Steam Crow just finished up our 2011 SDCC.

SDCC is our biggest show of the year, and it’s broken our gross sales record each time we’ve done it. (Thank goodness.)

It’s not our most profitable show, but it’s dang fun participating in this Chaos Pop-Culture Carnival!

Steam Crow at SDCC 2011



We’ve been exhibiting here since 2005, starting in the Small Press area, and then moving up to a 10×10 booth in 2006. In 2009 we moved up to a corner booth, where we’ve remained ever since.

2005 – Small Press table. Made a profit, just barely.

2006-2008 – 10×10 booth, over in the Illustrators section. Sales increased simply because of the move.

2009-2011 – Corner booth (#4207) across from Fox and Nickelodeon. Sales increased again because of more products and better booth placement.

All shows have been profitable, but we’ve really benefited from 1) having more space to sell in, and 2) being in a high traffic area.

Moving out of Small-Press was the best thing that we’ve ever done to increase sales. (Though we worked hard to fill that booth.)


SDCC  usually starts out slow for us.

We do some sales on preview night, but it’s nothing too fancy. However, it helps the bottom line, so you won’t ever see us skipping it.

Thursday’s sales volume increased, but we started having some challenges with our Square credit card reader due to massive cell traffic competition. (To be talked about in a future post.)

Friday’s sales increased a bit more… which turned into a solid day. (Third best day of the show.)

Saturday was the biggest day of the show… though we were having to compete more and more with the FOX signings in their booth. The overflow of folks made it occasionally difficult to do much more than just stand there, and attempt to talk to folks. Credit Card processing was very, very slow on Saturday and Sunday.

Sunday was the second best day of the show, but the FOX signings slowed things down for us again…

Overall, we had about a 20% increase in sales from 2010; probably our slowest SDCC growth on record… but it’s still growth.

What worked

  • Having a large variety of product is a must to make money at this show. We have a lot of stuff: glasses, books, prints, goggles, t-shirts and other stuff.
  • We benefit from having product that doesn’t require knowledge of our comic or the universe that it occupies.
  • We finally, after 6 years, made our name “Steam Crow” a huge part of our booth design. Many SDCC veterans noticed us for the first time, it seems.
  • Our themed “Monster Marketplace” hats and aprons were well received. We looked like a place where you could get some service and attention, and we tried to back that up with actual service and attention. Plus it was fun.
  • Having more helpers was really nice, especially as folks like talking to the artist. I tried to give people my full attention and I didn’t have to worry that other people weren’t being helped. Our minions were superb.
  • Our “deals” worked well too. (Many of our items have a “buy X get Y for free” deal.) It help mitigate the “I only have X$, let’s make a deal” mentality. Awkward for us.
  • Our classic (public domain) monster movie prints (finally) were our big sales winners. We use these as a way to get you into Steam Crow stuff. Last year we had 3 different prints in this theme; this year we had at least a dozen.
  • Our booth design is unique, and the product has a fairly unique vibe. Dawna’s top striped banner was a win.

Do Betters

  • Better Credit Card processing. We love Square, but even being on 2 different providers (ATT & Sprint) it was way too slow due to the volume of cell traffic. Fix: We need to look at getting a dedicated WiFi, or getting one of our phones on Verison and see if that helps.
  • Tabletop was too crowded. We did the best that we could with our little 10×10, but we could really use more space for our product. Some stuff was simply overlooked because there was no place to put it. Fix: Ask the SDCC gods if we can add a second booth.
  • Four of us in a 6×6 ft area is TOO MUCH. Three people is okay, but four is a crowd. Fix: If we can get the 10×20 arrangement, four people will be ideal.
  • No distinct theme. Sure, we do Monsters, but that isn’t entirely clear. Our Food Kawaii prints don’t fit the monster-mold, though they do sell. Fix: We’re working on a new character property (featuring monsters) to bring in more continuity and brand clarity.

Tips for sales success

It’s difficult to suggest a “one size fits all” plan, as everybody’s audience and product mix is different. The worst thing that you can do is just try to copy someone else’s model. It pays to be unique… so keep that in the forefront of that skull of yours.

  • Don’t roll into SDCC just trying to earn back your table costs; develop a strategy to make a profit right away.
  • Make product lines or sets, so you can sell more than just 1.
  • Develop products that have a very focused appeal. Don’t try to be everything to everyone.
  • Have many different price points – $1 to $100 would be ideal. You should have the most choices at $20 level; we concentrate our efforts there.
  • Work on your Con products and plan all year long. You won’t be able to bust out a successful con 3 weeks before the show.
  • Be unique. Be unique in your brand. Be unique in your approach. Be unique in your product offerings.
  • Go big. Get out of the Small Press area as soon as you 1) have ample product and 2) you have some audience to support it. We started from zero.
  • Follow your passion. You can’t fake your stuff based on sales. Make what you’re passionate about.
  • Don’t disappear for the rest of the year. Use social media, blogging and such to connect to your followers all year long. You already knew that, though.

Ripping to get rich

If you want to make a whole lot of money at the con, do this:
  • Make prints/t-shirts based on a famous property that you don’t own. Dr. Who is hot this year. Next year, who knows.
  • Mashup 2 hot properties – the flavor of the minute. It’s funny, at least for a moment.
You’ll get some quick sales for sure.
But I wouldn’t recommend it; it’s a short-term gain with no brand-building.
  • You’re competing with tons of other folks doing exactly the same thing. It’s the biggest trend at comic conventions hands down.
  • It’s not memorable. How many Batmans are out there? How are they going to remember YOU?
  • I predict that eventually the big studios will shut down this sort of activity, and then you’ll have to start from zero all over again.
  • It’s lacks story. “Why did you make X?” Oh, well I’m a fan of X.” That’s a boring story compared to being inspired, excited about your creation.


It’s getting more difficult to profit at comic conventions, but I’ve seen it done, and know that it’s possible. It’s no longer a space where one can simply show up, and expect to profit. But, with ample year-long preparation, and strategy, it is doable.

Daniel m. Davis is the co-owner (with his wife Dawna) of Steam Crow LLC,  a Phoenix, Arizona studio that creates characters/stories/goods with a monster imagination.

He also creates the Monster Commute, a monsterpunk adventure comic. He likes Halloween a bit too much.