A Dealers room is a space provided where merchants offer wares, (loosely) related to the subject matter of the convention. This may be in one or more rooms to which all members have easy access. The room itself should be easily secured when it is not open to the public. The dealers will want easy access for themselves for setup and tear down of their individual and collective displays.
This room / department is often called the hucksters room. Some dealers, especially those with perhaps less historical perspective on fandom (or from another country where the term "huckster" is either not used or is a disparaging term of abuse), seem to find that term demeaning, which may explain its declining use (why annoy people over a triviality?). Apostrophes may be placed before or after the 's', or neither.
If you are short on function space, you may wish to consider a Dealers' Row, where dealers sell out of their hotel rooms. The con must try to group these rooms together, and should charge a fee for being in this block; in addition, the con also has an obligation to publicize the block. A Dealers' Row offers greater individual freedom & security for the dealer (they can shut their door when they wish), but may increase liability for the convention, or cause hotel difficulties.
Reasons to have a Dealers Room
A Dealers Room can serve many purposes.
It brings in money, obviously; a substantial amount even in a Dealers Row, and an even larger amount in a Dealers Room (where $4 per attendee in income is not an unreasonable expectation).
It attracts attendees to the con, and it can be managed to attract a particular kind of attendee.
It attracts attendees to its location within the hotel.
Carefully managed, it can attract program participants (for instance, by ensuring that their books are for sale there).
Carefully managed, it can enable event participation (by ensuring that material useful to the event is for sale there).
Carefully managed, it can enrich program and event participation (by ensuring that material shown or discussed is for sale there, preferably with advance warning about the discussion in the Pocket Program).
There are surely other reasons. Some of these may matter to you more than others.
Basic needs to run a Dealers Room
Generally, a Dealers' Room should be a source of income to the convention. The tables should be priced such that the cost of rental tables (and, perhaps, chairs), if needed, the cost of the function space and electricity, plus the cost of security, are easily covered. A Dealers' Room must be in a securable area, unless yours is a one-day event.
Some conventions have different prices for different kinds of dealers, either to act as an incentive for certain types of dealers, or to even the field for those with lower profit margins. Some conventions charge more for additional tables beyond the first table (i.e., $100 for the first table, $150 for each additional table). Many will give free space, either in the Dealers' Room or elsewhere, to fan groups with similar interests. Be sure to account for all these costs when determining a budget.
You should also see what conventions similar to your own (in space, size, location, and/or character) charge; you don't want to be too different. Dealers' Row rooms generally work on a flat fee, either per dealer or per room. Furniture removal costs are extra--if your hotel will allow it. You should also charge all dealers a membership (see below).
Generally, you want a largish, rectangular function space without too many pillars. If your convention has an art show and large ballroom events or films, you'll probably be competing with them for space. This means that the Dealers' Room will probably have to settle with low ceilings, oddly shaped rooms, or pillars. In any case, you'll want to thoroughly measure the room and do a layout well before you accept more dealers in the room than it can handle.
In smaller conventions, Dealers and Art Show can share a ballroom. However, since they generally have different hours, you'll need interim coverage security while one is open and the other is closed. When both are closed, of course, one security person can handle the entire area. This will save you money if you hire paid security.
You will need to consider the needs of your dealers, their customers, and local fire regulations. While four foot (1.3m) aisles allow more tables, they will annoy the customers and make the Fire Marshall unhappy. Ten foot (3m) aisles are probably overkill, unless your convention is very large (over 3,000), you're trying to use up space or the fire code requires it. Generally, seven- to eight-foot (2.5m) aisles are ideal. The length of the aisle may also affect the required width. The National Fire Protection Association (NPFA) codes and standards are available for free on their website, .
Next, you will need to look at the hotel's table inventory. All the dealers must have tables of the same size. Unlike the art show, you can probably get away with double schoolrooms--two 18" (0.5m) tables put together--so long as dealers are informed in advance. Be aware that some of your dealers will want the flexibility to move their tables within their space, so it may take some policing to see that they aren't moving them outside of their space. Also, some dealers may have their own bookcases, booths, clothing racks, displays, back stock, etc., that need to be accounted for. In general, the minimum amount of space should be 6' x 4' (2m x 1.3m), plus the table, per table.
When you do a layout, you will probably end up with islands. Be sure that there's a way for the dealers to get in and out easily, and try to give them open corners, not closed ones with overlapping tables. Be sure to drape the tables, and provide two chairs per table. If possible, get one spare, folded cloth per table from your facility, for the dealers to cover their stuff when the room is closed (it's a psychological deterrent).
First, look for dealers who match your convention. If you have a children's book convention, you can probably skip the guys who make vampire teeth and sell leather whips. If you have an all-media convention, the small press who makes literary reference books geared toward libraries, or the rare book dealer with thousand-dollar, hundred-year-old first editions, shouldn't top your list. Knowing who your attendees are, and their interests, should guide your choices. When dealers don't make sales, they grumble, which is bad publicity for your con; when attendees don't find what they're looking for, they also grumble and create bad publicity.
Next, get a mailing list. Most cons are willing to share. Approach ones that are either local to you, or match your type of convention--preferably both. Also, try to go to as many cons as possible to look for potential dealers, and send your committee looking also. Do not hand dealers more than a card at a con; they will lose it. Also, use the web; other conventions often post a list of dealers with links.
You can do most of your business by email, but a postal mailing is probably the best way to go for the initial contact. If your responses are low, follow it up with an email a month later. Email addresses are more likely to change than postal ones. Time your mailing so that it doesn't arrive just before or after a big convention, when dealers are likely to be frazzled. Also, do not hand out forms at conventions; they will get lost (obviously that is a generalisation as many dealers are professionals and will do their best to maximise profit by keeping track of future sales opportunities).
You will want to mail out a form, as well as put it up on a website. The form should state the fee per table, membership costs, whether memberships are included with the table (and how many per table), ask for basic contact information (name, address, email), what the dealer sells, and include some way to get payment. In addition, leave space for special requests--some dealers need electricity, a wall, or want to be on a corner; some will request to be next to specific dealers--or away from them. Finally, be sure you have a deadline, or you will get dealers responding at the last minute.
It's likely that your mailing will be very broad. Don't feel obliged to take everyone who responds. You don't need five jewelers for a 100-person convention, unless it's a jewelry convention. Consider how many dealers you want. Generally, a 1:20 dealer:attendee ratio is okay, but you may also have to look at space constraints. Be willing to have a short waiting list, and promptly refund dealers whom you cannot accept.
Many conventions give dealers cut-rate memberships, or include them in with the table fees. The reasoning is that they don't get out to see the convention much, and are providing a service to the convention. Including the memberships in with the table fees can be a problem, as one dealer may be running multiple tables, or may get a free membership for other reasons (such as being on program).
All dealers, whether in the Dealers' Room or on Dealers' Row, should have memberships, even if they have no interest in your convention. Similarly, many conventions restrict access to the Dealer's Room to badged attendees, for two reasons. First, it deters theft, especially if the attendee's real name is on the badge in large, legible letters. Second, it acts as an incentive for people to purchase memberships. Please note that it is harder to police memberships on Dealer's Row.
Some conventions require one full attending membership to be obtained by a particular dealer, but will then sell additional "Dealers Room Only (DRO)" memberships for additional table staff who will not be attending the convention but just coming in each day to man the table. These DRO memberships are cheaper than the cost of a full attending membership. Some conventions also make allowances that someone might be working the table all day and just want to go to the major social event in the evening, and so will sell "DRO and Dance (D&D)" or allow DRO members to buy a ticket for the banquet.
Some Dealers' Room managers prefer to obtain the badges for dealers and hand them out. This can be problematic or a good thing, depending on your registration.
As Dealers will often require access to the Dealers' Room and loading bays to set up before the convention opens, and after the convention closes (areas that will be off-limits to the public and to standard convention members), it is common practice to issue Dealers with "move in" and "move out" or "special access" badges (sometimes in the form of colored self-adhesive labels that can be worn in a visible location while carrying boxes etc.) so that security (professional, hotel or convention security) can make sure that nothing gets stolen.
The Dealers' Liaison should expect to interface with the hotel/facility. You will need tables, chairs, cloths, electricity, heat, light, security (recoring/recoding locks), and more. For example, what is the hotel policy if people have a free dish of candy at their table to attract customers? What if they sell spices/beer/chocolate? What if they play recorded music? (Do they have an appropriate license for public performance/commercial use of that music?) What if they sell unauthorised fan-sub anime? What if they sell dildos?
If you have a Dealers' Row, you will need to be able to place specific people in a specific block, and may have to deal with furniture removal. In addition, you should find out hotel rules regarding people selling out of their rooms.
over 6 months precon: get together a database, and do a preliminary layout & budget
6 months precon: send out a mailing
5 months precon: send out an email reminder, if needed
4 months precon: repeat reminder, if needed. Now would be a good application deadline.
3 months precon: sort through all your dealers, do a preliminary layout, solve problems. See if you're over- or under-booked. Communicate with hotel regarding needs (tables, etc.)
2 months precon: send confirmations, share your layout
1 month precon: send load-in/move-out/driving directions, hours, etc.; verify hotel is all set; double-check your layout. Keep a short waiting list in case a dealer or two drops out, and keep it updated; send refunds as needed
1-2 days precon: check room set-up, move tables as needed
at least 4 hours before opening: dealer move-in (usually takes 4-8 hours)
at least 1/2 hour before room opens daily: let security out, dealers only into the room
at least 1/2 hour after room closes daily: let security in, dealers out of the room
at least once daily while the room is open: do a circuit of the room to check for problems
after final close: dealers move out (leave 6 hours minimum for this)
post-con: update database, write up an analysis, and pass on the info
Give a list of program participants and next year's Guests of Honor to your book dealers ahead of time, so they can be sure to have books by those authors.