One of the standard bits of business advice, for any business, is to be friendly, but professional. Don't talk about your personal life with customers. Don't say what a bad year you're having. Don't ask about *their* problems, any more than to say "Whew, hot out,ain't it?" This is, in general, pretty good advice. Customers don't need to know about you. They don't want your bad mood bringing them down. And hearing about your skin grafts is unlikely to inspire the purchase of tea.
But cons are different. While there are more new people- strangers!- every year, almost everyone who's in the fandom found it through friends. And those friends come to the cons. And then there are the customers, who buy a thing because they love the art, and then want to know the artist, and then everyone goes out to dinner, and then... well, pretty soon, they stop being "customers" and become "friends who buy our stuff".
I've been doing this a while. My husband, even longer. About 40 percent of the people who buy from our booth are friends, people who we'd help move, people who came to our wedding, people who share hotel rooms and friends lists and family recipes with us. And in the tighter world of the Animefest dealer's room, that percentage is even higher; 80 percent of us in any given year are returnees. We know each other. We may not have the same social schedule, but we count on each other for minor supply assists, emergency table manning, and all the other little things that go with being temporary co workers.
So when these people come up and ask how we're doing, they really want to know. They know my health is bad-- is it getting better? Will this be the last year they see me? They heard my husband transferred jobs-- how's it working out? When will we get our house built? And we want to hear from them too. Even the grim stuff, especially the embarrassing stuff...We want to know. They're our friends.
They're why we go. With the internet's current power and scope, the real unique quality of cons is not merchandising, but socializing. We go there to see our friends. We sell there to pay our way, and support our habit.
Another very sensible bit of advice given to crafters is to not let friends block customers from the table. But this gets tricky when friends are the customers. Sure, they may only be buying a couple prints while they talk, but they are buying. And often they're the big money-- see the second paragraph. It was a friend of ours who shelled out 100 bucks for a small watercolor at this year's art auction. Strangers buy prints and mousepads and small things. Friends buy originals and commissions.
I suspect we could make more money if we followed the proper rules, put business first and pleasure second. But on a moment to moment basis, this is the way I know how to work, and I don't want to change. It makes me part of a community instead of part of a competition. It keeps the focus on the art part of our lives instead of the business angle. It keeps things fun and keeps me feeling human. And really, without that, there's no point in me having this life at all. There'll always be more money in the business world. But my friends are over here.
Even more con rambling tomorrow! And a return to Etsy!