanime, I finally caved and got a smart phone so I could get a card reader. I went through Square, but there are many more out there who offer readers. I know Paypal has one and I think I saw another company that I had never heard of before. My next con was AX about a month after that and I tracked sales – cash vs. credit card. I made a good amount of sales with the card reader that I would have otherwise missed out on. It’s not something that is totally required as most people still expect that a majority of the AA is going to be cash only, but each year, I notice more and more signs saying that they take credit cards.
Cheat Sheet. Maybe my memory is going as I get older, but I often can’t remember the price of an item when con starts. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m trying to sell too many items, lol! Sometimes, despite the price cards, a customer will still ask you how much an item is. It looks awkward if you have to keep reaching over to check your own price cards. Do yourself a favor and print a cheat sheet to hang off the back of your table. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just a list of the items and their prices. This is especially helpful if you have a helper and they are even less familiar with your prices than you are.
Snacks. Man does not live by con vibes alone. If you are unable to have a helper at con, chances for getting something to eat can be pretty slim. Do yourself a favor and pack some snacks for your table. I take stuff like almonds, fruit, granola bars and a water bottle. Try to stay away from bringing cookies and sweets because those will just make you hungrier. I have a small lunch bag and when possible try to pack a lunch to bring with me. Con food honestly is pretty subpar and over priced. I lived off a soggy corndog at AX last year on the day I didn’t have my helper. BLEH!
Hand sanitizer. You are in a room with thousands of other people, handling cash and probably sleep deprived as con winds down which means your immune system may not be fully up to snuff. Take into account that among the 10,000 plus people attending, chances are high that someone is going to have a cough/cold/flu/random sickness that will make you feel like death and you will probably come in contact with them sometime during the con. You may need to snack, but not be able to run to the bathroom to wash your hands. Having a little bottle of antibacterial hand sanitizer is a very good idea.
Office supply box – It doesn’t have to be big. I keep pens, tape, calculator, clips, string, scissors, and little price stickers in mine. I then store it on my table in the area under my displays so it’s handy.
Business Cards. Definitely bring business cards! People will either really like your stuff and want to keep up to date with your brand or not have money with them to shop at that moment, but will want to check out your things online. Or they may want to commission you. Business cards are small, cheap to reproduce and easy for the customer to grab for what will hopefully turn into future business.
Bubble Wrap. If you have fragile items, it helps to have bubble wrap and some scotch tape available to wrap customers’ items in. They will appreciate it!
Rolling Cart and/or Suitcase. For cons where I don’t have to fly, I have a rolling cart with a lid from Office Max. I pack it totally full and then have a storage bin that stacks on top with more of my items. I lash the whole thing together with bungees from the hardware store. When I attend cons that I have to fly to, I just use my rolling suitcase. Wheels are amazing. Period. With this arrangement, I can get nearly all my display items and inventory to the table in one shot. It helps that I played a lot of Tetris as a kid and so am very good at fitting things in with minimal wasted space. 🙂
A Helper. If you can, it’s really nice to have someone else at the table with you. If you have a popular table, then you can both help customers that much faster. You can also sneak away for a potty break, snack or to check out other artists’ tables. I like to pay for my helpers’ reg fees and food as I feel that’s only right.
Starbucks :). By the third morning of con, I’m usually sleep deprived. You wouldn’t think it, but sitting at a table all day long IS a bit tiring! Luckily, most convention centers know that America runs on caffeine and have a Starbucks inside. I make sure to factor in the Starbucks stop on the third morning of con 🙂
So that wraps up my tips and ideas that I’ve gleaned from lots of Google, asking fellow artists and a lot just through personal experience. I love doing Artist Alleys. It’s just so fun to interact with people who are admiring/buying your things. I also like meeting up with people I previously only communicated with online. One thing I forgot to mention in Part 1: if you have Facebook, a blog, a deviantART, etc. make sure to advertise where you are going to be! Post a map with your location circled or highlighted.
Obviously, it’s always a work in progress as I go to more events and see what other people are doing for their table set ups and see things that I may want to adapt to my own display or things that may work better than my current one. Be open to ideas and change and just go with the flow and most of all, have fun!