Youmacon is another first time for me. I've never sold or gone as a guest, but many of my friends have. This is the first year I was not attending school during the con and was available for the sign up date.
The rules for Youmacon were pretty standard for most conventions. One major difference I noticed is that no clothing sales or cosplay accessories are allowed in the artist alley (except limited t-shirts). While this doesn't directly effect me, it is interesting to note for others wanting to attend. There are also lists of companies you may not make fan art of. While many cons operate under a rather gray area when it comes to fan art, Youmacon is large enough that representatives have made specific requests, so these are worth checking out as well.
Sign up was standard first come first serve, however the artist alley was smaller this year, meaning it was a rush to get in. Tickets were available through Eventbrite. Knowing that in advance, I downloaded the app on my phone and tested that everything worked. I set an alarm on my phone to remind me and signed up as soon as it was available.
I am a huge fan of the Eventbrite sign up system. I know some may not agree, but I do like like having my information saved and a mobile app available to make things faster and easier. So, all in all, I really appreciate the ease of sign up.
A minor issues was there were no confirmation emails from Youmacon itself. Just because you signed up did not mean you got a spot (you had to pass a check to see if your items were following the rules), but only those who were rejected got messages, leaving the rest of us to assume it’s all okay.
A major issue was the lack of an option to purchase a helper badge. We were told on the Youmacon Artist Alley Facebook group that codes would be available at a later date to purchase discounted helper badges. These were never provided. Requests for an update yielded no response. Finally the head of the AA just told us to buy regular badges and pick them up from her. It sounds as though there was an issue getting things set up and working to allow for a discounted helper code. The problem was that at this point we had waited so long for a definitive answer that badge prices had gone up, making this more expensive to bring a helper.
The majority of communication from Youmacon came from the Facebook group. Without it, I would not have known even half of the info I found out. Even then communication was slow coming. While the AA head, Beth, was very quick to respond, often our questions would have to wait on the answers of others higher up who were not so quick to respond. In fact, with the exception of Beth I never heard from a single staff member until the day I arrived.
That meant there was no info packet emailed to artists letting us know where to park and set up. That info was available on the facebook page, but again, you had to know there was a facebook page first. Also accessing that info was difficult on a phone since it involved digging into the group's uploaded files, it was not in a post.
Load in was easy and we made it even easier on ourselves. The facebook page said to park on the roof or use the loading docks so we went the day before and got a spot on the roof. Then we walked down to see where the hall was so we made sure we were as close as possible. The info I was given said Wayne hall, but there are no signs on the roof to let you know what's underneath so you either have to know or you have to check first.
The cobo roof had signs up saying, "No overnight parking, no exceptions," but we spoke to the guard and she said that overnight parking was a $20 fee and too many people didn't know that and would freak out about the charge, so they put up the signs. In reality, you could park overnight if you were willing to pay the fee and they wouldn't tow. So I parked there the whole weekend. I think it cost me about $40 in parking, but I expected it to cost more and I was okay with that.
At the Con
This convention is one I consider to have been a success. Check in was easy, I just walked up to the artist alley info booth and got my badge as well as a helper badge that I bought through regular registration with no hassle. They did ask to see my ID and to sign some form of identification onto the badge to help reduce theft, which is something I've come to expect and appreciate.
The layout itself was nice, but not exactly ideal. The tables were laid out in rows back to back (except those against the wall) and in grids so that every 4 tables or so had a gap between them to allow people to get through. It was difficult for displaying to have no space between tables. At one point, we had to ask our neighbor to change their display because it was coming out of their table at an angle and blocking our table, something that wouldn't have happened if we'd have just had a half a foot or so between tables. Which is something I think they planned on when setting up. It was also difficult to get in and out without tripping over stuff being stored or displayed behind the tables.
I did like the layout a lot in terms of browsing, though. Walking through the AA it felt very cohesive and no one was trying to cut through tables or walk behind them when they shouldn't be. Everything flowed well and there was ample space in the rows, even with some rows having trash cans in the middle that disrupted the flow of traffic a bit. I felt like I got good traffic even in the back since they let people enter from registration in the back so there was traffic from all directions.
Sales were good for me, but not stellar. I'd say high average. Definitely worth the trip and nothing to complain about, but not quite as high as I'd expected considering this convention was magnitudes larger than most I do, but profits were very similar to smaller cons. Most others I spoke to had good weekends as well, though there were a few exceptions and some say that areas of the room had "dead spots" where there wasn't as much traffic.
The announcements were completely impossible to understand. Luckily there was no important ones other than closing and opening announcements, but we all sort of knew what they were trying to say. The hall did announce closing times consistently 30 minutes earlier than what was stated in the schedule, but I assume this was to make sure the hall was cleared out so vendors and artists could leave on time and I appreciated that as well.
One thing I cannot say enough good things about was FREE WIFI IN THE COBO CENTER!!! Even the hotel did not have free wifi and I am so used to ridiculous charges of $15/day up to $50/day to use wifi in convention centers. Not only was it free, it was also fast and reliable. I had absolutely no issues with credit card transactions the entire weekend due to spotty wifi, which is almost a miracle. It was also nice because I did not get enough cell signal to even make a phone call so I was able to make calls over the wifi.
I think discussing staff deserves it's own section. Cobo Center staff was overwhelmingly pleasant and polite. Even the people mover employees were wonderful. Security guards on the roof held the door for me while I unloaded and chatted on the elevator. A man sweeping trash gave me some candy on Halloween. The people mover security called on their intercom to make 100% sure when the people mover opened so I could plan accordingly. I even had a cobo staff member buy a plushie from me on the roof because they missed being able to actually attend and loved my printed pillows. I spoke with them a bit and they said the cobo staff absolutely loves having the convention there because it’s so much fun and different than usual.
Which leads me to my next point and, unfortunately, my only negative point of the weekend, but it’s a huge one. The youmacon staff was rude. Outside of those I interacted with in the artist alley (and a huge shout out to Beth who did a wonderful job) I did not speak to a single friendly staff member. When I told this to the cobo staff member on the roof, she told me that youmacon staff is very rude to cobo center employees as well, which was completely disheartening.
The worst one was the door guard for the dealer’s/artist alley on Sunday. She was screaming over and over into a megaphone, “Single file line! That means one person in front of another! If you don’t know what that means you aren’t in my line! If you are tired of hearing me say it maybe you should try listening for a change!” One person walked up to ask her where to buy badges and she screamed in their face, “We are done, do you hear me?! WE ARE DONE! We aren’t selling anymore!”
It was so unbelievably rude I was livid. Those are my potential customers and paying attendees being screamed at and treated like they are too foolish to know how to line up. Not only does that hurt the convention, but it directly hurts my business when people come in angry or, worse, refuse to come in at all. Nor did the behavior of the attendees warrant the attitude in my opinion, they were making a neat line against the hall all the way down almost to registration. If it wasn't perfectly single file, it was because people were turning to talk to each other. My mother and helper, who actually noticed this behavior first, reported it to the AA staff. After I witnessed it, I checked facebook and saw others complaining about the same woman and I asked my mother to to report it again to different staff, but by the time she got there she said she someone was already speaking to the lady. I didn’t see her the rest of the con and I sincerely hope she wont be employed there next year.
That was not the only incident, though. We attended a stand up comedy panel. All the doors were open so we went in to wait. 5 minutes after the panel was supposed to start, a staff member showed up and started screaming, “Everybody needs to get out! OUT! Everyone needs to get out right now I need to check ID!” After standing all day in the AA I did not want to go back out and stand in line and lose the spot I arrived early for because staff didn’t do their job. After we practically begged she, unhappily, agreed to shut the doors and ID check those already in the room rather than kicking us all out. It left a sour taste in my mouth and we were too grouchy to enjoy the panel so we left early.
There were no other major incidents with staff, but plenty of minor ones where “please” and “thank you” could have gone a long way. The youmacon staff could do with some serious customer service training as there should be absolutely no reason to be screaming and yelling at people. Signs saying, “single file line,” could reduce the need to scream it over and over. Megaphones or microphones for speaking into could help with being heard over the noise. Roped off areas specifically for lines to the AA, registration, and major halls could have reduced issues with crowd control going into the doors. Signs for all 18+ panels saying, “Please have your ID ready,” and someone to guard the door ahead of time rather than showing up late could help in that area. Info booths set up in regular intervals could prevent people from "cutting" in line just to ask the door guards questions.
Load out was very easy. Because we parked on the roof we were able to avoid the dealers using the loading docks who usually have a lot more stuff to move. We also moved some stuff ahead of time so we could get out in one trip and beat the rush. Even so, it wasn’t that busy. There was no line to leave the roof parking and no traffic other than usual Detroit traffic heading towards the highway. We made it home in record time.
All in all I had a REALLY good time at Youmacon. The vibe was great. With so many people I was expecting it to be crazy, but overall it was wonderfully friendly and full of great people. It felt like a small town con only with much longer lines. People were saying hi, smiling, and sharing stories everywhere I went, even on people movers and in the elevators. I spent a ton of time laughing and I was busy all day. Even when I wasn’t selling, I was having great conversations.
Sales were worth the trip and the high costs of downtown Detroit, the artist alley was well thought out and pain free. Free and reliable wifi was a huge bonus.
This is a con I would not hesitate to return to in the AA and I would absolutely love to spend a day actually just attending the convention rather than selling. There was a lot I’d have loved to do and just didn’t have time or energy for. I would even consider this a con worth flying to attend, but only because I enjoyed the convention itself so much and not necessarily because it was profitable.