Con Survival Series: How to Navigate the Dealers’ Room

Stuff stack it on stack it on up – (Stuff) never gonna ever get enough (stuff) – Oh it’s treasure till it’s mine then it ain’t worth a dime – It’s stuff (stuff) spreading like weeds – Dragging me under in an endless sea of stuff – (Stuff) There ain’t no end – Got to get a bigger place so I can move in – More stuff!

It’s never really on my schedule to visit the dealers’ room at a con but I always take any free time on my schedule to check it out atleast once a day. Unless you are fortunate enough to regularly visit Japan there are plenty of things that are just not easy to get your hands on. In the days before Internet shopping became common, the dealers’ room was the place to get your anime collectibles unless you lived in big enough a city to have a store with anime merchandise. Even if you were that lucky, them having what you wanted in stock was a crap shoot at best. But now that you can get most items on the the Internet with a little bit of effort, why bother checking out dealers’ room? The first reason is simple. Instant gratification. There is something awesome about just plunking down some cash and getting what you want right away. The second is the discovery aspect. There are often so many different products it is almost impossible to know everything that comes out for every show. You may immediately want that Zaku II plushie or Saber dinner set but you have to know they exist to buy them. Also how many times have you discovered a show based on the awesome merchandise you found at a con? The third reason is the hard to find collectible. Sometimes you know something exists but it is almost impossible to find online because they are long since sold out. You can often stumble upon a rare find at some corner of even the smallest anime convention. By buying things in person you get the chance to give everything the once over before you put down your money.

Making a list of things you want can help you organize your priorities and also keep from you from jumping at every cool thing you see in the dealer’s room. If you know what you’re looking for it is easier to hone in on things. You can make your list a number of ways. First, you could have very specific items, for example: 1/100 scale Kyrios master grade Gundam model kit, Tamaki (from Ouran High School Host Club) key chain, and the Rose of Versailles art book. The second way to do it is to list types of items, for example: doujinshi, pencil boards, and 1/8 scale figures. Now you know what you are looking for first, then if you can’t find these items you can pick up some other things. Or if you are really hard nosed save your money.

Okay, now have a good idea of what you are looking for. Your next step is to price everything on your list before you head out. Look up all the items and see what the general going price is online. Try to price everything on your list on at least three different websites and maybe see what the going price is on eBay as well. If you are super ambitious you can also look up what the price is online plus shipping and throw that on your list as well. This lets you go into the dealers room with a good idea of what you should be spending. Often times what might seem like a bargain at a con is often horribly overpriced. Don’t pay $60.00 for a Zoro figure you can get for $20.00 online. It will also let you know when you are getting a possible once in a lifetime bargain. The seller might be selling hard to find collectibles that he can’t move in his store for $15.00 but goes for $50.00 online. I also don’t tend to buy any DVDs for less than 40% off cover price and any manga less than 33% off because that is the standard online discount during sales at places like Right Stuf. You don’t tend to get more than 10% discounts on any other type of merchandise so buying them at market value is usually no loss.

Now don’t go losing your head when you enter the dealer’s room. This can be difficult when so many cool things are thrust at your in an instant, but really you can resist. Whether the dealer’s room is big or small it is best to go through the whole things first before buying. You’ll get a better idea of the prices and merchandise being toted. This will also help you not impulse buy things. Like a child with a new toy, you will soon forget all the trinkets but the most important! If you wait till the end you will get what you really wanted and not wish you hadn’t bought such and such because you saw something better later on. The only time to break this rule is if you know for sure that something is a hard find. This can crop up a lot of times when there is a big name Japanese guest at a con. Stuff you might not normally see gets broken out because people are thinking of them. Maybe you want them to sign something rare, so in that case make an informed decision to buy early. This is of course dependent on you doing your research before hand.

An easy thing not to immediately realize is that you can often get different prices depending on where you buy in the dealers’ room. I have found the bigger the dealers’ room the more this is true. Most of the time the further you get from the entrance the better your chances are at finding bargains. While this is hardly a hard and fast rule, you will often find that deals right by the entrance get a lot more impulse buys so they tend not to lower their prices as much as the back. Your best option is to scout the whole room before you even think about spending one dime. Nothing is worse than buying a Saber figure for $80.00 when you could have gotten the same figure for $40.00 two rows down. Also if an item is not super rare you are often best served by waiting until the last day of the con. My last bit of advice is that if you don’t see something at a dealer’s table you can ask them about it. Sometimes they can get you some thing they don’t have on display or currently with them. Local dealers will almost always bring anything you ask them for the next day if the have it on hand back home. Some dealers that are not local will even happily overnight something from their store to make a deal. They might not bring the rare 1/400 scale White Base model kit to every con but they will dig it up from their stock if you ask.

You can always try to haggle with vendors, this is perfectly acceptable but doesn’t always work. In more recent years it has become harder with so many retailers going to so many con. But if you want to give it a shot, I will give you some tips. The first rule of haggling is you have to be willing to walk away or atleast practice your poker face. If you look too eager, they know they don’t have to drop the price. I actually do this better alone since when I am with friends I tend to gush about the cool stuff. Also a vendor is probably less likely to cut a deal with you if their booth is hopping with customers. It is easier to make a deal if you are buying more than one of something. For example, if you are looking at four pencilboards at $8 a piece from one place ask if they can do better. It is also okay to suggest a price. You could say something like, “Would you take $28 for these?” It is okay to low ball the price and see if they will compromise. Like with my previous example, maybe they won’t go down to $28 but perhaps they will do $30.  It is of course a crap shoot when these things will work. Many people feel weird about haggling but you’ll get more comfortable after you try it a few times. And you will totally become comfortable after the first time it works. Good luck!

If you are any type anime fan you can easily eat up most of your overall budget in the dealers’ room without much effort. A cool figure or two here, a bunch of nice doujinshi there, stacks of import CDs and artbooks everywhere! Soon you’ll find your wallet as empty as Al Capone’s vault. The most important thing to remember, especially if you are new to conventions, is willpower. A little bit of self-control will usually net you better deals and a happier bank account. That being said, there is nothing quite like the amazing feeling of holding a figure you have been searching for or discovering some series you would have never even know existed had you not picked up that random pencil board. As Bo Derek once said, “Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping.”

6 thoughts on “Con Survival Series: How to Navigate the Dealers’ Room

  1. Sub says:

    I would also throw in the usual “check for bootlegs” warning: any affordable Japanese music CD being sold at a con is probably a fake, and it goes for most of the plushies and trinkets too. Cons, as far as I can tell, really don’t give a damn about this stuff anymore, since it’s not DVDs and the companies don’t get mad.

  2. reversethieves says:

    Good call. Totally forgot to mention that. Looking out for bootlegs is important but hard earned skill. At one point Narutaki and I discussed doing a how to spot bootlegs article sort of how Anime World Order did a while back. I will have to put that on the do to list.

    – Hisui

  3. phatbhuda says:

    I love stuff! To be honest, the dealers room is usually one of the top attractions at a con for me. I’m slowly learning to appreciate panels and such a lot more.

    One thing I like to keep in mind is weight and bulk. Don’t want to buy the big heavy stuff too early in the con/weekend. haha!

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