Convention Review: Shuto Con 2017
It's time for the first convention review of the year: Shuto Con!
This is my third year attending Shuto Con and anyone who has read my past reviews knows that I adore Shuto Con. To me, Shuto Con strikes a perfect balance as a mid size convention. Small enough to have a small convention feel of community, but large enough to be able to host some really exciting events like multiple concerts and dances as well as a ton of panels and photo shoots.
I took a leap this year and decided to get a 10x10 premium artist booth. The fact that Shuto Con offers these spaces to artists at all is amazing. This space allowed me to really spread my wings without moving to the dealer's hall where my largely handmade goods would be unable to compete with either pricing or quantity. It was a great learning experience for me as well as a big step towards being able to do bigger and better things with BeeZeeArt.
Shuto Con is not a convention where you can toss out your contract. Staff will walk around and enforce their rules during the convention. That being said, none of their rules are unreasonable and you will be fine as long as you read through them and plan accordingly.
There are 3 major rules that often catch people off guard. First, this convention is a 50/50 con meaning fan art can not make up more than 50% of your table. There is also a list of fan art that isn't allow so be sure to check that before planning your stock.
Second, there is a height restriction of 8ft for displays at a standard table or 9ft for a premium space. Last year staff was a lenient on this since they did not have an exact way to measure, but this year they did bring a measuring tape to measure each display. Those who were over were asked to change their display to fit the restrictions. My only suggestion for next year is that staff perhaps make the height restriction from the tabletop instead of from the floor as table height can vary which makes it harder to plan for. So instead of an 8ft restriction from the floor, perhaps a 5ft restriction from the tabletop.
The last tricky rule is one that was new this year. Signs, banner, large displays, and storage is no longer allowed behind the table any further than your chair would stick out (or around 1 foot). This is a requirement of the Lansing Center to comply with the fire code. Last year this rule existed to a lesser extent last year, but was more strict this year.
Sign up for Shuto Con took place over a 24 hour window of time to submit applications. Acceptance letters went out afterwards and payment was accepted through Eventbrite. The system worked well for me, though 24 hours may be short to some so I recommend joining the Artists of Shuto Con Facebook group for regular updates.
I had no issues with sign up and I must say I love how many conventions have been using Eventbrite. It makes it easy to pay since my information is saved in my account and it is easy to look up my receipt.
Staff excelled at speedy communication over a variety of platforms including email, Facebook messages, and comments in the Artists of Shuto Con Facebook group which is set up to allow artists to communicate with each other. During the convention, staff was readily available through the Facebook group or at the Shuto Con booth in the back of the hall.
Load in for Shuto Con is usually swift and easy for me. I tend to park underneath the Lansing Center and take the elevator right up to the hall. I prefer to load in through the doors and not the loading dock as it is faster and less crowded than the loading dock.
However, this year I had an unfortunate incident with security. DK security is a third party security company required by the city and the convention center in order to help manage the crowds. They were also responsible for checking badges. The problem was, artists were required to pick up badges in the artist alley and they would not let me in without a badge. Which I couldn't get until I went to the artist alley. You begin to see the problem. The DK security guard, Brian, asked me to wait for his supervisor to escort me to the artist alley.
This in itself was not a problem for me. I didn't want just anyone to be able to claim they were an artist and walk in. I was fine with getting an escort. My issue is what followed. I am not going to go into too much detail (you can shoot me an email if you really want to know) because I don't want to bog down this review with negativity about a third party. Long story short, Shuto Con staff tried to help us enter, but Brian of DK Security would not let staff escort us in, insisting we wait for his supervisor. 3 different staff members, including head of Shuto Con security, confronted Brian and tried to help us get in the building. The security guard raised his voice to staff and myself (escalating the confrontation to shouting in the hallway), continued to argue with and berate myself and my helper after Shuto Con staff left to find more help, made hints that he was going to remove us despite Shuto Con security making it clear we were welcome, threatened to report my helper (I'm not sure to who) when she asked him his name, continued yelling one sided arguments at us after we refused to speak to him any longer, kept telling staff members, "We are going to do things my way, I don't care who you are," constantly referred to me as "that girl" in a condescending manner despite having been given my name. When his supervisor finally showed up, 40 minutes after he was initially called and around 10 minutes after his second call, he was also rude, offered no apology, and treated us poorly. I cannot even begin to describe how frustrating, humiliating, and embarrassing the whole situation was and the fact that it carried on for 40 minutes was inexcusable. What should have been a 5 minute walk to the artist alley with staff members turned into a screaming match with DK security escalating the confrontation at every point.
As a result of spending almost an hour arguing in the hallway, I was almost an hour late setting up and, frankly, was off my game for a few hours until I could calm down. This wasn't our last issue with DK security over the weekend, but it was by far the worst.
It is clear to me that DK security does not care about Shuto Con attendees, does not value their time or money, and does not respect Shuto Con staff members, nor do its employees posses the necessary training and customer service skills to handle such a high stress position. I don't bring up these issues to highlight how bad DK security is, but to stress how WONDERFUL Shuto Con staff was in the face of such sheer incompetance. 3 separate staff members tried to help get us in the building Friday. One staff member went to the AA personally to get us badges and bring them to us (which is what eventually got us in) and she checked in on us later to make sure we were still okay. The head of security stood up for us when it felt hopeless. If it weren't for the head of Shuto security stating we were welcome at the convention in no uncertain terms, I am convinced we would have been removed by DK security as we were threatened. Multiple staff members, some of which weren't even involved, apologized to me and checked in on me during the day Friday. Stefanie, the head of the artist alley and one of the co-chairs of Shuto apologized to me personally and assured me that they would do everything in their power to make sure things were better next year. They went above and beyond to make sure everything else ran smoothly for me. To be quite honest, the whole thing made my heart break for Shuto Con. They work incredibly hard to run this event and to have a third party company that they trusted to protect their attendees instead harass and disrespect them is a disaster.
Shuto Con staff reaction is honestly what made me keep trying to get in, despite the security. If they hadn't responded so perfectly to the whole issue, I'd have packed up, left, and demanded a refund. The fact that they worked so very hard on my behalf is just another reason why I think Shuto Con is one of the best around and why I will keep returning as long as they will have me.
At the Con
Once we got over our rough start Friday, things went great. The tape lines between tables in the artist alley and for 10x10 spaces made is easy to layout our stuff without intruding on anyone's space.
The 10x10 space was amazing, it really made a huge difference in the way people browse my products. One of my struggles as an artist is to get people to touch my plushies. With a product like mine, the way the product feels is very important and holding them is a different experience from just looking at them. In addition, an 8 foot table only allows 2 or 3 people to really comfortably stand in front of it before it gets crowded and starts to block people from browsing. As BeeZeeArt gains more fans, this becomes more of an issue.
With the layout I had, people were readily picking up products from the shelves, petting plushies in passing, and freely walked around to look at everything. At many points through the weekend, I was able to have a line of people waiting to check out down the middle of the booth while people were still comfortably able to browse on either side. It let me chat with return customers without blocking new ones from coming in.
I also had a lot more room to experiment and bring new products. Usually I am forced by space issues to bring mostly fan favorites and 1 or 2 new products, but this time around I had 2 new pillow designs, mini plushies, shoulder dragons, unicorns, a new style of jellyfish, updated loch ness, printed betta fish, bunnies, and I was able to bring digital cards for my sewing patterns with digital download codes on the back. I was surprised how many people noticed and commented favorably on the new products and by how many people were return customers. One person said they always buy one of my pillows at every Shuto Con, it's their tradition now. Another brought back an umbreon to visit that she had purchased from Youmacon. Yet another told me she collects my plushies and puts them in a glass display case! I'm so glad I was able to bring new stuff for these people who have been so loyal. Their continued support means the world to me.
Friday was much slower than I'm used to. Attendees told me there was hail, rain, snow, more hail, and more snow. I hoped it was just the weather keeping people away, but spirits were pretty down in the hall.
Luckily, things picked up Saturday. While some of my friends in the artist alley reported that sales were down for them overall as a result of the slow Friday, I was able to pick things back up with the busy Saturday and more than make up for the lower attendance. I was constantly busy, often with a line of people waiting at my table. In the hallways it was packed to bursting. I wouldn't be surprised if attendance was higher than last year, it seemed there was a huge draw with the electronic dance and Mystery Skulls concert.
Sunday saw decent traffic, too. Not quite as busy as Saturday, but I still made steady sales all the way until closing. I think it's safe to say that the weather was the most likely culprit of the slow Friday.
Two minor things I'd consider changing is the timing of the drum event and the way staff handle announcements.
The taiko drum event was AMAZING. I peeked in on it briefly to see what was making all that noise. It was like being in the middle of an earthquake, the whole place rumbled and shook with the sound. However, trying to do business next to a small earthquake wasn't the best. I was close enough to the side of the room that my metal shelves were shaking and rattling and it wasn't easy to hear customers during the loudest parts. I know it isn't easy to find a good space and time to host such a loud event and it was definitely worth having as it was a unique experience, but I would recommend perhaps pushing back the start time an hour or closing the AA an hour early. Then we could enjoy it seeing it, too!
My other issue was that staff was hard to hear when announcing opening and closing in the artist alley. They were very good about going through the aisles at 30 minutes to close, 15 minutes to close, and closing time. At closing they went up and down the aisles asking attendees to leave. I appreciate that they asked attendees to make their final purchases and head out rather than just kicking them out, which allowed artists to finish their last minute sales. The sheer size and volume of the crowd in the DA/AA just made it difficult to hear. I spoke to the head of the AA who said that there was megaphones, but they just didn't work as well as planned. It was a good idea that just didn't pan out and hopefully next year a better solution will be in place.
All in all, I had a great weekend finished the weekend with a 30% increase in sales from last year and I think a lot of things contributed to that, but the biggest one for me I think was just the premium space. It was definitely worth the increased cost and I'd definitely recommend other artists who feel they've outgrown a regular artist alley table, but aren't quite ready for Dealer's hall, to give it a try.
Load out went smoothly, we were able to just wheel everything down the elevators to the car parked underneath the Lansing center. We had to make 2 trips and had no issues getting back in. Staff made sure to keep attendees out so we could work uninterrupted and they also held doors for us which was much appreciated.
As an Attendee
My experiences with DK security continued as an attendee. Again, I'm not going to list them all. Convention staff knows there is a problem and is working for a solution next year, but it definitely did dim my enjoyment.
Another issue I ran into was just crowding and people being inconsiderate in general (sitting on the stairs, photo sessions on the stairs and in the middle of crowded hallways, break dancing circles in front of AA doors, playing card games in the halls). This is not unique to Shuto Con, every convention has issues with crowding and space constants. I think it being so cold outside (so more people were choosing to be inside) plus the hostility between attendees and DK security just made things seem worse than they actually were as more people were focusing on the negative. Myself included. It's hard to be positive when people around you aren't happy. It's sort of a mob mentality where one person repeats an issue that happened and soon everyone is angry about it even if they didn't experience it.
Looking back, though, I really did have a great time. I saw a ton of my friends that I only get to see at cons and we were able to get dinner together. Staff in the Lansing Center was great. A woman cleaning the bathroom gushed on and on about how fun it is and how much they and their co-workers love working at the con because it's a nice change of pace for them. Every time workers came to empty the trash by our table in the AA they joked and had fun with attendees.
The dealer's hall was small, but the AA was awesomely huge and I found lots of cute stuff to take home. While I didn't get to attend the Mystery Skulls concert, I do love their music and I got to stop by their table and I got to see videos my other friends took of the events they did. Plus I saw one of my favorite people from vine walking around and, for some reason, just seeing him and remembering how his videos made me laugh really lifted my spirits. I think Shuto Con's guests get better and better every year.
As I said before, Shuto Con is a great convention for just feeling like you are part of a community and it's a community that means the world to me. I can have fun at Shuto Con even just wandering the halls because everyone is so wonderful.
This year's Shuto Con was a huge step for the growth of my business, proving that I can successfully manage a 10x10 space. Though attendance was slow Friday, Saturday's attendance proved to me that the weather was to blame, not the convention itself. My sales were up overall from the previous year which is always welcome.
While it was plagued with security issues and the same problems that most conventions face, Shuto Con sets itself apart by having a hard working and caring staff. As an artist or an attendee, you can expect to have your concerns heard and know that staff is listening and is working to fix issues.
I'm very excited for the future growth of the convention and I feel as though Shuto Con is starting to really attract the attention of bigger name guests. Sign ups for next year can't come soon enough, it's a no brainer for me. I'll be returning!