Table Dynamics: Optimising Your Storefront

tabledynamics

Once in a while it’s good for us creators to stop and reflect on how much we have grown, improved or changed. While I can definitely see a difference between the old Zorphbert & Fred comics I drew back in 2007, I think a bigger change has been how I promote the comic and my presence at comic conventions. From my table set-up, to tweaking my pitch(es), to my confidence level in networking and the pure enjoyment I get out of exhibiting… working comic cons is truly how I have flourished and immersed myself in the webcomic/comic community in ways I never could have online.

Today, I’d like to give you both an evolution, and a breakdown of my table layout at comic cons and other events. The selling and business side to exhibiting at events is something that has intrigued me ever since I started; from what promo “freebies” to hand out, to where to showcase which items on your table, to combo sale ideas and working WITH your neighbors and not in COMPETITION with them. Your table is essentially your storefront. You have to make an instant impression- giving the passerby who may look at your table for 3 seconds a pretty solid idea of the TYPE of product you are selling. Is it mature content? All-ages? Sci-fi or fantasy? A humorous comic, or a long-form adventure? What exactly IS your main brand– your comic/books, or Tshirts? Too little on your table can make you look amateurish or non-committal, but too much can be overwhelming or look scatter-brained. Why do know all this? When you are asked by your neighbors repeatedly about where you purchased your book racks/banner stands/etc, or you are complimented a lot on your table by your peers… you know you must have gotten SOMETHING right! (and if you are wondering about my resources, you can check out THIS article). And, I’ll continue to learn more from others I network with at every convention!

An Evolution of a Comic Con Table

I started exhibiting back in 2010 (I waited way too long). Over these past 3 years I have really grown ….both in my product list and my ability to dress a table as the best storefront it can be. By no means am I “done”, every new convention I find myself tweaking different parts, trying new things. But I think it’s important to share with you my evolution along the way.. if only to make you feel better about your table when just starting out. Your table doesn’t have to look as polished as others when you’re just testing the waters– and most of us don’t have that kind of money to spend all at once! My table is a cumulative effort over 3 years, which you’ll see in the below pictures, and your table will probably look completely different than mine as you find what works better for YOU and YOUR BRAND.

If you want an in-depth recap of my first con experience, there’s THIS way-too-detailed breakdown on my website. Learn from other’s mistakes! (*ahem* mine!)

My first convention, C2E2 in Chicago! If you have something to sell, why are you waiting? Lesson learned: don’t FLY out to your first con if you can avoid it. Be creative if you need to “jerry-rig” a banner stand. Bring duck tape.

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Philly Wizard World 2010: Bright colors and attention to the table dress really help you stand out. Learn to go vertical with some displays. Lesson learned: Using Square to accept credit cards is essential! So is a better way to transport your stuff.

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Baltimore CC 2011: Sometimes finances dictate if you can have a full table or not. Different color tables cloths help separate. Lesson learned: full tables have much more presence, but the earnings are proportional.

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C2E2 2011! Even when you & your partner may have similar brands/content, your personalities may wage war on each other. Try using different rotating pitches so your partner doesn’t kill you. Lesson Learned: work TOGETHER, not as competitors. Share customers.

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Philly Wizard World 2011! Table signage, price signs, and more vertical layouts come in handy. Lesson Learned: Even if you have 2 brands, don’t split your table with different table cloths; it confuses the customer as to which side is yours.

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Allentown Comic Con 2012: Use the smaller local cons to try out new ideas, and really connect with your community. Lesson Learned: If it’s a slow con, network! New friends don’t have to be making similar content either, branch out!

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SPX 2012! Even though you may be used to your own table (and the earnings that come with it), testing pricey conventions you’re unsure about with a few friends is smart. Lesson learned: If customers aren’t buying, work with friends to offer combo deals that still earn a profit! Be flexible!

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Comic Geek Speak Super Show 2013! The latest & greatest! The newest addition is the NEW table banner promoting ME as my brand, instead of my comic/kids book series.

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13-Point Table Breakdown

While I do have a lot of items on my table, I try to be cohesive and organized about how I display my products and brands. Plus, I may retire an item that’s not selling, and try out new items. It’s a constantly rotating and evolving process, one which I accept will be never-ending. So, here’s my table:

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  1. The Table Banner
    From my experience, it seems more con-goers look down at your table banner, before they look at your banner stand(s) behind you. Make sure the important info is listed in a clear & concise manner. Recently, I decided to make my name the over-arching brand, with the 3 sub-brands. I am hoping this A: reduces confusion about who & what my table is promoting, and B: clarifies that, yes, I am the creator and just not some MIA dude’s girlfriend manning the table.
  2. Banner Stands
    Here’s a place to really go bold and bright and show off your artwork! If you are promoting many different projects, it might be best to mimic the table banner, and have your name stand out. If you IMAGE_C6EB6485-B89B-476A-B821-3CBCD082FC33have 1 or just a couple brands you call your own, use images that will be eye catching and give the implication of what kind of demographic you are aiming to attract.
  3. Price Sign
    The more items you have to sell, the more you need a Price Sign. I recently upgraded from a regular printed/laminated/mounted price sign, to a magnetic dry-erase board that I could customize on-the-go. It allows me to alter prices if the crowd isn’t buying, write in new sales and combo-deals, and remove items (printable magnetic sheets I trimmed down) if I sell out.
  4. Book Rack / Book displays
    Going vertical is one of those great StoreFront 101 tips. Customers can see your books from afar, and it gives your titles more presence than a couple piles on your table. Once you have more volumes/issues to sell, it’ll only look better! I saw immediate sale growth with the addition of volume 2; your brand appears more credible if you have a lot of content!
  5. Freebies!IMAGE_E15B746D-72EE-41AA-934B-4D3218C5EF20
    You must must must have freebies to give away. It can be as simple as a business card, or as fancy as a promotional item with your logo on it (if you can afford such things). Even a bowl of candy. People love free stuff. I find bookmarks great– they display a comic strip on the back perfectly, are actually useful, and are great to hand out to kids. If I see a crabby kid, it makes a parent’s day when I give the kid a free bookmark, which shuts them up for at least 5.7 seconds. And then the parent stops at my table, too.
  6. iPad, Slideshow
    If you already have an iPad or maybe a digital frame, use it as a slideshow! Display comics with few words, and awesome artwork. Throw in a promo slide here and there to explain the concept. People also love process details– sketches, inking, maybe a video if you have the capability. Be aware: kids see an iPad and immediately want to touch it. I can’t tell you how many kids will come right up to my table and immediately start pressing buttons, opening apps, playing games.. before their parentsIMAGE_F8DF2BFF-54CA-47CC-BD01-32224B3FE9B6 even have a chance to stop them.
  7. Eye Catchers
    Some items you have may not be big sellers, but they could attract attention that leads to another sale. They are just as important to display as the items that sell a lot! For me, these are my figurines. People love to stop and oogle them, ask me where/how I made them. Conversation-starters are great to showcase!
  8. Low-Priced Options
    This economy is harsh. Sometimes the price IMAGE_22AA776D-462C-4E17-9694-8BCFB9EF357Bof a comic con ticket means con goers have to be really choosey about what they buy. For this reason I like to have some $5 options, like my magnet/button/pendant packs. Plus, though they tie into Z&F by having a “alien” theme, they are universally funny, meaning you don’t have to know of the comic to “get it”. They can sometimes be an “Eye Catcher” as well and lead to me pitching the customer my alien-themed comic, too.
  9. Signage and Cut-outs/Standees
    Mainly used to grab attention and take up empty space, standees and cut-outs are a great investment to really make your characters stand out. I use a lot of signage as well- listing prices near the item itself, displaying the IMAGE_994B600C-D1FE-4FFB-BA96-40EA34BEF9BFage-level for the books, or just labeling what the heck an item is. You need to be as clear and unassuming as possible.
  10. Prints
    Now here’s a great way to earn back the cost of your table. Not only are prints cheap to make & easy to make a ton of profit on (print for .50 cents, charge $10?), but they can be great icebreakers! Just parody or put on spin on your favorite TV show, movie, musician, comic book hero, or even dip into politics if you are brave! The more you enjoy it, the more it’ll show in your work.. and the more you’ll have to bond with a potential customer over! Try displaying them flat on your table, or use tiny magnets on either side to hang them on collapsible display cubes.
  11. TipsIMAGE_F5A5092E-E7CE-4F6A-ABDB-FDB909121DEBThis is a brand new thing I am trying. I never put out a tip jar in the past, but I decided.. why not? People don’t HAVE to tip me. With the recent good fortune of stumbling on a free button maker & supplies, I made a ton of 3″ buttons and give them away for any amount of tip– s0 so it’s still all-profit. Kids love to shove their parents’ dollars in the jar, and everyone seems to love a good button. Key point: most of the buttons are pop-culture and generic jokes, nothing directly related to my brands. Often, people want a button and tip me for it, not the other way around. Essentially it’s a name-your-price button sale. But if you can offer free sketches, or something else for tips, try it out.
  12. Try New Things!IMAGE_875BAD23-188D-4B02-AA8B-C6C33BA5FE49Like I said before, being an artist means never settling, always looking for new ways of doing things. That includes what you can sell at conventions. To the right is a recent failure: custom pendants. Maybe the price point is too high. Maybe the drawing area is too small to warrant a sale. Who knows. It’s another idea I had that didn’t work, but I’ll try again with something else. As a side note, it’s also good to try to work in an item that involves original art, as that’s what most people love about Artist Alley! I think maybe I was just jealous of Chris Flick’s sketchcards that get so much attention.
  13. The stuff BEHIND the table
    From your favorite drawing supplies, to the boxes/bins/tubs/hand carts you lugged your stuff in with, to the essentials like a water bottle, hand sanitizer, protein-packed snacks, your Square/PayPal card reader, and the magical fix-all that is duct tape, make sure you stock up on anything and everything you might need. We have some great articles on what to pack HERE and HERE!

It certainly seems like a lot to pack, and quite expensive to acquire at once, so remember to prioritize what you need NOW, and what can wait. In your first year, your focus should be on networking and learning. Walk around, take it all in, bring a notebook to take notes and write down online resources suggested by others. Once you start earning enough profit to be in the black at the end of the year (eww, boring math!), you’ll be able to allocate your funds towards improved display items and new banners.

Oh yeah, as cheesy as it is….. don’t forget to pack your smile and positive attitude! That’s really what sells the best.

 

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Dawn Griffin creator of Zorphbert and FredDawn Griffin is a self-described “crazy chick”. She likes steak, Cleveland sports, video games and oh yeah, comics. She spent her high school years either playing street ball, pitching, or drawing comics and submitting them to syndicates. Once she –accidentally– discovered the world of webcomics, the syndication route became a pointless hurdle. After all, “Crazy Chicks” do things their *&%$ selves. Dawn is the mastermind behind Zorphbert and Fred, and the illustrator of the Abby’s Adventures kids book series. She can be easily bribed with ice cream.

 

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19 Comments

  1. Wait till this weekend at Awesome Con DC. I have something NEW planned for my sketch cards! I don’t know if it’ll work but I’m gonna try it.

    Also, if I get a chance, I’m going to try to get the clip-on-wire rack as well…

  2. I am new to WebComics and the idea of going to a convention scares me a little.

    Two questions:

    1- Are you going to be at C2E2 this year?

    I will be working in Michigan, but hope to slip away for a few hours if at all possible to check it out.

    2- How much was it to get all that stuff and do you make your money back on it?

    Thanks Dawn for the great article and would love to hear both your answer or anyone else who has thoughts on the cost of “dressing-up” your table.

    • Hi Jason!
      I know at first conventions can seem scary, but if you start small, go to local shows or even sign at a Free Comic Book Day event (coming up soon! call your local store!)… it’ll be an easier way to dip your toe in the water. I started at C2E2 in 2010 and that was a bad idea. Not only was it a huge show, but I had to fly out there and deal with all the travel stress as well. Dumb idea. Though, not an entire waste because that’s where I met Byron, Antoine and Kurt, and that’s how this very site began!
      1. C2E2 is a great show, I highly recommend going as an attendee. I will not be at C2E2 this year, though Byron (another writer here, and of 1977comic.com) will be! Find him and say hello! I can’t justify the flights/hotel expenses this year. Sticking to East Coast shows I can drive to– and I’m pretty lucky to live where I do (Philly), as there’s soooo many over here!
      2. It does cost a lot to get everything I have on/around my table. Like I said, it took 3+ years to gather all this. A lot of it was replacing older, cheaper, options too. But it’s an investment, bit by bit. Start out small.. build on that. You don’t want to spend a fortune on some high-end banner stands and then give up on doing cons after a year. Be sure you want to continue exhibiting before throwing down the big bucks. To start out… maybe a table banner, table cloth to match the banner and/or your logo, freebies to give away, and books (of course BOOKS! don’t bother doing cons until you have books to sell!) More importantly, network!

      ALSO.. keep in mind the best way to SELL your comics is to make your comic the best it can be. No amount of pretty table design will sell a mediocre comic book. These people know a good comic when they see it. Your pitch and personality is far more important than the table design as well, I think. Smile! Be friendly, confident in your product, and remember they are there to meet you, not be bombarded by a salesman.
      Hope that helps. Good luck to you!

  3. I really like all of your signing! They look really nice. I’m going to be going to my first con next month with a table and I appreciate all these tips! I’ve been to a couple of cons as an attendee but never with a table. haha It will definitely be an experience.

    • Thank you Laura! Enjoy the experience, and try to improve something about your table each time. You’ll begin to see no con, or the crowd, is alike.. so be flexible!

  4. Wonderful article, Dawn, and a great boon of information for both first-time convention exhibitors and folks who have been at this for years. So much of what is learned is through trial-and-error, and it seems the best way to optimize sales is to really customize your table layout to match your strengths.

    …of course, a lot of us don’t really learn what those strengths are until we start hitting those tables (and even then it can get pretty unpredictable), so here’s to trying new ideas and keeping professional!

  5. I’m a lowly reader, not an author/exhibitor, but when I recently attended S.P.A.C.E. in Columbus, OH, here are some things I didn’t see in people’s booths, but wished to:

    *Something on your signage saying where you hail from. Because, curiosity.

    *Some little paper tents next to the various books that showed their genre or a couple-word pitch. (“Fantasy”, “Comedy Auto-bio”, “Foodie Erotica”, etc.) Because you can’t judge a book by its cover.

    • definitely some helpful info there, from the OTHER side of the table! Hmmm.. maybe I should see if I can do an interview with a con-goer and have them critique a bunch of tables (with the approval of the artists, of course)
      Thanks Alan!

    • My banner is 6′ x 2.5′ I believe. I kept it 6′ because that’s the smallest width tables are at most events. At the event above, the tables were SUPER big.. 10′ I think!

    • velcro! That way I could detach the banner, if I needed to use another banner (like a straight Webcomic Alliance one!) for a different type of event.
      Chris Flick uses 2 strong magnets on each corner (back to back, banner & tablecloth in between), to hold the banner on the tablecloth.

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