How to Run a Booth at a Con

Back from four days in Indy, I thought I’d share with those of you who have never run a booth before some tips on how to manage your time effectively and reach out to new customers.

Bring Proper Documentation

First things first. Make sure–before you go–you have a centralized location for all the con paperwork. Next year we’ll be updating our stack to include email correspondence with the staff as well. We found out the hard way it’s not always a good idea to rely on in-house staffers to track communication–especially when there’s last minute changes.

Know Your Product

I can’t tell you how important it is to know what you’re selling. Sometimes it’s easy to come across like you don’t–especially when you’re nervous or encounter a difficult question. But if you can’t sum up what your project does, what it’s about, and what it costs? To your customer it’s going to look like you have no idea what you’re doing.

Have a Professional Presentation

Sodas on the table, protein bars or wearing a ripped t-shirt makes you look like a hobbyist–not a professional there to do business. Yes, some of that is unavoidable if there isn’t enough booth coverage and a lunch goes over, but if your booth looks sloppy you’ll want to revisit your presentation. Would you want to hand your money over to a ketchup-filled, slobbering fist o’ fingers? Yeah, I thought so.

If the booth comes with chairs, try to stay standing up. (No, I couldn’t do this the whole time either [insert back pain here], but I did try as much as I could.)

Engage and Be Friendly

What does “engage” mean? Well, it means that you might have to listen to people’s stories and be interested in what they’re playing. It also means that you should try to be upbeat and friendly–even when you’re not. Friday was a tough day for me because traffic wasn’t the greatest and people were unresponsive, and I got a little crabby about it. Normal, yes–but not great for business and we learned for next year. On the slow days, we’re going to rotate the shifts more often so people get a break from the booth and come into more fresh. The other thing to do on slow days, is to run longer product demos to engage customers and make the booth look busier.

Pitch Smart, but Don’t Force

Does your customer absolutely need to have your product? No, they really don’t but it’s your job to pitch them what you have. If your product is inaccessible or hard for you to understand, you’re going to have a tough time pitching it to people who have money to buy it. Several people were pitching their products this year as short, one-liners like John Wick’s “Atlantean Blood Opera” (Houses of the Blooded). What I noticed, is that the customers who responded were drawn to the setting of the games we had on the table, not the company name or the product. As a small press publisher, Abstract Nova is not like Wizards of the Coast so the focus this year was on building brand and getting new customers familiar with the games and their quality. For those of us working the booth, it was imperative we pitched appropriately and with enthusiasm–without ramming the game down a customer’s throat. That’s where the promotional items came in extremely handy.

Bring Company Swag with your Name on It

Business cards, pens, bookmarks–bring whatever speaks to your business and is appropriate for your market. We had pens and bookmarks, which worked great. When someone wasn’t sure whether or not they wanted to pick up one of our products, they had a bookmark as a reference to check out reviews and products online. That’s part of the reason why it’s so important to have an online brand presence even if you only have one product, to allow for extended customer service.

Booth Placement is Key

This was the first time our publisher featured a booth at the con, so our booth placement wasn’t the greatest. Nothing we can do about that; we promoted our placement as much as we could. Next year, we have a “plan” to draw people to the booth even if we have a crazy placement. Sometimes you’re at the mercy of the floor plan and availability, which sucks because neat grids often create poor overall booth traffic. This year, we were in an area that was squared off, so there was no reason for folk to travel down our way unless they noticed our signage.

Product Placement

Learned a lot more about product placement this year. Even though we’ve all helped out at other booths, when you’re standing in one vantage point and watching how people interact with other folk–it’s amazing what you can find out. Instead of stacking books, proudly display the book covers in either a wire rack setup or a plastic stand so that they’re more visible. Don’t put out lots of products, either, because the temptation is way too easy for someone to come along and swipe something off the table. Better to have less on the table than freak out about “shrink.”

Another thing about product placement that I’ve always been fond of, is putting a demo copy of the book in your customer’s hands. Call out special sections or high production areas of the product, so that customers can get a feel for what speaks to them.

One Response to How to Run a Booth at a Con
  1. Jim Johnson

    That last paragraph is an old bookseller’s trick. I learned that back when I worked in Waldenbooks. When helping a customer find a book, once you find it, put it in their hands. Customers are slightly less likely to reshelf or replace a book in hand.

Monica Valentinelli is a writer, editor, and game developer. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

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