Artist Alley Review: Anime Expo 2014

July 8, 2014 at 9:03 pm 1 comment

Anime Expo 2014 has wrapped up so once again it’s time for another artist alley review. This was one is best summed up in the words of Charles Dickens – ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’. Sales were decent and I exceeded my sales goal, but it was a close one, marred by the insane lines that everyone was complaining about pretty much all con.

AX is the largest anime con in Northern California and the sheer numbers of potential customers is the reason I keep going, however this year was trying my patience and at one point, I wasn’t sure I was going to come back. I thought of getting my badge on Day 0 (something that many cons allow attendees to do so they have the full time when con is running), but I kept hearing horror stories on the lines through my Facebook feed so decided to skip. I heard people waited up to 8+ hours in full sun and 90+ temperatures to get their badges due to sheer volume and numerous technical glitches. I was so glad that AX had a separate check in for artist alley participants so just figured I wouldn’t have an issue the morning of Day 1.

Ha. Hope springs eternal.

Angry plush bunny, steamed buns in the registration line.

Steamed Buns is not a fan of Line Con, especially in the artist alley check-in.

My helper and I got there around 9:30 figuring that was enough time to check-in and have a decent amount of time to set up before the hall opened to VIPs at 11:30. Instead, we stood in one line and then were shifted over to another line that started to snake out the door. No one seemed to know where we were supposed to be going. The artists were mostly left to their own organizing further down the line. I never saw an AX staff person directing traffic. We ended up waiting about an hour to get checked in and then had to work our way through the massive crowds in the lobby to the entrance to the exhibit hall. By the time I got to my table, I had about 30 minutes to set up. I can (and did) do it, but I really hate starting a con like that. I was hot and flustered by the time I finally sat down, just as the general public was let in.

I was also frustrated by the fact that the AX system messed up my helper’s reg and had her listed as a general attendee. I brought this to the staff’s attention. They said to change her badge, I had to pay $10 extra as that matched the current reg fees. Many artists who had the same problem were puzzled by this as this has happened in the past and we’ve never had to pay a difference. Also, I don’t think this was fair as I had registered her properly as my helper long before con. But at this point, I was watching the clock tick away and just wanted to get to my table with more than 10 minutes to set up so I forked over the money. I also didn’t want her to get shifted over to the general reg line cause then I wouldn’t see her til like Day 3.

If any AX staff are reading this, please address this glitch that keeps happening year after year in your system. Or don’t penalize the artists for your system’s mistakes. It’s hardly fair.

Day 1 sales were pretty bad, honestly. There’s no sugar coating that. For a con the size of AX, I should have made more than I did. I knew I was in trouble when I barely filled one sales sheet. Normally, I can fill two. I spoke with other artists who said the same thing. Sales were described as ‘slow’, ‘bad’ and ‘abysmal’. The ridiculous lines for pre-reg badge pick up meant that  most attendees were either standing outside or by the time they got their badges, so hot and tired that they just weren’t shopping (or didn’t care). At this point, I was thinking that if the rest of con continued that way, I was going to drop AX from my line up.

Day 2, my helper and I got there earlier so we could walk around the exhibit hall a bit together before things opened. I had a new set up this time to accommodate my plushies which had the added bonus of an easy close and opening. I was able to just clip my sheet over the front. We got to look at stuff before the masses came in and then got down to business. Sales picked up and I had my highest totals for the con that day. But boy was it HOT in there! I don’t remember seeing so many people fanning themselves as I did at this con. The temps remained an issue throughout con. I don’t know if someone forgot to turn on the ac or it just couldn’t handle the crowds, but I found myself really glad that I had picked up the free Hello Kitty fan earlier.

Me at my crowded little table on Day 2 of Anime Expo.

Me at my crowded little table on Day 2 of Anime Expo.

Day 3 also posted strong sales. It was a strange trend though as the customers’ buying habits were a bit like the last day for me where there aren’t as many people visiting the table, but the ones who do, buy higher amounts. I cosplayed as Sailor Mars to deal with the heat, but I still made use of the fan.

AX opens up next year’s artist alley reg to all artists currently selling on the third day at a discount rate. I was told it would open at 3pm this day. So at 2:30, I went to the designated area and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

I was paying cash for my table for 2015. Apparently, the ONE person who was authorized to handle cash decided to go to lunch around that time. They started filtering us in from the cash only line to the credit payment line which further slowed the lines for everyone. This just smacked of horrible planning and communication. The cashier had all day to go to lunch and everyone knew prior to con that reg was going to open that day at that time. It’s not like it was some last minute decision. I have no idea why they weren’t told to take lunch earlier. Horrible communication. And when they finally got back, registration was marred once again by technical issues which took like 10-15 minutes to resolve for each person trying to sign up. I was the first person in the line to actually have my reg go smoothly. I ended up waiting about two and a half hours to register. I heard that other artists got stuck in that line for even longer.

Day 4 was a partial day (ended three hours earlier) and sales were once again good so I was able to meet my sales goal. Each year, I’ve been able to increase sales totals from the year before. After Day 1, I wasn’t so sure, but strong sales the following three days helped greatly.

I was also aided by my plushies. This was the second con where I had a bunch of plushies (Anime Boston I only had eggplants and fortune cookies as I had just started sewing them). The steamed buns in their bamboo steamers were a hit and some people bought the other mochi buns with steamers as well. I was sold out of nearly all buns by the end of Day 2. The eggplants all went to good homes by the end of con and the Sweet Dreams Strawberries also sold out. This just proved my theory that there is a different mind set in artist alleys that benefit custom plush vs. the dealers hall where I had to compete against mass produced plush from China and barely moved the berries. Sadly, I ran out of time to make my fortune and misfortune cookies which were big hits at both Anime Boston and Fanime. I will have them for Otakon though!

Despite all this, I went ahead and purchased two tables for 2015. Going from a 10×10 square foot dealers’ booth to a 6’ artist alley table was ROUGH. I was so cramped and I wonder if that was part of the reason some of my items didn’t sell as well – that customers just didn’t see them. As things started to sell out, I would rearrange stuff and then notice that those items would finally start to move. The second table wasn’t too much more and this will give me space to really display my product effectively. I’ll also have more storage space underneath so we aren’t as crammed in.

So, there is my experience of AX in a (rather large) nutshell. I heard that they reached their attendance cap of 85k paid attendees and stopped accepting same day registrations. That’s a whole lotta people, folks! This was my third time doing AX’s artist alley. Customers are starting to remember me and look for me each year now at this con. Sales totals are among my top three highest cons, so I would like to continue coming to this one. At this point, it’s up to Anime Expo to work out their communication, staffing and technical issues to keep me coming back.

And from the chatter I’m hearing on FB, there are a lot of attendees who would agree.

 

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Entry filed under: Artist Alley Reviews. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Con Report: Everfree NW 2014 | KIRISKA.com  |  August 13, 2014 at 12:05 am

    […] summer. AX is the largest anime convention in North America, but it seems like it’s always a mess with lots of management drama, especially where Artist Alley is concerned, which is why I’d […]

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