Monday, February 10, 2014

Notes From Behind The Table - TempleCon 14

This weekend Deeply Dapper had a table at TempleCon, a yearly gaming and alternative fashion convention in Warwick, RI. This was a remarkable experience. It was the first time I'd attended a con of this magnitude, especially with such a wide and varied mix of people and interests.

On the surface, it seems an odd mix. Music, steampunk, cyberpunk, board games, arcade gaming, elaborate tabletop sets, card games, authors, designers, artists, performers.... It seems like a dish that sounds better than it turns out, but once you actually experience it, everything gels really nicely into a fabulous mix of corsets and miniatures.

These are a few observations from running a table at the con, in no particular order or format:

 - Leave your judgement and preconceived notions at home. On the surface, this was a Mos Eisley of a con. People in comic-con gear, elaborate steampunk outfits, street clothes, military uniforms and a mix of basement dweller gear. In motion however, as bearded men in hoodies maneuvered their strapped blocks of gaming gear between a woman in a corset and a man dressed in a clockwork top hat, it becomes a thing of beauty. People were unapologetically themselves, regardless of what that was. It was fantastic.

- Being in Huckster Mode for a long four day con is exhausting. I'd planned on staying up late after the vendor room closed - playing games, taking photos and generally rubbing elbows but when that sheet went down on the goods, my eyes started to sag fast. Maybe I need to learn to reign things in a bit. Or just drink more powerful energy drinks.

- TempleCon is constant. For all four days of the con, the large main hall where the bulk of the gaming occurred was occupied by hardcore gamers 24 hours a day.
- It's also HUGE. The vendor's room was a long hall, surrounded by two layers of additional hallways with tables, like a shoppable onion. In addition, they run a "Clockwork Bazaar" where vendors can rent rooms in a certain part of the hotel and run their shops out of the rooms, closing up when they felt like a nap. They ran one large room of free, vintage arcade games, a huge card game room, a free play board game hall, the aisles and hallways surrounding the whole space were packed with tables sporting vendors, shops, playtesting and giant, beautiful, elaborate tabletop gaming setups.

- I've always liked physical gaming better than video games, but I'd never quite realized how amazing some of this is. It's daunting for a noob like me. Some of these setups left me baffled but unaccountably in love with them. We're talking fully 3-dimensional battlegrounds - bridges spanning icy chasms, arenas ringed in lava, scale replicas of battlegrounds... The variety was immense and fascinating.

- As friendly and awesome as everyone is at the con, never interrupt a person playing these games if either is in the middle of a turn. Especially if they are timing anything or holding a tape measure. They get very intense.

- Bring Money. I did not and there were many things I coveted greatly and that was with limited time to shop at all. If I was a normal sized man, the temptation would have been even worse.

- Food prices were about average, but drinks were surprisingly reasonable.
- For some reason, both the main hotel and the axillary overnight hotel didn't figure out until the last day that they needed to put out extra food for breakfast and paper towels in the men's rooms.

- The corset is a varied and beautiful item that can add visual interest to anyone's outfit, male or female.

- Breaking even on your table is difficult when you are selling lower priced items like we do. A lot of the shops selling items in the $20-40 range had an easier time than us at $5-10 each. Makes you work harder, but also consider options to make your shop more varied.

- After this con, and seeing the various ways vendors used the space, we've seriously begun looking into shaking up our setup. Look for ways to draw customers into you.
- I am loud and have a spiel that I recite over and over. Having cool, funny neighbors makes this more of an amusement than an annoyance... I hope.

- When it's slow, use that time to get to know your fellow vendors - the insights gleaned and friendships made are 110% worth the time. Also run to the potty.

- If you can justify the cost, bring a helper, even if it's someone to watch the shop every once in a while when they aren't shopping. They will make your life much easier.

- Play Games! Often at cons like this, new gamemakers will bring their projects to playtest or makers will debut a new prototype to play. Get in on these, not just because they are fun, but because the people creating the game have a real passion and will make it very enjoyable.

- Don't be intimidated. This is a three front one. Costumes - I saw everything from the most casual clothes imaginable to a ten foot fully articulated robot wandering around. And everyone looked awesome. If you want to dress up but feel like you aren't up to snuff, just be confident and you'll own it. On the gaming front... Don't try and dive into an established tournament or anything, but there were a lot of opportunities for a new gamer to find dozens of games to learn and enjoy. (And even more for you to buy and expand on afterwards. hahah)
On the vendor's end of things, it's trickier. When I first signed up for TempleCon I was excited. As the date got closer, schedules and expected attendance was announced, I started to get nervous. This was our third con... ever. And it was just me going to run the table. Then I got there and realized the sheer scale of the place and it got worse. Then I realized that my little universe of my table was immensely manageable, the people I was surrounded by were very cool and the guests were equally so. I started to really enjoy myself instead of being freaked out.

That said, don't be intimidated, but be informed. Know your costs and what you have to do to cover them at minimum. Before the con, we sat down and figured our expenses, both cost of goods and the trip and what we would have to do to cover that. Cons like this aren't cheap, especially when the trip involves 4 nights at a hotel and a 600 mile round trip, food, supplies, etc. You always have more than just the table fees to cover. Remember to factor in things like shopping bags, sales tax, the toothpaste you left at home, etc. Account for these costs in the estimate and in the prices you charge. It's hard to get used to, but it's better to sell less items at a price they are worth than sell twice as many at a price that ends up making you feel cheated at the end of the day.

We covered expenses, but didn't come home with enough money for me to roll around in, sadly, but I had a hugely fun time, did some invaluable networking and friend-making and at the end of the day, left people smelling better than they did before. And that's really what it's all about.

One last note - If stopping to talk to one of the models you'd met earlier in the day, as she stands in line for the fashion show walk-out, just after getting a plate of hot chicken fingers and fries - Ignore the hungry stares of the other models or tell them where you got them indifferently. Don't revert to your Idaho roots and offer one model a piece. All that will remain of your food will be a greasy smear, a lightly chewed knuckle and twelve corsets that are a little tighter than before.
I should note that they were actually very pleasant and friendly and beautiful and you can see my food hiding behind that models fingers in the blurry photo I took while running away - IT'S RIGHT THERE!! :)