By: Elisabeth Stanis, DePaul University animation major ‘20
Working as an entrepreneurial exhibitor at comic and anime conventions is one of the most valuable experiences an artist can have. Having sold art at four separate conventions, I can say with certainty that it’s one of the best ways to not only grow as a creator, but as a businessperson as well. Needless to say, in my tenure as an exhibitor, I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade that are important to reduce your learning curve and maximize your success.
Keep track of your costs
Taking on the responsibility of a booth at a convention or exhibition is no easy feat. Most events ask that you sign up months in advance and require you to pay a table and convention pass fee that can be hundreds of dollars for larger conventions. Keeping track of expenses—such as material fees and sales revenue—is an important part of staying organized and turning a profit. I personally keep track of sales and commissions in a notebook that serves as my ledger; this is where I write down which items are sold and for how much. By keeping track of my expenses, I am able to examine my sales at a later time; specifically, I can assess which items within my inventory were most popular and determine the types of prints I should further invest in.
Research the market
Similarly, an important part of selling to a wide audience in an open and competitive environment, like a convention, is assessing the market. In the months leading up to a convention, I research the likes, dislikes and behaviors of the expected audience, and allow that data to influence the products I offer.
Know your target demographic
There is a delicate balance of selling items for enough money to turn a profit and at a low enough price to attract buyers. Since I gravitate toward a more colorful, cutesy style when creating convention merchandise, I tend to attract younger customers, usually in the 12-18 age demographic. Therefore, I tend to keep my prices lower and more affordable, as most of my buyers do not have a steady income and have only a fixed amount of money to spend. I offset this by investing in small magnets, boxes, and digital art that I can print more copies of later, instead of, for example, devoting a lot of time to creating acrylic paintings or crafting handmade jewelry.
Working at a convention is by no means easy or cheap; however, it can offer valuable experiences and opportunities to test and grow professional skills. Conventions are a must for artists seeking practice in combining art with business. With a city like Chicago as our classroom, there’s always a convention in town providing you with the perfect space to develop your entrepreneurial and artistic skills. Start exploring, your next adventure may be right here in Chicago at an upcoming convention!