Much of the buying, selling and trading of sports collectibles is now done online but the face-to-face interaction is still important. It's one of the reasons why attending the National Sports Collectors Convention is something many feel they have to do.
For major dealers, it's a chance to find new customers, to move inventory and stay in touch on a more personal level with regular customers. Just Collect always sets up a booth at the show. The company is eBay's largest seller of vintage sports cards and memorabilia, moving hundreds of lots each month.
"We have strong relationships and rapports with many clients that we have never met," said Just Collect's Scott Greenwald. "Each year at the National we get to meet another dozen clients who start the conversation with 'I'm so and so. I've been buying from you on eBay for years, and it's great to meet you in person'."
Spending five days at a card show sounds like fun, but when you're there for business reasons, it's vital to get as much as possible out of the event to make the thousands of dollars invested worthwhile. Priorities include taking consignments, selling consigned items and buying material to re-sell.
"Setting up is a long process that begins at the office," Greenwald said. " We plan out our table layout, showcase layout etc. We even lay out the cards inside the showcases and stack them up in order so they will be easy to set up at the show. Once we arrive at the show, it takes about four hours from beginning to unload the truck to being fully set up and ready for business."
Along with the expense, planning, preparation and travel time, there are always unexpected issues to deal with. Like, for instance...an emergency chocolate run.
"It sounds silly, but for the last few years we have put out several bowls of chocolate candies on the edges of our tables to encourage people to stop at our booth. This year we were going through a heat wave at home in New Jersey just before the National. The morning of the National, we discovered that all of our chocolates--about 10 bags-- had been left in the truck overnight and had melted. Our small caravan of vehicles now had to make an important stop on the way to Baltimore to pick up more candy."
After the show closed, business didn't always stop. The crew met with clients, reviewed the day's sales and planned for the next day. There was, however, time to enjoy what Baltimore had to offer.
"We went to a couple Orioles games and watched portions of other games from the patio at the Hilton across the street. Great stadium! We sampled some of the local cuisine at a Baltimore crab house, and walked around the inner harbor."
For Just Collect, having the National in a new city worked out fine. Greenwald, however, echoed a sentiment shared by many dealers and local collectors who wished for longer hours.
"After attending for years, we think it would be very helpful for the National to have later hours on Thursday and Friday nights. For the working public in the area, it is often impossible for them to attend the show at all during the week because it closes at six."
While some dealers pack up early--even on Saturday--if business isn't going well or if they have flights to catch, Greenwald says his crew tries to simply be efficient.
"We are there to work. While we will sometimes leave a little early if there is simply no traffic, we generally stay until close to the end. At the National this year, we did not leave until the end. However, when it was time to pack up and they allow trucks inside the building, our truck was the first in line and we were one of the first dealers out the door."
From there, it was back on the interstate and into the office on Monday with a fresh batch of cards ready for the company's massive inventory on eBay.
"The first day back is always the unpacking day," Greenwald said. " We have the truck unloaded by 10 a.m., and generally by 4 p.m., the inventory is away, the office is put back together and looks like it should, and we are back to work."