Selling at a Con
With the addition of the CBSI Local G+ Community, I thought that this article would be prudent to write for anyone else selling books. The Local community focuses on not only doing meet ups, but also setting up parking lot style comic sales. In this article I cover: preparation, building a comic wall, selecting books for a wall and placement. I also talk about booth layout/setup, selling books/customer service, and finally tackling the last day of a con.
I have lived by the motto of Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. With this being said, preparation is the most important of all the following topics. When you sell at a con and are not prepared, expect nothing less than a hectic day. Even if the con is across the street from your house, anything left behind can hurt your sales. For example, not bringing a Paypal Swipe to take credit card transactions can derail a huge part of your sales. PayPal offers these free when you upgrade to a business account.
The most time consuming task of preparing to sell at a con is cataloging and pricing books. If you don’t do this when you buy your books (like so many of us), or buy bulk comics, this can take hours to days. When pricing books I usually use ebay sold values, and then take an additional 13% off if possible. This is an example of a grid I’ve used in the past. (Author's Note: I would add a column for grade).
As you can see from the chart above, some books can make profits, while others take losses. I think this is crucial for a successful con, and I always put round figures. Carrying around quarters and dimes just isn’t worth it. I would recommend getting a cash box from Walmart as well. If you use this formula I guarantee you will be the most competitive booth at a con, and customers will notice. I usually print this grid out and put it in my back pocket so I know how much wiggle room I have when negotiating with a customer. I cover more on negotiating in a bit.
The easier task of preparation is putting labels on your books. Some people use a circle dot sticker and hand write prices. This is okay for comics in boxes, but I wouldn’t recommend this for wall books. Using stickers is the cheapest option, but depending on your handwriting, and customer's interpretation, it can slow things down when your booth gets busy. This can cause customer and checkout confusion when trying to come up with a total, and affect customer satisfaction for your booth/brand next year. Below are some different types of successful labels we have seen at cons.
As you can see these two labels have very different features. The first picture just shows my initials and the amount of money in very clear manner. Initials help if you are sharing your booth with anyone else and take a bathroom break, or combine certain books into one box together. The second label will cost a little more money out of pocket, and require a barcode scanner like the guys from Comic Collateral have for tracking their inventory. If you have a lot of inventory, around 50 long boxes, I would go with the second option.
The positioning of labels is also very important, especially when it comes to the wall. Some helpful tips for the positioning is to put your stickers on the corners of books, but not over the issue number. Also, as a lesson that I learned is never put your tags on the back of the comics. You will get tired real fast of having to flip every book to show customers pricing. A good rule of thumb for wall books is to put some comics on a couch and stand 8-10 ft away. If you can read the price and label from there you should be set. This also gives you an idea of what customers will see from the other side of your booth.
So now that we have the two big challenges out of the way when it comes to preparing for a comic con, the lesser stress things are pretty easy to do and should only take a couple of days. First is re-bagging and boarding old comics, and removing old price stickers. I know most people won’t look at, or even just pass over vendors that do not have any bags/boards on their dollar bin comics. As a seller, choosing to, or not to bag/board is a cost tactic for dollar bin comics. A bag and board cost around $0.75, which if you are already selling your comics for a dollar doesn’t make room for a profit. But every decision comes with opportunity in the form of presentation. It looks more professional and full of effort to a customer if you put your comics in bags and boards. It could also lead to a bigger sale if they are happy with what they see.
Secondly are some other basic staples to bring to a comic con. In no particular order:
Paypal Swipe – This is free, but requires you to upgrade your PayPal to a business account. The only thing that changes is the layout when you log on, there is no yearly fee. Additionally to the regular PayPal app, you will need to download from the Play Store (Google) or the App Store (Apple) ‘Paypal Here’ to sync the reader on your phone. This will be mailed to you when you sign up.
Cash: I usually take $200 of cash in the forms of $10 $5 and $1 to make change for customers. This is the most important thing besides your books themselves. Running to an ATM every 10 minutes (if you can even find one) trying to get change can easily ruin your day.
Two-Wheel Cart: I usually bring one to stack all your comic boxes on a cart and haul them into the booth.
Banner or signage for your booth: A well laid out sign can be the difference between customers stopping to look, or walking right one by. A sign, business cards, and even bags will increase brand identity and make you recognizable to customers who want to come back to your booth as well. You can draw additional business by letting customers know you accept credit cards with another sign. The PayPal Swipe comes with one small sticker you could use. Get creative and you’ll make moving your books that much easier.
Third are a few optional Items:
Price Guide for Comics and Comic Grading Book – When we go to Indianapolis for Comic Con these are the two books I always bring with me. We had a customer trying to unload Deadpool comics to me last year and I used these two books for reference and grading help. With cell signals not always being the best, reference guides can be a lifesaver
Checkout Bags for Comics – 99% of vendors either have you to take your comics raw from their booth, or ask if you want a grocery bag. It works, but last year Forgotten 5 Comics invested in custom logo bags with each fitting about 10 books inside. At about $50 for 1,000 bags we not only provided a service for customers juggling books, but got our brand and website out there. We learned from the previous year that it’s awkward as a salesman when someone ask for a bag and you don’t have any. Last year we even had a vendor come ask us for a stack of our bags and there’s no better feeling than having another vendor do some free advertising at your benefit. If you don’t have your own website, reach out and we can set you up with some CBSI business cards. (however you want to say that, if at all)
Office supplies: Pens, Paper, Sharpies, Calculator, Lockable Money Box, Zipper wallet for cash if need be, tape; both scotch and packing, scissors/knife, counterfeit bill marker, and black light (for detecting restoration on books). I usually just buy a small plastic tote and throw all this stuff in there.
The fourth thing you can do to prep for a con is also optional, but it is building a wall. If you’ve ever seen a convention you already know there are many variations on setting these up. Below are two ways I found by searching Google. What is a comic wall? My definition of a comic wall is a structure of some sort, big or small, where a vendor can show off their best books to anyone walking past their booth. These spaces on the wall are usually reserved for high grade keys, or popular character books.
I have no experience building this type of wall but it is one way to do it and is pretty common. The Wire Shelves in my opinion are heavy, and my car limits me from carrying 8 foot long racks. I do have the room for 4 ft wire racks so you could do a third middle leg if need be. The following picture is of Jon Z rack at Indy Comic Con 2016.
Hybrid display between both:
This is the rack I actually built for Indy Comic Con last year. It worked surprisingly well and was strong too. I have made some tweaks from the original tutorial if anyone has interest in building one. If you have any questions just comment below and maybe I can help.
When I built this wall it was surprisingly effective, I believe it being off the ground and at eye level was important and made it easy for people to see. Last year we also allowed customers to come up and take a closer look at the wall which helped with sales. When you build a comic wall that customers have to bend over to see it can be uncomfortable. This comic rack cost me around $200 to build start to finish, and I had some help from equipment at work. The footprint (dimensions) of your comic book rack is designed to take up at least space as possible, but still be functional. Space is a premium, but is discussed under booth layout/setup.
Fifthly I would like to talk about book selection and placement on your wall. The books your choose should be the cream of the crop from what you bring, books that customers ask about at every comic con (Batman Adventures 12/New Mutants 98 etc.). Your most appealing books should be at eye level. When customers first come to your booth you want them to be drawn in, and putting popular books where their eyes are drawn is key. This doesn’t mean put every high dollar books at eye level, but rather an appropriate mix of high dollar and cost effective books. Additionally, every book on the wall should be priced. Spending time looking up a price on your phone can eaisly deter a sale. I usually keep a list of books in my head when I glance at other vendors walls to do some quick comparison. For example, Secret Wars Issue #8 (Spiderman in black suit) is usually a $50 book in high grade. When judging another wall I usually look for these books first to know how everything else will probably be priced. I am sure this is how all your customers are looking at your wall too, so if you want to make sales you need to take this into account.
Sixth, is booth space. For people who have been to a comic show, a typical booth space is 10 ft. x 10 ft. To any average person they would say, ‘man that is a lot of space.’ Unfortunately this is not true; with boxes, supplies, tables, and a wall being set up every inch is premium. The layout of your booth could help or hurt business throughout the weekend. As you can see from the picture below, space easily fills up and you don’t want to be so far away from a customer you cannot interact with them, but also not so close that you are invading their personal space. Some people have different designs, but as with everything I would go with whatever is the most ergonomic for you, which can change at every con. Standing on a concrete floor for hours at a time can make for a long day and straining your body just puts you in a bad mood so a well laid out booth can make a world of difference.
So now after everything is setup and the adrenaline/excitement is running. Here is the most crucial step to make all your hard work worth it. SELLING!!! When it comes to selling, you have to break out of your shell and be able to effectively communicate. Sitting in a chair and not interacting with customers is a sure way to guarantee you will not make decent sales. It should be more of a conversation then a business transaction. When you get your first customer, resist the urge of just houning on them right when they walk up to your booth. Have you ever been into a store where the owner hovers over your every move, it just makes you want to leave. Let them dig through your boxes for a couple of minutes. I usually open up a conversation with, “HI, how are you doing? How is the con going for you?” I then follow up with, “If there is anything I can help you with let me know.” If parents are their with kids, I usually talk to kids and ask them what they are interested in. If they say a certain superhero, “Superman, Batman, Spider-man” I usually have a box of dollar comics behind a table that I give away to kids. This is the best tactic, because it shows that you are customer friendly and care about everyone.
So, let's say you have a customer that is ready to make a purchase. First, tell them the price and don’t be offended that they don’t want to pay that price. It is understood that marked prices are usually negotiable at Cons. Everyone always wants to make a deal and this is where that grid I listed at the top of the article comes in handy. The first step is to see how much wiggle room you have on a book. For example, let’s say a book is $100 and the customer says would you take $95. Are you going to let $95 walk away to make an additional $5. It takes a little common sense/business sense, but I am sure everyone gets the feel for on how to negotiate after a few sales.
Making sales is the best feeling in the world, but your job is not done. Marketing is another big component to branch out your booth. We handed everyone who bought a book from us a business cards/pamphlet for our company. Now, not everyone will have a company, but getting a business card named John Doe Comics could lead to more sales or an opportunity to buy more comics from a collector.
Finally I want to touch on the last days of a con. These will be kind of crazy, and it is usually it’s filled with sharks. Sharks are people who see comic vendors not having a great show and take advantage of discounts the last day of cons. Not all comic book vendors want to lug as many comics to their car as they brought in. This is when you will see two things happen: comic book dealers bulk buying from other comic book dealers and comic book dealers setting up discounts of 50% or so to get rid of comics they do not want to take back. Some people like going to the last day of the con because it’s less foot traffic, and if there are some good books left you usually have a decent chance at getting them at a discounted price.
So in conclusion, if you use these tactics to sell at a comic con I think you will have a pretty successful time. Also, you can use these strategies for going to other comic vendors and buying. You will be able to tell who has their comic game up to snuff and who doesn't. I hope this helps, and happy selling.