Convention Organizing 101 – The Vendors

vendors feature

This is part three of our Convention Organizing series of articles.

The vendors have paid for space and are there to sell items and (hopefully) make a profit. If you don’t treat them nicely and make things easy and affordable for them, then they probably won’t return. If they don’t return, then you might be hard-pressed to fill your vendor spots next year.

Vendors talk to each other; if something goes wrong, then the odds are pretty good that everyone will know, which means more vendors will steer clear of your event next year.

Remember that your vendors are also your patrons, so everything you provide for patrons is also for them, as many of them will try to get to the convention floor at least once.

Your average vendor isn’t hard to please, they just want to be able to go and sell their wares with minimal hassle, and at the very least break even.

These are just a few things that vendors like to see:

Clear contract – This is one factor that can not be stressed enough. You need a very clear contract that lays out expectations on both sides. This is a binding document that protects both sides. The specific details of the contract are up to you, but a few key points to keep in mind are:

  1. Cost and size of booth, including height restrictions and any material/wall restrictions
  2. Local tax requirements
  3. Local insurance requirements
  4. Location of booth (often this is decided after all booths have been purchased)
  5. What the vendor plans to sell
  6. What is banned for sale (i.e. weapons, sex toys, bootleg, nudity, etc.)
  7. Penalty for term violations
  8. Load in/load out time and capabilities (ramp, freight elevator, dollies, lifts, etc.)
  9. What you provide (table size, amount of chairs, draping, etc.)
  10. How many passes are included with the booth
  11. Advertising restrictions (strobe lights, barkers, music, etc.)

Clear map layout – Provide a detailed layout to each of the vendors, so they can easily locate their booth. Also highlight on the map where load in/load out is. The booth layout isn’t usually available until you’ve done your final arrangement, but send it out as soon as possible.

Parking – If you don’t provide parking for your vendors, at least point them in the direction of affordable parking and let them know the cost, including overnight and trailer costs.

Lodgings – If you can get your vendors a discount deal at a local hotel, they will be grateful.

Load in/load out – Many vendors will decide whether to vend a particular convention just based on the ease of loading and unloading their merchandise. If it’s too big of a headache for them, then they won’t go. If you can provide personnel that will assist with unloading and loading their vehicles, that will greatly improve their opinion of the load time. If loading/unloading assistance costs extra, be sure to state it. If it is a requirement that they MUST use the convention staff for loading, unloading, and setup, ensure that the vendors are well-aware.

Security – Nobody wants their stuff stolen, it’s a profit loss and feels like a personal violation. If the convention is over multiple days, then vendors are forced to leave their stuff at the booths. Are you providing security overnight for it? Who else has access to the vendor room? Are there cameras? Do the cameras actually work and is the video legible?

Breaks/food access – If a vendor needs to use the bathroom or grab food, they must leave their booth. For larger vendors, this is fine as they frequently have multiple people manning their booth. For small vendors, food and bathroom breaks can be a problem. A small vendor must rely on the kindness of their neighbors as they make a mad dash across the hall to stand in a half-hour bathroom line. I feel sorry for any of them that decide to grab food. These necessity breaks mean that they are losing sales and possibly having merchandise lifted while they are gone. As a con organizer, you can provide a runner to deliver food, or to even provide one or two scheduled “potty break” coverages. To avoid the vendors being gone too long on their breaks, let them use the same bathroom as the one you put aside for your guests (if you gave them a separate one, that is). As for food, why not have someone with a cart walk the aisles selling various portable food stuffs? Just make sure that you have some healthy options on there.

Copyright violations – This is a tricky field to negotiate. You don’t necessarily know what each vendor has licensed to sell, but you can be on the look out for obvious bootlegs. If a vendor is selling copies of Star Wars Christmas, Song of the South or obscure pilot episodes on DVD, then they are a bootlegger. Don’t accommodate them. If someone points out that a particular vendor is selling bootlegs or unlicensed product (and can prove it), then get them off your floor. It is not always DVDs, it can happen with a huge variety of products. A few years ago, one vendor was selling body pillows with images of cosplayers on them, however none of the cosplayers had consented to it…this was a violation.

Summary

This is just a basic overview of some of the things a convention organizer needs to consider for their vendors. Not everything applies to every convention, they all have their own unique set of circumstances.

To find out more about setting up a convention, check out our handy page on Convention Running 101.

And just to reiterate our point – These are in no way the definitive be all and end all rules for a convention. They are only a guideline…a place to start.

They don’t apply to all conventions, and not every convention is big enough or capable of dealing with some of the things we discuss, but it doesn’t hurt to keep some of them in mind.

If you have your own additions to this, please put them in the comments.

Disclaimer:
I do not run conventions, I have not run conventions, and I have no plans to run a convention. I’ve seen how much work they are.

These articles are based off my own experience, those of vendors, agents, artists, volunteers, and several convention organizers I have spoken to over the last several years.