Convention Review: Colossal Con 2016
Colossal Con is a convention with a very special vibe to it. With the water park, this convention tends to be more heavily themed (think, lots of swim suit cosplays) and more adult in nature. The last attendance numbers I saw for this con placed it at about 20,000 attendees, making this one of the larger cons I attend. There is almost 24 hour programing and a huge variety of things to see and do.
It's definitely a unique convention.
I also wanted to state upfront that, overall, this was a good convention. I had a great time. I'd happily go again and absolutely recommend that others make a trip to Colossal Con at least once in their life time because it's a great experience and, as stated, completely unique. This is a long, complicated review and it might seem like there was a lot of issues. And there was! But each one is something that can be worked on to improve in the future and I firmly believe that if Colossal Con worked to solve, or minimize, the problems they have it could be a really outstanding convention.
Colossal Con has very few rules, there are just a handful listed on the website. I do wish they were more clear. I did not know if the rule against "games of chance" applied to mystery bags with random items. I emailed the artist alley contact email on the Sunday before the convention, but never received a response.
The rules that they do have are very loosely enforced as well. For example, the rules say no open display of 18+ material, but 18+ material was displayed very prominently with just stickers over the naughty bits and the rest of the image very clearly showing the nature of the artwork.
Accidentally breaking a rule you didn't know about is definitely not a concern here, just use common sense.
Sign up took place through a google form and was very easy to fill out. Tables were selected via jury system and the artist alley is very small, which makes this an incredibly difficult convention to get into. Even if you have a stellar portfolio and product, you're still facing strong competition.
They do allow a discounted helper badge for $30 more which is greatly appreciated since my helper and I are too busy to do much at the con, so it really sucks to have to buy a full priced badge we never use.
All in all, I very much appreciated the ease of the sign up process.
We received an email 3 weeks before the convention with set up information. This email included times for set up, times the alley was going to be open, a blurb saying that we were required to load in through loading dock 10, and a map of the convention hall with the placement for the artist alley circled.
I'd have greatly appreciated a map of the entire Kalahari area that showed the parking lots in relation to the convention center. I'd also have appreciated having con ops marked on the map as that is where we needed to pick up our badges. However, it was easy to find everything once I was there, I just like to plan ahead a bit better.
Load in was very annoying as the artist alley was not near loading bay 10 where we loaded in, leaving us to carry our stuff through the convention center. During this time, attendees were already roaming the hallways, making it difficult to move larger objects. It might make more sense to allow earlier load in or to restrict access to the convention center while dealers and artists are setting up.
Parking was an absolute mess. On one occasion my helper was bringing extra stock and Kalahari staff tried to turn her away saying there was no parking spaces and no parking allowed on the grass. She has to show her artist badge and explain/bully her way through. I feel like dealers and artists should have reserved parking spaces in the back of the convention hall near the loading docks so we could load in, load out, and come and go during the weekend without worrying about losing our ability to move stock in and out. Or be given space to securely store extra stock as there isn't enough space under a 6 foot table to store several hundred plushies.
Communication was, frankly, quite poor all weekend long.
As I stated, I sent an email to the artist alley the Sunday before the convention and never received an answer.
After I picked up my badge from con ops, there was absolutely no one we could find in the artist alley to point us in the direction of our table. We had to find it ourselves by wandering around looking at the names on the tables.
Later in the weekend, someone left a tablet at my table. When I turned it in at lost and found they asked for my table number. I told them I didn't know my table number and they wanted to know if I could go find it. I had to explain to staff that the tables did not have numbers and they seemed genuinely surprised to hear it. They had assumed I had a table number and would know it.
On Thursday, the artist alley had around 1/3 of the tables empty. Attendees kept using the empty tables as hang out spots and leaving their trash laying around. This makes the alley look bad and causes issues with traffic back ups if there is a big group of people gathered at a table or sitting on the floor in front of it. I asked if the empty tables would be removed on Friday morning and explained the issues they caused. I was told that the tables would be removed if they weren't claimed by 2pm Friday. This never happened and the empty tables remained all weekend.
My final issue came on Sunday when a fire alarm started to go off. Attendees started screaming and running around. Finally they started calming down and someone told me that it had been a drill. The fire alarm continued to go off for about 10 minutes, making it incredibly difficult to do business. No one from staff ever came to my table to inform me what was happening. Eventually I went down to con ops for an explanation and left without a real explanation and feeling as though staff had been very rude and unhelpful.
I'm not upset that the alarm went off, I understand things happen, it's hard to get through a convention without someone pulling a fire alarm. But I've never been to a con where absolutely no communication was given before, during, or after the incident. All it would have taken was a staff member going from table to table to tell artists not to leave because it wasn't a real fire. Instead I was left sitting there waiting to find out what was happening second hand from attendees and wondering if I should be leaving or not.
On the bright side, I did receive a lot of help from staff members at the information booths. One led me to con ops on the first day to get my badge and several people offered to help carry things during load in, including a Kalahari staff member. I suspect the lack of communication was not malicious or intentional, but rather a lack of staff members. I don't know official numbers, but I personally felt like Colossal Con grew in attendance again this year. For a convention this size they may simply need more staff. Another factor is communication between the Kalahari and the staff of Colossal Con may need to be improved so that issues like the fire alarm can be cleared up faster.
At The Con
I have to say this is a fantastic convention for making a good profit. The artist alley was very small for a convention this size, as was the dealer's hall, which I suspect directly contributed to the increase in sales numbers compared to other conventions this size. I saw record profits all weekend long. I doubled my previous high sales day which took place at Colossal Con in 2014. I almost entirely sold out by Sunday, bringing just 7 plushies home with me out of the several hundred that I brought.
There have been complaints that there wasn't a good variety, but I don't feel like that was the case. However, I can see why people might think that as it was such a small alley. If I had to guess, I'd say there was only 30 tables and at least 10 of them were empty on Thursday. By the end of the weekend, there was still around 5 empty tables, though some were occupied randomly throughout the weekend by other conventions advertising themselves.
The talent level of all the artists also seemed really top notch, I was honored to have made the cut to be there. I think Colossal Con did a really great job with their jury system to provide quality content to their attendees.
I also liked all the space we were given as artists. It was bigger than the old artist alley room and I felt the location was better as well for traffic. There was a pretty steady stream of traffic from both ends of the room. We had plenty of room to move around and space to spread out our displays. One thing I thought was odd was that the space between tables in the middle aisle was larger than the walkways. It was almost too much space, I'd have preferred them to be 1-2 feet closer to allow more space for attendees to walk and browse. I also would have preferred 8 foot tables as well as stronger tables. The tables were 6 foot plastic folding tables and if an attendee leaned too heavily on the middle table it started to bend quite alarmingly. There was plenty of space to allow for 8 feet tables and I'd have been happy to pay extra for the increase.
I already mentioned the fact that there was a lot of empty tables. I happened to be in the middle aisle and I was kind of sticking out by myself on Thursday and part of Friday. It was a bit awkward to have so many empty tables.
I felt like the alley could have benefited greatly from a more structured layout, too. Many artists moved or re-arranged the table positions and it made the space look messy. This is a minor concern, but worth noting, especially for the tables on the ends that turned to face the door. The table next to me left a large gap when it moved and attendees kept confusing the space as an aisle to walk down and tripping over the leg of the photo backdrop that was left sticking out in the aisle.
Another area of concern for me was the two booths selling straight up photographic porn, one soft core and one more hard core. On top of the others selling 18+ artwork and provocatively themed pictures, it was not a very family friendly space. As someone who sells plushies, it concerns me that families with younger children who would have been interested in my products, may have opted to skip the artist alley because of that.
I don't think that the solution is to remove 18+ content, but I do think something needs to change to make the artist alley more family friendly. Covering the genitals and nipples doesn't change the sexual nature of the piece. It's still not something that would be appropriate to show on children's television or to bring into your workplace, so it should not be appropriate to display in an all ages setting.
This would be a great convention to have an 18+ room or an after hours adult themed artist alley. That would allow 18+ vendors to freely display their products without jumping through silly hoops like creating a makeshift room out of gridwalls and sheets or covering products with stickers. And it would allow those interested to shop in a space that doesn't include cute fluffy animals and small children shopping with their parents, which is just awkward for everyone.
Finally, I move on to the best part of the weekend. The lunch break! I can not emphasize enough how BRILLIANT this idea was! I've never gotten a dedicated lunch break from a convention before. Usually I have to swap in and out with my helper so we can eat. This break allowed us to not only eat together, but to also leave and get a hot meal if we wanted. We also got to walk around the dealer's hall together and shop, something we never get to do.
I was worried that 1.5 hours would be too long, but because it was so crowded and parking was often a 10+ minute walk back, it was just enough time to leave, eat, and come back. I was also worried that traffic would never pick back up after we re-opened, but that wasn't the case. There was often a line waiting to get back in and a huge rush of people. As I said previously, I saw record high sales all weekend so it do not think it negatively impact sales. I seriously cannot say enough good things about this break and I hope more conventions choose to include one.
The only negative thing I have to say about the schedule was that the alley probably could have closed at 8 and been fine. It was very slow the last hour anyway and being there from 9am-9pm was still a long day, even with a lunch break.
As an Attendee
I have to admit, I didn't enjoy my time as an attendee nearly as much as I enjoyed it in the artist alley. The hallways were unbelievably crowded and it was difficult to get anywhere. Someone compared it to a mosh pit and I have to agree. Two separate times in the weekend, some unknown person came and rubbed themselves against me inappropriately and were gone before I even had time to react or even get a good look at them. Another rubbed their nasty, sweaty badge on my face (YUCK YUCK YUCK). It seemed like I could never find any security or staff to help when these incidents happened either.
Without access to the waterpark, I also felt like I was missing out of half the con. I'd have loved to stay on site to be able to go for an hour or two each day, but getting a room there seems to be a game of chance that I have been losing for years now.
After hours drinks the size of my head were amazing. Hands down one of the best ways to enjoy yourself once work is done. The downside is lots of drunk people, but every con has that problem in the afternoon regardless of whether they sell alcohol on premise or not.
Panels were super enjoyable, the app was great for making a schedule for myself, and there was lots of programming available and great variety even after 9pm when the artist alley closed. We thoroughly enjoyed everything we were able to attend. The downside was that the panel rooms were crowded and there was usually not nearly enough chairs with tons of people standing or sitting around the edges and in the aisles. I heard reports of staff admitting they were past the cap for the fire code and continuing to let people in anyway. I do not know if this is true, but I wouldn't doubt it, and it's a cause for concern especially given that the fire alarm actually did go off.
In the past the "glow stick party" was one of my favorite events, but this year I didn't even bother going. I heard so many bad things about the DJ playing music that was too fast to even dance to and I actually talked to some bikers at my hotel who said that they had started buying tickets for the convention just to crash the rave and some planned on hanging out outside and harassing attendees, which was a huge turn off.
I really felt like the convention has simply outgrown the space that the Kalahari provides. I heard that in the past the Kalahari has expanded because of Colossal Con, so perhaps another expansion is in order. Or a limit to the number of badges sold so that attendees can actually enjoy their experience rather than spending the whole weekend barely able to move around. Moving it away from Bike Week might help reduce crowding in the area in general and increase security. If I went to Colossal Con solely as an attendee, I would honestly skip Saturday because there was almost no point if you spend most of your time just trying to get down the hallway.
This went easily for me, but had the potential to be so much worse. I decided to pack up at 1pm because I only had about 7 plushies left and 4-5 hour drive ahead of me. It wasn't busy enough at the end to justify staying the full time. My helper mom managed to find a parking spot within a 5 minute walk of the loading dock, so we didn't have far to go carrying the heavy wooden parts of my display. I felt very bad, though, for people who wanted to leave and didn't get so lucky because there was absolutely no parking behind the loading dock. Some vendors left their trailers and vans parked back there all weekend and now I understand why. If I had more stuff to carry, it almost would have been worth driving down a separate car so I could have left one there for load out.
I continued to get super lucky as within 5 minutes of leaving, it started down pouring in huge sheets of rain so hard everyone had to stop on the road and I couldn't' see a foot away from the car. Tents from bike week were blowing all over the place and debris like leaves and sticks were flying around. I heard Cedar Point shut down from the storm. I was so glad not to be loading out in that.
It's so hard to summarize my experiences. I'm still annoyed about a lot of the issues I faced, but I genuinely had a good time and I suspect as time passes I'll forget the bad moments and only remember the good. I absolutely would love to return and I have high hopes that Colossal Con will continue to grow and improve. They are doing a lot of essential things right by providing a fun and unique atmosphere and I don't doubt they'll be one of the top conventions in the country if they listen to feedback and find solutions as they continue to grow.
The artist alley was wildly profitable and enjoyable. It had plenty of space to spread out, and was surrounded by amazing talent. It could have benefited from a slightly better layout, better communication with the artists, dedicated parking for those who need to load in and out, and a separation or toning down of the 18+ content.
As an attendee, the panels were awesome with lots of content and variety and the app was very helpful. The Kalahari set the mood for the beach/resort theme nicely and I'd have loved to have taken advantage of the waterpark. Over crowding diminished, but did not entirely take away from, the overall experience. Plan for long lines everywhere and no space for bulky or delicate cosplay and absolutely no parking.