If you’ve ever been lucky enough to attend a doll convention, you know how incredibly fun it can be. Let’s face it: Not many people “get” doll collectors. They are a creative, eccentric, artistic group that speaks a language only a very few people can understand. My husband looks at me like I have two heads when I start going on about NRFB v. MIB dolls, frankendollies, BW v. AR bodies, resin v. vinyl, 1:4 v. 1:6 scale, repaints, and the size of male BJD genitalia (c’mon, you know you’ve looked). Pretty much anyone other than another fashion doll collector would think you are speaking in another language. And, let’s face it—you are.
Conventions afford hard-core doll collectors the rare opportunity to be surrounded by people who not only understand their language, but understand them. It’s the one place in the world where you are not the “weird one,” because, I guarantee it, there is someone there who is even weirder than you. (I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been at a convention looking disdainfully at a fellow collector hyperventilating over a doll that I think looks like a minion of Satan. Thank God I’m not that weird, I think. And then, of course, an hour later I am panting even harder over my own quirky discovery in the sales room. Glass houses and all that.)
Being able to let your freak flag fly is not cheap—even if for only a weekend. Once you add up the cost of registration, transportation, companion dolls, break-out events, and salesroom purchases, you’re easily looking at several thousand dollars. Ours is not a cheap hobby. Like many people, my budget requires me to be creative when it comes to being able to afford to attend a convention. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at it, and, although it’s still not cheap, I am usually able to attend one such event each year. Here are some tips I’ve learned through a decade of attending doll conventions:
1) Out with the old, in with the new: Limits on income and space prevent most of us from buying and keeping every doll we want. If you really want to attend a convention, take a look at your collection and ask yourself what you may be able to live without to fund your adventure. Lack of space often means that many of us must store at least some of our collection out of sight. Ask yourself how long it’s been since you’ve played with or even looked at a particular doll. Is it time for her to move on? And, of course, all the more reason if you can get a good price for her. My general rule is that if a doll hasn’t been redressed for a year (with some exceptions for the ones I keep “pristine”), it’s probably time for her to move on.
2) Prostitute yourself: Oh, how I envy you seamstresses, repainters, and crafters who create objects so beautiful that other people actually want to buy them. If that’s your bag, and you want to attend a convention this year, break out the paints, fabrics, beads, and do-dads. Update your website, open a store on Etsy, and market the hell out of yourself. It’s a small community. Word about good artists spreads fast.
3) Split expenses: Don’t go it alone. Convention-going is double the fun when you share it with friends. Save the cost of a pricey airline ticket by taking a road trip and splitting the cost of gas. Halve the price of your hotel room by sharing it with a fellow fanatic. You aren’t going to spend much time in your room anyway. And it’s only for three days, at the most, so if you find you really can’t stand the other person, you won’t be stuck with him for long.
4) Don’t eat: Let’s face it: We could all stand to lose some weight. Conventions are often held at geographically desirable locations that take advantage of that desirability by hiking dining costs. So pack sandwiches, bring munchies, drink from a refillable water bottle. Steal leftover food on your way out of breakout events and bring it back to your room to eat later. (Yes, it’s tacky, but you can sacrifice a little dignity to be able to buy another doll, right? Besides, it will just go to waste anyway.)
5) DO NOT BUY EVERY DOLL YOU SEE! Just because a doll is sitting in the middle of the table, just because you “won the right to buy” a $300 doll, just because there are only 50 companion dolls available, and you are sure to be the envy of all your friends if you get one—does not mean you should whip out your credit card. I can’t tell you how many centerpiece or companion dolls I purchased in the heat of the moment only to open them back up after the convention and say to myself, “What the hell was I thinking?” Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Now when I am presented with the “right to buy” (kudos to the marketer who thought up that idea), I ask myself two questions: 1) Do I like it enough to keep it in my personal collection indefinitely? And, if the answer is “no,” 2) What is it likely to fetch on the secondary market? While the first question may be difficult to answer, the second can be much more so. How much do you know about this line of dolls? What makes this doll “special”? Is it a rare sculpt? An usual outfit? How well do you know your market? Is the doll likely to “cause a stir” among other collectors? Which brings me to…
6) Buy low, sell high: You know who they are. The woman at the table next to you snapping photos of her souvenir doll barely out of the box and posting them to Ebay within ten seconds flat for an eye-popping “Buy It Now” price. The guy sitting next to you taking photos of the centerpiece doll from every possible angle and offering it up on a doll board before even getting it back to his room. These people are often decried by many in the doll community as opportunists, and they definitely are. And I say more power to them. There are always a few people out there who need to have the first of an exclusive doll on the second-hand market, and they will pay top dollar for it. If a convention-goer who has put out a couple grand for her weekend wants to recoup some of that expense by reselling a doll that doesn’t particularly appeal to her, why the hell not?
But while some people do manage to recoup some convention costs this way, many others do not. Buying low and selling high is difficult in any market. You have to be able to make a pretty sound prediction of what your potential buyers are willing to pay. Price it too low, and you may see subsequent sellers obtain much higher prices. Price it too high, and it will linger on Ebay indefinitely. The better you know the manufacturer and the market, the better you will be at this. If you don’t have good market insight, you’ll end up paying top dollar for a doll you don’t even like only to sell it two months later at half the price.
I think it’s safe to say that this strategy does not apply to all doll manufacturers’ conventions. If you’ve seen a dollmaker in years past liquidating its leftover convention product five months after the fact, it’s a safe bet its convention dolls won’t increase in value. But if you’ve seen dolls from a specific company’s convention consistently soar in price on the secondary market long after the convention’s end, you may have a chance.
I was able to make this happen for me. Last year’s Integrity convention was in Orlando, an hour away from my home. Without transportation costs, my overall cost to attend the convention was limited to the registration fee and breakout events. I know that Integrity convention dolls have a history of soaring in price immediately after they are released. And so I offered on Ebay any doll that didn’t appeal to me, but that I thought would be highly desirable to other collectors willing to pay a significant mark-up. In the end, I sold nine convention dolls at enough of a mark-up to cover all of my convention costs as well as seven dolls that I kept for myself.
If you do decide to try to recoup your costs this way, keep in mind that taking photos and writing up descriptions, trying to beat the other opportunists to Ebay and doll boards, and carrying out multiple virtual transactions at once can interfere with your ability to truly enjoy being present at a convention. Don’t completely take yourself away from a convention that you worked so hard to be able to attend.
If you buy to sell, do yourself a favor and only bring out the credit card if you are sure beyond a reasonable doubt that you can sell that doll for more than you paid for it. And be sure to factor in any postage, customs fees, Ebay aggravation, etc. into the equation. If it’s not going to be worth your while, skip it.
7) Drag along a non-doll friend: Can’t decide which doll to sell at a markup and which to keep? Bringing along a non-collector friend (i.e., a bored spouse or child), and sell his dolls. List ‘em as soon as you get ‘em, and, with luck, you may be able to cover both of your costs. Again, not a guaranteed result, and not a wise move for many doll lines that do not sell well on the secondary market. To make it work, you need to do your homework.
Conventions are not cheap, and many of us need to get creative when it comes to finding a way to subsidize them. Whether it’s selling off some of your dolls that have lost their luster, bunking with a roomie, arranging a road trip, budgeting to a fault, sewing doll couture until your fingers bleed, or learning to buy and sell as well as a hedge fund manager, there are things you can do to make your dolly convention dreams come true.