Thursday, July 31, 2014

Convention Recap: Sukoshicon LAW

Bad luck comes in threes, and perhaps the same can be said for bad (for the artist) conventions.  In a string of bad cons, Sukoshicon LAW was number two on my list, but it might be the overall worst.

Sukoshicon LAW is a three day anime convention in Louisville, KY.  I've only done one other event in Louisville- River City Comics Expo, and although it went poorly, I didn't want to attribute the issues I saw with the local fanbase.  When someone tipped me off on Twitter to Sukoshicon LAW, I did some cursory checking around- I asked about it online, I checked out their website, and I saw nothing to really send up any red flags.  In fact, I was really impressed by the table purchasing process, which was hosted through EventBrite.  Artists could select their table through a web interface and then purchase it, which I thought was really neat.  As tables were no longer available, they weren't selectable.  After some consideration, I decided on A12, figuring it'd be a prime location.

Sukoshicon is a brand of conventions with the motto

Sukoshi Con is a brand of conventions, bringing new social and interactive innovations to the Anime Convention scene. The company was founded as a way to give Anime fans access to Anime, Cosplay, and Gaming, hosting multiple Anime Conventions throughout the year in various states in the Southeast. The core focus of Sukoshi Con is to be a "Social Anime Convention" that promotes interacting with fellow fans, keeping the sub-culture feel.
Source: Sukoshicon LAW website 

I had hoped that since Sukoshicon LAW was part of a family of conventions, the experience gained from hosting those conventions would be applied to Sukoshicon LAW, making it a better con.

When I'd originally applied for Sukoshicon LAW, it was with the thought that Joseph would accompany me.  I strongly dislike attending conventions alone, since I tend to get creeped on by attendees and there are times I really don't feel safe.  Unfortunately for me, Joseph couldn't go, so I needed to decide whether I still planned on going or try to find someone else to attend with me.

I really dislike canceling conventions, so I opted to find a convention buddy.  I asked Heidi at first, but since Sukoshicon LAW was sold out for tables, she declined to join me, as we both lose sales when sharing a table.  I then offered to share my table with Dylan Banks, an artist friend of mine who's also in a longterm relationship with one of my only-remaining high school friends.  I was pretty excited when both he, and his girlfriend, Lane, agreed to come with me, as it meant an opportunity to visit with friends I rarely get to see.

Lane and Dylan came to Nashville a week before the convention, and we spent the days leading up to the con helping Dylan prepare for his half of the table.  He had a few images ready to be made into prints, and managed to knock out two more while he was here.  I spent a lot of my time and energy helping him plan and prepare things- we printed mini prints for him, pressed buttons, and took his images to get printed.  While I enjoy helping people plan for conventions, I found it difficult to accomplish what I wanted to get done while also juggling helping him prepare his table.  I found it so difficult, in fact, that I really couldn't get much done while he was over.  In the future, I will either have to have everything ready before guests arrive, or just resolve not to start any new projects, as it's very difficult for me to split focus.

Demo Setup Photos

My Stuff









Dylan's Setup




Because I had the most convention experience, pretty much all of the prep and planning fell to me.  The night before we left, Lane helped me set up a demo table with mine and Dylan's things, just to make sure there was enough room.  Whenever I share a table, I always end up playing Sophie's Choice with what merchandise I bring, and sometimes I choose the wrong things, especially if I don't have experience with the con.  Of course, sharing a table in this instance was a calculated risk- I always make about half my general sales, and I was hoping Sukoshicon LAW would be like Hamacon, so that half sales meant we each saw around $350-400.

Friday


Louisville, KY is about a 2.5 hour drive from Nashville, but I forgot to take into account the time zone change, which meant we arrived an hour later than we'd planned for.  We got a late start on Friday morning, and this compounded with the lost hour meant we arrived at Sukoshicon LAW after the Artist Alley had opened to the public.  The convention center/hotel Sukoshicon LAW was located in was fairly large, and we had difficulty finding where the convention was being held within the complex.  After asking and wandering around for 30 minutes, we finally found the hallway that contained Sukoshicon (it wasn't very big), and made our way to registration to pick up badges.  We were told that we needed to check in with 'BJ' to claim our table.

When we finally got to the artist alley, we had a lot of trouble finding this 'BJ'.  After asking around, we finally found DJ, the actual artist alley head.  She had a table in the alley selling Perler beads, and while she seemed nice, there was nothing to really mark her or her table as being staff related.  We were also informed that our selected table, table A12, had been given to someone else due to a misunderstanding (this seems to happen to me A LOT, doesn't it?), but we could pick any of the remaining tables.  I chose a table that was against the wall,  but unfortunately next to another artist who did watercolor art (hers were mostly prints, mine were almost entirely originals).

The tables we were given were 8', 2' more than the 6' Lane and I had planned with, and part of me had hoped that this meant I could spread out a little bit more, since I was the one who had purchased and paid for the table and hotel.  Alas for me, this wasn't to be, and my half of the table looked very cramped, while Dylan's looked very sparse.  Another issue was that since Dylan did not have a tablecloth of his own, we were using mine for the whole table, and since he had no banner of his own, it looked like the table was all one artist, despite our very different styles.

The Artist Alley




Not a whole lot of signage to direct or entice potential customers.  No staff to even tell people 'hey, YES, this is the artist alley.'







Friday saw extremely slow sales, but I was hopeful that things would pick up on Saturday.  The alley was very cold and somewhat poorly lit, which made being behind the table with no work a chore.  I started sketching in the easy panels from Chapter 5 of 7" Kara to keep myself occupied.

On Friday night DJ went around the alley asking artists if they had a problem closing at 9.  Since sales were so slow, I didn't have any issue giving my assent.  Dylan and I packed up around 8:50, and spent a little time chatting with and buying from other artists.  I think we were out of the alley by 9:00-9:10, and while many artists were packing up or had left, the alley was not yet closed.   After dinner, we made a trip to Walmart to find Dylan a tablecloth to help fix the 'all one artist' problem.

Saturday

Dylan at the table with his new black tablecloth.  I think it really helped differentiate between our two halves.

I think we all had difficulty getting started on Saturday morning, but we managed to reach the Artist Alley only slightly after the Artist Alley opened.  While sorting through my wares, I found that my proof copy of 7" Kara was missing (I think you guys may have seen that post on Tumblr).  When I reported the theft to DJ, she didn't seem particularly concerned or apologetic, although she did admit that they'd had the alley open until 10 and had forgotten to let us know.  When talking to Amber, a friend and artist also tabling at Sukoshicon LAW, she said she checked downstairs after 10, and found that the alley was not only open, but people were walking around despite almost all the artists being gone.

This is problematic outside of the theft of my book as Sukoshicon LAW's artist alley was in a separate room, and one of the selling points was that the room would be locked after hours, so artists didn't need to pack down entirely.  When DJ had come by Friday evening to tell us the alley was closing at 9, she and I had even chatted about how I'd never had anything stolen from my table, and while we were going to pack down small things that have a tendency to 'walk', we weren't packing down large things.  While my proof WAS left on my table (Dylan was reading it as I was packing up, and I forgot to put it beneath the table), there's no reason the book should have been stolen from what was supposed to be a locked room.

This separate  room was problematic in another way, as it really limited the amount of foot traffic we saw.  If the Artist Alley had been in an alley, I think we would've seen a few more sales.  I know in the past I've complained about alleys that are in hallways, but I'm starting to change this view.  For smaller conventions like LouisiANIME and Sukoshicon LAW, there isn't a large enough attendance in general to merit putting the artist alley in a room of its own.  For the duration of the con, the artist alley was fairly dead, and we tended to see the same faces over and over again all weekend long, because Sukoshicon LAW wasn't big enough to offer a lot of programming.  While my sales at LouisiANIME weren't record breaking by any means, having the artists in the hallway meant that people who wouldn't otherwise go into the artist alley got to see what we were selling, and we were able to make sales to brand new customers.  Sukoshicon LAW had plenty of room in the hallways, and easily could have placed tables there, or they could have combined the Dealer's Room with the Artist Alley.




These photos were taken midday, Saturday, in Sukoshicon LAW's main hallway.  Towards the back is admission.  This level of 'crowd' was typical for the duration of the con.




While the artist alley may SEEM full, that's tables and artists, not foot traffic.  For the duration of the con, the artist alley was pretty dead.

The dealer's room was a whole other kettle of fish.  When Lane and I walked around it Saturday afternoon, it was pretty much dead.  The Dealer's Room was a huge room that was mostly empty- very few vendors and the vendors that were there were very spread apart.  This was a poor utilization of space that the convention was paying for (and ultimately, the attendees were paying for), and Sukoshicon LAW may have benefited from having one large room that was sectioned off.  Hamacon utilized this, and it seemed to work well, despite noise issues.

Saturday sales were even slower than Friday's, and I only saw commissions Saturday afternoon.  Lane and I took a few lengthy breaks- to pick up lunch, to use the bathrooms, and to check out the Dealer's Room, which would normally be unthinkable for me.  Saturday evening the lights were cut off for about 10 minutes, so it was fun trying to fill commissions in the dark.

I should note that there were several tables that were empty the entire convention, with no effort made to find replacement artists.  I've mentioned it in prior convention reports, but empty tables are bad- it causes the surrounding area to lose business.  The artists who were supposed to table next to us missed Friday, showed up on Saturday, and decided it wasn't worth returning for Sunday as their sales were so bad.

Sunday


After how awful Saturday was, it was difficult to get up Sunday morning and go back to that cold, dark, empty room.  I really wanted to do anything except that, but Dylan was insistent that we keep giving it the ol' college try.  I agreed, with the stipulation that if sales stayed stagnant, we'd pack up and go have fun.

You might be wondering why I was so tied to Dylan and the table.  The answer is simple- I loaned him my setup stuff for his side of the table, and I wanted to pack it together so nothing got lost.

Although sales WERE stagnant, Dylan didn't want to leave, so we made a bargain.  If he didn't make any sales in 30 minutes, we'd leave.  We did this twice (with him not making any sales in either 30 minute duration) and I was ready to go and get some dinner and pack up early.  We were at an impasse, so I requested that he let me pack up my stuff, but I was talked into leaving it, as he PROMISED to take responsibility for it.  Lane and I headed off for lunch, and by the time we got back about an hour later, the entire alley was closing down for the day.

It should be noted that Dylan's "Lets stick this out!" is the attitude that the Artist Alley International Network on Facebook feels is the most professional, and I agree.  Unfortunately for me, I was so burnt out with Sukoshicon LAW that I was finding it difficult to keep my pokerface.  I managed to finish all the 'easy' panels for Chapter 5, had my book stolen but no copies sold, and was generally just finished with this convention.  This sentiment was shared by quite a few other artists, and many also left Sukoshicon LAW early to get started on the drive home.


For Sunday, I changed things around a little and put the Sailor bows on the table, since they're a big seller for me.  I ended up selling a set of 5 for $20, and another individual bow for $5, so I guess moving it was a smart move.


Eventually by the end of the con, there WAS an Artist Alley sign.  Too bad it's angled into the alley, is sorta hard to see if you're approaching from the entrance (this photo was shot facing the entrance, btw), and it's fairly small and unassuming.

Commissions









Total Costs:
Transportation: $50 gas (we rode in Lane's car, I chipped in once)
Hotel:  $353.90 Fri-Mon
Table: $100, including 2 badges
Lane's badge: $35
Food: $30 a day (Fri, Sat, Sun), breakfast Monday- $10- $100

Total: $638.90

Sales: $142 all weekend

Pros and Cons


Pros


  • Fairly close to Nashville means the drive wasn't painful
  • Got to hang out with Lane and Dylan
  • Parking was free and plentiful
  • Floorplan wasn't that bad, made good use of the space given
  • Tables were 8' ft, included 2 badges
  • Dylan was able to access wifi


Cons


  • Slow the entire con
  • Repeat foot traffic wasn't interested in buying
  • Audience was fairly cheap
  • Artist alley was poorly lit and freezing
  • Not my target audience (I usually sell really well to parents and college age girls)
  • No affordable food in walking distance
  • Many tables were empty entire con
  • Staff was not concerned with theft of book
  • Entry fee was expensive for size of con
  • Convention hotel was very expensive
  • Inconsistent hours didn't follow program guide
  • DID NOT LOCK ARTIST ALLEY WHEN PROMISED
  • Didn't even get a program book
  • Badges were cardboard, they ran out of lanyards on Friday and didn't have them entire con
  • Rooms were poorly labeled and poorly patrolled by staff



Verdict:

Sukoshicon LAW was a disaster convention for me in a lot of ways.  The fact that the Artist Alley was in a separate room didn't hinder my merchandise from being stolen, but it DID mean the alley didn't see a lot of foot traffic.  Of course, the convention was also pretty dead the entire weekend, so there wasn't a lot of foot traffic to be had.  Maybe if Sukoshicon LAW had been busier, the staff would've bothered to check badges at the doors of the Artist Alley, Game Room, or Dealer's Room, but since it was so slow, I suppose there was no need.  The convention hotel seemed really nice, but it was too rich for my blood, so our rooms were at the hotel next door.  Fortunately, there was plenty of parking around the complex.

I've complained in the past about cheap crowds, and it seems once I enter Kentucky and head north from there, I have difficulty making ends meet from sales.  Sukoshicon LAW was definitely an example of this.  My biggest seller was stickers- 2 for $2.  Maybe I'm offering the wrong things, but I really do seem to just do better at southern cons.  What was most surprising was how poorly sketch commissions sold.

I've been told repeatedly in the past few months that I need to raise my $5 sketches to $10, so I thought Sukoshicon LAW would be a great opportunity to introduce the change.  I implemented a strategy- 15 $5 slots on Friday, with sketches going up to $10 Saturday and Sunday.  Sales were so awful I abandoned that Saturday evening, going back to my original $5 rate.

After talking with some of the other artists who were also tabling at Sukoshicon LAW, it seems the poor sales were universal, and other artists struggled to make sales too.  The audience in the artist alley were atypical- they were distant and disinterested, I had difficultly getting people to even pick things up off the table, which is unusual.  The general feeling at the con seemed to be boredom, which is bad news for artists trying to sell there.

Suggestions for Improving Sukoshicon LAW (from an artist's perspective)


There are a few things suggestions I have that might help Sukoshicon LAW, recycled tips from staffers at other conventions for how they improved their own cons.


  • Switch to a less expensive hotel.  Sukoshicon LAW isn't large enough to justify such an expensive hotel, and the cost of renting there is being passed on to attendees.
  • Put the artist alley BACK into the hallway, and put it at the front of the convention.
  • Put registration at the entrance of the convention, not at the very end of the hallway.  Since staff wasn't checking badges for events, there wasn't really a need to BUY a badge.  Lost revenue means those who DO buy badges end up eating the costs as costs rise.
  • Give the dealer's room a smaller room, or have several events in that one room.  Combine dealer's and artist alley (a rare suggestion!)
  • Consider radio and television advertising.  This really worked for Hamacon last year.
  • Consider social media outreach to raise awareness about the convention and get attendees excited about it
  • Consider hiring a well known and popular artist to design your badges, have them as a guest in the artist alley to attract customers and sales

  • Find an aspect of nerd culture (videogames, cosplay, maid cafe, comics) and specialize in it.  Bring in guests to present panels on this topic, and use it as a way to put Sukoshicon LAW on the map.

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