Sunday, August 14, 2011

BrickFair 2011

This was my first year attending BrickFair, the largest LEGO fan convention in the US (and possibly the world). It is held every August in Chantilly VA, which is very close to where Dad worked for a couple years when I was in Middle School. I didn't have a lot of time to nostalgically explore the area as I was in town for just 54 hours, most of which was devoted to LEGO or sleep, but I drove past a couple familiar landmarks between the hotel and the expo hall.
BrickFair is large not only in the sense that is is held in a a massive expo hall, but also it has the most public attendees of any convention in the US. The numbers for this year were about 17,000 over two days. I think BrickWorld and BrickCon draw about half that.
Since this was my first time going I had no sense of how busy it would really be, so I only reserved 1 vendor table. I originally registered both Bert and myself, but Bert was not able to attend because he is still new to his position at the YMCA. I had heard rumors of the insanity of the public days, especially Saturday, so I was fearful of being completely overwhelmed. Luckily, I was able to benefit from the kindness of strangers.
After getting in Friday afternoon, I checked in at my hotel and picked up the packages I had shipped to myself. Then I went to see the expo hall and get start setting up. I assembled my brand new roaring pegboard displays ( only to discover that you can't unassemble them which was going to make shipping them back interesting), assessed what I would have space for on my single table, and took stock of the things I needed to print at kinko's or buy at staples. I returned to the hotel to finish designing some fliers and signs, got dinner, went to kinko's, staples, and Kmart, and then returned to the expo hall to begin setting up in earnest. It was then 8 PM and I had 6 hours before I would be kicked out of the Expo Hall. I took stock of the daunting list of tasks ahead of me before I'd be ready for the public on Saturday:
-Put over 700 minifigs on hooks on my new rotating pegboard displays sorted by price
-About half of those needed to be put into individual plastic bags first
-most of those bags needed to be hole punched (I am going to buy pre hole-punched bags in the future, that's for sure)
- determine prices for a handful of new minifigs
- package Citizen Brick's custom heads and torsos in hole punched bags too
- Package 25 custom robot kits
Thankfully as I was starting on my mountain of work a kid came by and asked if I needed help setting up. I immediately laid out a job for him and set him to it. When he finished I set him to a new task and while we were working on that his mom came by to check on him and started helping out too. Soon another mom and her two boys came by and joined in as well. At this point my table had become a flurry of activity and I simply did my best to control it. An hour later nearly everything was done and I was able to spend the rest of the night finessing the display at a leisurely pace.

The next morning the kid and his mom (I do know their names, just not posting them here) came by again and agreed to stay and help out during the public hours. I can not thank them enough. Saturday was absolute insanity. During the rush hours (11-2) probably I could barely take money fast enough to keep up with the sales. They watched the other end of the table and took orders for me to price ( I instituted a color coded price system the next day) and handled a number of cash sales for me. By Saturday afternoon the minfig displays were looking pretty barren. I went to the local Lego store that night to stock up, but even then it looked pretty spartan on Sunday. Sunday was not nearly as intense, but still very good. Overall, I sold over 500 minifigs over the weekend.

Being a vendor at these events has definitely changed my perspective. Even though I spent the whole weekend in a gigantic room full of LEGO, I barely got a chance to look around and see the cool creations on display. When I attended my first LEGO fan event, all I did was look at other people's stuff. Because I had so little time at the event, I rarely left the corner where the vendors were, let alone my table. After the public hours on Saturday I was heading out, intending to go to the hotel and take a nap, when I ran into a bunch of the other vendors who invited me to join them for dinner.
One of the defining characteristics of the LEGO fan community is that it is fragmented into many different sub-communities. The big divisions are typically by what genre of creation people like to build (castle, space, pirates, steampunk, Bionicle, post-apocalyptic, etc.), but there are also communities based on where people post their creations online (MOCpages, EuroBricks, flickr, etc.) and dividing lines between adult, teen, and kid fans (people who make animations using LEGO are yet another sub-community, but don't attend conventions en masse the way these other groups do, something I am looking to change). Vendors are yet another community with their own set of needs and priorities.
It was nice to have dinner with the other vendors, most of whom, like me, are still working day jobs and only moonlighting as vendors. Hearing my own concerns echoed from another mouth was reaffirming (e.g. The importance of packaging merchandise at home before the show so you don't have to scramble at the event) and the fact that I was sitting next to a guy who has turned his passion into a full-time business and was able to pick his brain a little was simply awesome.
After dinner we all headed to the local LEGO store. It's nice not being the only adult at the store purchasing large quantities of LEGO for one's self. Spending $500 on minifigs doesn't seem so bad when a) there are other people spending more and saying they are holding themselves back and b) I know I will be able to sell most of those minifigs the next day. I felt bad for the LEGO store employees though. You could tell they had spent the whole day answering the same questions from mega-fans and ringing up our enormous orders.
All told, it was an exciting weekend. Once I got back home, I immediately booked tables for next year and got the date on Mom and Dad's calendar so they can help Bert and I work the booth and see one of my events in person. I'm already excited!

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