Last weekend (Oct 12th-14th), I tabled in artist alley for FanExpo Vancouver, a yearly convention held downtown in the Vancouver Convention Center.
This year, the convention was held in the west building of the convention center, downstairs. It was the same location that Siggraph used in August, and where Wizards of the Coast holds the Vancouver Grand Prix Magic the Gathering event.
As convention centers go, it is functional, but plain. Unlike some cities I’ve been to events in, this space doesn’t have any food purchasing options inside the room, which is a little inconvenient if you just need a quick bite for lunch but don’t want to leave your table for a long time. Worse, there is no easy access to coffee! (Though there was a lemonade stand outside the entrance doors) Seemed like enough easy access bathrooms for that not to be a problem, and there is fairly easy load-in and out capabilities from the outside.
As another thing to be aware of, it is downstairs, underground. My girlfriend’s phone worked fine, but mine basically didn’t work for the entire con, and there was no free wi-fi. Something to keep in mind if you plan on using your LTE/4G for credit card processing!
FanExpo Vancouver 2018 was a 3-day con, starting at 2:00pm on Friday for VIP badge holders and then opening up to everyone at 4:00pm, and staying open until 9:00pm that night. Saturday and Sunday started at 9:30am for VIP, 10:00am for regulars, and then went until 7:00pm and 5:00pm respectively. Friday was a LONG day, as I worked a half day in the studio before I came to the event. My scheduled setup time was from 10:00am-noon on Friday, but I didn’t get off work until 12, so I actually set up in the hour between 1 and 2. Not a big deal for me, and it worked out ok since my setup is not complex.
They only had one staff member handing out exhibitor badges when I arrived, and I’m glad there were only about 6 people in front of me in the line, as it wasn’t moving super fast. Slightly worrisome was that badge pickup was in the back of the exhibit hall itself, so we were permitted to walk right through everything with no proof that we were actually supposed to be there! The rest of the event, security seemed fine, but during setup, anyone could have walked in and taken anything from the many tables that were set up but didn’t have people watching them.
Like many smaller for-profit conventions, there weren’t a lot of panels or things to do except shop and get pictures taken with celebrities. Frankly, I have no idea what someone with a 3 day pass would do for the entire weekend. While not tiny as these events go, I could easily have walked through the entire hall and seen all the exhibitors in about 2 hours. It seemed like most people just bought a one-day pass, which I believe hurt my sales. Buying seemed focused on things people knew they wanted, and they weren’t there long enough to think things over and come back to a table that they might have shopped at if they were there for multiple days. It also meant that no one was holding out for Sunday to buy, so if you sell fan art that is in high demand, that might actually work out in your favor. Tickets weren’t that expensive in comparison to some other conventions, but given the relative youth of the attendees, might have taken spending money away from teens. My impression was that for many people, the event was the entertainment more than a vehicle for purchasing more things. If you are just looking to get into cons, nervous about crowds, or otherwise like things slower, this might also be a good con for you. Personally, I’m trying to maximize sales, so the larger the crowd, the better my chances.
I heard from several vendors that it felt slower than the year before. As I was operating my table, I don’t know how other rows faired, and sometimes things are not evenly trafficked, but our row felt pretty quiet. Using cosplayers as a measure, there was never a time when traffic was bad enough that a cosplayer stopping for photos blocked view or movement.
The entire con had a very anime vibe to it. Most of the cosplayers were anime characters, and most of the vendors outside of artist alley seemed focused that direction as well. There were some other cosplay booths, and a couple of ones catering to video games and computer equipment, but I would have liked to see some more book sellers and comic book shops. Vancouver already has 2 other anime conventions, and I was hoping this would bring out more fans of other forms of the entertainment industry. It did not. Again, if your work sells well at those sorts of events, it might be a great thing for you, but I didn’t see a lot of the demographics that buy my work, and my sales were reflected in that way. I don’t do fan art, and primarily create more environment-based images, so my audience is not the same as those who are looking for pictures of their favorite character in a cool pose.
Con staff was wandering around but never talked to me while I was tabling - I also never needed anything, so that was fine. I do wish that our tables had a trash can, but it wasn’t that far to the walk my garbage to one at the end of the row. We did have the form to signup for next year waiting on our table Sunday morning, so that was well handled. One thing I did find frustrating was that both exhibitors and attendees were forced in a very spiral path to get down to the convention floor by foot, which was a pain when carrying heavy supplies or trying to make a quick run for food or coffee, since there were none in the hall itself.
Overall, it felt like a reasonably well run con, but not one where my target audience attends. It was actually my worst convention of the year, sales-wise. People were very friendly and complimentary of my work, but it wasn’t what they were looking to spend money on. It’s always fun to meet people and share the work I’ve been doing, but currently I do not have plans to exhibit next year. That said, I did make a few industry connections with people who walked by my table, and names on my mailing list that did convert into more Patreon support.
One other thing to note is that time time of year seems to fluctuate. Last year it was mid-November, the year before that I believe it was in Spring. This time it was middle of October, and in 2019 it will be in March! Moving a con around like that makes it harder to plan your events, and is probably not helping FanExpo any.