How to Build The Perfect Convention or Craft Show Toolkit

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Years ago when I started vending at craft shows, I showed up with my wares for sale, a paper bag full of plastic grocery bags that I had saved, and a metal cookie canister that I used as a cash box. As I turned my hobby into a business, I realized that I might actually need to expand my kit. A Lot.

Whether you sell at comic cons, craft shows, music festivals, fairs, science fiction conventions, or any other venue, you’re going to need stuff.  I vend at 24-26 conventions per year, and these are the things that are necessities for me. You may find that you don’t need some of these items, so feel free to substitute as needed.

  • The Vessel:  At the moment, I’m using a small plastic toolbox to hold small items and I pack that into a large tote bag with everything else.  You can use a tool box, tackle box, duffel bag, tote bag, plastic bin–whatever works for you and fits your stuff.
  • A Server Apron:  After emptying the toolbox, I used to place it on a chair behind my table and use it as a cash box. About a year ago, however, I was vending at a comic con where my neighbors brought attendees into their space to play video games while other attendees stood around watching and waiting for their turn to play.  When I realized that total strangers were standing behind MY table, inches away from my cash box, I decided that I needed another solution.  As soon as I got home, I ordered a black, 3 pocket server apron and have used it ever since.
  • Aspirin/Pain Reliever:  Conventions can be LOUD–particularly comic cons. You’d be surprised how often you’ll get a headache. Having suffered through a gall bladder attack one convention weekend, I cannot tell you how valuable pain relievers were! Do yourself a favor–toss a bottle into your kit.
  • Bandages, Small First Aid Kit, Nail File/Clippers:  Cuts and scrapes while setting up or breaking down, broken fingernails from grabbing your gridwall the wrong way, blisters, paper cuts–you’ll experience them all at one point or another.
  • Scissors, Scotch Tape, Cardstock, Sharpies: for making last minute signs.
  • Sales Book With Extra Pens: I know several vendors who don’t write down their sales. They merely add up their cash and credit card sales at the end of the show. How do they keep track of their inventory? I have absolutely no idea. I keep a sales record book (like a server uses to write down your order at a restaurant) to write down what I’ve sold and to note whether the sale was paid for with cash or credit. I also keep some extra pens on hand because you never know when one is going to run out of ink, when a customer is going to walk away with one, or when one of your neighbors will need one. You can get a ten pack of decent pens at the dollar store, so it’s a no-brainer.
  • Zip Ties:  I have several sections of 6’x2′ gridwall that I use to display my merchandise.  I use zip ties to connect the panels to one another and to secure the grid to the legs of my tables to ensure that they won’t fall over from the weight of the merchandise displayed on them.
  • A Calculator:  Always handy for adding up totals, calculating tax, etc. Also bring a key chain-style flashlight since you never know if your booth is going to be in a well-lit area or a dark one. The flashlight can be invaluable for activating the solar panel on your calculator.
  • A Card Reader: Most vendors nowadays accept credit cards through Square, PayPal, or other services.  Those that don’t accept cards are more likely to lose out on sales, so make it easy for customers to give you their money! Keep a reader in your kit and you’ll always be ready.
  • A Phone Charger and Portable Power Supply:  You may or may not have an electrical outlet at your booth when vending in a hotel conference center. You most likely will not have power at a convention center unless you make arrangements for it ahead of time and pay a hefty fee for it. If you do have a power source–great! Keep a charger handy in case all those credit cards you’re running drain your battery. If not, having a backup charger can be a lifesaver. Some of the larger convention centers tend to drain your battery completely within a matter of hours. Suspicious? Yes. But it’s also a reality that you have to plan for. Don’t run out of power and risk losing those sales.
  • Safety Pins:  No one ever seems to have these with them, but you may find you need them for personal needs, pinning tablecloths or banners, etc.  You will also be a hero to every cosplayer with a costume emergency.
  • Lanyards:  Depending on the show, you might receive a wristband, a badge with a lanyard, or a pin-back badge.  I find the pin-back badge holders super annoying, so I keep extra lanyards in my kit so that I can turn them into ones that I can just pop over my head. Easy.
  • Wipes or Hand Sanitizer:  Con Crud is real, people. Help cut down the spread with liberal use of hand sanitizer and frequent hand-washing.
  • Mints, Hard Candy, or Cough Drops:  As vendors, we talk A LOT over the course of a weekend. Help soothe your throat and protect your voice.
  • Business Cards:  Keep a good supply on hand to promote your business and drive customers to your store, website, or social media pages.  I also hand a card to each customer that pays by credit card and tell them that I’m giving them my card so that when they get their credit card statement, they won’t wonder what the heck Retro Daddio is. It drastically cuts down chargebacks from people who don’t remember what they bought or who they bought it from.
  • Emergen-C or Airborne:  Between load-in, set-up, long show hours, breakdown, load-out, and long drives to and from the venue, conventions take a toll on your body.  A shot of vitamin C or an electrolyte drink can do wonders to help you feel better.
  • A Sweater or Hoodie:  Dress in layers. Vendor rooms can be overly warm when packed with bodies, but are notoriously chilly. Dress for a warm room, but bring a sweater, jacket, or hoodie to put on in case you get cold.
  • Refillable Water Bottle:  Many large convention centers have restrictions on what food and beverages you can bring in to your booth. Some don’t even allow you to bring in your own water–you have to buy your refreshments from their vendors.  They will usually let you bring in a refillable bottle and fill it from the water fountain though, so keep one in your kit and save a few dollars.
  • Tablecloths:  Most hotel conventions provide tablecloths on their vendor tables. Most convention center and library conventions do not. Keep some on hand to cover the tables before putting your merchandise on them for sale, and for covering the merchandise at the end of the day. They help to signal to customers that your booth or table isn’t open for the day yet.

This is a good starting point, though you’ll most likely want to add some items and omit others. I find that I use all of these at most conventions, but what you need will vary depending on what you sell, what display items you use, and other factors, so just do what works for you!

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