One major point would be sales. I personally managed to do well in sales to not complain but, after hearing a lot of artists commenting on how sales were poor/slower than previous years, I might have been one of the lucky few. And given their prior experiences, I would take their word over mine. One thing I did share was the attendance was slooooow. I'm unsure if it was because of our location or not (it took a lot of descending and long hallway walks to find our basement cave of an AA) but most of the weekend was a trickle of customers rather than a steady stream. Occasionally there were some bursts of people but after a couple of hours the attendance would quickly plummet again. Unless you had something to keep you occupied--commissions, friends, some form of entertainment--it got to be a very stagnant experience at times, especially when the AA goes onto 10pm. Speaking of, be sure you either have connections to people who can get you food or are quick to order out because a lot of restaurants close at 10 or 11, including take-out services. Sites like Grubhub may save your life.
On another point about the location, something has to be done about the cellular service. Never have I had issues with taking people's cards until this convention and it wasn't because I hadn't paid extra for internet. There was absolutely no signal whatsoever down there. Thankfully, while I was able to get around the issue by taking invoices á la gathering people's e-mails for paypal, it was a huge inconvenience that I was unable to use my square card reader. If I hadn't come up with the invoice idea I could have missed out on a lot of heavy sales and that thought alone makes me give this convention a low rating for at least that area of grading.
Another big issue for some is also the priciness of the area: It's DC so it's going to be expensive, be sure to room with enough friends to help pad the costs if you decide to grab a hotel.
Even with a lot of negatives against it, there are enough pros to this convention that make me consider returning next year despite the warning signs. The staff are EXTREMELY friendly and helpful! While the organization was a little spotty at times (getting our table numbers on the day of the con) it was overall a very good experience with them. They even managed to get rid of a major, loud disruption during the early hours of Saturday which I am extremely grateful for as it helped make the day feel much smoother knowing it had been dealt with rather quickly. The community was one of THE friendliest I've met at a con and I made quite a lot of new friends and acquaintances there that I hope to see in the future, each of them all very talented in their own way! There was a lot of variety in products and the layout seemed to work well (though I heard some issues about large pillars getting in the way of booths so I can't speak for them).
If there's anything that can be taken out of this, I would say that it's definitely a Local Con sort of thing. If you live near DC then I'd take a shot at it but for those out of the bordering states I would say it's a gamble and wouldn't suggest it. Though I've heard it's declined, I do hope it only improves from here because there is potential!
Since my business partner and I are local, we even volunteered to cover Thursday night and/or go in really early on Friday to help sign people in, but we were not taken up on our offer. (They suggested instead we just be general volunteers on Thursday to get back our registration fee.) We tried, guys, we tried.
When we got in Friday morning, we noticed how little space most artists had behind their table. Most Alleys are getting very good at giving us a some protected space, and enough space to store our stock - which is hugely important for those who do plushes, bags, glass, and other 3-d work. They've had us in this room for years, it would be nice if they used the space well and gave the artists the room we need.
Overall terrible communication, lots of broken promises, not treating us like professionals, and not acting like professionals when we brought up very valid complaints. Only the fact that I'm local and didn't need to pay for hotel and parking made this a good con for me.
Venue: As a local artist, I did not stay at the hotel. That being said, I would suggest finding alternate lodging and plan to drive to the convention or take the metro. The rooms are expensive, even with the convention discount. The nearest metro stop is so close to the convention that it’s practically on hotel property. Take advantage of public transit if you can! The artist alley is underground in a basement conference room, so anticipate questionable internet access and phone signal.
Layout: Horrendous. First, there were too many artists for the size of the convention and the space – they added about 10-20 more tables over last year from what I heard. Second, the artist alley contained load-bearing pillars that were a substantial impediment to traffic flow and visibility all weekend. As a result, some artists literally had 2ft of space between the front of their table and the nearest pillar. Unacceptable.
Attendance: According to staff, the turnout in 2015 was around 4,000 people. As of Saturday, the staff was estimating that only 2,000-3,000 people were in attendance. I suspect the attendance dropped because the ticket prices increased, the hotel is expensive to stay at, and there were no big name guests. As a results, the diminished attendee population had little money to spend in the artist alley.
Affordability: The table was priced at $150 and only came with one badge. I was required to purchase an attendant badge for $45, making the total table price $195. Given the terrible layout and poor attendance, this convention was not good value for the price.
Artists: The bright spot of the entire weekend was getting to meet new artists. Everyone was extremely friendly and art trades were plentiful. I met a lot of lovely people who I hope to see again soon at other conventions!
Overall: I will not be returning to AUSA in the future. My AUSA artist alley experience in 2015 was slightly above average, but 2016 was without a doubt the most unsuccessful weekend I’ve ever had at a convention.
I made a decent profit, but my main issue was that the sales were ... s o ... s l o w. Artist Alley was open 10 hours Friday and 12 hours Saturday, which just was too long to sustain decent crowds in the hall at any given time. There was no urgency for people to buy something, almost every sale I had was people who had been by earlier and came back around later. Friday night after 7pm I made no sales whatsoever, with the rest of the nights continuing this trend. I guess people just left for dinner and never came back?
No one got their table layout assignments until we were at the convention. I like to be able to advertise in advance on social media where to find me, and it caused some layout issues with neighbors that needed special placement for behind table displays. It's also quite dark in the hall, but I was expecting that. When I asked at the Info Desk how to get a large suitcase downstairs they said they didn't know, and didn't offer any further help. That said the staff in the AA hall were all very friendly and helpful.
This was my first time tabling at this convention, though I've been an attendee for years. It does seem like attendance is dwindling year to year, and every artist I talked to was disappointed in the number of sales. I'd do a table there again, but only because I don't have travel expenses to worry about.
Cost to do this show is a important factor to note. Hotel parking costs about $40 a day without the coupon to knock it down to $20, so be sure to get the coupon. Common complaints we've heard are that it's expensive to attend this show, after factoring in hotel and parking costs, so it's best to try and stay outside the District and either drive or metro in each day in order to spend less on hotel. Attendees seem to have less money to spend, as much of the attendee base being on the younger side and the attending costs are on the high side for that age group. It's worth noting that even the Dealers have seen diminished spending. Attendance was also noticeably down from previous years. There were numerous times the Alley was empty of attendees, as was the Dealers Room. These two factors meant there was less money to go around overall.
In the end, we have an expensive venue for attendees, an Alley and Dealers Room that are too large for its size, and decreased attendance, all three factors combining to have a significant negative impact on sales for everyone.
To end on a positive note, check in and load-out went smoothly, which is always greatly appreciated.
The artist alley room was not great. It was dark and crowded. Some people reported poor cell service, but I actually had service all weekend. The layout of the hotel overall was SUPER confusing. It's the only hotel in the area and quite pricey, so you are probably better off getting a nearby AirBNB and using Uber to get to and from the con. Or take the Metro, since there is a station nearby.
Con: as pam mentioned, some of the tables got caught behind pillars and such; the layout could have been better. The directions to the loading docks were not very clear, although this could've been due to construction in the area. The hours were a bit long for me and I found myself having to pack up a little early because I was so tired. Also, DC is VERY expensive for room and parking and difficult to navigate; we ended up parking our car long term at the hotel and used uber the rest of the trip.
Table placement was poorly thought out. There were pillars in the room that could have been worked around so they were behind tables, but no, the alley was arranged so that some people had the front of their tables blocked by pillars. There were some other dead spots, too, like the two tables facing the back wall. The lighting was not that great, and the room was in a black hole for phone service which meant credit card sales were hampered. My business partner and I had to do a lot of offline mode sales and hope the customer's card wouldn't get declined when we were back online.
There were good crowds, and I liked that they funneled everyone who came into the dealer's room through the AA to get to the exit. It helped drive traffic. Although hard to navigate sometimes, the venue was clean and pretty, and there were lots of signs guiding people around. The staffers of both the AA in particular and the con in general were helpful and polite. The customers were also a delight. Yes, the tables are a little on the spendy side, but our sales more than justified it.
My partner and I are locals, so we got dropped off and picked up. That's why I can't comment on what the parking and hotel fees were like. Also, I've never really had this happen before, but sales were slow Friday (as usual), brisk Saturday (also normal), and then we got slammed on Sunday (wut??). Not that I'm complaining, mind you, and I don't know if it's like that every year since this was our first at this con. Just something to keep in mind if you get a bit discouraged after Friday and Saturday.