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Conference Prep

Hello Hello friends! It’s that time of year- conference season is upon us. Every year summertime is the primary season for professional events in the piercing industry, and none more prominent than the Association of Professional Piercers conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. We are a few months away from conference, but if you are anything like me, you’ve already started prepping for it. And honestly, this is the move, because conference prep can be a lot. So this blog post is for all the first timers, and even the veterans, covering everything I like to do to prepare for conference.



The only PG-13 photo I took from classes last year of a pensive Shawn Porter



Physical Prep


-Hydration: Y’all, Vegas is hot. We are headed there during summer and it is a desert- and it feels like one. Not only is it very hot outside, but inside the hotels and casinos are kept very cool and air-conditioned- which also means very dry. The air is bone dry, and dehydration is a real concern. I try to start upping my water intake and having things like liquid IV and electrolyte drinks about 4-6 weeks before conference starts- so my body has time to acclimate and I arrive very hydrated and ready to go. Make sure you bring a good reusable water bottle with you to conference as well, as most classrooms have spots to refill. You’ll want to stay hydrated all week long.


My personal favorite travel bottle is from the brand The Coldest- it lives up to its name and I’ll pack it full of ice in my hotel room, and have nice cold water all day in class.


-Moisturize: Hydration is only one element- that dry hot air can also be stressful on our skin. I like to start using stronger moisturizers for my face and body about 2-3 weeks out from conference. I also like to start using chapstick around the same time. And I particularly focus on my stretched lobes, as the dry heat can sometimes cause them to get a bit grumpy. I find that moisturizing ahead of time means my skin is more readily able to bounce back at conference, and less susceptible to that dry air. In years where I haven’t prepared, I’ve ended up with chapped lips and a dry flaky nose- not fun.


-Boost Your Immune System: Traveling can be very stressful for our bodies, and Vegas is an especially unforgiving destination. The heat, the smoke in the casinos, the timezone changes, all the different people, it’s so much for our bodies to handle! My very first year at conference I got sick about halfway through, and I've spoken to dozens of folks who have gotten sick at conference multiple different times. Because of this, in the weeks leading up to conference I like to take some immune system boosters like emergen-c. I also like to up my intake of fruits and veggies, to ensure my body is getting lots of healthy nutrients. I genuinely notice such a difference in how I feel at conference when I adjust my diet beforehand and try to prioritize nutrition.


-Ready to Walk: If you do a lot of physical activity already, the adjustment to Vegas is pretty easy. But if you don’t, the amount of walking around you will do in just one short week can be a lot! And if your body isn’t ready for it, that can be an additional stressor on top of jet lag and eating differently and the heat. Starting to add some walking into your routine and working on getting in 10k daily steps a few weeks before conference will help you feel comfortable with all the walking and running around, and keep you moving all conference.





Packing Prep


If you are like me- you are already packing and planning what you need to bring to conference. So here is a list of my must-pack items every year!


-Sunscreen (even if you don’t think you’ll be outside much, that Vegas sun is no joke!)

-Chapstick

-Moisturizer (for face and for ears!)

-Reusable Waterbottle

-Vitamins

-Any Medications you need, or may want (ibuprofen, sleep aids, cough drops, and eye drops all always make my list)

-A Small Personal Humidifier (the hotel rooms are DRY and can make sleeping a nightmare. I got this idea from Eduardo, and it’s been a lifesaver ever since.)

-Comfortable Shoes

-A Hoodie/Sweatshirt/Jacket (the classrooms and hotel can get pretty cold! Stay cozy)

-Swimsuit

-Masks

-Hand Sanitizer

-Phone Charger

-Converters (for our international friends!)

-Business Cards

-Stickers (everyone loves to trade goodies every year)


-Outfits for Conference!


I used to go pretty hard with my outfits, and really dress up every day. And while it was fun, it was also a bit stressful. On top of everything else I was worried about picking the perfect outfit and makeup and it got to be too much for my little brain. So what I do these days is in the weeks and months leading up to conference I decide on some set outfits. Outfits that I feel good when I wear, that I look good in, but that are also comfortable for me to wear around for 10-14 hours at a time. When I’ve settled on them, I take a little selfie in my mirror and save them to an album on my phone, with every piece in the outfit listed out. This becomes my little wardrobe selector at conference. I pick my matching plugs and accessories at that time too, and get an idea of what makeup if any I want to wear that day. Then at conference I don’t have to think about it-I just open my phone and select the outfit of the day, and the accessories and makeup, and everything is already planned! I also always bring at least 1-2 backup “comfy” outfits for days I wake up feeling a bit rough, and don’t necessarily want to be in a dressy outfit, but still want to look nice. Usually, these are shorts/leggings and an industry T-shirt. Cute but also cozy!


-Snacks!


Food is a big one at conference, and many of the vendors in Vegas are expensive. It’s also not the most nutritionally dense food either. So, I usually like to bring plants of snacks with me, and do a grocery run when I get to Vegas. My packed snacks usually include protein bars, breakfast bars, favorite chips, some gummies, and some candies. Things I can toss in my conference bag and tote around all day easily, and stuff that will give me a lot of energy for a little effort. At the grocery store I go right for bananas and apples (two bananas is enough energy for a short workout!) As those are my go-to morning fuel. I also like to get sandwich stuff, so I can make a quick bite in my room if I’m ever feeling peckish. Most rooms have a fridge but not a microwave, so plan for that accordingly in what you purchase or try to arrange for a room with a microwave or kitchenette if you need one.



The obligatory "on my way to conference" plane selfie


Financial Prep


This is a big part of why I wanted to publish this blog early- the financial preparation for conference! This can be an expensive event to attend, but it doesn’t have to be if you plan correctly. Most folks suggest an ideal budget of 3,000$ to bring to conference to cover food, drinks, jewelry purchasing for your studio, and activities. And I agree that this is a pretty ideal budget for many to have. But I’d like to look at a few different ways I’ve done conference in the past.


The Cheap Conference: My very first conference I was just desperate to get there and get the education and knowledge. I wasn’t overly worried about buying jewelry, at the time I was an apprentice in between studios. I think I did almost the entire event for 1,000$ including everything. My conference pass back then was 450$. I got a round-trip flight on Spirit for about 180$. Budget airlines are great for affordable flights, and around 3-5 months out is the ideal time to start looking for flights. Skiplagged is one of my favorite sites for this. I managed to get a hotel room for free- there was a crew there running suspensions for conference and I offered to assist with suspensions in exchange for sleeping on the floor of the room. Now, was this the most comfortable or practical arrangement? No. But it was free and I made it work! There are also room share threads every year, and with a big enough group, you can make hotel accommodations very affordable. Some folks choose to sleep off the strip to find more affordable accommodations as well. This left me about 370$ for food and drinks and activities at conference. I managed to eat very cheaply by purchasing bananas, bread, peanut butter, and apples at a grocery store when I got in, and it was peanut butter sandwiches and bananas all week long! I occasionally had dinner at the Sabarro’s under Ballys for under 25$ each time. My main meal expense was drinks- and not even for me (I was 19 at the time and defiantly not drinking in Vegas underage! Who do you think I am…) But I did go up to piercers I admired or wanted to learn from and asked if I could buy them a drink. I’m very socially awkward, so this was a much easier way to enter the conversation with people than just going up to them and introducing myself- that’s scary! Overall I think I went home with a little money leftover, and managed to do the entire conference for less than a thousand dollars all said and done. It wasn’t easy, nor particularly comfortable, but I managed! And the education and networking I did there changed the course of my career.


This setup was possible mostly by focusing not on saving up money but not spending as much. I was checking flights daily for weeks to ensure I got the best price. I was constantly messaging and asking folks for advice on room shares and how I could make things as affordable as possible. I planned my flights to coincide with other piercers I knew so I could ride share to the hotel, and to the grocery store. I very carefully planned my food for the week and had a list of what I would be eating for each meal. Putting all that work into planning allowed me to pull this off at a very, very low cost- but it did require a lot of effort.


((This was also done in 2015, and I want to acknowledge that it might not be possible to swing this with the current economy in 2024))


The Mid-Range Conference: This is probably I think the best and most comfortable way to plan for conference. Like I mentioned above, 3000$ as a budget to bring to conference is probably the best and easiest way. This for some may include hotel, flights, and pass, especially if you aren’t purchasing jewelry for your studio there. If you are planning to purchase stock to bring back, I would suggest a 3,000$ budget to bring to conference- not including hotel, flights, and your pass. Watching for discount flights is of course one of the best ways to ensure you save some money on your travels. And signing up for airline memberships, and using miles, or points to get a free checked bag can also help you save. Roomsharing is of course the best way to make the hotel stay more affordable- and if you're comfortable with it bringing an air mattress or two and planning to get a bunch of folks together in a room can keep costs as low as 200$ per person for the entire conference.


I like to bring a lot of snacks that I purchase ahead of time on sale in my luggage. This allows me to keep the costs on food down at conference, especially if I plan for one meal every day to be things I brought (usually breakfast or lunch). And the empty space left over by them is filled with jewelry, shirts, and goodies that I pick up at conference.


This approach of course requires a little more savings. I used to have a small tip jar in my piercing room or at the front counter stating that it was tips to attend the Association of professional piercers conference. It would get folks talking and asking about what conference was and where I was going. It allowed me to explain what I was doing and many of my clients were incredibly receptive and tipped. I usually save all my tips from April to June and set them aside as my conference money. I’ve also assisted with raffles, giving away a free piercing service with basic jewelry with all the proceeds from the raffle going towards my savings for conference. If you live in an area with other good studios, I would also look at picking up extra shifts. I used to go do counter for some other shops around Philly on my usual days off, to help me save up extra funds for conference. I know other piercers who drive for Uber and DoorDash, or work as bouncers or other odd jobs to make some extra cash to save up for conference.


If you are planning to purchase jewelry at conference for your studio, beginning in January I would start setting aside funds for this. Even if it’s just a few bucks here and there, it adds up. If you budget for a big conference shop, you can maximize the expo discounts and get a lot of good inventory for you and your studio. I know many shops have pre-conference sales where they mark down items that have been sitting in the cases or aren’t moving and set aside the funds from those pieces to bring in new stock picked up at conference. Others host events, reach out within the community, and do flash days or sale days to generate some extra jewelry-purchasing income for conference.


The Boujee Conference: If you have the money to spend, if you are from a bigger studio, you can treat conference as both a work trip and a vacation. Many folks will get in a few days early, and plan for lounging in the sun, going to see shows, and enjoying all Vegas has to offer. Circe du Solei is of course a Vegas must-see, and many amazing artists and performers have rotating residencies that are worth going to. There’s no shortage of fine dining in Vegas for those who enjoy a nice meal, and lots of adventurous activities on the strip to get your heart rate up. Some of the spas along the strip make for a great break in your day between classes to relax. The Grand Canyon isn’t far, and makes for an amazing day trip. If you have the funds, you can plan out a really amazing trip full of good experiences.


Many larger studios can bring a huge budget to conference, and some studios purchase a large amount of their yearly stock at expo every year. For international attendees, being able to fly home with the jewelry you bought and not wait months for shipping is a huge bonus, so some folks go hard. I’ve worked at studios that bring anywhere from 15-40,000$ to conference every year as their purchasing budget.



A big ol group after the closing party in 2022


Social Prep


Conference is one of the most amazing networking experiences that our industry has to offer. But it can also be one of the most overwhelming. So many new people in one place, folks you may follow online, piercers and front of house you are excited to meet. It can be a bit much, and many folks can be overwhelmed and shut down and just end up hiding in their rooms. I know that’s about exactly how my first conference went. And I went home filled with regret- I wished I’d introduced myself to more people. And when I did my mind went blank, I ended up just saying a polite hello and walking away- even though I had dozens of questions I wanted to ask them and things I wanted to know. Preparing for the social element of conference is just as important as the rest.


To start, have a selection of folks you know are ‘safe’ you can talk to. Reach out to people ahead of time, folks you know online or who live in your area. Message them ahead of time and start up a conversation. Make some posts in the forums asking to connect with others. If you build up some online friendships and find some folks who you know you feel comfortable with and can talk to, you can always seek them out at conference events and chat with them, and you know you’ll be safe.


You can also reach out to folks you don’t know but want to meet ahead of time. Tell them you are going to conference and are excited to see them there- and ask if they would be comfortable meeting you in person or having a drink and hanging out. The worst thing they can say is “Sorry, I can’t, I’ll be busy!” Most piercers are excited to meet other piercers, and having gotten consent to come say hello and chat ahead of time can help soothe your nerves.


Make a list of the things you want to learn about while you are here. Maybe you’ve been struggling with daiths. You want to learn more about gender-affirming piercings. You need to overhaul your inventory. When you meet new folks, ask them about these things! I once told one of our studio apprentices who was struggling with tragus piercings at the time to go ask 5 different piercers to explain how they did tragus’. After conference they said they learned more in those interactions at the bar than they did in some of their classes, and they came home feeling really confident and excited to approach tragus piercings- and it worked! It ‘clicked’ for them after that!


Don’t hesitate to take some social breaks too and rest your social battery- go back up to your room and recharge. Read by the pool. Take advantage of the silent area at conference to recharge. But I do think conference is the place to push yourself, to try to go outside that comfort zone a bit, and make the most out of this time. Before you know it conference will be over and you’ll be missing being around so many other piercers and like-minded souls. So take advantage of the time while you are there.



Mid-week hang with Cassi and Jason <3



I am so excited to begin prepping for another conference, and I can’t wait to see old friends, make new ones, and spend a week with a bunch of my favorite people. And I LOVE meeting new folks so if you see me around at conference- please come say hi! Ask me all the questions! Let’s chat and get to know each other and share information and education and learn and grow together.


See ya in the desert!

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