This week, I will be driving to the NEC here in the UK for one of the largest board game conventions in the world, UK Games Expo. I’ve been going to this show for many years, and as it is my only local show, I always use it as an opportunity to try new things and learn.
Here are 10 tips for anyone exhibiting at a convention:
1. Booth size: Any size booth can work, and while seeing other publishers with much larger booths can be disheartening, you shouldn’t rush to get something bigger. Last year, I had a 10m x 6m (30ft x 18ft) booth, and the amount of extra work designing it, finding volunteers, sorting travel and accommodation, managing demos, and planning everything was significant. I’m going back to a smaller booth this year as it is more enjoyable and allows me to provide a better experience!
2. Know your audience: I like to design my booth for everyone, including people who know my games and those who don’t. I offer demos for people new to my games, handy breakdowns of products for those looking to purchase a new expansion, and competitions for those who already have everything. This year, I’ll also have a photography area, a new product cabinet, and a colouring station for kids and adults needing a break. The more people you cater to, the better experience everyone will have.
3. Demos: Any game that you are demonstrating should have a planned-out demo. Think of the best way to present each game and make sure everyone demoing them has enough time to learn the correct approach to teaching the game. Often, this means just playing a few turns with a shorter upfront teach.
4. Card payments: Make sure you can accept card payments. In recent years, cards have become the primary method of payment at shows, and I expect around 80% of all payments to be made by card. You can get a variety of cheap and easy-to-use card readers for less than $50 that can connect to your phone or tablet and deposit payments into your PayPal or bank accounts. Personally, I use the Zettle card readers.
5. Cash: Cards may be the primary method of payment, but you should also bring significant change with you to manage cash payments. Often, when queues form, you may have people offer to pay with cash to speed up the process. I recommend carrying all cash on your person as theft is a real concern at shows, and you should never leave your cash unattended, even for a few seconds.
6. Bags: Customers making purchases will want bags, and they need to be big and strong enough to carry games. Some publishers pay for custom bags, but these can be expensive (several dollars or more each) unless you’re printing large quantities. I use brown paper bags from Amazon as they are more environmentally friendly than plastic bags, come in a variety of sizes, and I can easily double them up if needed. Using my sticker printer, I can also add custom markings to them if I want to!
7. Tablecloths: One of the easiest and cheapest ways to make your booth look great is to bring nice tablecloths that have just been ironed. I always take pure black tablecloths with me to shows. They are washed and ironed the day before I leave, and I tape them to the tables to keep them tight. It makes a real difference to how your booth looks.
8. Prepared responses: You are going to have a lot of people come by and try to sell you their services or discuss opportunities. The most common interactions are with artists, media, designers, and manufacturers, but there are many more. Before the show opens, make sure you know your current requirements for each of these things and have a planned response. Unless you want to, don’t allow yourself to get pulled into unplanned meetings as they can take up a lot of time.
9. Pens: It may sound silly, but it is very important to have both writing pens and pens for signing things. There are countless times when someone asks me to write something down or wants to write something down during a show, and having pens helps. It is also possible you’ll be asked for your signature, and it makes for a much friendlier experience if you have a pen available for signing things. Remember, you will lose your pens, so bring spares.
10. Opening boxes: If you are selling games, then you are going to need to open boxes. In an ideal world, most of the boxes would be opened outside of show hours, but I don’t think a show has gone by where I haven’t had a mad rush to get more games out onto the shelves. Nothing is more tiring than having to quickly rip open 5 or 6 boxes while talking to people and trying to take card payments. Be prepared with something to open the boxes. You’ll thank me!