How Cadmium Helped Otakon Grow Their Exhibit Hall and Exceed Revenue Goals

The Challenge: Outgrowing a homegrown exhibitor management solution

A passionate fandom gathers for three days every year to celebrate Asian pop culture at the Otakon event at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. Run by the non-profit organization, Otakorp, Inc., both the event and organization are entirely led by volunteers. Every position, from event organizers up to the president and chairs are volunteers, with a total number of over 900 volunteers.

The annual event attracts 42,000 attendees every year, selling out the space. Otakon hosts a wide range of events, panels, and workshops across its three-day event. It also features three exhibit halls for attendees to engage with, including a “Dealer’s Room,” which hosts third-party comics shops and resellers; an “Artists Alley,” which showcases the work of artists and their handmade creations and services; and an “Indie Row,” an area that promotes indie video game companies, tabletop game companies, role-playing games, video game charities, and more.

With a 30-year history, the exhibitor management of Otakon has been through many changes, starting first by managing the event with pen and paper. From there, the volunteer staff needed a digital solution and created a homegrown platform that enabled them to manage their floor plan, rental applications, and invoices. Unfortunately, as they grew, this solution presented a few challenges.

First, the solution did not allow for real-time updates, which meant the volunteer event managers had to deal with significant back-and-forth to vendors through email. Second, it didn’t have a method for reconciling invoices, so it was a very manual process including pulling individual invoices into a spreadsheet to understand their status.

“We moved to a homegrown, hand-coded solution. They built a software platform that managed our floor plan, our rental applications, and our invoices, but the data was not available in real-time. While it worked for a time, it did not grow with us.” – Lacey Kishter, Vice President and Exhibitions Division Director of Otakon


The Solution: Cadmium’s Exhibitor Harvester: A real-time and task-based exhibitor management portal

 The Otakon volunteer staff turned to a partner for managing certain aspects of their event. SB Expos and Events (SB), an expo and event management company, assists Otakon with their logistics and hotel management. SB is a partner of Cadmium and introduced Cadmium’s event technology to the Otakon staff.

“I had never used Cadmium before, but now I’m in it every day. I love the software. I thought it would be a great solution for us and it has worked out well so far.” – Lacey Kishter, Vice President and Exhibitions Division Director of Otakon

Cadmium’s Exhibitor Harvester is a seamless fit for Otakon’s needs. The event management software is a robust tool that helps staff organize all the details and tasks that putting on an event requires. For Otakon, Exhibitor Harvester’s digital floor plan tool makes it easy for staff and exhibitors to view and understand the exhibit hall’s floor plan in real-time, with changes published instantly across the platform. Staff can easily understand the number of booths purchased, how many are left to be sold, and the fee plan for booths. Exhibitor Harvester’s built-in email module keeps all communications within the tool, meaning the staff no longer have to switch between programs to keep their floor plan up to date.

“Being able to place all our exhibitors in real time and being able to share that process with them has been a game changer. From there, we are able to export a DWG to share with our decorator, which has made on-site much smoother.” – Lacey Kishter, Vice President and Exhibitions Division Director of Otakon

Exhibitor Harvester’s online payment portal keeps track of invoices, integrates with payment processors and accepts multiple forms of payment. All purchase and payment records are accessible, as well as full profiles on every exhibitor and the purchases they’ve made, including any pending or outstanding charges.

Lastly, Exhibitor Harvester’s flexibility and task-based setup makes it easy for the Otakon volunteer staff to set tasks for exhibitors to make sure nothing is lost in communication or between different programs. This organization is key to hosting a successful event.


The Results: A well-organized, flourishing event with clear ROI

 As Otakon gets ready for its 2024 event, the improvement in experience of Cadmium’s Exhibitor Harvester is readily apparent. Vendors find the platform much easier to use than the previous one, and the volunteer staff has saved countless  hours with the more efficient workflow. Exhibitor Harvester is the single source of data that all the event volunteers can access for a clear picture of the event.

“Ease of use for our vendors has been very important to us. It’s been very confusing to them historically whether they’ve been accepted; our previous software didn’t send a confirmation they had applied, so we’d get 10-15 duplicate applications. That ease of use for our vendors is imperative..”  – Lacey Kishter, Vice President and Exhibitions Division Director of Otakon 

The addition of software that keeps track of invoices and payment has been a huge improvement. Otakon’s previous software didn’t alert to unpaid invoices, which meant several went unpaid and reconciliation of invoices was nearly impossible. Now, with Exhibitor Harvester, Otakon keeps better track of invoices and ensures that all payments are being made, adding an extra boost to their bottom line.

“For the first time in several years, we were actually above our revenue goal. And I think that had a lot to do with being able to remind people that deposits and invoices were due. Additionally, we are able to better forecast revenue for future years.”  – Lacey Kishter, Vice President and Exhibitions Division Director of Otakon

Putting on an excellent event is important to the staff. With the help of Exhibitor Harvester’s technology, Otakon can put on an event that sets the standard for all events of this type.

“We want to be the industry standard, being one of the largest and oldest anime conventions. Bringing us up to more of the association standard that we all strive to be at is where we’re looking to go and Cadmium has been helpful in directing us that way.”

– Lacey Kishter, Vice President and Exhibitions Division Director of Otakon


About Otakon

Otakon is one of the longest running annual celebrations of Asian pop culture and it’s fandom. The annual event celebrates anime, manga, music, movies, video games, and more as well as its passionate fans. The Otakon event is run by the non-profit organization, Otakorp, Inc.