Research Results: Everything You Need for Artist Alley

I recently applied to vend at Chromacon in Auckland [update: I got in! Yay!], so as my first step of preparation (here’s the rest of my road map) I decided to compile a list of things I’d need to take, to see what would be involved and put myself in the mindset of going. This involved my favourite thing: Diving down the rabbit hole, watching a lot of videos and reading articles so I don’t miss anything obvious and leave myself open to misfortune through lack of foresight. Here’s what I found out.

Merchandise and related items

  • All the items you’re bringing to sell
  • Packaging (ideally pre-applied)
    • prints: clear plastic or paper sleeves, backing board
    • other items: branded paper bags, card tags, plastic baggies… really depends on the item, but clear packaging and/or clear branding is free advertising if a customer doesn’t have a bag
  • Storage and organisation (select as appropriate for your items)
    • stackable plastic boxes for transport
    • labelled manilla or L-shaped folders
    • stackable office inbox trays for organisation at the con
    • tackle boxes or Tupperware for small items
    • zip-lock bags
  • Branding and promotion
    • Business cards + stand/holder
    • Portfolio book (preferably multiple so more than one person can look through, depending on available space.)
    • Commission order forms (if applicable)
      • makes the order process so much easier. Ask questions and fill this out yourself rather than handing it over. Make sure to mark if/when they paid.

Booth presentation and decoration

How you decorate your booth is down to personal taste, but there are a few best practices. Have samples nicely presented in a vertical manner so they’re easily seen from a distance, instead of spreading it out on the table. Keep your stock neatly organised where you can easily access it, under the table or behind you. Have signage and prices easily visible to avoid needless questions. So on the checklist goes:

  • Signage
    • Better to display this above you rather than on the front of your table, since it will be invisible once people are standing in front of your booth (as they should be!)
  • A way to display your wares vertically
    • stands
    • racks, static or rotating
    • cork boards
  • Structure/scaffolding for mounting signage and print samples (if no wall area is provided)
  • Price stickers (large, on or next to the things they relate to)
  • Table cloth
    • a sheet or throw blanket will also do, just something to cover the bare table surface
  • Decoration and fluff
  • Comfy seat cushion – you’ll be glad you did

Finance-related items

You worked hard for those dollars, keep them safe! You also want to be able to take people’s money when they offer it to you, however that may be.

  • A way of storing and organising monies
    • Lock-box
      • Pros: Very durable, can have different compartments for different denominations
      • Cons: Easy to carry off if you leave it unattended. Always leave it behind/under your table out of sight!
    • Fanny pack
      • Pros: Always with you
      • Cons: Easily pick-pocketed in a dense crowd, looks a little silly
    • Money apron
      • Pros: Looks cute and/or professional
      • Cons: Still easily pick-pocketed. Potential solution: turn it inside out before venturing out
    • Fishing/tactical vest
      • Pros: no-one will know it’s actually full of money
      • Cons: May attract strange looks to your Rapala Pro Fishing / gun “enthusiast” cosplay. +Too many pockets?
  • At least NZ$150 / US$100 in change. Expect to change large denominations early in the day as people break their notes.
  • Square/Stripe/etc card reading device
    • Plugs into your phone and allows you to take extra sales. Better to have than not – a Square reader is free. Do your research and find the best device for you.
      • Extra business opportunity: take much more change and offer a cash out service for a flat fee.
  • Some way of noting sales and making receipts
    • Recommended: an inventory list you cross off as you go
  • NOT recommended: EFTPOS machine
    • rental rates for mobile EFTPOS machines run in the hundreds of dollars just for a weekend. Depends on the event but you’d have to make a lot of EFTPOS-only sales to make this worth it, especially when compared to a card reader that works with VISA/MasterCard debit.

Supplies box

You never know when you’re going to need to tape things together or patch a cut on your hand. Better to have these useful things with you, than run around asking other busy vendors if they can lend you stuff.

  • Tape – duct, masking and regular
  • Scissors
  • Wall pins/tacks
  • Stapler
  • Art supplies, for slow times or on-scene commissions
  • Pen and paper for note-taking
  • Sharpie for signing things, and making impromptu signage. See also:
  • Post-it notes
  • Blue-tack
  • Hand sanitizer (leave this out so you remember to use it)
  • Tissues
  • Band-aids
  • A bin bag
  • Something to keep everything in

And remember the old marine adage: 2 is 1, one is none, i.e. always have backups. You drop your pen and some punter knocks it down the hall under a vending machine, now where are you? Penless, that’s where. If only you had thought to bring two, you weep. Prevent penlessness with proper prior preparation!

A friend

Substitute Partner or Minion for your situation. You can go without one, but having someone around to help make the experience a lot less stressful.
They can:

  • Help carry things
  • Provide emotional support
  • Watch your table during toilet and food breaks
  • Engage and help customers if you’re already occupied
  • Chat during the slow times. Just make sure you’re focused on your customers, you’ve got a job to do after all.

Consider compensating them for their time by throwing some money their way. A percentage of profit (maybe 10%?) is a good extra incentive to help you do well, and can work out really well for everyone especially if they’re a natural people person. On the other hand a flat rate is a known quantity so no-one is disappointed. You know your relationship and what they’re like, pick something appropriate.

And that’s everything

Thanks for reading and hopefully this has been helpful to you. I know I’ll be referring back to this list often. Stay tuned for more Research Results, and future checkpoints as I continue to walk the Road to Chromacon. And if there’s anything I missed, feel free to let me know!

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