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Behind the Counter

Light at the End of the Convention Tunnel

by Marcus King
Nov 15,2004

 

Light at the End of the Convention Tunnel

This past year my retail store has grown a lot. New partner, new employees, new website (check it out at titangames.com) and new retail store - in that we gutted the place, and brought in new fixtures by the truckload, new merchandise mix, just about an all new store!

It has been a long, hard struggle. With our manpower often out of town to a convention (41 so far this year) we have (on several occasions) done two conventions with different crews the same weekend!

We've learned a lot, made some money, and had a LOT of fun.

Conventions: I love conventions. I love Origins most of all, and also greatly enjoy DragonCon, GenCon and many more! This year has been no exception, and I have personally been to 31 conventions this year. Conventions are profitable for us as a business, but personally rewarding to me as a gamer and, well, geek. :) Yet, though I have been to over 300 conventions in my life, and my company has been a vendor now at 200+ conventions - I see the same mistakes again and again.

Typical Game-Convention mistakes include:

A. Short dealers hours. As a vendor, I come to make money! I pay a premium for booth space - and that is not where my costs end. I also have a trailer rental, gas is not cheap, labor costs, costs of goods, food, hotel rooms and other costs to cover. My only way to earn that back and make a profit is sales. Sales depend upon dealer room hours. Often I see a dealers room close at 6 or 7PM on a Friday or Saturday - and if you are ORIGINS or DRAGONCON, then okay. But, a smaller convention (less than 3500 attendee's) then keep the dealers room open till 8PM both Friday and Saturday - and open as early as possible, no later than 10AM for sure! The number of times this has been a problem is - well - too many to count.

B. Convention Organizers Attitude. It is nottheir job to make me money. But it IS their job to help me make money. Far too often I hear a dealers room organizer, or convention chairman ask if I broke even. Broke Even? I just want to shake them! Dothey, I wonder,work all day for what it coststhem for gas to get to work,and lunch money? Neither do I! Breaking even is a loss to me - a loss of time and a loss of opportunity to make a profit elsewhere! I go to a con to make a profit, and benefit my company. I will support it with money (sometimes as much as $10 per square foot!!), and with prize support. I will list it FREE in the publication we put out (ConTemporal Magazine!) And I will work my tail off - but, I don't do it to break even.

C. Lack of promotion. One convention we attended this year had promised us 1000 attendee's. They got about 100 (one hundred is a lot less than one thousand). Going out to local game stores, we found that 5 of 6 game stores in a 30-mile radius had not even heard of the convention! And, they had advertised in no radio spots, no television, and no papers. Where they thought 1000 attendee's would come from, I have no idea! We go to both small and big cons, but we pay more for larger ones - and will not pay for a large convention booth to attend a very small convention.

Now, we take this seriously. It's a business to us (convention vending) and not our hobby. We make business decisions about whether we attend again or not, and how we support a convention the next year - based on how we are treated by the convention staff, how profitable it is, and how much fun we had.

I'll plug Larry Ice of Advantage Conventions - those folks who do the GAMEFEST series of conventions in Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Richmond (VA) and soon New York! The first GameFest we attended was - simply put - horrid. They didn't promise us an attendance, but what was there was about 10% of what we expected. Larry Ice, a classy guy, came around and told us that if we came back the next year - we'd get a FREE BOOTH! Wow, talk about walking it like you're talking it! We've been to two more Milwaukee Gamefests, and now it is one of our favorite conventions!!! (and profitable, too!)

Our light at the end of the convention tunnel is just a few weeks away. We are finishing off with UCon at the UofM campus, and then the Chicagoland Gamers Conclave, the weekend of Thanksgiving.

Our retail tunnel is a bit longer, I'm afraid. :) Literally beginning in earnest when we finish our convention vending for the year! We have prepared, and I hope we are ready. We brought in comics this past week, lots of comics. Marvel and DC mostly, and a few indy titles, too. We added DVD's and tripled our Video Games section, and now have over 3500 Music CD's in stock! More games, more cool stuff, and hundreds of T-Shirts on the way! Worrisome though, cause we have less experience in successful retailing than we do in other aspects of our operation.

Our online tunnel is, fortunately and unfortunately, never ending. We have eBay sellers selling stuff for us on commission, our own web presence (titangames.com) and, now, our burgeoning "distribution" arm. Not really a distributor? We buy overstock and liquidations, then sell at 75% off MSRP to interested retailers and convention vendors. Literally, JUST starting that now (this past month).

Coming up this year, we have a lot to look forward to: Gama Trade Show. Ran by GAMA (Game Manufacturers Association) the GAMA Trade Show is the annual Las Vegas based Trade Show of the Game Industry. Over a hundred (154 last year?) Manufacturers, Publishers and Distributors will show their wares, and their services, for over 1200 retailers who will converge in Vegas for this annual gathering of who's who in this industry. Seminars for retailers, and others, will be given. Exhibitions will be done. And lots of sales and promotions. The GAMA Trade show should NOT be missed by any industry professional! This is our 5th trip to GTS - but the first time we will set up as a vendor!

So, here I sit, looking back on the year, and looking forward to a couple months with no travel. At the same time, I am looking forward to GTS, Origins, GenCon, DragonCon and several other events, conventions, gatherings and functions. So, maybe it's not really a tunnel - but more like a circus ride. A fun one, though!

I have some people to thank for my companies successes. My wife and children, for being always supportive and helpful. My partner Ted Wilson for taking so much labor off my hands! Our helpers, Aaron, Allan, Brian, Chuck, Jason and Nick - for lots of help! Anthony Gallela (Executive Director of GAMA) and Mark Santillo (Various positons at GAMA) for adivce, help, and assistance. My fellow retailers for supporting the GIN (Game Industry Network) and my election to the GRD (Gama Retailer Division board).

It's been a good year, and looks to be an even better 2005!

Marcus King
269-963-3773
TitanGamesandMusic.com - COO
Contemporal Magazine - Co-Owner
637 Capital Ave
SW Battle Creek, MI 49015

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What do you think?

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All Counter Talk columns by Marcus King

  • On Discounting by Marcus King, 15dec05
  • Think Different by Marcus King, 11oct05
  • GENCON, August, and TitanGames by Marcus King, 29aug05
  • Another Month at Titan Games by Marcus King, 06jul05
  • The Past Week at TitanGames by Marcus King, 10may05
  • The GAMA Trade Show by Marcus King, 13apr05
  • Con Jobs by Marcus King, 08mar05
  • Don't Skip The Retailer by Marcus King, 11feb05
  • How To Open Your Own Game Store by Marcus King, 14jan05
  • The Christmas Crunch by Marcus King, 22dec04
  • Light at the End of the Convention Tunnel by Marcus King, 15nov04
  • What It Takes To Open a Game Store by Marcus King, 15oct04
  • The Big 3 by Marcus King, 13sep04
  • Discoveries by Marcus King, 11aug04
  • Con-Man by Marcus King, 19jul04
  • Turmoil by Marcus King, 16jun04
  • Business is Business by Marcus King, 12may04
  • GAMA On! by Marcus King, 09mar04
  • On A Serious Note by Marcus King, 10feb04
  • Predictions for 2004 by Marcus King, 20jan04
  • Game Retailer or Game Club? by Marcus King, 11dec03
  • The Weather Changes... by Marcus King, 11nov03
  • The Deluge of Dead Products by Marcus King, 14oct03
  • The Conventional by Marcus King, 11sep03
  • Solutions to Problems and Good Feelings by Marcus King, 11aug03
  • Two weeks in the life of a retailer by Marcus King, 16jul03
  • In Store Gaming, and our love-hate relationship with it by Marcus King, 12jun03
  • Raising a Good Retailer by Marcus King, 28apr03
  • The customer is always right (right?) by Marcus King, 02apr03
  • Introductions by Marcus King, 24mar03
  • Jumping the Grand Canyon with Pikachu and Friends December 20, 1999
  • GTS'99 April 20, 1999

    Other columns at RPGnet

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