If you found Volante Design at a comic con or some other nerdy event, you are in good company! We used to do about 30 shows a year across the US. We packed up, rented a U-Haul, or shipped our products on a pallet and headed out to make our little company work! It was a wonderful way to start sharing our designs, to meet people, to see what was fitting right, and what made people excited. Back in the day, David and I traveled to all the events, then it was me and Sarah, who was one of my college roommates, then gradually Sarah and Mike took it over and kicked ass as a team. This took years to perfect: it was a lot of work, a lot of fun, and it was the backbone of our company for a while. Events monies made up about half of our annual income in 2018 and 2019. Since the pandemic, however, we have not been able to re-create a successful events department.
For so many reasons it has not been easy. First, we always need two good people who can do very different parts of the events process. Second, the events were getting less attendance post Covid and weren't as rewarding as they had been previously. Third, we didn't totally suck at online marketing anymore, so we had other options. Last, but perhaps most significantly, we're not that excited to travel every other weekend and neither are our staff. Between kids, homes, gardens, pets, and routines, it no longer feels like a grand adventure to go to a new city every few weeks.
Don't get me wrong, I loved traveling to cons all over the US. I loved trying food in each new city, meeting people, and realizing that I talk way too fast for the southern states. I saw so much! We stayed in some amazing places and some terrible ones. We ate at a lot of late night diners, and realized that yard houses are reliably open late in random cities across the US. It was an amazing experience. And it isn't what it used to be.
I remember staying with Sarah in the worst Airbnb of all time. It was a little apartment in Philly in December for Pax Unplugged. It was just us. We'd hired a very kind, sweaty man to help in the booth, but he dropped out for some reason I can't remember. We found a very good bar called Monk's Cafe. The food came out slow and the beer came out fast. Also the beer was really really good. We had one too many beers, which we realized too late were 8 or 9 percent. When we woke up, hungover at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning to the sound of water dripping, we were not in great shape. The apartment above ours had a leak and it was dripping down through the floor into the living room and pooling in the lowest part of the kitchen floor. We couldn't get a hold of the rental manager. Most of our clothes were very wet, and the water in the bathroom wouldn't get really properly hot. We did the last day of the con yesterday's clothes, made it through and drove home the next morning.
While this stands out to me as the crummiest Airbnb and one of our less fine moments, it is to be expected that when you travel unexpected things happen. This is the fun part, often the unexpected things are cool. Or at least, they are part of the adventure if you're open to seeing them that way.
At another, less wet, time David and I had a late flight home from Phoenix Comic Con and so instead of sitting in the airport for a whole day we rented a car and went to look at the big red rocks in Sedona. We had lunch on mars and then drove back to the airport to catch our flight. It was like visiting another planet. The geography and sea of cacti and grass so foreign to us native New Englanders. The red rocks something out of a John Ford movie, stark and awesome in the truest sense of the word. It's a memory we cherish.
The point of all these rambling reminiscences is this: events are one of the hardest, most unpredictable ways to make money, meet customers, and generally carve out a living. It was an adventure in our 20s and increasingly not as fun in our 30s. The world has changed. Covid played no small part in dimming our wanderlust.
We couldn't give up events altogether, however, because they still give us something wonderful and tangible that online selling just can't.
We are still doing FOUR big events this year. We will be in Boston for Pax East, Indianapolis for Gen Con, Las Vegas for STLV, and New York for NYCC. Why these shows? They are the coolest shows on our list. They are the ones that we still feel allow us to connect with enough of our customers to be worth going to. We're less interested in making sales there and more interested in continuing to strengthen our brand, build connections with other companies like ours, and be live and in person to meet with YOU. A good chunk of our team will be at Pax and NYCC and smaller groups will head off to Gen Con and Vegas.
Are you coming to one of these epic cons? These really are our favorites. I hope we'll see you there! Can't make it to one of these shows this year? Don't stress. We want you to be able to try stuff on, see how it feels, and get a consultation from a Volante team member.
Do you know we have free shipping?
Do you know we have free exchanges?
Do you know we will take your returns without giving you a hard time, so long as they're in new condition with the tags on?
Do you know that we are also online on Discord almost all the time and would be happy to give fashion advice/perspectives?
The buzz of the con may not be repeatable, but a lot of the good parts of the con experience can be had online, with a lot less travel, a lot less cost, and a lot less Covid.