One of my favorite stories about convention merchandising is about Robert Khoo. Whether or not it’s true, I have no idea, and I’m telling a half-remembered story that I read many, many months ago, but the general idea went like this:
Scott Kurtz has been to a lot of conventions, and when he’d show up at one, he’d arrange his books on the front table in chronological order. People would buy lots of the first book and lots of the most recent, but a lot of the stuff in the middle was skipped. He figured people just wanted to start the series from the beginning or pick up the new product, but fewer people wanted to jump in during the middle and just assumed that’s how his sales would always work at conventions.
One of the many years he was placed next to the Penny Arcade booth, Robert Khoo rearranged his books. He came over from his booth on the last day of the convention and set the books up chromatically. Suddenly, books started flying off the shelves that hadn’t sold more than a couple of units at a convention. When sales started to die wind down again, Khoo came over and arranged them based on the size of the piles, making a pyramid of books. Again, there was a surge in sales. The third time he came by, Kurtz asked him “What are you going to do when I’ve only got three books left?”
“Don’t worry,” Khoo said. “I have a plan.”
When people began to filter out of the con for the final time, Khoo came over to find a smattering of books left on the shelf. He propped them up in such a way as they were facing the direction of the people leaving. When the convention was over, Scott had sold all of his books for the first time ever.*
What’s the moral of this little merchandizing fable? The key to good table marketing is to try new things.
What spurred this little storytime? The lovely GeekyLyndsay** of Dragon Chow fame is going to a convention and doesn’t want to use a table to display her dice bags. Which makes all sorts of sense because, if you’ve ever tried to find an effective merchandizing solution for dice bags, you know that tables, display cases and shelves are basically the worst possible furniture in the world. The problem comes from the nature of bags, I think. They defy shelving units, their strange shape making it damned near impossible to display the full awesomness of the bag. If the bag is lying flat, it looks boring. If you have them propped up so you can see their tops, they lose any sort of clear identifiable qualities. Nothing about this is good. So to be able to display dice bags more effectively, you need to think outside the box some.
My most fervent suggestion is to have people carry them around the con and show them off. This comes with two really key components: product champions (those people who love your stuff and want to sell it for you) and mobility (because they don’t have to be at the table when they’re showing off the bags). It gives people the opportunity to touch the bags, to interact with them, and more importantly to interact with people who like them. Each individual carrying the product provides a testimonial to your product’s awesomeness, and they can go into more detail about what makes your bags more kick-ass than the bags getting sold by Random Steampunk Booth #7. Rather than let the bags speak for themselves on a personality-free shelf, you have someone there to sell, not only the product you’ve made, but the services you’re selling (I believe Lyndsay is still doing personalized bags, for instance). Product champions are incredible people, and I think Dragon Chow has enough fans that it would be easy to convince a number of them to run around with sacks of them.
Another option: Hang them from the ceiling. Get some very long twine and some clothes pins and make a display of dice bags that can be seen from across the convention hall because it’s the only display that has a billion colors and goes all the way to the top. Color-code them so that people look over and see a blast of colors that go from floor to ceiling, and make sure you’ve got multiples of each bag hanging around at the bottom of the display so that you can sell them without having to climb an enormous ladder to get them.
Even more option: Make designs out of them on the cubicle walls of your booth. Use clothes pins to make an attractive design or pattern that will have people stopping in to at least check out what the hell it’s made out of.
Yet more option: Have people wear the bags as hats. Give a free bag to any customer who wears their bag on their head for an hour for you acting as a de facto booth bunny.
One More Option: Get a bunch of spinning racks, like the ones they use at bad jewelry stores that are made of slat-wall on a spinner. Put hooks in, and hang your bags in an easy-to-navigate pattern on the floor. This option is quite a bit more expensive, obviously, but the spinning racks would belong to you, and you could use them at other conventions in the future.
There are a lot of ways to merchandise your dice bags without putting them on a table or arranging them on a shelf. The key, though, is to keep switching things up, keep giving people something new and interesting to look at. Rearrange by color, size, shape, number of items, popularity of items, difficulty in making the product, scent or taste, whatever. Just keep giving people a reason to come back to your booth every day (or make your booth come to them) and make sure that when they do, you pounce on them like a half-starved tiger on a helpless gazelle. Because customers love the attention.
*For the record, I have no idea whether or not this story is true. I also don’t know if it was actually about the people I think its about if it is true. But it seems like a very Khoo thing to do, and I don’t at all think he’d mind if it was added to his already expansive Legendary Character.
**This article was edited to reflect the fact that I am terrible at alternate name spellings. With a name like Kristoffer, you'd think I'd be more conscious of stuff like that.