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Author Topic: [GenCon] How does the booth red-tape work?  (Read 9638 times)
David Artman

Posts: 570

Designer & Producer

« Reply #15 on: August 23, 2006, 06:40:37 AM »

I'd just like to point out that a few ideas are being clumped together in ways that (a) are not necessary and (b) were not proposed initially (that I have read). To whit:
1) The shanty town need not increase the booth size more than is already being considered for the anticipated 100+ game volume next year. It is merely a different organizing structure, themed a bit to pick up on the "garage, punk, shoestring budget" flavor of our type of indie productions.
2) Coupling individual costs to commitment and product volume levels is not identical to separating everyone into isolated mini booths.
3) Restructuring costs does not necessitate restructuring physical proximity.

In those three "points" lie about eight actual elements, each of which is mostly or entirely independent of the others.

That said, I think there's a lot of merit to James's points about perceived crowding and cluster. But do not, please, lose sight of it being perceived. I do not think it is a necessary truth that a larger booth will not appear "full and eager" or that the booth is a static construct that can't adjust as necessary to tune perceptions.

Even if one merely shifts free-standing curtains around, to close in or open up the area surrounding what the enclose, that can make for intimacy-on-the-fly. Or, abandoning the shanty town notion for more of a "maze" notion, sightlines across the booth space could be occluded by aisles, off-angle shelving, or more curtains/posters/walls. The last GenCon I attended, Wizards had a HUGE central area, with demo tables kicking off every fifteen minutes, with plenty of empty chairs and wide, walkable aisles (I cut through there routinely, to avoid the main aisle traffic). Did it ever seem "desolate" or like folks rattled around in it? Not to me, because the space was carefully divided off and screened, and they were clever about ringing the space with their most popular products, to create the appearance of crowding while interior spaces were all-but-empty.

What I believe would REALLY go wrong with up-sizing the booth is if the space was not fully leveraged or if a large portion of it was "inaccessible" to boothgoers. Every inch of the place should go to either sales, sales support, or demoing. As nice as a lounge area sounds, would it end up being a place demoers congregated when they should be out demoing or pushing for demos? Would sales folks retreat to that space, leaving punters unattended? Would boothgoers treat it like a "free" rest stop, with no interest in the games but only wanting to get off their feet on a comfy chair for a while? Biggest question: who would tell any of those above folks to shift it, and how, and after how long? Ick...

As for storage, I think anything that lets you stack to the sky is key: it would be IDEAL if the at-booth storage area was no more than the size of an upright filing cabinet or two, with restocks of the stock from hotel rooms. I saw that sketch of the booth this year, and I admit (even if not to scale) I was surprised that storage was almost the same size as all sales area. At the price of booth space--plus given how little of a hotel room is actually USED (especially at cons!), it seems a no-brainer to get as much stock into the rooms as can be done. One just has to always have a runner to grab more stock as the storage area runs out/low on a particular product. Conversely, you can, as much as is reasonable--some folks come WAY over prepared for their likely sales volumes--go with an "all stock on theshelves" policy, with a maximum and minimum stock level (say, no fewer than five copies of a product, no more than fifteen). Then, you don't need ANY storage area, but your runner for restock needs to be very watchful for the appearance of those "placeholder" laminate that show what would be on the shelf at that point, if it weren't out of stock.

Or.... hmmm... what if the storage area was one of those way-out, cheap-ass booths, with nothing but a locked cage of stock and directions tot he "main booth?" After all, if the central areas are coveted and valuable, while the edge of arena areas get almost no traffic, then leverage that cost differential and shift the unprofitable contents to the cost-effective space. Just a last second though before Posting.

But all that's practical, and we are still roaming the conceptual spaces, here. Perhaps there are resources or studies somewhere that talk about convention space setup, manipulating perceptions of spaces, traffic flow in crowds, and related stuff that could tell us, point-blank, whether its better to do a central sales area surrounded by demo tables or a central demo area with focused sales areas at each corner, or some maze-like flow-through pattern, or something totally different from what we've so far imagined?

The main elements *I* would like to champion are theming and proximity: what better way to say "we're fun" than the former, and what better way to say "we're BIG and here to STAY" than the latter?

Designer - GLASS, Icehouse Games
Editor - Perfect, Passages

Posts: 3702

« Reply #16 on: August 23, 2006, 06:50:54 AM »

Guys, I'd totally welcome (and join) a discussion of improving the large, central booth.† It should go on a separate thread.

Here and now, I'm trying to gather objective information (not judgments, sorry ... I can make my own judgment, once I have all the facts) about what it takes to make and run a new booth.

Just published: Capes
New Project:  Misery Bubblegum

Posts: 802

« Reply #17 on: August 23, 2006, 09:03:17 AM »


Troy, if you could be specific in terms of your experience, that would be very helpful.

Assume that I can, for instance, do basic arithmetic.† I can figure out how hard it is to pack people into a 10x10 space.† I can calculate roughly (given a specific spread of publishers, their cohorts, group support, the saleability of product and our likely location/traffic during the con) what our odds of making back our investment are, at various levels of investment (corner vs. end-cap being the main division).

If I can do all that, coldly, rationally, and not just on a wish-and-prayer "If we get a booth at GenCon it will all somehow turn out alright!" basis ... what have I overlooked?† You've got experience, I'd love to benefit from it.† What are the other obstacles?

Sorry it took me a while to get back to you on this, Tony.  I wanted to do my best to recall my experience at GenCon and what I learned from it.  Preet much, it went sorta like this.

The Convention

Myself and two other authors of our game came up to Indianapolis on the Wednesday before.  We pulled around the front of the convention and picked up our badges.  That was actually surprisingly easy.  Iíd been an attendee at other conventions and registration was always a pain.  Unfortunately it kinda went down hill from there.

Now let me preface the rest of what Iím about to say with this: we were so very very very lucky that year.  I canít imagine anyone having the same strokes of luck we did.  So anyway, we pull around back in the minivan and the parking lot is packed full.  It is wall to wall people, boxes, and equipment.  So one of my friends and I quickly unload all the stuff we *have* to set up right away while the other guy went and parked at Circle Centre Mall (we hadnít checked into our hotel at this point). 

While one guy stood with the stuff, I started hauling it in to the convention hall by myself.  I was SO grateful to see that our booth was second from the loading gate indoors.  I couldnít believe it.  Some of the other vendors had booths that were clear on the other side of the hall.  They had to lug their stuff all over the place, which is really tough.  Iím sure youíve been there during set up time.  Thereís carts and rolls of carpet and dollies and all kinds of stuff just left out in the aisles.  It can be a super big pain to wheel a cart all by yourself through that maze of junk.

After I get half the stuff inside and under the table, the third guy with me shows up.  We finish carrying it inside and work on setting up our booth.  Itís hot in there.  Real hot, and all that carrying caused one of my friends to have an asthma attack.  We got him to a cool place and let him rest while the other two of us finished the job. 

Instead of renting a table and chairs from GenCon we brought out own.  It was a nice big card table with padded seats.  We also brought a book case and picture stands for our books.  That was important and Iíll state why later.

Then the first day of the convention came around.  Guess who we were next to.  The Forge Booth!  It was such a crazy stroke of luck.  Having our independent booth right next to ďTHEĒ independent booth was so fortunate.  We talked to Ron, Jake, Jared, Matt, Mike Miller, and a few others.  Ron gave us a few pointers then the conventioneers were let in.

The first day wasnít too bad I guess.  After the first few pitches and demos were done, the jitters went away.  Jake would check in on us once every couple hours when he wasnít busy. By the end of the day, we had sold six books total I think.  Our goal was ten.  The traffic in our area was decent.  We had the Forge booth close.  Our other neighbor was a Magic The Gathering booth which had the new 8th edition cards and was selling a whole mess of moxes and Type II power cards.  Behind us was a soft porn trading card booth with scantily clad ladies shilling their game.  So really, we ended up with a decent spot.

Friday and Saturday were horrendous.  The lines to get in were huge!  By the time people got into the convention hall they were in no mood to listen to us pitch our game let alone spend time playing a demo.  We actually did decent business, IMO, but being a non-corner booth really hurt our visibility.

Sunday our area was a ghost town.  We probably sold 3 books that day, one to Ron.  We were wiped out tired, the convention goers were tired, and traffic is always light on the last day anyhow.  So how did we do?  We sold 32 books at $25 each.  Iíd ay about six or seven of those, though, were sold at half price to guys who owned stores and were looking for new stock.  Still, thatís awesome by Forge Booth standards.  But you know what, it really wasnít.

The Aftermath

After the convention we took a look at things. 

First: The Money.  It cost us about $900 for the booth plus $60 for the extra badge.  We grossed around $700 from our products (two books).  Now granted, our product really wasnít all that great, so sales of something like Burning Wheel, Capes, or Dogs in the Vineyard would probably get better results.  Still, 32 in 4 days isnít bad.  But it still didnít cover the cost of the booth.  Nor did it cover the cost of our hotel stay, food, promotional items and so on.  However, if we had bought into the Forge booth, think about how far ahead we would have been paying only like $100 to get in.

Second: The Promotion.  We handed out stacks of bookmarks w/ our company info on them to about seven different booths at the convention including the Forge Booth.  Of course we reciprocated and took fliers and whatnot from other booths and handed them out.  The only booth that ever got mentioned to us as handing out a book mark and talking about us was the Forge Booth.  I didnít mind giving out the bookmarks or cross-promoting with other booths, but it didnít seem like it was all that fruitful.

Third: The Set-up.  Setting up the booth actually wasnít too bad.  We got there at a decent hour and were very close to the loading bay.  We got real lucky with that.  Other first time boothers I talked to had to drag their stuff halfway across the hall.  And in the summer heat of Indianapolis, thatís no fun.

Fourth: The Booth.  Our booth had several things going for it.  Proximity to the Forge booth, proximity to a good MtG vendor, proximity to a booth full of half-naked women all played in our favor.  Plus, the huge Upper Deck booth was within sight.  Besides location, our booth caught attendeesí eye.  We had a huge poster promoting our game on an easel.  It had what the game was about, price, and an offer for a demo.  We had a really cool bookcase in the back.  Having our games stacked on the shelves really looked professional and we got a lot of compliments on it.  Also one of the artists for out books did some sweet drawings of weapons based on reenacting arms.  It attracted a lot of SCA types.  Lastly, we had a guy who was fluent in Korean with us.  He made a bunch of signs in Korean for out booth and that attracted all kinds of people.  Iíd attribute eight sales to that alone. 

Fifth: The Product.  Iíll shoot strait with ya.  Our game was a good example of a Fantasy Heartbreaker.  It was obvious after the con that we needed to do more for the game.  However, selling the product at $25 was probably a good idea.  If it were a few dollars less I doubt we would have increased sales an appreciable degree.  Our goal of 40 wasnít met, but looking back years later now, 32 wasnít bad.  It just wasnít enough.

So what can you learn from this?  Hereís my honest advice:

- Get there early to set up, if youíre far away from the loading dock it will take a long time

- Plan on losing money.  It is very, very difficult to break even.

- 3 guys max at the booth at one time.  It is so cramped that you canít get anything done with more people present.

- You can really only give one demo at a time.  Thereís just not room for any more.

- Develop a good pitch.  Demoing your game takes time away from talking to other customers.  A 10x10 booth is not demo friendly.

- Have lots of attention grabbing items at your booth.  You will not be on a corner or a main aisle.  The people who find your booth are back there looking for something other than you.  You have to make them notice you.

- Bring your own table.  Renting is just another added expense.

- Cross-promoting is good, but donít count on it from more than a handful of sales.

- Work as much as you can.  Every minute you spend cruising the con looking for games or checking out Indianapolis is a minute you arenít selling any games.

- Have a good product.

- Prepare to be completely exhausted every night.  I mean, more exhausted than you are working the Forge booth now.  Itís extremely hectic running your own booth.  Eat well and get plenty of sleep.

- I donít know if this is still the case, but every third person who came to our booth was either an artist or store owner who was not interested in our product but in getting us interested in theirs.  Be prepared for a third to half your pitches and demo invitations to be a waste of time.

- I want to say bring only one or two products.  But I canít say for sure.  But we had two and it was difficult to do them both justice.  We finally just had to concentrate on one and then mention the other in passing.  My experience says bring only one or two, but other people might have different results.

- Finally, donít expect to replicate John Wickís success.  That was my biggest problem.  I figured if he could do it, so could I.  John has built himself in to such a huge brand.  There are all kinds of people who follow him from his days with L5R and 7th Sea.  There is no way any of us can have the kind of draw he does.

So anyway, thatís my experience and what Iíve learned.  I donít want to sound too negative, but the blunt truth is that itís very hard if not impossible to make a profit running a solo booth at GenCon.  This is why I tend to discourage it and offer the best piece of advice I can: ďIf at all possible, buy into the Forge Booth.Ē



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