ACen is celebrating their Sweet 16 this year. Since they’re having this milestone event, I thought it would be fun to show when we started attending and how we got sucked into being life-long Alley Artists.
Our first Anime Central could not have gone worse for me. We kind of did the trip last minute. There was this convention thing I’d heard about somewhere, that was all about anime, and our friend Nicole said she could hook us up with a place to crash if we gave her a lift out. We showed up on a Saturday (the busiest day for any con) and got in line for badges. Registration was still in the hotel at this time. The line when we got there was out the door and around the building. This was in 2003.
After hours in line (which was not helping my temperament, as I was dealing with health issues) we finally purchase our badges and Chris’s gets misspelled. They REFUSED to fix it. I was tired, and cranky, and now insulted and more than a little ready to just walk away. We sat for a bit, wandered and took photos of cosplayers, listened in on a few panels, and cut out early. Yeah, we paid for badges for one day and barely did anything while there.
That place we crashed at? Was the savior of our trip. Shannon and Rich (of Otaku no Yen fame), who lived right near a train station at the time, were super cool to hang out with. We rode the train into Chicago (which was sooo awesome, as it was the first time for either of us on a train!) and toured the city. This redeemed my weekend for me. We fell in love with the place, and knew we had to come back to Chicago again.
Now, lest you be confused – “how is it that you’re promoting a convention that you had such a horrible experience at?” – remember it was my first con of any sort. The internet didn’t exist the way it does now. There were no massive social networks to give us tips. We were newbs and we did everything wrong. BUT we liked the idea of it still. We hit another convention that year and had an amazing time. The very next year we pre-registered a 3-day badge for ACen and we’ve been attending ever since.
In 2006, some friends of ours had heard us raving about Anime Central and thought that getting a table in AA sounded fun. They snagged one, but didn’t have a ton of merchandise to fill the table out and asked if we wanted to split it. I had a Badge a Minit button maker that my shop teacher helped me order in High School (hi Mr. T!!) because I didn’t have a credit card, that I was still hanging onto in the back of my closet along with my pog maker. Remember those?? Ok, moving on…
So I ordered a bunch of parts, printed out some last minute designs (most of them from BAM’s catalog – they were really awful cheesy school booster kind of things) and came up with this beautiful display:
Yes, yes, that is what you call “last minute kludging” at its finest folks. That is a hunk of mdf, with a scrap of fabric taped onto it, and a bunch of pins hastily stuck to the fabric. My regular customers may even recognize a few on there. Some of the original designs I created, while tweaked, have stood the test of time. You can see too, that I already had plans on photo buttons way back then as well. At the time, no one was doing buttons (can you believe it?) so I had the market cornered.
I cannot recommend the button maker by any stretch. I did so many buttons that weekend that the machine started to break down. It wasn’t made for that kind of workload clearly. Additionally, the quality was poor. The buttons had a tendency to pop apart, because the hand press just couldn’t crimp them tight enough. One girl – I remember so clearly – with false fangs in her mouth (the really cool looking kind that fit on your canines, and this was before Hot Topic was everywhere) came back and I replaced her pin free of charge. That simple act (standing behind my product) I credit with a large part of the word of mouth we’ve gotten since.
The other girls decided that selling wasn’t for them, but they had had a fun time. However many wince-worthy mistakes, I was hooked. That Sunday night in our hotel room, my husband Chris and I brainstormed until we settled on our current studio name. We immediately invested in heavy gauge machines (the same ones are still going strong). Better parts, more designs, better displays.
This will be our SEVENTH year selling at Anime Central in our own table. We’ve done 5 or 6 conventions a year since that first one. ACen will always be our first home, and our love. I even work staff for the website and registration now!
So for anyone out there considering an AA table, and wondering if you need to have everything perfect first – the answer is a resounding no. Just do your best, be good to your customers, keep making it better … and man – have you got it easy with all the blogs, forums, and other resources out there these days! :rotfl:
See you at the convention!