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9 Convention Vendors Everyone Hates (Including Other Vendors)

March 15, 2012

It’s not just the customers who are the problem at conventions.  I touched briefly on what it’s like to be a vendor [1] dealing with a problem fellow vendor, but it’s not always your direct competition that can cause problems.  Sometimes, your fellow vendors are just as bad, if not worse, than the customers.  And sadly, since security can’t just taze [2] the annoying ones and be done with it, it’s best to find other ways to deal with them.

Two notes: While some of the advice is aimed at general convention attendees, most of it really only applies to dealer’s coordinators and security people.  Still, it is always nice to have people among the attendees to help point things out before they become a major issue.  And while I went the gender specific route this time around, I made a conscious choice to alternate the genders and in no way intend to imply that these behaviors are limited to one gender or the other.

The Subwoofer

Most vendors like to have a little music at their booth.  The Subwoofer likes to have a little booth in the middle of his music.  Typically, The Subwoofer will be selling some kind of music, TV show, or video game which requires that he blare a stereo or television as loud as possible in order to stun customers into stumbling, blind and deaf, into his booth.  Naturally, this can be a tiny bit disruptive to anyone within 70 yards of the booth, as it makes conversations go along the lines of “How much is this?” “What?” “HOW MUCH IS THIS?” “EXTRA LARGE.”  Subwoofer behavior is not just limited to vendors selling audio/video products, though.  Some people just can’t understand why other people wouldn’t enjoy having to shout over someone else’s music.  Incidentally, while The Subwoofer has been known to be the owner of an affordable little four door with an obnoxious paint job and six huge speakers, the two are not necessarily related.

"I said 'You've got nice tips!'"

How To Handle Them:

Ask him politely to turn the music down a smidge.  And when the music gets turned back up, talk to security.  And keep talking to security every time The Subwoofer turns the music back up, because he will.  Eventually, security will politely inform him that his power rights have been revoked, or one of those hapless customers will stumble over a power cord and you’ll get a few minutes of blessed silence.  I do not, under any circumstances, advocate bribing the dealers coordinator or security lead to steal any necessary power cords while everyone is shut down for the night.  Because that would be wrong.

The Rip-off Artist

The Rip-off Artist does great work.  Her lines are clean, if a bit wobbly, and her subjects are easily identifiable.  Too bad the subject is on the cover of a popular comic book. Despite clear rules against the practice, you will still occasionally get “artists” who feel that because they drew the art by hand, then it is clearly theirs by right.  This sort of behavior is somewhat understandable in younger artists negotiating the complexities of copyright law for the first time, but even older artists sometimes have to be told that no, they can’t sell a sticker of the Superman symbol that they printed off themselves.

How To Handle Them

If you spot this sort of thing, report it to the dealer’s coordinator.  The friendly local dealer’s person will attempt to explain copyright law to them as simply as possible.  I find that “You didn’t make up that character, so you can’t make money off of it” goes a pretty long way.  If you are particularly magnanimous and feel sorry for a newbie on the circuit, you can try doing the explaining yourself, but it’s usually best to leave the explaining to someone who has the dealer’s agreement memorized.

The Bootlegger

The Bootlegger is different from the Rip-off Artist in that The Bootlegger knows damn well that the products he is selling are illegal and thinks he can get away with it anyways.  The Bootlegger relies on the inexperience of the dealer’s coordinator or security lead and the complicity of his customers to get away with selling prettily packaged bootleg DVDs, CDs, or prints which only he and the office supply company ever see a profit on.  The Bootlegger will probably not post signs reading “Ask me about my illegal copies of your favorite anime!” so it’s helpful for experienced customers and fellow vendors to keep an eye out for this sort of behavior.

How To Handle Them:

Report the bootlegger immediately to security or the dealer’s coordinator. Alternately, convince the bootlegger to put on something glaringly obvious (like, oh, say, a recording of a popular Broadway show done from a handheld camera in the audience [3]) and pop some popcorn while you wait for security to sweep through. Bootlegging is illegal and most dealer’s coordinators take that sort of thing badly.  If you’re the security lead or the dealer’s coordinator, hold firm to your rules and feel free to bring up the non-convention security.  You know, the ones who show up in cars with pretty light bars and shiny badges?

The “Handmade” Importer

If Regretsy has taught us anything, it’s that there is no shortage of people willing to pass off mass produced goods as handcrafted, one of a kind works of art.  This is equally true of the “Handmade” Importer.  Most dealers rely in part or in whole on filling their stock with items imported from other countries, but only the “Handmade” Importer claims that the “Made in Taiwan” sticker must have rubbed off from something else.  She’ll tell you with a completely straight face that her Steampunk Owl is hand cast in her garage workshop,  or that she hand beads each of those pearl bracelets all by herself.  She’s got a limited selection of hand crafted, one of a kind items that she will gladly make ten identical versions of, if you give her a couple of hours.

How To Handle Them:

As a customer, it’s important to keep an eye out for Importers passing themselves off as handcrafters.  Bear in mind that there is a small, but significant difference between the importer selling the fancy octopus on a chain as a custom item and the crafter who glues some gears to an octopus and calls it hand made.  Complaining to the dealer’s coordinator may or may not help, depending on the rules of the room.  As distasteful as it is, it’s hard to enforce rules against a dealer who lies to the customer and a “Handcrafted” Importer can be pretty slick about implying that the customer simply misunderstood which pieces she was talking about.  A good dealer’s coordinator will recognize this sort of behavior as bad for everyone’s business and will decline to invite the dealer to a future event. Customers can help this out by being savvy about what they are buying and refraining from purchasing products from vendors who claim to be hand crafters when they clearly aren’t.  Just be careful that you don’t lump actual hand crafters in with importers claiming to be hand crafters.  Vendors can be cranky people [4], especially on a Sunday morning.

The Ar-tiste

The Ar-tise is a brooding figure of High Art in a world of Low Workmen.  He believes that his products are somehow better than those of his fellow artists.  His line art is more stylized, his craftsmanship is more refined, his quivering sensitivity to the world around him makes anything he produces automatically more valuable.  The Ar-tiste may slump behind his table of wares in his own personal cloud of Ennui, Doom, and probably stale cigarettes, unable to understand why no one appreciates the deep angst of having to part with his works of beauty.  Especially insulting is that he is forced to sell to mere commoners. The Ar-tiste may even go so far as to make snide remarks to or about anyone who doesn’t buy his products, as they clearly aren’t intelligent enough to understand the quality of the product that they are getting at just twice the cost of every other artist there!

How To Handle Them:

The Ar-tiste’s lacks of sales are his own worst punishment.  Unless he morphs into the Competing Vendor or his insults border on harassment, just ignore him.  As with the “Handmade” Importer, a good dealer’s coordinator will keep notes about his behavior and be hesitant about inviting him to future events.  An Ar-tiste will rarely change his behavior if confronted with it, as any negative reaction to him just reenforces his belief that he is tragically misunderstood.

The Hoarder

The Hoarder’s product description in the program book usually reads “Clothing, accessories, costume props, and a little of everything.” And when she says everything, she means it.  The Hoarder’s shop set-up looks like a garage sale in dire need of a garage to shove it all back into.  Nothing has a price tag, everything is in giant plastic tubs, the junk jewelry is jumbled in with the good stuff, and if you are very, very lucky, the clothing will be clean and on hangers but that’s about it.  The Hoarder honestly believes that half the fun of shopping with her is the thrill of discovering something new each time you visit.  Sometimes, she’ll even find things that she didn’t know she had!

How To Deal With Them:

Generally, Hoarder style vendors can be a lot of fun, both for the customer, and the vendor.  Their neighbors might not enjoy the experience, since Hoarders also tend towards Blob behavior and the crowd of busy treasure hunters can clog the flow of traffic.  If you’re the sort of person who can’t stand the mess, feel free to subtly tidy up and organize as you search.  The Hoarder will either be grateful for the help, or won’t care, since the next batch of customers will simply mess it all up again. Security will need to keep a closer watch on Hoarder style vendors, as their products are a lot easier to shoplift.  Dealer’s coordinators will want to put Hoarder style vendors out of the major traffic flows and give reminders about staying inside their own space as needed.

The Curmudgeon

The Curmudgeon has been doing conventions since time began, and is really cranky about, well, everything.  He has a permanent frown etched onto his face and eyes anyone across the table with the deep ingrained suspicion of someone who is a lifetime member of the The Customer Is Never Right Club.  He’s not happy with the way the yung’uns are running things these days, the six foot tables were longer back in his day, and he will complain at length about how much he hates these new-fangled credit card systems while pulling out a Card Whomper.  The Curmudgeon may or may not actually be an asshole, but he sure acts like one to just about everyone, including some of his potential customers.

The Card Whomper

I don't care what anyone says, that's what it's called.

How To Handle Them:

Whether you’re a neighbor, a customer, or just the hapless security person tasked with dealing with his latest complaint, the solution is the same. Get him started telling stories about other conventions he’s been to.  Seriously, Curmudgeons have the BEST stories once you get them rolling, and most of them are generally more friendly to anyone willing to listen to them.  You may discover that the Grumpy Old Asshole behind the table has met some pretty cool people and done some pretty amazing things.  Dealer’s coordinators are highly encouraged to do their best to be understanding of Curmudgeons who are having difficulty with modern technology.  Most Curmudgeons survive the circuit for so long because they have a solid product line and lots of repeat customers, something of great value in a vendor.

The Blob

The Blob spreads and consumes any empty space outside of her designated area.  And sometimes not so empty space. The Blob will just set down one thing on the edge of her table that will happen to get nudged onto a neighbor’s table, set down a box that will just happen to get shuffled into someone else’s back space, and a truly bold Blob will set up additional racks and tables right in the aisle, creating a handy bottleneck in front of her table.  People will mill about in front of her table, look at her products while they are stuck there, and eventually wind up buying something because hey, it’s not like they’re going anywhere, right?  No one escapes The Blob!

How To Handle Them:

Much like many problem vendors, issues with The Blob can be resolved through good room planning, clear demarcation of each vendor’s space, and a lot of good old fashioned passive aggressive hospitality. Neighbors of The Blob should slap on their very best smile, hand over any offending items, and give Southern cussing a try. “Bless your heart, you’re positively overflowing over there!  Here, this got pushed into my space by accident.” Attendees who find themselves stuck in front of The Blob’s space should try to avoid becoming part of the bottleneck, and politely remind any Blockades who crop up that, hey, there’s other people back here, damnit.  And naturally, the dealer’s coordinator and security staff should keep a wary eye out for any attempted incursions outside of assigned areas, especially ones that involve blocking traffic flow.

The Rule Bender

The Rule Bender has read and agreed to the Dealer’s Hall regulations, he just doesn’t think that they necessarily apply to what he wants to do.  Rule Benders will light incense when there isn’t supposed to be anything flammable, will sell Ramune bottles with free Ramune inside if the hall forbids drinks, and will insist that any rules against attaching items to walls shouldn’t apply if he’s using painter’s tape.  The Rule Bender may even try to convince an inexperienced dealer’s hall coordinator or security person that the other has allowed some violation of the rules just for him, or insist that because last year’s staff people allowed him to do it, that he should be allowed to do it again this year.

How To Handle Them:

The bad thing about a Rule Bender is that attendees and other vendors alike will take any laxness on enforcement as a sign that general Rule Bending is allowed.  An attendee will see a vendor who has posted signs using painters tape and believe that they can also post signs, so long as they use painter’s tape.  Vendors who didn’t bring their stock of Ramune may become resentful if another vendor is allowed to get around the rules by “selling the bottles.”  And a vendor who believes that a lit stick on incense is somehow not a flammable object may find themselves the subject of complaints by neighbors who are put off by the scent and the possibility of fire damage to their own products.  What’s worse is that if any of these rules were put in place due the policies of the hotel or convention center, the convention itself may find itself in breach of contract for not enforcing these policies.  The best way to handle Rule Benders is to hold a hard line and have clear policies that both the dealer’s room staff and the security team can refer to.  And bring a copy to the con, because there is nothing a Rule Bender loves more than a good argument about what a rule actually says.


[1] I tend to use the terms “dealers” and “vendors” interchangeably.  There are some people who take exception to this, insisting that the two terms are completely different.  As someone with over 10 years of experience vending at, assisting with, and occasionally even running conventions, I personally feel that anyone who wants to argue with me on such a nitpicky point can cheerfully fuck off.

[2] An actual suggestion I saw, not one I personally advocate.

[3] True story.

[4] There has been more than one convention experience in my youth where someone used ill-advised air quotes around references to the stuff on my table. Fellow vendors and neighbors who recognize when you are about to climb over the table at someone are a valuable asset.

EDIT: Moose has declared this post TL;DR and says that it is proof that I’ve been working conventions too long.

One Comment leave one →
  1. TwoTails permalink
    March 15, 2012 8:25 am

    For the guy who likes a little booth with his thumpa-thumpa music, if con securoty doesn’t want to do something about it (and I’ve had this happen), the next step is to call the good folks at ASCAP/BMI and let them know that this guy is using popular music as part of his trade dress without paying the performance fee. They take an amazingly dim view of this, and can not only ding the offender for the infraction, but if they’re feeling really energetic that day, they can go after the convention for not clamping down on the guy as well. (The fine can be $500 per day plus the costs of enforcement, from what I’ve heard.)

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