Teh Old School

Teh Old School

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

7 Ways to Help You Get the Best Deals at Conventions

This is what today felt like...except no Totoro...and no Cat Bus...

So quite often I get asked by how I am able to afford my manga and anime memorabilia collection. I have around 400 volumes of manga, 35 anime series (the majority of which are complete), 70-80 figurines, in addition to t-shirts, cds, keychains, etc. When I tell people, they usually say “How the HECK are you able to afford all that?” So  I’ve decided to give away some of my secrets.
There is one important thing that I want to make clear: I obtained everything in my collection LEGALLY! I do not support bootlegs, illegal downloading, or any instance where someone is taking something without paying for it…it is stealing! That’s my opinion but I have friends in the business and it’s not fair to the people who put their whole careers into making great things. It’s just the same if someone copied your paper in class and got the credit for it. You’d be pretty pissed.  I am here to give you advice on how to get the best deals, not on how to get handouts. I’ve been taught from a young age that if you want something, you work hard and earn it! I’ve worked to earn this collection, which makes me so proud of having it!
Knowing how to navigate a Dealer’s Room is very important to the experience. When I went into my first Dealer’s Room, I had complete sensory overload. There are sooo many things and such a variety of merchandise that it can be very overwhelming. Remember too that the whole point of a convention is to have fun, and a Dealer’s Room is an attribute of the convention, so it should be fun too! 
So without further adieu, here are some things that I’ve learned over the years attending conventions. Because I usually attend anime conventions, so I will reference anime/manga items throughout. However, these ideas can be applied to similar conventions.

There is a reason why conventions post links and information about dealer’s on their website, and it’s not just for advertising. It’s so you can learn more about the dealers and types of merchandise that are going to be in the dealer’s room.
Every dealer is going to be different. Some focus on selling manga and dvds, while others sell wall scrolls, towels, t-shirts, figurines, keychains, and a plethora of other merchandise. Check out the websites of the dealers and see what they have available, and take not of where they seem to have their focus on. Just because dealers sell a lot of one product doesn’t mean that’s where their best deals lie.
 Take a good look around the websites, and determine what you really like buying at conventions, and take notes of the names of those dealers/businesses. *NOTE: Sometimes the merchandise on their website isn’t exactly the same as what they have available at the convention. Dealer’s make active choices on what to bring in order to maximize sales, since they do put a lot into coming to conventions (travel and housing expenses, cost of selling at the convention). However, these will give you a general idea on where you should be looking.

It sounds silly, but it works! Deviate a section of money specifically for if you want to purchase things at the convention. This should be separate from all your other funds, and should be something that you focus on after you have money to actually get to the convention and stay there. Make sure you can pay for the trip before you decide how much you want to spend shopping.
An important side note on this is your Dealer’s room (and Artist Alley budget if you include that in there) should be COMPLETELY SEPARATE FROM YOUR FOOD BUDGET. I have had a situation where I spent too much money shopping, and then had to pull out extra funds to pay for a run through McDonald’s. I strongly suggest bringing your own food for your hotel room, and maybe allocating for one off-site meal per day or so. This way you’re not eating completely out of the Con Suite. While I agree the Con Suite is fun for getting snacks, you do not want to have to deal with your own stomach after eating and drinking only Mountain Dew and rice all weekend. Trust me – I speak from experience.
I tend to keep to it like if you were to go gambling – take a limited amount of funds in cash, and when you’ve spend it, no more shopping. Many dealers still do not accept credit cards, so it’s difficult to pay with anything but cash. Plus with cash, you can visually see how much you have left, as opposed to having to check your bank account. Some form of a budget, no matter what amount, will keep you from spending beyond what you have.

By buying at a convention, you can still save, mainly on shipping. Shipping can get very expensive depending on the size and weight on the item, so if you want that large statue of Sephiroth, and you have the means within your budget, buy it! Save yourself the cost of the shipping if you change your mind after the convention.
One of my favorite things to stock up on at conventions is MANGA! Dealers have killer deals on thinks like manga, and even bulk anime. When you go to a dealer, don’t be afraid to ask what deals they have for that day or the weekend, and they are usually happy to tell you. There’s a dealer I frequent at conventions that usually sell manga for 20-30% cheaper than at normal bookstores, and there are others that will give you a free manga if you purchase a certain amount. You usually can get 2-3 manga free with deals like that. I still go to bookstores to pick up manga in between conventions, but conventions are the best place if you want to buy a whole or stock up on a variety of series.
Dealers also tend to run deals at the last day of a convention. It’s a lot of work for dealers to bring their merchandise back, and the less they bring back, the better. Don’t be afraid to ask if they have any deals for the last day of a convention. However, be respectful of dealers in these situations, since you should be respectful to them at all times in the first place.
*NOTE: Beware of Bootleg items. I have yet to deal with bootleggers, but make sure to educate yourself about bootleg dealers, both at conventions and on the internet. Conventions also have panels about bootleg items and how to identify them, a source I recommend taking advantage of. General rule: you are not obligated to buy anything, so if you feel weary of a product, don’t buy it!

This is not Black Friday, so don’t run in like a crazed maniac (yes..yes it is fun, though). Take a good look at the dealers, and walk around and enjoy the merchandise. Once you have had a good look, you can begin your shopping experience. Too many times have I seen people start spending their money before they’ve had a good look around, and then they’re disappointed when they’ve already spent most of their money and they find something that they’ve been looking for for a long time.
Usually I take a good look around, go off and do something, and then come back. I’ve also found that Saturday afternoon shopping is the best time to go. It’s the time where people usually go to grab lunch or a quick nap, so the Dealer’s Room isn’t as crowded as it normally is. Toward the end of a convention is also another good time to go shopping.
Diagram of Dealer's Room moments after opening...

Dealer’s are very well informed on their product. They know exactly what their product is and the deals that they have because that’s their job! Don’t be afraid to converse with dealers, as many I have met are very nice and more than happy to converse with you on anything from their merchandise to their favorite shows and video games. You can learn a lot from a dealer, even if you don’t necessarily buy from them. I’ve purchased from a lot of dealer’s because they’re passionate about their merchandise and are well informed.
Another part of communicating with dealers is that sometimes they don’t have all their merchandise out. If you ask them about a particular series, in many cases they can show you merchandise that isn’t out on their tables. If you’re looking for a particular series or character, just ask! Someone I know when to a dealer and bought a whole bunch of stuff from them just by asking about a certain series, and the dealer had half a box of merchandise that he didn’t have room for on his table.
Communicating with a dealer also includes haggling. I’ve found that dealers in many cases are open to haggling, especially if you are buying in bulk. *NOTE: Use caution when haggling, and feel out whether or not the dealer is willing to haggle over price. If they have a great deal they’re offering already on an item, it is incredibly rude to try and haggle it down further. If they say “No”, understand that it is their decision, and you should be respectful of the offer that they give you on the item. Building a good relationship with the people you are buying from is not only a good way to get the best information on deals, but it’s a great way to make friends. I’ve met dealers that I talk to outside of conventions because their service and friendliness was above and beyond what I had expected.
Respect is another important component of working with people in the Artist’s Alley. These people work hard on their craft and they should be given proper respect for their work. Again be respectful of haggling over price. If the artist has a set of prices on commission work, don’t argue. By asking the artist what they are giving deals/specials on, you can create a positive dialogue with them. These people do beautiful work and put a lot of hours into their product. Give them the credit they deserve!

You never know what will happen on the way home, so try and always come out with a little leftover. I usually try and aim to leave with $30-40 in my pocket. One reason is that conventions run next year’s registration super cheap. The money you save from shopping can go towards your registration for the next year, and then you don’t have to remember about registering down the road. Besides, you can usually save around $15-20 by registering early.
In addition, if you have any issues on the way home, you have money in reserve. It can be used to pay for gas, food, etc. Otherwise, use it to pay bills or start saving for next year’s convention with the extra money as your base. Besides, it will make you feel better about what you did spend and that you can get back to real life with as few financial road bumps as possible.

Aaaaand finally….

This is your time at the convention, so you do what you want to do with it. The number one person who impacts your experience at a convention is YOU! So make sure to have fun, make some great memories, and find some great stuff to take home!

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