DoKomi 2021 - Reflections and Practical Advice for Artist Alley (Part III: The Customers)
Welcome to part III of this series! The last post focused on the merchandise and here I'll be focusing on the table. Since attending Dokomi, I have also had a table at MEX and DeDeCo as well as small regional markets, so I will bring in some of that experience too.
As a reminder for the division of this series, this is where we stand:
Expectations vs. Reality
In this post I will discuss a "typology" of customers that is just a bit of fun and by no means exhaustive.
Types of Customers
There are as many types of customers as there are types of artists. Here are a few archetypes:
The Doorbreaker: This is the con attendee that wants to be the first one in and was already in line while you were still setting up. They will speed past your table as they do recon for their friends who will be coming later. Will they buy anything on their first tour? Probably not. Are they really even a customer type? Probably not.
The 3-Day Attendee: The 3-day attendee might also be a doorbreaker, so Friday is just recon day. They probably won't buy much from the artists on the first day because they will be preoccupied with getting the best deals from the professional stands and the bring-and-buy. But once it gets to Sunday... they might actually come back to you and buy something. So don't scoff when they say "I'll think about it": they are potential customers. (Same applies to 2-day cons)
Con-Hon Hunter: The con hon hunter wants commissions, as many commissions as possible. They'll drop off their album, you'll worry extensively about whether they'll like what you're drawing, and then they'll pick it up with a quick word of thanks and hastily pass it on to another artist. They do express joy in having your commission, but don't try to talk to them for more than 5 seconds about what you drew/why you drew it that way: they just want to hunt the next commission. FUN BONUS: flip through previous pages to see if you recognize any of the other artists they've gotten a commission from. (Is this officially allowed? I don't know, but it's my favorite part.)
The Positivity Talker: The talker comes in two forms of which the "positivity talker" is the more pleasurable: they have no idea who you are but they somehow have tons to say about you and your art. This can be absolutely wonderful and encouraging. The positivity talker usually also asks questions and shows interest, so it feels like a real two-way conversation. You're not just being talked at; your voice is also relevant. They might even buy something, but honestly, if they've loaded you up with enough compliments you might not even care if they don't buy anything. This type is more prevalent at actual cons than regional markets.
The Waterfall Talker: The second kind of talker is like a waterfall - words keep gushing out and falling on your head and you're not sure why. Your voice is probably not relevant and you don't need to say anything; just nod and smile. The waterfall talker might only use some design you have to catapult into random, strangely personal information that you don't want to know or complaints that you can't really say or do anything about. (They might even trash talk other artists or art styles in your presence? And then dig deeper if you push back? *awkward*) If they don't buy anything, you feel very frustrated. This type is more prevalent at regional markets than actual cons.
The Groupie: The groupie is most likely part of a larger cosplay group, and they are just following the group. Do they really want to walk through artist alley? Ehhh... Are they really even a customer type? For those of us not offering fanart of their fandom, definitely not.
Sunday Shopper: For various reasons, many people are more likely to purchase prints at artist alley on Sunday... if they have any money left. The Sunday shopper is a mood booster: you've probably already seen them walk past your table multiple times, but this time they finally stop and buy something. While before you thought there was something wrong with your table and were sad that people weren't coming, you recognize that they were just a Sunday shopper. You begin to second-guess yourself a little bit less.
The Art Collector: These people are lovely and are here for THE ART. They want your STUFF and they brought MONEY to buy your stuff. They might strike up a pleasant conversation with you, but they're not here to go on a talkathon because they have other artists to check out too. You might not even need to package their prints because they brought along a fancy folder. And then, once they get home, they'll probably even frame the stuff and hang it up. And you'll find out about all of this on Instagram when they post a story about it and even tag you. *Chef's kiss*
Other Artists: Your new best friends. Take their business card! Give them yours! Follow each other, buy from each other, and embrace these people who can relate to all your problems! If they happen to be your neighbor, offer to guard their table when they rush to the bathroom for the first time that day at 3pm or finally stand in line for food at 4pm. This is additionally the best way to confirm if Saturday was actually just a poor sales day all-around or if it was just your table that died. It's also an opportunity for you to realized if your sales benefitted from a great table location or really suffered from a poor one (I've had both). Show awareness and respond to this issue accordingly.
Con Staff: As with other artists, communicating with members of staff is a great opportunity to recalibrate your perception of the con. It's also two-way because they typically want to know if you're having a good con. This shared interest in how the con is going as a whole is a good baseline for conversation. As working people, you both don't have tons of time to talk 1-on-1, so you're more likely to have several short exchanges, smile and nod repeatedly over the course of three days as you continue to bump into one another. You might develop this kind of relationship with only 1 or 2 staff members; they are incredibly busy all the time. But it's nice when then finally have time to make it to your table (typically on Sunday) and maybe even buy something.
The Fan: O.M.G. This person actually follows you on the social meeds. They already know what they want to buy. They want more than just one postcard. Did they just ask you to sign it? You're so overwhelmed with warm and fuzzy feelings that you don't know what to say. 😍😍😍 So you don't say half of what you'd like to... and then wonder if you made a bad impression because there's no way you reciprocated enough love for this person. 😱 (Other people will tell you that it was fine.)
Old Customers: These people might also be fans, but you're better able to keep cool because you recognize them! You're still exceptionally flattered, but at least there is a minimum of familiarity that keeps you grounded. You enjoy talking to them and it's more about catching up than about making a sale. (A similar dynamic can evolve between you and artists you've met at other cons, except you're the fan.)
*Potential* New Customers: Well, this is the miscellaneous category for essentially every person at the con whom you have not yet been able to sort into another category. And how can you convert *potential* new customers into new customers? Well, that's more or less that underlying topic of this whole series.
Come back soon for the next installment on the "sitting" through a con!