Random thoughts from Day 3 of the National Sports Collectors Convention....
Unless you've been to one before, it's difficult to explain how big the show is. Chicago 2011 isn't the biggest National ever, but it's still huge. There are so many tables that if you don't spend at least two FULL days on the floor, you have absolutely no chance to get a good look at every booth. Three or 3 1/2 days is better. Even then, panic sets in.
Which booth has the best deals on vintage cards? More importantly, which booth has what I need? Should I start at the back of the room or the front? Left or right?
Here's an idea for the National--or anyone running a major show. Hire a web developer to build a data base of customer want lists and put it on the show's website. You go to the site, type in what you need and the dealers who are set up at the show can respond by telling you what they have that you need.
For example, I need a 1960 Post Mickey Mantle to complete my set. This is not an easy card to find. It's more of a box back than a card, really, but because it's associated with Post baseball card promotions of the early 1960s, that's what it's considered. It's next to impossible to find, but they are out there. The question at the National is....who has one? I can eliminate the booths that are selling newer wax boxes and cards, supplies, artwork and the like but I really have to take a good look at every table because I have no idea where one will turn up.
I found one on Thursday, but the price and condition weren't a match for me. Is there another on the floor? I have no idea but I haven't seen one. Maybe the dealer has one but doesn't have room for it in a showcase. Maybe he has one in his inventory at home.
But I won't know unless I ask every dealer in the room. It is a giant waste of time in most cases.
If I could post my needs online a few weeks before the show, I might hear from a dealer who has one, saving me valuable time at the show since I can go right to his booth and buy it without having to search every table.
It's all about time management and that, my friends, is everything for serious collectors at the National.
If you want to succeed at the National, bring vintage cards. LOTS and LOTS of vintage cards. Put prices on your cards. Have them easily accessible and sorted by number. Be willing to deal...and volunteer that information right away. Make conversation to put guests at ease.
Having been here for 2 1/2 days, I've heard nearly every one of the dealers who has followed that method say "I'm having a phenomenal show!" more than once. Chicago is a show for traditional card collectors. They come with want lists and money to spend.
I'm still shocked at how few dealers and auction companies utilize social media during an event like this. If you work at it the rest of the year, you can build a following. Tweet photos. Run specials on Facebook pages. Tell us how the show is going for you.
It takes very little time and it's free. It's also way to build trust, loyalty and your brand.
I heard a lot of people talk about branding this week, ironically, but not many of them are doing a lot about it.
Yes, the FBI is in the building. One of the agents who has been investigating some of the goings-on for the last four years or so was seen chatting up dealers.
They say "if you can't find it at the National, it might not exist" is pretty true. This it the only place to knock really obscure items off your want list. It's the one time of year that going to a show is better than looking on eBay. The deals might be a bit better online sometimes, but the opportunity to buy a lot of cards or other items quickly makes up for it.
1967 Topps baseball high numbers in high grade are among the most scarce of ANY pre-World War II cards. If you had a few hundred of the the more desirable commons and stars this weekend, you could easily pay for your a big portion of your booth fees. There just aren't very many of them here and the only people looking for them more aggressively than collectors are the dealers who know they can sell them fast.
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More photos of some of the pieces for sale here at the show from the camera of Beckett Media:
And the award for creative, low budget advertising at this year's National Convention goes to.....
Yes...those little signs are above each of the urinals in the men's room. I was going to take a snap a photo myself, but taking a picture anywhere near the urinal with a bunch of strangers around just didn't seem like a positive move, so I found this one in a Tweet from FCB Cards.