Con Survival Guide, Post #15: Dealer Interactions
Stick to the Plan
Dealers at science fiction and other related conventions are a different breed from other entrepreneurs I have known. They vary from the convention goer who treats his table as a glorified flea market or garage sale to the obsessively focused businessman, with most falling somewhere in the middle. An awful lot of convention dealers resemble nothing more or less than characters out of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. If you have not seen the British mini-series, I highly recommend it. There is also a book, but this is one of the few cases where I recommend the video first. They’re both good. They’re both different. The video came first. The book has more background and is a little different. It is, nevertheless, the video that will truly speak to you in my opinion. The Floating Market from Neverwhere is kind of like a very well lit Dealer’s Room, and a certain comic book dealer friend of mine, when this is discussed, always comes up before I can mention him. Everyone agrees that he’s like a cross between Old Bailey and the Marquis De Carabas.
I don’t think the average con-goer actually thinks about the dealers themselves so much as the actual Dealer’s Room, with all of its glittering trinkets from alien worlds and mystic realms. Unfortunately, theft has become an occasional problem at conventions, particularly Anime conventions. This goes against the unspoken community code that many of the noobs are unaware of. Dealers are an integral part of the convention scene, and these people travel long distances and pay money to set up and sell their wares. Stealing from them can mean the difference between them making and losing money, and whether or not they will ever come back to the convention. With just the wrong timing, it can cause a dealer to go under entirely or quit the convention scene because it’s not worth it. Certainly, for those odd people who go to conventions entirely for the Dealer’s Room, this is a disaster, but it is harmful to the rest of us as well. Dealer doesn’t go to the convention, convention doesn’t get dealer fees, convention loses money. Voila, no convention. So, whether you are an old-time convention goer or a newbie, it’s in your best interest to make sure your friends don’t steal and to turn in people you see stealing from dealers.
When you work conventions as a dealer, you quickly learn that there is a rather tight-knit dealer community. You quickly learn which people are nice, which people are jerks, and which people will always ask, “You’ll owe me a favor? What kind of favor?” Dealers talk to each other. They know more about who is selling knock-off crap and who is selling a good quality product, and they know which conventions make them money and which ones don’t. A convention that treats its dealers poorly will find that the word gets around very quickly. And, yes, dealers barter with each other. But I will not reveal all of their secrets. It’s a guild thing—I hope you understand.
The best dealers are ones like Aardvark Tees, who concentrate on one job and doing it well without ever losing sight of The Plan. Most of their t-shirts are original (at least until other people copy them,) they do a quality print job that doesn’t fade when you wash your clothes, they are nice and friendly, and have been known to leave me feeling like I should have paid them more on occasion. They use all of their booth space without any elaborate outlay for displays, they do not look like a cluttered flea market junk booth or an alien Zen garden consisting of a table with three items on it and a missing salesman. On top of that, they have built their reputation over generations. Some people have booths that just consist of items they have bought elsewhere that they are retailing to you, and that is good because it allows a variety of items that would not be otherwise available. Other small businesses like Aardvark Tees actually make the majority of their products, and there are people like Wolfhome Adventuring Outfitters who do a little of both.
There are a lot of good guys out there. J & J won’t sell you a knife or sword unless it’s good quality, and you know which end to point in which direction. Wes won’t let you get away from him after buying a comic book without telling you a story that’s probably better than the comic book, or at least funnier. Dave Cain Jewelry is one of the top five chainmail jewelry makers in the world, but he doesn’t charge you like he’s one of the top guys in the world, and he guarantees his work. There are many others, and of course the landscape is constantly changing, and varies from convention to convention all over the country. There are people who aren’t good, don’t stand behind what they do, and are jerks. Fortunately, most of those don’t last very long.
So I keep talking about remembering The Plan. What is Remembering the Plan, you may ask? Well, I’m glad I put words in your mouth, and I hope you are, too. The Plan is to go to a convention and have fun. That’s what they’re there for. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a guest, a dealer, an attendee, or even a staff member. You’re there to enjoy the convention. If you’re not a paying member, but one of these other things, then you’ve gone to a great deal of effort to get yourself to a convention in a way that you can afford. If, along the way, you forget why you are at the convention, and why we’re all at the convention, spending coveted time around people where you can use your entire vocabulary, and if people don’t know what you’re talking about they are very likely to be interested in hearing about it and becoming converts to your favorite show, and, frankly, even if they make fun of your favorite show, book or whatever, they are unlikely to make fun of you. If they do without huge provocation, then they don’t deserve to call themselves Fans, Otaku, or a part of Fandom. They are just not a Fan. They might be an air conditioner, but most likely they are a sump pump. But definitely not a Fan.
Personally, I had not heard of calling it, or defining it as, Stick to the Plan until the last convention I was at where the artist Rick Jackson introduced me to it and gave me a badge that said it, but certainly I’ve been talking about this aspect of Fandom for many years.
So in conclusion, remember that while they are trying to make a living, dealers are not just human beings also, they are Fans. They help make the convention scene work. So have fun and, until next time, Remember The Plan.
Copyright © 2013 Julian Thomas Reid III