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Care and Feeding of a Convention Dealer Room 101


I. Planning the Dealer Room

A. Room and Table Size
B. Facility-related issues
1. Measure the room yourself!
2. Hotels will lie about the type, quantity and size of tables they have.
3. Hours of occupancy (including setup and teardown) need to be in the hotel contract.
4. Evaluate the potential security issues before you sign the hotel contract
5. Some Critical Questions To Ask
a. Food (for dealers)
b. Snack sales
c. Prohibited merchandise
d. Restricted merchandise
e. Phone line
f. Electricity
g. Internet
C. Tables or booths?
D. Balance
E. Location
F. Accessibility (for dealers)
G. Accessibility (for customers)
H. Table cost
I. Including memberships
1. Membership and table cost separate
2. Membership included in table cost
J. Charging extra for electricity
K. Table covers
L. Safety and courtesy
M. Special Hazards
N. Get enough information on the application
O. Room layout
1. Fire Escapes
2. Wall corners
3. Entrance space
4. Traffic jams
5. Spaces should never overlap
6. Customer space and Dealer space MUST be clearly separated
7. Allow enough aisle width, and ENFORCE IT
8. Don't place dealers with similar merchandise next to each other
9. Let the dealers know who their neighbors will be as far in advance as possible.
P. Hours of Operation
II. Before the Con
A. Send out advance notice early
B. Have a dealer agreement
C. Answer e-mail queries
D. Deposit dealer payments
E. Update your map to show each dealer's location as the space is assigned
F. Have at least two rounds of pre-con e-mails for paid dealers
G. Stick with your announced cutoff/notice dates
H. Make sure you don't over-book the room.
I. Logistics
1. Supplies
2. Personnel
3. Pipe and drape
III. At the Con
A. Pre-Setup setup
B. Chairs
C. Setup
D. Dealer Arrival and Check-In
E. Hours of Operation Signs
F. Breaks & food
G. Security
1. While the room is open
2. After hours
H. Teardown
I. Pre-sale of next year's space
IV. Other notes
A. Big-name guests
B. Autograph tables
C. Dealer Row?
D. Non-dealers in the Dealer Room
E. Get dealer involved in promotion
G. An unusual Dealer Room arrangement
H. Open to the public?
I. Respect your dealers' time.
J. Can your event support a dealer room, really?
1. If you bring them, will they shop?
2. Is there time, really?


The dealer room is an important part of the event experience for many attendees at fan-oriented and affinity-group gatherings. They expect to find more depth of specialty merchandise than their local stores are likely to carry, as well as things that just qualify as "cool stuff". Those who have been attending such events for a while may be looking for specific dealers, especially non-local ones. Having a good mix of dealers, and a well-laid-out room, will help both the convention and the dealers to prosper. Before deciding to have a dealer room at all, see IV J. below.

Much of this document is geared explicitly toward the type of dealer room found at science fiction conventions (called "cons" throughout the text), but most of the principles and topics are applicable to a broad range of non-trade-show events with an indoor focus. Many of the same dealers who appear at cons are also active at other types of event. Although it is possible that a novice could successfully operate the vendor-oriented segment of a special interest group event without the benefit of the advice collected here, the chances of success will likely increase if the basic principals are understood in advance. Persons who have previously focused their efforts on the operation of the rest of the event often tend to regard the vendor segment as being something which requires little or no actual effort beyond announcing that the event will take place, collecting the money from the dealers, and providing the space in which they will set up. This is an assumption which is fraught with possibilities for problems with the dealers, the attendees, the facility and the fire marshalls, just to name a few. Avoiding these problems is primarily a matter of preparation and attention to details – which is what this document seeks to facilitate.

I. Planning the Dealer Room

A. Room and Table Size – The size of your room should be in proportion with the number of people you expect. When in doubt, it's better to err too small than too large; if there are too many dealers splitting the available funds, everyone goes home hungry, and some of them won't be back next year. (Even if you're only planning to have a one-time event, it's still good to plan as though you will be doing this again; you might find that your event is so successful that you will have to repeat it... and when you get "volunteered" to do another one later, you'll have a good reputation backing you up.) The smallest practical size for a dealer room is 10-12 tables. Beyond that, look at 1 table per 10-15 attendees for a small con; 1 table per 15-25 attendees for a medium-sized con; 1 table per 25-50 attendees for a large con. Gargantuan cons such as Dragon*con get into a different level of planning. (Note: this is tables or spaces, not dealers; a fair number of dealers will want more than one space.)

B. Facility-related issues

1. Measure the room yourself! It is difficult to overstress the importance of this. Never trust the facility's documentation to tell you everything you need to know. Hotels and convention centers have been known to omit details like huge support pillars in the center of the room, or to have official dimensions be as much as 10 feet larger than reality because they include a cute little bay on one side of the door. Also, the location of entrances, fire exits, columns and other features may make a significant difference in the number of tables you can fit into the room. Make your map carefully; any mistake may bring significant grief when setup starts. This is particularly important with regard to any doors with an illuminated EXIT sign above them, as those are considered to be Fire Exits WHICH MUST NOT BE BLOCKED.

2. Hotels will lie about the type, quantity and size of tables they have. To them, a table is just a table; they do not understand how essential the exact dimensions can be. Get them to explicitly check and make sure that they do, in fact, have at least the required quantity of the specific tables that you'll need. If this is your first time at this facility, try to re-check this a few days ahead of the event. It's not uncommon for tables to get damaged and/or replaced, and sometimes the inventory levels of each size may shift in the process. One magic phrase to specify in your discussions with the facility may be "banquet tables", although even that is not sufficiently exact in some cases, as a few instances have been seen where "banquet" meant "round" in a specific hotel's lexicon. It's best to be specific about the dimensions both in width and length, and ALWAYS tell your dealers EXACTLY what they're getting no matter what size the tables – or booths – are. Hotel tables come in several sizes; these are the most common:

3. Hours of occupancy (including setup and teardown) need to be in the hotel contract. In particular, it needs to specify that occupany is continuous from the beginning of pre-opening setup until the end of move-out. This will prevent situations in which the hotel sends someone around on Sunday morning to say, "By the way, we need this room cleared by 3:00 so we can set up for a wedding at 6." See notes in III H below about time required for teardown; it's important to secure enough time for this when negotiating the contract, and it's essential to get it in writing in the contract itself.

4. Evaluate the potential security issues before you sign the hotel contract – a space that can't be securely locked up at night is not suitable for use as a Dealer Room; you must be able to secure it when the room is closed. (See additional comments under III G – Security below.) An open area in a public space is simply not acceptable unless your dealers are willing to strike their setups at the end of each day and move their mechandise to their rooms. Some cons have an "artist alley" space which operates in this manner, but most dealers can't and won't accept such space. (But see IV G – An unusual Dealer Room arrangement.)

4. Some Critical Questions To Ask – Hotels and convention centers can have many hidden gotchas that will cause problems if you don't find out about them soon enough. For dealer rooms, these include:

a. What is the facility's policy regarding food brought from outside? Many dealers will bring a bag lunch and keep a small cooler under the table so that they can both control their costs and reduce time away from the table at lunch. If the hotel strenuously objects, it can cause problems. It is possible that the "official" policy may be "no" but that they will quietly admit that it's not strictly enforced; this is common, and most dealers will understand a spoken request to keep a low profile on smuggled-in lunches and drinks, but don't put that in writing!
b. What is the facility's policy of sale of edible items? Some dealers sell specialty snack items that are popular with certain groups (such as Pocky at Anime conventions). If the hotel prohibits such sales it is ESSENTIAL to disclose this PROMINENTLY in your dealer agreement, and in any information distributed to prospective dealers concerning space availability.
c. Are there any classes of items whose sale is prohibited on the premises? Treat this the same as in the note above about edible item sales.
d. Are there any classes of item whose sale is permitted but which require special handling? For example: Many facilities will permit the sales of bladed weapons provided that the item is sold in a sealed box, and that the buyer takes the box directly from the dealer room to their hotel room or vehicle, and does not take it out of the box on the premises. Once again, any such requirement needs to be explicit and clear in the Dealer Agreement and in promotional information packets.
e. What is the availability and cost of a phone line in the dealer room? Most of the time, this will be prohibitively expensive, but if you place the information in the initial dealer information packet and Dealer Agreement, the few dealers who might have wanted such service will have less of a basis for gripes.
f. Is there a charge for the use of low-drain electrical usage in the function space, and if so, how much? Can the convention include this in the contract explicitly, and what would be the cost? Most hotels will not levy a charge for use of electric power from the wall plugs that are present in the room. Nearly all convention centers, on the other hand, will levy a substantial fee for such services, and will usually insist upon charging the dealers individually, or will want an amount equivalent if you try to just include it in the space fees.
g. Does the dealer room space have no-charge Internet access? Usually, the answer will be "no", but you might get lucky, in which case this becomes a feature to tell the dealers about.

C. Tables or booths? – Large conventions, and those whose dealer room is likely to include a lot of dealers who need substantial space, usually find that it's a good idea to offer both tables (with a fixed but usually fairly limited amount of space behind them) and booths (whose size is generally 8x8 feet or 10x10 feet). Booth spaces at large conventions will be expected to be delineated with pipe and drape, which is usually going to be supplied and erected by a professional decorating company working from your accurately-detailed layout map. If you don't use a third-party professional decorator to set up your room, it becomes ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL to have your own crew lay out the booth space markings and/or table locations on the floor before the first dealer arrives. This can almost never be safely delegated to the hotel; they will nearly always get it wrong, sometimes amazingly so. Usually, a booth along a wall or along the side of an island is provided with one appropriately-sized table included; NEVER set up booth spaces with tables that extend past a booth boundary, as the dealers who buy booth spaces will usually want to move the table within the booth to conform to their preferred layout. Corner booths with two-side access generally can be priced slightly higher than booths in a row. The pair of corners at the end of a double row of booths is often sold at a slight premium as an "end cap", particularly when it faces a high-traffic area.

D. Balance – Don't have too many dealers selling the same kind of merchandise. How many is "too many" depends a lot on the specific type of con, its size, and the audience it attracts. At a gaming con, it's hard to have too many dealers selling games as long as they aren't all selling exactly the same items; at a general-purpose con, you probably don't want more than 1 or 2 of those. Seven jewelry dealers is too many for anything smaller than a Worldcon, no matter how big your room is. You can have more dealers selling a specific kind of merchandise if they don't go head-to-head; for example, a new-book dealer, a used-book dealer, and an audio-book dealer can coexist more easily than 3 new-book dealers who are all likely to have the same merchandise. One large mystery-oriented event traditionally bans most non-book dealers under the apparent assumption that only books (and a few hand-made craft and jewelry items) would be appropriate in their dealer room, despite significant evidence to the contrary. (Many of their book dealers go home with no actual profit.) When choosing your dealers from among your applicants, first consider whether the line they offer is likely to sell to your attendees; trade-show booths promotiing high-end computer hardware are likely to fail miserably, for example. Likewise, a booth promoting a single self-published author's complete works will likely draw little interest from the crowd. The most intriguing dealers may not be the largest or the most diligently professional, but your chances of having a successful vendor area tend to increase with the number of each of those that you can bring aboard.

E. Location – Don't stick the dealer room way off at the end of a hallway with nothing else nearby. If the location of the room is not possible to put in close proximity to the main attendee travel paths, schedule some popular con activities in the same area to draw walk-ins. Autograph sessions are especially good for this; they can be held in the dealer room itself, or at tables just outside if space for the line is an issue. If possible, place your autograph tables in the back of the dealer room; this has the advantage of drawing the crowd past the dealers. Don't do it if you're expecting half of the attendees to get in line at the same time, though. (And see Notes about Big Name Guests below.)

F. Accessibility (for dealers) – There needs to be a cart-accessible path from the vehicle loading/unloading area to the dealer room itself. The load-in point needs to be able to accommodate rental trucks up to 12 feet tall; some of your dealers may use them for transportation. If you can arrange for a covered loading area, that's great, but it's not always possible. But don't make dealers go up and down stairs, ever! When laying out the room, don't have long rows of tables with no gaps; this is both awkward for the dealers and a safety risk in the event of an emergency. Generally, unless you're using the booth model, there needs to be a gap of at least 18 inches at one side of each dealer's space; one gap can serve two dealers, so you usually don't need a gap between each table. At the same time, if one dealer has three tables and his neighbor has two, you can usually place those all in a row. All dealers use their behind-the-table area as storage, working space, or both; some also fill some or all of that area with vertical displays which may be impossible for their neighbors to get past; that's why you can't get by with a long uninterrupted multi-dealer row along a wall. There should be at least 4' of backspace behind each table; see the section below about Room Layout for additional important considerations.

G. Accessibility (for customers) – Aisles between rows of tables must be a minimum of 6 feet wide, and 8 or more is better for large cons. Part of the reason for this is that you will have attendees who use mobility assists; if your aisles are less than 6 feet wide, it becomes difficult for them to get through when there's anyone else in the aisle. Perhaps more important, however, is that a surprise visit from a Fire Marshall (and yes, these do happen) could cause a room with narrow aisles to get shut down immediately. Leave enough space and arrange things to reduce traffic jams; if the room clogs up, people can't get in, and neither the customers nor the dealers are happy. Don't put your biggest draw right at the entrance. Sometimes it is useful to employ the grocery-store strategy: put the dealer everyone wants to visit at the back of the room, so the customers have to walk past all the other dealers first. On the other hand, a familiar and well-liked dealer within clear sight of the entrance doors, or a dealer with an intriguing display in that visible area, will also help to draw customers into the room who otherwise might have walked on by. If you have autograph tables in the room, the back row is often the best place for them. One tactic that helps in several areas at once is to place the convention memorabilia sales table (which can double as the dealer room control and dealer check-in table) just inside the room entrance; this table seldom will build up a crowd, and it's good to have an information source ready at hand for the attendees who are in a hurry to find something. Also see additional notes below under Room Layout.

H. Table Cost – Should also be proportional to expected attendance. Some concoms add a constraint that the cost of the dealer tables should more than pay for the rent of the dealer function room, but that may not be a practical consideration, especially with startups. Some cons offer discounts for multiple tables. Others, where space is tight, charge more for extra tables; many impose limits on the number of tables any one dealer can buy. From the other side of the equation, most dealers look at the cost from a return-ratio standpoint; they'll pay more for a table at a con with high attendance of spenders, but they'll turn down a con that wants $100 per table with an attendance of 300 nearly every time. If you want the established, well-known dealers, you're going to have to provide them with the value they require. At large conventions, dealers may be willing to pay a premium to get an island corner booth; if you're not that large and you're selling your space via the table model, that island corner should cost less than two in-line tables because it's got a lot less space behind the tables. If you know that you have a lot of dealers that sell only from the tabletops, you may still be able to get full price for each of the corner tables, but as noted in the section below on room layout, overlapping spaces are usually a really bad idea, and will cause big problems for many of your dealers.

I. Including Memberships – There are two main schools of thought on this.

1. Membership and table cost are separate. This has the advantages of keeping each cost explicit and letting the individual dealers decide how many tables and memberships they want to buy. A small number of conventions, recognizing that many dealers literally attend and participate in nothing at the convention at all, will provide the dealers with a no-charge badge that permits access ONLY to the dealer room if the dealers do not intend to participate in the rest of the event.

2. Membership(s) included with tables. This is the most common arrangement; the cost of the table includes 1 or sometimes 2 memberships. Combining this with a discount (equivalent to the membership cost) for multiple tables will be useful for many dealers.

J. Charging extra for electricity – This is a bad move unless the venue is charging you extra to provide it. It's fine to ask dealers whether or not they'll need it if that makes a difference in the layout of the room, but avoid taking their application and then springing an extra fee for power on them later. If the hotel or facility wants to charge for power, see if you can arrange a bulk buy and build it into the table cost; if that works, everyone's likely to be happier. Note: If the facility will be charging the dealers directly, make sure that this is clearly stated in the promotional information packets and Dealer Agreement, and that any forms required (and the schedule for submitting them) are supplied WITH the space application; if there's a deadline for submission which causes a substantial price increase, the forms need to be in the dealers' hands at least 45 to 90 days before that deadline. This detail was overlooked by a certain Worldcon that shall remain nameless. It has not been forgotten by the dealers who were there.

K. Table covers – These can be omitted if the hotel or facility will charge more for tables with covers and/or drapes than for bare tables, but be sure to note their absence in both the Dealer Agreement and the pre-con e-mails. Most dealers are quite willing to bring their own fabric to cover the tables. One caveat: In certain cities, the Fire Marshals may require that all table covers be made from fire-retardant material. If that's the case in your area, then having the covers provided by the facility or the official decorator is probably wise. This isn't often an issue, but it's something to be aware of.

L. Safety and courtesy – Some dealers are engaged in selling things that will literally make others ill (perfumes and incense), and others will demonstrate their wares in a manner which interferes with the dealers around them (videos with loud soundtracks) or produces a safety hazard (candles, swords, etc). It is wise to include prohibitions on anything involving combustion (you might try to make an exception if you're planning to have a glassblower) and loud demos or video players. Perfumes and incense are difficult to limit without prohibiting, but hard to cope with at the same time. Fortunately, smoking is now prohibited at most public facilities; if this is not the case at yours, ban it in the dealer area anyway, as the smoke will permeate and potentially damage many types of well as driving off the customers who can't tolerate it. Swords and knives are a real problem; in the hands of someone who is careless or thoughtless, they're deadly. Developing an effective weapons safety policy is not a trivial task; there are several examples on the Net to use as models in devising yours...and DO NOT just ignore the subject if you plan to allow a sword or knife seller in your dealer room.

M. Special Hazards – Some dealers, most often found at very large events, try to create a certain "atmosphere" around their booth by playing loud rock music in an effort to create the kind of party resonance that they feel will best loosen the funds in their target audience's wallet. If you plan to permit this (which would be a fact that needs to be disclosed to every dealer within a reasonable distance) you MUST make it clear in your Dealer Agreement that any music played at such a level (or otherwise used as obvious trade dress for the space, not as personal entertainment for the person running the tables or demonstration of a product available for sale) MUST be covered by an ASCAP performance license, and that the convention WILL NEED a copy of that license in advance, or such performance can't be allowed. The event can be held liable for breach of this requirement IN ADDITION TO the dealer who commits it, and the fines are quite hefty. See the ASCAP website for additional information.

N. Get enough information on the application – Just the dealer's name and address isn't enough. Get email addresses, main phone and cell phone numbers, space type requirements (wall/island/no preference, straight line/corner/doesn't matter, with or without power, etc) and "other requests". Believe it or not, both email and phone number info is needed. Some people are next to impossible to catch by phone, while others still don't use email at all. You should definitely ask for a description of the types of merchandise sold and the percentage of the display devoted to each category, as some dealers will consider themselves to be in one merchandise line but will actually have many. Collect the applications in a binder or folder with backup copies in the hands of at least one other person who will be present at setup; if something goes wrong, the dealers who have not yet arrived will greatly appreciate being called to tip them off about such issues while they're still packing or in transit. It's also a good idea to call dealers who haven't yet arrived when less than an hour is left before opening. Note the hours of operation on the dealer application, and explicitly ask if they're going to be able to arrive and set up prior to the time that the customers are allowed into the room. You may want to position known late-arrivers close to the freight entrance to reduce problems with late setups.

O. Room layout requires special consideration.

1. Fire Escapes – Needless to say, these MUST NOT be blocked by dealer tables or displays, and MUST NOT be locked while the room is in operation, but MUST be locked after hours.

2. Wall cornersIf you have tables along both walls leading away from a corner, DON'T run the row of tables up to EITHER wall. If there's a fire exit which must be kept unblocked, the resulting open space usually does not constitute a valid traffic aisle that will allow another table to be shoehorned in; the dealer who ends up in such a cul-de-sac is often going to go home very hungry. If the fire escape lane is very wide and fortuitously positioned, you may be able to run the row up to the wall containing the exit, but this is seldom the case.

3. Entrance space – Avoid placing a dealer table immediately next to the entrance of the room; allow an open space at the entrance so that you don't get a traffic jam there. The first tables or booths should be at least 8 feet in from the entrance unless you're putting the convention's own memorabilia sales table there, which (as noted above) generally works well. Having the space unblocked also gives you a place for security or your door trolls to sit.

4. Traffic Jams – Avoid placing two extremely popular dealers across from each other; the traffic jams that result will block the aisle.

5. Spaces Should Not OverlapIn practice, the space behind the tables on the corner of an island will end up getting shared by two dealers if you don't sell that whole space as a package. NEVER position the tables so that the end of one butts up against the back of another unless you're selling the corner as a package, and MAKE SURE that you are VERY EXPLICIT about any overlap that will be present. While you might look at this as two standard-size tables, many dealers (as noted above) also use the back space for display and storage of merchandise; two tables with overlapping back space are bad enough, but two tables with part of the back space of one being physically occupied by the other table is just intolerable if the same dealer is not using both. Similarly, if a dealer pays for three tables along a wall, that means THREE IN A ROW, not three in a U-shape or three in an L-shape. If possible, always sell island corners as a package at a price which reflects the reduced back space. Two tables in an L do not provide as much total space as two in a row, and the price should reflect this. (Also see notes about booth spaces.)

6. Customer space and Dealer space MUST be clearly separated; No Single Dealer Table Can Be An Island Unto ItselfNever place tables in isolation or in open-ended rows in the middle of the room; ALWAYS form them into definite, fully-bounded rectangular islands with a clearly obvious interior and exterior, or make them into rows along the walls. The reason for this is fundamental security; the layout should not be designed so that customers will be routinely passing through the space where the dealer keeps his cashbox. At one event we've seen, tables were placed in back-to-front rows like classroom desks down the middle of the room in such a way that there wasn't a clear division between one dealer's "front" and the next dealer's "back", and the customers literally could not tell who they had to pay for what they wanted to buy.

7. Allow enough aisle width, and ENFORCE IT – For a small or medium-size event, the aisles for customer access need to be at least 6 feet wide everywhere. For larger events, ask a Fire Marshall; you may want to submit your proposed room layout for approval before selling dealer spaces so that you can get the fire exit accesses and aisle widths approved in advance. Bear in mind that a Fire Marshall may show up to inspect the premises at any time, and they have the authority to shut down the dealer room until you fix the problems they find. You DO NOT want to risk this; one large Anime convention had its dealer room get shut down for about 4 hours on a Saturday when a Fire Marshall discovered that two fire exits were blocked by dealer booths; the room had to be cleared of attendees while the dealers were moved to unblock the doors, and at least one of the dealers ended up having to be moved into a space in an adjoining low-security area due to lack of usable space in the dealer room.

8. Don't place dealers with similar merchandise next to each otherThereare several reasons for this. First and foremost, customers often can't tell where one table ends and the next begins, even when the dealers have worked hard to make themselves easily identifiable. If two book dealers are on adjoining tables, customers will keep trying to pay the wrong person for their purchases. The same goes for jewelry, costuming items, T-shirts and other categories. Know what your dealers sell, and make it easy for the customers to see which booth ends where. (The gaps between the tables mentioned in section F above also help with this.)

9. Let the dealers know who their neighbors will be, as far in advance as possible. – Certain dealers just don't get along with certain others, and you may not know what all of the current feuds are. To avoid having issues that you weren't expecting, it's a very good idea to tell the dealers who will be on each side of them and across the aisle from them well in advance. If they say that they can't have a certain dealer as a neighbor, there's probably a good reason; both you and the two dealers involved will probably benefit from taking care of this before the con. Although publishing a room map on your website is a good idea in helping to get the word out, it's not 100% effective; as noted elsewhere, not all dealers are net-literate, and many don't regularly check con websites for updates once they've paid for their space.

P. Hours of operation – By and large, you'll get the most bang for your buck with the following schedule:

Thursday – Unless you're running a truly huge, long-established event like Dragon*Con or WorldCon, there is no need to have the Dealer Room open to the attendees on Thursday AT ALL, and not a lot of reason for setup unless the hotel will let you have the room on Thursday afternoon for early-arriving dealers. If you've got programming on Thursday, then you probably should have Dealer Setup as well, but leave the opening of the room to the attendees until Friday. Essentially no one is going to spend a dime in the dealer room before then. (And a special note for con planners in general: Unless you expect well over 2500 full-weekend memberships, it's wise to stick with the Friday-Saturday-Sunday format; you just don't have enough people in attendance to justify a fourth day of facility expenses, and you don't have enough customers to make it profitable for the dealers to spend another full day on the road.)

Friday – open at 3 or 4 PM, close at 7 or 8 PM. There's almost never a good reason (or any need) to open the room before 3 PM on Friday, and even 4 PM is generally going to be well ahead of the arrival of the crowd; the attendees mostly won't be there until late afternoon. Running later into the evening gives the people who come in after work a chance to drop in and look around. And shutting down at 8 still leaves the dealers time to go out and get some dinner. Exception: if your con starts on Thursday, then it makes sense to open the dealer room at Noon on Friday.

Saturday – 10 AM to 6 PM. This is the main shopping day, but Saturday night is also when most of the major evening activities happen. Some of your dealers may want to attend said activities. Don't force them to make a choice between food and the con. Running the room to 7 PM essentially cuts them out of having a chance to do anything but get dinner and hit one or two post-programming parties; they might be back in time to watch the masquerade, but with a 7 PM (or later) shutdown they have zero chance of participating in that or most of the other main activities.

Sunday – if Sunday is the last day of the event, then run from 10 AM to 2 PM. Teardown takes time, and many dealers have day jobs; let them get back on the road at a reasonable hour. And by 2 PM, people are pretty much shopped out; many are already leaving. If you're running through to Monday, then Sunday hours can be 10AM to 6PM, just like Saturday.

Monday or whenever the last day of the con will be – 10AM to 2PM. The same notes about teardown mentioned for Sunday are still relevant.

Dealer access hours – The dealers need to have access to the room for about an hour prior to opening in the morning on non-setup days, and for at least half an hour after closing. They use this time to straighten up their displays, put things back in order, set up their cash register or cash box, get rid of trash, move items to and from their vehicles, restock, and generally take care of business. Plan for it. Never assume that everyone can leave within 15 minutes after the room closes to the public; some dealers just can't shut down that fast.

II. Before the con

A. Send out notifications of table availability with full details at least 4-6 months in advance, the further the better. Most dealers have to plan their schedules at least 3 months ahead, and the largest dealers book dates a year ahead if they can; if they don't hear from you until 2 months before the con, they will very likely have made other plans for that weekend. The larger the con, the longer this lead time should be. For a Worldcon, if you're not selling dealer spaces for the upcoming convention at the one held immediately prior to it, you're probably not making preparations for your event far enough in advance, and the chances are good that some of your most desirable dealers will have made other plans for the date. Merely letting people know that the event will be held on a certain weekend is not enough; dealers need to know the costs, the exact location, the booth or table size details, all of the ancillary costs (such as memberships, drayage and electricity, among others) as well as the full disclosure of the regulations and restrictions under which they'll be operating. Announcing that you're having a convention, and then waiting until 60 days out before telling the dealers that they can't sell knives or swords (or, at an Anime convention, snack foods) will guarantee that you'll have problems. Having all of these details ironed out and in print well in advance will allow the dealers to make the most informed decisions.

B. Have a dealer agreement; this will save you endless hassles. It should specify (at a minimum) things like setup/teardown and operating hours, table limits if applicable, prohibited types of merchandise and display (you really want to have a "no-bootlegs" clause and a strong weapons safety requirement), and space-cost refunds policy. Check with the hotel and local law enforcement about sale of sharp pointy things, check with the hotel about sale of snacks and beverages, and verify with the hotel whether there is a limit to the height of displays, or any problem with backdrops and signs. See also Safety and Courtesy above.

C. Answer e-mail queries in a timely fashion. This should be a no-brainer, but there are several well-known, long-running cons whose dealer contact e-mails are essentially black holes. You don't want to hear what we say about them, and you don't want us saying it about YOU. Have a backup method of contact posted in case your mailer goes down; one medium-size convention alienated large numbers of its fans and dealers by going completely incommunicado for several months while they tried to cope with unexpected website problems.

D. Deposit dealer payments in a timely fashion, preferably within 48 hours of receiving the check. If you aren't guaranteeing space with acceptance of payment, STATE THIS IN YOUR INFORMATION, and refund the payment PROMPTLY once the decision has been made to not accept a specific dealer. Don't take their money and sit on it for 6 months before deciding, either. Dealers are subject to cash-flow fluctuations. We'll make sure there's enough money to cover the check when we send it. If you let that check gather dust for 3 months... the dealers won't enjoy what sometimes happens any more than you will. Taking PayPal will cut down on this sort of problem, if you can do it. Also, designate one person whose job it is to inform dealers that yes, their check has arrived and will be deposited shortly, and they do have tables. If you're not guaranteeing space at the time the application is sent in, then consider requesting a deposit (half of the table cost is a good figure) with the balance to be paid within 45 days after the space is confirmed or 90 days before the event, whichever is earlier.

E. Update your map to show each dealer's location as the space is assigned – You'll find that a lot of dealers like to request specific spaces from the layout; having your map established well in advance, and both posting it on your website and including it in hardcopy information packets will make it easier for them to see if you have the space they need.

F. Have at least two rounds of pre-con e-mails for paid dealersIn addition to contacting them to confirm receipt of their application and payment, have an email that goes out about 30 days before the con to remind the dealers that they have space (yes, sometimes we forget) and to reiterate the setup times and basic rules, and one about a week before the event to confirm that everything's on target and to let them know about any blips and glitches. For any dealers who don't provide an email address, make sure that the 30-day notice goes out via snailmail at the same time that the email is sent.

G. If you have announced a date or schedule by which applicants will be informed as to whether or not they have tables, stick with it.

H. Make sure you don't over-book the room. – If you sell more spaces than you actually have, bad things happen. Although you might be able to cope with it by shifting things around at the last minute to slip the overbooked dealer in, the usual result of trying this is that both this dealer and the ones partially displaced end up with less space (or less useful space) than they paid for, which is something that they will not soon forget. Remember, some of these people will have spent two days (or more) on the road driving to your event; they will not take it kindly if they find that they aren't getting what they paid for.

I. Logistics – What you need to have ready at hand

1. Supplies – Essential to the operation of any room is a supply of gaffer tape (it looks like duct tape, but it's easier to remove without causing damage), extension cords (3-prong, as heavy as you can afford), and power strips. Although most dealers will bring some of these along, some conventions have adopted the policy of pre-wiring the dealer room with cords and strips that place electricity within reach of every space where it's needed. This prevents problems with a late-arriving dealer needing to string a cord to a distant wall outlet past or through six other dealers' spaces. Also highly recommended, if the hotel will provide them, is a supply of additional tablecloths for the dealers to use in covering their tables at shutdown. This practice makes it easy to identify who's ready for customers the next morning, and who's not. Try to have at least two sturdy flatbed carts and a couple of large hand trucks (NOT appliance dollies!) available for the dealers to bring their stuff from their vehicles. Not all dealers bring their own. Sometimes the hotel will have carts that you can borrow, but not always...and the typical luggage cart isn't all that useful for this.

2. Personnel – During setup, have at least two volunteers available, preferably with the sturdy flatbed carts or large hand trucks mentioned above, to assist dealers in moving their merchandise into the room. One should maintain security on the public door if that's left open during setup; the attendees should NOT just be allowed to wander in during this time. The faster that the dealers are loaded in, the better. The same is recommended for load-out at the end of the con. During operating hours, keep one or two people on door troll duty, checking badges (if that's needed for your operational policies) and generally giving the appearance of being ready to respond to whatever's happening, and knowing who to call, and how to get hold of them, if they don't really know what to do. One or two additional people, on a periodic basis, to make the rounds of the dealers and give them the opportunity to make pit stops and/or get refreshments delivered, are also a very good idea. If your event is popular with the lower age brackets (as is the case with most Anime-related events), you will need additional security in the dealer room to deal with shoplifting prevention; having an off-duty police officer present IN UNIFORM is a near-necessity in this case, and may be required by the facility in any event. During pack-up and load-out, if the public-access door isn't kept closed, a door troll needs to be on duty to keep the public out, the same as during setup.

3. Pipe and drape – If you sell booth spaces instead of tables, it will be expected that there be cloth drapes at the back of the booth, and table-high cloth partitions between dealers; this is done with pipe frameworks specifically made for the purpose. Some hotels have this available in-house, while others rent the needed equipment from a decorating service such as Freeman. It may not be practical for a convention to buy their own for re-use every year, but it's a cost to examine and evaluate. If you're selling booths with no pipe and drape, make sure that's noted in your dealer agreement!

III. At the Con

A. Pre-Setup Setup – Before the dealers arrive, have your own crew carefully measure out the spaces, position the tables, and/or lay out the booth locations as per your map. Marking booth spaces via strips of masking tape on the floor is one way to avoid turf wars during setup. DO NOT expect the hotel to get this right; they won't, no matter what they might claim. If you let them set up the room, you will end up with tables that are too close to the walls, tables with gaps that are missing or in the wrong places, islands that are the wrong size, in the wrong place, with the corners arranged incorrectly, and with aisles that are too narrow. There will be also end up being tables with tablecloths or decorative drapes that span across from one dealer to the next, which is a problem because some dealers will want to replace the table drapes and/or covers with their own, or change the position of the table in their space. It's OK to allow the hotel to come in and set up the tables unarranged, and place one tablecloth on each, but YOU need to do the accurate positioning of them. If you miss this vital step, you will find yourself with dealers setting up in spaces that are in the wrong spot, and then having to move their entire display; sometimes this means breaking down and re-erecting things like gridwall...and you might not be able to get their cooperation without big problems. If the spaces are clearly and correctly delineated to begin with, you don't have to worry as much about space conflicts.

B. Chairs – This seems like something that should be easy, but nearly every convention gets it wrong. Most dealers (especially those with multiple tables) really don't need two chairs behind each table, and placing them there when setting up the room just makes more work for everyone when the dealers start to move in. It is better to simply have the hotel place a stack of chairs adjacent to each load-in entrance and in each corner of the room, and tell the dealers to take what they need.

C. Arrival and Check-InHave the dealer coordinator, or a designated and fully capable assistant, in the room to check in dealers and direct them to their tables. If possible, have each table clearly labeled with the name of the dealer that will be occupying it; at the very least, have the tables explicitly and clearly numbered in the same way as your layout map. This can be critical if something goes wrong... and the most inviolable law of the universe is Murphy's. Some cons have their dealers' membership packets at dealer check-in; others keep all the packets at con registration. The former is greatly preferred, as dealers chafe badly at having to stand in line waiting for a badge before they can begin setup, and they absolutely loathe having to leave their stuff unguarded while they do so.

D. Setup There should be a minimum of 4 hours of setup time before the room opens to the public, even for a small con; the larger your event and the more dealers you have, the more time you need to allow. A typical arrangement that works well for many events is to have setup run from 9AM to 4PM on Friday. During Setup, have a security volunteer posted on the entrance to make sure that non-dealers aren't allowed to enter; if you can provide a load-in path that isn't accessible to the public, so that your "front door" can simply remain closed, that's even better. A few dealers will probably be waiting for you when the published Setup period starts, but some won't arrive in time to set up before the room opens, particularly if the Friday operating hours begin before 3 PM. If you have to close the main loading-in doors when you open to the attendees, try to arrange for an alternate access that doesn't go through an active lobby and is as short as possible.

E. Hours of Operation Signs – No matter what hours of operation you decide upon, make sure that they are clearly posted at the door of the room and are easily found in the program guide for the event. And make sure that everyone publishing information is on the same page! If your program guide, your website, and the sign at the door don't agree, you're going to annoy people (both dealers and attendees) when they find that the room isn't open when you said it would be. Additionally, make sure that you LOUDLY AND CLEARLY make announcements in the dealer room at about 20 and 10 minutes before closing, to advise the attendees to start finsihing up their shopping. And at closing, gently but firmly clear the customers from the room. The dealers can't really shut down until the customers are gone, and the dealers would very much like to have time to get dinner. (Some conventions - and certain dealers - have made it a practice to make these announcements humorous; this seems to help to keep spirits high whille still getting compliance.)

F. Breaks & food Solo dealers can't easily leave their tables to visit the restroom or grab lunch. Having con volunteers come by every couple of hours to see if they need a break, and mind the table until they get back, will be greatly appreciated. So will a lunchtime distribution of snacks, drinks, and/or sandwiches from the consuite, along with a list of the nearest fast-food takeout places. If you can make a deal with either the hotel or a nearby sandwich shop or other reputable source (NOT McDonald's!) for a boxed lunch at a reasonable price, and if you've got the manpower to be able to collect the orders long enough in advance and transport and deliver the lunches, you'll probably find that the dealers will welcome the opportunity to take advantage of it. Flip side: If you don't provide or arrange for a lunch or lunch delivery service, then it is essential to ensure that the hotel is not going to bar the dealers from both keeping their own snacks at the table and bringing in food from outside for their lunch.

G. Security

1. While the room is open – it is wise to position a security volunteer at the entrance to provide a visible deterrent to people who might otherwise prove troublesome, even if you're confident that nothing will occur. If your room is open only to event attendees (see IV H below) you will need someone checking the attendees' badges as they enter in any event, and you may need two people manning the door(s) if your crowd is big enough.

2. Locking up after hours – This is critical; you must be able to secure the room after hours, especially if there are back doors or fire escapes that open into a hotel service corridor or the exterior of the building. While most hotel employees are trustworthy, some are not, and an unmonitored or unsecured (or passkey-accessible) access point is a temptation. If necessary, bring your own chains and padlocks (if that will work); check with the Fire Marshall before doing this, because the hotel will certainly object if the Fire Marshall doesn't approve, but may be more willing if you've already verified that there's no potential violation. In most locales, if there's no one in the room while the chains are on, you can probably get an okay. If the room can't be effectively secured, then the room is a poor choice for the intended purpose; when evaluating a hotel as a potential venue for a con, it's essential to look critically at the issue of security for the space that will house the dealer room. Assuming that you've done due diligence in this area, if you still feel that there is the slightest reason to believe that the lock-up procedure will not be reliable, then plan on having a trusted volunteer (who is a very light sleeper) remain in the room for the entire time that it is closed; a roll-away bed can generally be secured from the hotel to facilitate this.

H. Teardown – Give the dealers at least 4 hours for teardown and load-out; provide for more time if your event will be attracting the larger dealers, as some of them may need 6 hours or more to strike their displays and move them out. If you can't do this, do not be surprised when some dealers start tearing down while the room is still open. Dealers know how long it takes to be out of a site, and if you give them a hard deadline they'll do what they must to make it... but many of the largest and most sought-after dealers simply can't get packed up and moved out as fast as you (and the facility) would like.

I. Pre-selling next year's tables at this year's event – Some cons do this and some don't. If you do, have the dealer room coordinator (or a designated assistant) available with forms and a receipt book from opening on Sunday until everyone who hasn't signed up is out of the room. Don't just hand out the forms and then make us figure out where we have to turn them in! And don't forget that this automatically shuts out the dealers who might not have been able to come to your event this year, which may not be a good idea.

IV. Other Notes

A. Big-Name Guests – Many dealers will tailor their merchandise to cater to the opportunities presented by the presence of well-known guests, be they authors or actors or whatever. Make sure that your website and promotional flyers ACCURATELY reflect the guest list. Don't list a celebrity unless you are 100% certain that you're going to have them present; if you have a celebrity or other guest booked who cancels out, update your online information immediately. If you announce 6 big-name guests in your first flyers, and then replace them all with third-string names a month before the event because your pre-sale level missed its target, don't expect sympathy and kind thoughts from the dealers OR attendees. And if your expensive guest has a policy of not autographing anything that wasn't purchased from him or her, the dealers need to know; a few of them are in the business of selling licensed photos for autograph hounds, and their trade is dependent upon not being caught in such a situation. Also, don't underestimate the impact that a tremendously popular guest will have on the flow of money at the event; a really popular media guest who has a stiff autograph fee will siphon off substantial amounts of what would have been spent in the dealer room. Many dealers can relate tales of sitting around wondering why no one at such an event was buying anything, only to hear later that the media guest had departed with revenue well into five figures. Having a first-rate media guest may actually blunt many dealers' interest in selling at your event.

B. Autograph tables – it is common for autograph tables to be placed at the back of the Dealer Room if space permits, but beware of building a convention around a famous celebrity guest whose autograph session will soak up the entire con attendance as everyone stands in line. (And see the notes in the section immediately above; the presence of a big-name guest may have other unintended consequences.) If you're going to have such a celebrity, establish multiple sessions with a fixed, manageable number of line passes for each, and get attendees to commit to a specific time slot before giving them a line pass for that slot. This keeps the dealer room (and other activities) from suddenly getting deathly silent when the celebrity is signing. Most important, if the line forms through the dealer room or some other important space, this makes that part of the area inaccessible to anyone who's not standing in line. Dealers whose tables or booths are blocked by such a line will not be amused.

C. Should you have a Dealer Row instead of a Dealer Room? – This entire document has focused on the details of having an enclosed, communal vendor space, but there is a competing concept which is used by a small number of conventions; the Dealer Row. Essentially, instead of having a function space dedicated to sales, the dealers are booked into a specific block of contiguous rooms in the hotel, and they set up and sell their wares from those rooms. Sometimes, this block of rooms is also the party area. The advantages (for some dealers) include a potential reduction in expenses by not having to pay separately for space in the Dealer Room and for a hotel room, with the ability to operate at hours of the dealer's choice. In practice, the cost issue is often moot; dealers that are large enough to be a good fit for a Row will tend to need a second room in any event so that they don't have to strike substantial parts of their display every night and then put it up again in the morning just to have a place to sleep. The disadvantages of a Dealer Row (for the dealers who don't have a second room) include having to put up with the amount of setup and teardown each day which is necessitated by making the switch from living quarters to sales layout, and the fact that customers don't really walk past your display unless they come into the room first... and drawing them in is not all that easy. One important consideration for anyone contemplating the adoption of this plan is that many hotels expressly forbid the use of accommodation rooms as sales spaces; if you want to try the Dealer Row concept, you'll need to spend additional time in the planning stages shopping for a hotel that will work with you to make it fly – and this effort is beyond the scope of a 101-level treatise.

D. Other things in the Dealer Room – Many times, you'll get asked about the possibility of dedicating space or making room for such things as the Artist Guest of Honor, small-press promotion tables, other guest tables, and other non-dealer presences. Be careful not to overdo this; it will seldom be the case that any given guest will spend much time at a table in this area (though professional artists may have a helper to sit there for them; that's great!) The one thing that you don't want to do is have this area become a ghost town; nothing is worse for sales than empty tables (except, perhaps, 15 single-book self-published authors) when the customers come in. If you feel it's necessary to include such space, keep it to the absolute minimum that can be kept populated with guests most of the time. It's a good idea to have assigned (and well-publicized) time slots for these tables so that the fans will know who's available and when they can catch them.

E. Get your dealers to promote your convention – This is really very basic since you and the dealers both want your convention to be successful. Most dealers attend multiple conventions; ask them how many flyers they would be willing to place on the freebie tables at other events, and send them an adequate supply.

F. PROMOTE YOUR CONVENTION! – Yes, this is a discussion topic all by itself, but dealers in large part evaluate the prospects for your event on the basis of how well you're promoting it. Don't expect your website to be the thing that makes the con a success; an informative but very plain website will usually be every bit as effective as one that's fully loaded with bells, whistles, gongs, calliopes and carillons. Websites are usually where people go to find out about the convention when they already know it exists; your job is to get the fact that it exists in front of them to begin with, and this requires a LOT more than a website. On the other hand, in the information age, the lack of an informative website will make your event seem much less than credible... and whatever you do, DON'T make the fatal mistake of failing to keep the website up to date, even if things are going horribly wrong and you're in the middle of massive damage control efforts due to some unexpected disaster. Keep your con-goers informed, and they'll generally work with you or even pitch in and help; treat them like mushrooms, and they'll assume you're slinging the stuff that mushrooms are grown on.

G. An unusual Dealer Room arrangement is the one employed by OwlCon at Rice University; their dealers are positioned along the walls of their main function space. This space is filled with activities from early morning until late at night, and most of the dealers do not stay open for the entire time; the con provides security personnel in the room to ensure that any closed dealer's space is roped off and not approached by the attendees. (During the period from Midnight to around 8AM, the room is locked up.) Owlcon is unusual in large part; their physical layout in the room makes it easy for security to watch things, and the crowd in attendance is remarkably honest and not pilfer-prone. This same arrangement would most likely fail horribly at a lot of other types of event, and attempting to emulate it is not recommended.

H. Should your Dealer Room be open to just anyone who wants to browse? Must it? –In some locales and venues, you may find that there are requirements with respect to either the venue's rules or the regulations governing your organization which will mandate that you can't refuse to allow the general public to enter the room and make purchases. This is usually not a significant problem; typically, all that will occur is that a few curious members of the general public will wander in (as well as some of the hotel or facility staff) without incident. To protect yourself, check with your legal counsel (if you have one) and the facility administrators to see if there is any requirement that you must allow general public admittance. Even if there is such a requirement, you probably do not have to advertise that the public is welcome even on your own signs identifying your function spaces.

I. Respect Your Dealers' Time. – It is not possible to replace time; if something causes the dealer room to be effectively closed during hours when it was supposed to be open, that is selling time that is lost, and revenue lost for the dealers as a result. Sometimes such things happen unavoidably; if the power for the hotel fails for several hours, there's not a lot you can do about it. But don't think you can close the room unannounced just because you've decided that you want to for some non-emergency reason, as one convention did for several hours on a Saturday once. This will infuriate the dealers, at the very least...and they have long memories, and a lot of ways to let their fellow dealers know that they are annoyed.

J. Can your event really support a dealer room? – Although this has been left as the very last thing to explicitly address, it might really deserve to be the first thing considered.

1. If you bring them, will they shop? If you are planning a multi-day event that will have programming scheduled which is pretty much guaranteed to soak up everyone attending the convention for the entire time that your Dealer Room is open, the dealers are going to see very few shoppers, and they'll be going home empty-pocketed. Tech-themed events (like conventions devoted to Linux), gatherings of professionals or social-organization members, and other closely-focused conferences and celebrations (particularly those with just one programmed topic for the attendees at any given point) tend to encounter this problem. In such an instance, it may be better to have the dealers in an insecure foyer area where all of the between-session traffic will pass by, even though that will necessitate their setting up and tearing down each day. If that's the way you will be arranging for the selling space, the lack of security MUST be prominently disclosed well in advance, preferably in the earliest and all subsequent dealer informational documents.

2. Is there time, really? If your event runs for just one day, or part of a day, there may not be enough selling time available for the dealers to produce an adequate profit. In general, the barest minimum of time that is worthwhile for dealers to set up is 8 hours, and if the crowd will be nearly 100% focused on your event's other activities during that period, the chances are very slim that the dealers will have a chance to make a profit.

Consider everything in advance, then plan accordingly...and well.