Saturday, March 29, 2014

Furry Weekend Atlanta Con Recap

Introduction:

When I volunteered to split a table with Chris Paulsen at Furry Weekend Atlanta this year, it was somewhat on a whim.  I knew that a furry convention would be out of my comfort zone, so I wanted to push myself to try and appeal to a new demographic.  I also want to write a book about doing conventions at some point, and I knew I'd be remiss if I didn't table at at least one furry con.  I didn't expect to make a whole lot of money, but I hoped to stay relatively busy, and I figured that by driving and splitting a table, I wouldn't put myself into the hole too badly.

I get a lot of furry and anthro customers when I do anime cons, and they've always seemed pretty pleased with what I have to offer in the past.  Generally, they purchase $5 chibi sketches or mini watercolors, and I always enjoy drawing their characters.  Perhaps the reason I seem to attract so many anthro enthusiasts at anime cons is that I'm often one of the very few artists who are willing to draw their characters.  This thought makes me sad, and I wanted to attend a real furry con to see if I could improve my selection to better suit these neglected customers at my other cons.

I'm going to keep this review brief for a number of reasons, the largest of which is that this was my first furry convention so I have little to compare my experience to.  The best I can do is to compare it to anime cons, but if you're an anime artist thinking that you can just walk into a furry con and sell out, you should think again.  Furry cons require just as much preparation and individual wares as any other genre of convention, and should not be underestimated.

Before the Con

Before FWA, Chris made the long 9hr drive from Virginia to Nashville, TN.  He hung out in Nashville for a day, we ran some errands, and set out from Nashville around 11:30A.M.   During this time, we did a couple demo table setups for FWA, since this was my first furry con and our first time sharing a table.

Please excuse the general horde for this photo of the finished demo table.  The resulting con table was much less coherant, since we lost about 5" of space.

My half.

Chris's half.




 We went to Tuscaloosa to pick up Alex, my roommate for the weekend, ate a late lunch, and arrived in Atlanta around 9:20P.M.  We COULD have made it to setup if hotel staff had gotten our bags to us faster (or allowed us to carry our own bags), but unfortunately we missed setup while waiting for our bags.  The total trip to Atlanta on the way in was 7 hours, the trip back was 4 (we dropped Alex off at the airport).

Impressions of Furry Weekend Atlanta as a Convention

Furry Weekend Atlanta's theme this year was Furry University, a theme they carried out through-out the convention.  Although many anime cons have themes, I think none took it to the level that FWA did this year.  Their free poster was a BEAUTIFULLY illustrated college-campus scene reminiscent of illustrations from The Wind in the Willows or Frog and Toad are Friends, books I loved as a child.  It's an extremely charming poster.  The style is carried through to the badges, which feature a grumpy cat studying while his friends party.  Another con freebie were the melamine 'Dixie' cups, similar to the cups used in beer pong or used to serve beer at frat parties (also a staple at crawfish boils), which featured Furry University's adorable school crest.  Attendees could grab these cups (and a buffet+soda) at the 'University Cafe', which was open to attendees free of charge.  I opted to skip the soda, since I didn't want a sticky cup, but I did make sure to bring my cup home as a fun souvenir.  'Students' were sorted into majors one of two ways- tossing a pingpong ball into dixie cups to determine major (ala beer pong), or through a random chance Pachinko style game.  If you asked nicely though, the staff was happy to give you a major-denoting wristband in the major of your choice.  I opted for Science (green) since Alex got Art (purple) and we happily switched.  Throughout the convention, there were a variety of activities that promoted the University theme although I wasn't able to attend, I'm sure they were a lot of fun.

Another thing that impressed me about Furry Weekend Atlanta was the fundraiser.  Every year, FWA raises funds for various conservation groups.  This year, the group they were sponsoring brought in two of the smaller big cat species, a carcal and a Geofferoy's cat.  Before FWA, I'd never had the pleasure of seeing either species in real life.  While I'm sure this environment was somewhat stressful for the animals, it proved very effective for fundraising. When staff came around the Dealer's Den looking for items for donation, I made sure to donate plenty to help those cuties maintain their safe home.  I know many anime cons (like AWA and Nekocon) choose a charity to auction items for, and this is always something I try to wholeheartedly endorse.

Registration

Chris Paulsen, Alex Hoffmann, and myself arrived at the hotel late on Thursday night, too late to get set up in the Dealer's Den, but in plenty of time to swing by Registration to collect our badges.  Thursday night registration was quick and painless- I think we waited less than ten minutes even though badge types were all handled together.  After registering, we were given our free poster and our clip on badges.

Hotel

Our room had an amazing view of Atlanta's large ferris wheel.


Furry Weekend Atlanta was held in the Westin in Atlanta, in what I assume is the downtown district.  Because we had discounted valet parking with our hotel room, we opted to park my Jetta in the garage and walk for the entirety of the con.  For the most part, the staff of the hotel seemed friendly, if very much overwhelmed (understandable), but the layout of the hotel itself was a mess.  Our hotel room was on the 15th floor, only accessible by elevator (the stairs were locked  or didn't lead directly to the ground access floors), and guests could take escalators or elevators from floors 5-10, which are the floors most con events were held on.  Unfortunately, the centrally located elevators (possibly the only elevators located in the hotel, we couldn't find staff who'd tell us otherwise) were always full to the brim.  My main complaint about the attendees revolves around the elevators- attendees would pack the elevators until the alarm sounded, refusing to voluntarily exit.  Even attendees just going up one floor, attendees who were not special needs, would take the elevators rather than walking to the escalators just a few dozen feet away.  This meant there were often long waits for elevator access, and caused several people (myself included) extreme emotional discomfort as the elevator was packed beyond capacity and far beyond breathing space.

Another issue we faced was actually finding food.  We ate at Meehans, a nearby Irish pub, several times during the convention because at 7PM, all other restaurants in walking distance were apparently closed.  There was a mall only a block away that closed its doors around 4PM, but Alex and I managed to get our breakfasts, lunches, and mandatory coffees from the tasty Caribou Coffee located within its food court.

For the most part, our limited food options were fairly expensive, making FWA more expensive than I had planned for.

When checking out of the hotel, we were double charged for valet parking- Chris paid on his room tab, and I ended up paying in cash.  I paid $81 for valet parking for the weekend (ouch!), as did Chris, so until Chris gets his money refunded, that was one expensive garage spot.

I know some people like to bring convention snacks so that they can easily skip meals, and while I like having snacks available for when I can't get away, I prefer not to punish myself by skipping meals.  I know that makes my convention costs much higher, but I believe tasty meals improve my performance!  They certainly raise my spirits and make it easier to be chipper the duration of the con.

Dealer's Den 






The Dealer's Den opened at 8:00 on Friday morning for setup, and we tried to be there on the dot.  Setup was fairly easy since we had hotel rooms in the same hotel, although getting elevator space was a little dicey at times.  Chris and I had done a demo setup earlier in the week, so setting up was fairly straight forward even though we'd never shared a table before.

The Setup

Photos from Friday mid-morning.  Chris had already sold out of his first batch of cake.

This was definitely a con where I should have brought my own lighting.


The setup for FWA was pretty unusual for both Chris and I.  Although I'm no stranger to sharing a table, I'd never shared a table with Chris, and coming up with a setup required some negotiation.  We discarded dozens of setup and display items in the process of deciding on a setup that could work for both of us.  When setting up a table, I come from a very 'anime con' background- up is better, but Chris is used to a much more horizontal layout.  Although I had hoped to bring some of my wire mesh cubes to display my mini watercolors vertically, we opted not to use them as they take up a lot of space.  Instead, I used a small bathroom corner shelf (I bought a pair with a Christmas giftcard earlier in the year), that I had hoped would give me enough of a vertical element so that I wasn't lost in the crowd.  I loaned Chris a cake display for his cake blind boxes, and he talked me into offering cupcake blindboxes filled with goodies.  That was displayed on a smaller cake plate.

Unfortunately, two blind boxes meant A LOT of table space was lost, and as the con wore on, more and more of Chris's stuff ended up on my half of the table.  I didn't really mind, since FWA was intended to be a laid back con for me, but I did respect the fact that it was an important opportunity for him to reach his audience.  

The tablecloth and signage were Chris's, and may have contributed to the fact that people assumed that everything on the table was under the Precocious brand name.  Heidi and I have learned to differentiate our halves as much as possible while staying united under a theme at anime cons, but I didn't want to push the issue with Chris, since this was our first time tabling together.

Working the Dealer's Den

Chris had a table for Precocious in the Dealer's Den, which is somewhat like a Dealer's Room at an anime con.  His table cost was $50 total, which is fantastically low compared to almost any other convention I've attended.  We tried to plan our table in advance using my 6' folding table as a demo, but when we arrived, we realized the Dealer's Den table was more like 5'5" rather than 6'.  I tried to give Chris plenty of breathing room at the table, since he's a lefty and I'm a righty (and he had LOTS! of commissions), and Alex and myself camped in the dark corner of the table.  I'd voluntarily taken that corner since it meant I didn't have to share my corner display visibility with another artist (the artist next to Chris did have wire mesh cubes set up to display her art) and because it meant Chris would have an opportunity to chat with other artists at the con.

Originally I had wanted to make a lot of new merchandise for FWA.  I wanted to add 14 new prehistoric animal button designs to my existing 5, I wanted to do some demo badges, and I wanted to do a bunch of example pieces.  I did do some example $5 sketches which I really liked, but I ended up not using any of them as I lacked the table space and Chris discouraged me from undercutting the other artists.  I regret not having one example up, as I do feel like the sketches better reflect my range and quality, and my watercolor examples were admittedly rushed.  This is because my focus was on completing Volume 1 of 7" Kara in time to ship before MoCCA-fest, and I just didn't have the time or energy to split my focus. 

I really didn't want to show up at a furry con with a bunch of non-anthro art, so that meant the vast majority of my convention wares and signage were just not applicable.  Since I didn't have time (or the money) to make new stuff, I just made due.  I will admit, I felt really insecure at my half of the table, and this probably reflected on my face and through my sales tactics.   I took a very laid back approach, only greeting attendees who either greeted me or actively looked at my art, and devoting the majority of my charm to customers who'd purchased something.  I'd been warned early on that I might be a bit intimidating to some of the attendees, so I tried to be as non-threatening as possible.  For a 5'3" woman like me, sometimes that means not making eye contact and not making first verbal contact.

Alex took a photo of me on Sunday.  I honestly have no idea how I could possibly intimidate anyone ever.  As you can see, I was quickly losing tablespace, haha.


My Wares

Before the Precocious books swarmed my half of the table, his cake slices cluttered my back half, or his cards were pushed in front of my stuff.  Pretty decently laid out, I think.
 Completed Watercolor and Sketch Badges









Trade-Art and Art Won from Blindboxes





I did end up offering a selection of my usually very popular 1.5" double sided acrylic charms (which I priced at $5, upon Alex  and Chris's suggestions), a variety of animal related buttons ($1, my usual price), some of my special buttons ($3 rather than the anime con price of $2, $3 is really more appropriate given the labor), SURPRISE! cupcake boxes that included a 3"x4" watercolor OR watercolor badge, and my usual gamut of watercolors all priced $5 higher than their anime con equivalents.  Chris told me that furry con attendees value their artists, and this much is true.  They highly value THEIR artists.  While nobody balked at my wares as being 'too expensive' as they would have at an anime con at those prices, my sales were pretty awful all con long.

And one sample Copic custom button I made for myself featuring Annie, my axolotl character.  Thanks for the button blank and letting me use your Copics, Chris!

Overall Sales

On the first evening after the con, where my only sales were stickers and buttons, Alex advised me to attempt dressing down more, since I may be intimidating the attendees by looking too formal.  I took her advice, and wore my Finally Lucky kitty shirt, but the majority of commissions were sold by Chris for me while I was picking up lunch for him.  For me, sales didn't really pick up much during the con, and I sold about $120 worth of things, less than my first Otakon (my first anime con, which I was also greatly unprepared for).  When I did finally offer $5 sketches on Sunday in an attempt to amuse myself, I got a lot of side eye because a $5 sketch is considered too cheap.  At that point, I was just trying to entertain myself.

To be honest, by the end of Sunday, my attitude was pretty defeated in regards to selling art.  For the most part, I didn't greet passersby, only those who lingered at my side of the table.  Most of those quickly slid over to Chris's Precocious books.  Another major problem was that Chris was offering surprise box cake slices for $5 more than my cupcakes, and the cake was MUCH cuter.  I also didn't push sales as much as I would at an anime con, partially because I'd already been warned about intimidating away customers, and also because I didn't want to snipe sales away from Chris.  I also didn't want to expend a lot of energy wooing customers who didn't seem interested in my work, since I needed energy (and confidence) to finish my work for MoCCA-fest weekend after next.  My attitude was bad enough that Chris accused me of not even trying, which is insulting but also partially true.  I didn't try as hard as I would have for an anime or indie con, because I'd intentionally set my stakes for this con much lower.  I wasn't trying to win over a new audience.  I was just trying to learn how to serve my existing one.

When I table with Heidi, she and I have a non-compete agreement which has served us well.  I sell watercolors.  She sells Copic renders.  I sell $5-$10 pencil sketches, she sells $15 and up pencils and inks.  We work together to sell the 'fancy' buttons, a tactic that works extremely well at anime cons.  We chat up each other's work and egg each other's customers on.  In our experience, the kids at anime cons are entertained by this, and generally enjoy the genki display of friendship.  Unfortunately, Chris and I don't have a spiel worked out, and while we tried to sell one another's work when applicable, the energy just wasn't there.

Convention Demographic

As I do more cons, I'm becoming more familiar with the sort of people who buy my work.  My biggest customers are girls and young women from the ages of 15-23, and young parents, and I'm used to engaging in a certain type of polite conversation with them.  FWA was almost entirely male (although the Dealer's Den had a lot of women behind tables, and the female to male ratio was slightly higher than in the halls outside), and they were far more interested in what Chris had to offer.  As spooky as it sounds, I think many of them could very easily tell that I was an outsider, and weren't eager to invest in an artist who might not even bother attending another furry con, let alone become part of the community.  This is similar to my first anime con.  I did poorly because I tried to convince myself that those attendees WEREN'T my audience.  As long as I fought it, I saw poor sales, but once I embraced my love of manga and anime, and learned how to appropriately read and engage my audience, I did a lot better.

My sales may have been bad at Furry Weekend Atlanta, but I still enjoyed myself overall.  I was pretty overwhelmed at first, since I don't really care for crowds (of any sort), but I had Alex with me most of the time.  Since I wasn't overbooked with commissions, I actually took time to explore the Dealer's Den and eat meals away from the table, which was nice.  I also only had to stay up working on commissions one night, which was much less stressful for me.  And while I admitted earlier that my engagement level was low, when customers did talk to me, I was very engaged.  No matter the con, I always care about, and love, my customers.

An option I didn't and should have explored was the Artist Alley.  At many furry cons, the Artist Alley is very different from those at anime cons.  The Artist Alley at FWA was first come first serve, half table spots, and all of them were free.  The majority of the artists in the Alley offered quick draw commissions at slightly cheaper rates, or sketchbook commissions, both of which are right up my (artist's) alley.

The Dealer's Den also differed greatly from those at anime cons.  Rather than merchandise purchased in bulk and sold by hired clerks, almost everyone in the Dealer's Den sold merchandise they had designed or made.  I saw several sewing machines utilized to sew custom tails, which I really enjoyed.  It's a lot easier, emotionally, to hear customers complain that they're broke while carrying a brand new fursuit than it is to hear them complain about being broke with a mall katana under one arm.  At least I know the money is going to help another creator, and that's something I can get behind.

Dealer's Den Vs. Artist Alley

Dealer's Den:

  • $50 for a full table, additional cost for electrical access
  • Table is reserved for duration of con
  • Shown on the Dealer's Den map on the Furry Weekend Atlanta website
  • Some leeway in getting your place switched
  • Artists take commissions through out the con, but may fill up early.  
  • Higher prices per items, customers willing to pay it
  • A lot of large item dealers- i.e. fursuits
  • A lot of comics of all types


Artist Alley:

  • Free for a half table, I don't know if there's any electrical access
  • First come first served, not sure if there's a time limit to table occupation
  • Because spots aren't reserved, individual spots are not shown on the map.  You would probably have to let your followers know when you snagged a table via Tumblr or Twitter.
  • Lot of quick draw artists (similar to me in that regard)- mostly simplified commissions
  • Cheaper prices in general
  • Artists had much less on offer than in the Dealer's room, but table space was much more limited
In my limited experience, I found that most artists sold their best sales on Friday at FWA, when attendees sought their favorite artists for badge commissions.  These artists sell out of commission slots fast, so it's best to get there early.  My sales picked up on Saturday, but where nowhere near the sort of sales I would usually see on a Saturday at an anime con.  Chris warned me that Friday was the high point for furry cons, which is the opposite of anime cons.  Usually on Sundays I do a decent clip of sales at anime cons, since families come in, but very few families attended FWA.

General Big Sellers (not including my art)

  • Fursuits
  • Partial fursuits
  • Tails
  • Fleece animal hoodies
  • Illustrated character/fursona badges, usually in color (generally Copics, I was the only artist offering watercolors)
  • Badges illustrated in a particular style or with a particular theme (gotta collect em all!)
  • Commissioned porn (anything on display was censored though, and I didn't exactly go LOOKING)
  • Collars

Overall Sales and Expenses

Total Sales: $113.80

Sales Breakdown
  • Buttons- 9 total
  • Commissions (including badges)- 5 total
  • Stickers- 8 total
  • Charms- 1 total
Dealer's Den Table Cost- $55 total

Pre-Reg Badge- $45 ($55 after pre-reg closes)

Hotel Cost-$139 a night, 3 nights- $208.50 (my share)

Valet Parking- $81 for weekend plus tip

Transportation Cost (took my Jetta, left with a full tank, came back with a quarter)- $130 (I have a diesel Jetta, so my gas mileage is GREAT)

Food Cost-
coffee- $6 a pop, usually 2x a day, 3 days- $36 total
Breakfast- Smoothie at food court, $2 a day, 3 days- $6 total
Lunch- 
Fri- Au Bon Pain (foodcourt)+ Chris's Lunch- $15
Saturday- Meehans Lunch Special + Chris's Lunch -$30
Sunday- skipped breakfast
Dinner- 
Thursday night- Meehans- $30
Friday- Fancy Mexican restaurant- $30
Saturday- Meehans- $30
Sunday- Ikea-$6 (Alex covered us)

Food total: $139

NOTE:  Food costs for Chris and half of transportation and valet parking cost will come out of hotel room total.

Total Cost - $438.50 (ouch!)

Total Profit : $-324.70


Furry Cons Vs. Anime Cons


Furry Cons:


  • Lots of fursuits and partials.  It's like everyone's in cosplay!
  • Artist Alley is free, Dealer's Den is about $50 a table
  • Lots of vertical displays
  • Lots of wiregrids used for display
  • Furries support their artists.
  • Dealer's Den is for popular artists, non popular artists, fursuiters, publishers
  • Furries will buy furry comics
  • Booths are well planned out, nice signage
  • Very little fanart, mostly commissions 
  • Demographic is mostly 20's and up
  • Male skewed demographic
  • Really like custom color badges 
  • Like stickers
  • Come prepared and dedicated, don't just assume you can wing it!


Anime Cons:

  • Many cosplayers won't buy art in the artist alley because they've spent their money on their cosplay+cost of attending con
  • Table cost is usually $100 and up for the Artist Alley, MUCH higher in the Dealer's Room
  • Lots of vertical displays
  • Lots of wiregrids used for display
  • Sales can be hit or miss if you're not offering popular fanart prints at competitive (with Dealer's Room) prices
  • Dealer's Room is for large distributors, extremely popular artists, mass produced items
  • Attendees don't really buy comics at anime cons
  • Booths are well planned out, nice signage
  • Mostly fanart, some commissions
  • Much younger demographic- teens through early twenties at most cons
  • Female skewed demographic
  • Seem to love my $5 chibi sketches (I'm always booked up!~)
  • Like stickers
  • Come prepared and dedicated, don't just assume you can wing it!

Conclusion:


When I agreed to attend Furry Weekend Atlanta with Chris Paulsen, I had been wanting to attend a furry con for awhile.  I plan on writing a book about tabling at conventions in the future, and I knew I'd be remiss if I neglected as important a slice of the pie as anthro cons.  Several of my female friends dabbled in the furry community as con artists, and they had pretty positive experiences, so I had hoped that I would see similiar moderate success.  My experience with furries online was mostly with cute, anime influenced art drawn by female creators, and I had assumed that a fair portion of the population would be teenage girls with a taste for the cute.  This is a demographic I have a lot of experience and success with at anime cons, and I was excited to draw their cute fursonas for them.

Unfortunately, Furry Weekend Atlanta had a serious male skew.  I would say the majority of attendees were males in their mid twenties and up, a demographic I've never really appealed to.  Another part of the problem is that I believe that many of the attendees assumed that Alex and myself were just Chris's assistants, and that he was kindly allowing us some table space.  I've discussed this problem with sharing tables at anime cons before- without clear delineation, attendees assume that the table belongs primarily to one artist, and that by buying one item, they're showing their full support.  Generally at anime cons, Heidi and myself would make it very clear that we are unique artists sharing a table, but I feared that mentioning this would seem rude and presumptious to the furry crowd, so I didn't interject.  At anime cons, I also request that anyone who likes what they see or are interested in my work please take a card, something I hesitated to do at FWA.  I mostly made sure they took a card for Chris, and promoted his webcomic, Precocious, since I figured that was more to the audience's general interest.  I think the fact that our table was listed as "Precocious" on FWA's website map, and the fact that chris had most of the signage drove this misconception home, and I did nothing to amend it.

My biggest mistake was treating Furry Weekend Atlanta like a low key, low risk anime con.  I went to relax, catch up with one of my two 'little sisters', and hang out with Chris.  I hoped to make about $200 in sales (a moderate con for me), just about enough to cover most of my costs.  I didn't prepare for FWA as I would prepare for an anime con- I merely selected existing merchandise that I thought would appeal to that crowd.  I also didn't bring any large signage because I assumed that my Kara-centric signage wouldn't appeal to the general crowd.

I wouldn't say that I didn't enjoy myself, but my 'vacation' was a bit marred by the fact that I was accused of not trying hard enough when I disclosed my sales figure.  Generally when I attend a new type of con, I cut myself a lot of slack and try not to read the minds of customers I've never met.  I take a lot of notes and try to learn as much as possible, without coming off as pushy.  I suppose at the wrong con, this can come off as standoffish, but it seemed pretty clear to me that many of the customers weren't interested in me or what I had to sell, and were very interested in Precocious, Chris's cake blind boxes, and his badges.  I was impressed by his sales and how loyal his fans were, and learned a lot watching him work, and I didn't want to interrupt his conversations or sales pitches.

Furry Weekend Atlanta was an interesting and fun convention that encouraged me to reconsider some of my preconceptions about furry fandom.  If you're interested in attending a Furry Con as an artist, I recommend you spend your first year in the Alley, not the Dealer's room, as you'll need a little less prep and they may not care if you're just fandom dabbling.  If you want to seriously start doing furry conventions, I highly recommend you do your research and do some social media outright beforehand.  Artists who have dabbled in both types of cons successfully for a few years may blow off the amount of preparation necessary for a newcomer to do well at a furry con, so I've tried to include as much information regarding sales as possible to help those interested make the decision that's right for them.

Furry Weekend Atlanta turned out to be a much more expensive con than I had bargained on.  Interested in helping me recoup some of those losses?  Like watching me draw and hearing some witty banter?  Consider buying a commission from me in the Natto-shop and selecting the "Livestream" option.  Commissions are available in a wide variety of price ranges from simple $5 chibi sketches to $50 and up large format watercolor commissions.