Adapting to the market

I love hitting Comicons.  The people are fantastic, the artists are talented, and the energy is high.  Every con we attend, I wander around checking out what merchandise is popular and what is falling off.  

Being in sales, especially if it’s your own handmade product that you’re selling, isn’t always easy.  Besides making great products that people want- there are constant changes and adaptions that need to happen in order to make money.  

This is our sixth year in the artist alley at Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo.  My wife started here with her handmade fleece hats and Perler Bead art that our children helped make.  A year later my wife added Cosplay animal ears and cut back on certain styles of hats.  The third year, she dropped more hats from her display and added headbands.  Last year, she began phasing out Perler Beads. This year, she dropped the Perler Bead art completely and focused more on headbands and hair clips.  She still sells foxes, cats and dragon style hats at this convention.

The reason for dropping products come down to four major factors:

  1. The market (convention floor) is saturated with similar items.  Often if another vendor or artist sees that you are selling numerous quantities of an item, their greed kicks in and they start to steal your ideas in hopes to take a piece of that pie.  When people have stolen my wife’s ideas- often they aren’t making as nice a product, and charging much less in hopes to just make a sale.  It’s even more disappointing when the people who steal the ideas and market cheap knock offs are your “convention friends”.  We’ve begun distancing ourselves from a couple of these people in the social circle of the convention circuit.
  2. The products don’t suit the city.  We found certain colors/styles of hats are more popular than others.  For example, panda hats don’t sell in Calgary and on the flip side, Rainbow Dragons sell out in Seattle, Vancouver and San Jose.  My wife even accounts for the previous year’s sales and adjusts accordingly, but sometimes the hats are still just that popular, that she sells out.
  3. The products just aren’t selling.  This reason is pretty much a no-brainer.  If something isn’t selling, stop dragging it around thinking it will sell one day.  There could be no reason whatsoever for why it’s not selling.
  4. Even products in the artist alley can become “last year’s model”.  My kids made a bunch of Perler Bead keychains based on Minecraft back in 2012 before there was anything toy related for sale.  They sold like crazy!  But the next year, the “Chinese import” vendors flooded the market with everything Minecraft.  This year, good luck giving away anything Minecraft related to a kid.

The challenge of making money and still enjoying what you do is tough.  The economy took a slump a couple of years ago, and is slowly climbing back out.  This is both in Canada and the USA & it shows at the conventions.  I’ve been speaking with my fellow convention carnies regularly about sales.  I don’t sugarcoat how we are doing- good or bad, I tell the truth.  (When it comes to trying to be successful, knowing where your strengths and weaknesses are is extremely beneficial.)  I’ll talk about other cons and describe the hardships as well as windfalls we experienced.  Sharing and discussing the business with like-minded artists/vendors can help both parties become successful by branching out.  It also helps to learn what to expect at a new convention that you’ve never attended before.

The convention circuit is in its own way an ecosystem.  We all talk.  We all share.  We all enjoy it.  We all want to succeed.


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