I need a break from the mortuary business, so rather than a "post-mortem" as I've been terming these articles, here are some general observations I made while exhibiting at Phoenix Comicon 2015!
First, of course, the money. Our single booth made roughly as much money during the weekend as our store did, which is saying something. It was like having double the store for four days. So as you might imagine, I am very happy about that. Because we were local, we had the luxury of replenishing convention stock every night based on what sold and what we still had at the DSGCW in Gilbert. Some things sold out and there was nothing for it. In most other cases we were able to keep availability high.
We built a simple booth with plastic take-apart shelving behind us, tables in front of us, and that's about it. It was utilitarian to the extreme. In retrospect I would like to have run some tall piping with a more impressive vinyl sign hanging from it, but aside from that, I think we mostly did what we could with what we knew.
Of course, we learned new things. One thing I realized very quickly in was that our convention business has already grown to the point that we can justify a second space and thus a double-sized booth. If we are offered that for 2016, we are buying it. Many multi-spot booths we saw had elaborate "inside stores" constructed of gridwall and zip-ties, as I am fond of doing to build fixtures here in the shop. However, I think the best and most functional booths I saw from a sales perspective were ones like our neighbor Samurai Comics built: Gridwall pillars at the corners, tables running the perimeter, and shelving behind the staff to display higher-priced items. It's light, airy, open, and approachable. It requires no additional staff to watch an exterior wall to deter shoplifting.
Here are some product mix observations I had. Naturally, anyone reading this will now gain some advantage by having the freedom to do the same things. However, I'm not concerned about that. I learn a lot from the freely given advice of more experienced store owners. I am happy to pay it forward. When we all get better, we all learn to compete at an even higher level.
I dropped the ball on top-loaders. Yes, top-loaders of various sizes. They were the hit of the show from what we saw, since a double booth right around the corner from us sold nothing else, at something like an 85% markup from wholesale, and was slammed. We have perfect sourcing on that kind of thing and could easily have killed that category, assuming of course that we had room in the booth to feature such wares, which next year we certainly will.
I did NOT drop the ball on coin-op. Our CardZillion quarter-operated card dispensers, one loaded with Pokemon and one loaded with Magic common foils, both did so much business they jammed with quarters and had to be emptied multiple times. We could have made a killing with our coin-op candy machine, but we were not permitted to bring it in, as the food vendor for the con was granted an exclusive on concessions. Another local store, Gotham City Comics & Coffee, had a coin-operated acorn dropper full of neat toys and trinkets, and we speculate they also saw good business from it.
We had better than expected sales of X-Wing, Attack Wing, Armada, and Imperial Assault, selling through multiple core sets and many expansions. I suspect this was due to the Phoenix game groups for those titles offering demos and such at the show. I am tremendously grateful for those guys not only growing the player community by teaching, but also sending those newly minted players to us to gear up. I do believe I will be lining those gentlemen up with some special goodies next chance I get, in gratitude for their efforts.
Magic: the Gathering and Pokemon packs sold very well, especially out-of-print Magic, which I hadn't really expected. We sold out of Innistrad packs multiple times at $15 per pack. We thought people might want Conspiracy to draft, but didn't see much movement on it even with a box discount in effect. Maybe next year. Patrick wheeled and dealt in singles all day long and ended the con with a decimated remnant of a singles binder that had started the event bulging with value. All we had to show for it was, you know, thousands of dollars in cash.
Our Comic and Media Specialist, Dustin, hit it out of the park for us. This was not his first rodeo. He avoided all the bad practices we saw at multiple tables at the con: ultra-high priced books with little hope of selling, dense stacks of back-issues that aren't approachable or browseable, books spread across tables in a horrible use of space as far as dollars per square foot of merch, and so on. Dustin instead brought a small group of longboxes and some special bundles he built himself. The bundles were such like: Convergence #1-#8. Serenity Leaves on the Wind #1-#6 (complete run). Avengers Axis complete run. Joker Endgame #X-#Y, ending with the issue right before Convergence. Variant batches of the Marvel Star Wars titles. And so on. His longboxes were batches of recent issues of hot and accessible titles, and then he had a couple of discount boxes of things we had overstocked. Finally, he had a stack of modest chase titles, books in the $50-$90 range, including a 3-D Deadpool variant. Anyone interested in our comics had a very easy shopping experience and could get pointers or guidance right from the expert. And for people who wanted to get entire story arcs in one shot, we were ready. We sell those bundles in-store too, of course, but I was not expecting them to be so perfect for convention offerings.
We stayed away from bringing in cumbersome merchandise that we thought might already be abundantly represented at the show, such as apparel, trade paperbacks, toys and statues, and the like. You can't prove a negative so I have no idea whether we lost sales on that compared to the burden of featuring those wares, but I did note that many, many other vendors at the show had that stuff available in great quantities. There were far more sellers of Harley Quinn tees than there were sellers of Dragons of Tarkir fat packs. And I suspect that's why we had such an easy time selling what we did bring -- it fed demand against a limited overall supply.
Our "portable kit" -- the traveling gear we have for the pure purpose of setting up shop remotely -- performed reasonably, but it became clear that we have more items to gather, in particular electrical equipment and a better cash box. This is something we will have many chances to refine before the Game Expo in August, Saboten Con in September, the PCC Fan Fest in December (assuming we're actually invited this year -- last year we were excluded because they thought we were not a comic store but only a game store) and then Amazing Arizona Comic Con in January, before wrapping right back around to PCC again. We also tend to show up lately for small school festivals and the like, which further justifies investment in a robust traveling kit. When you have the booth setup, operations, and teardown nailed cold, you get to spend the time connecting with customers, which is the point of being there in the first place.