Sports Card Dealers Rely on Each Other for Business

If you’ve got Mickey Mantle baseball cards and great relationships with your colleagues, being a dealer at the National Sports Collectors Convention isn’t a bad gig.

Like any other sports card show, the barometer of traffic and sales at the National Sports Collectors Convention depends on who you’re talking to.

Some dealers are happy. Others aren’t. Many are somewhere in the middle. The recession is keeping some collectors’ discretionary spending down. There seems to be little doubt about that. The number of booths shrunk by dozens from the 2007 National which was held in the same location. That kept a larger piece of the overall cash flow in the hands of those who did set up this year, but that pie was noticeably smaller.

However, for vendors who are regulars on the ‘big show circuit’, there are other ways to make money.

Dealer-to-dealer sales make up a large percentage of sales at the National. Early in the event, one dealer who normally spends most of his time working smaller shows near his home, sold over $3,000 worth of items–nearly his entire table–to a dealer who planned to re-sell at a higher price. It worked out well. He was able to sell off inventory local customers regarded as stale and replace it with stock he didn’t have room for or added while in Cleveland.

Larger dealers have clients who count on them to fill want lists rather than go to shows. Others buy to sell on eBay or to customers in their hometown shops.

"These guys are friends, some of them have been acquainted for decades," said Ray Russell, manning the table for New Jersey vintage sports card dealer Nick Migliaccio. "They learn to help each other. "That’s a big part of this business. For instance, if someone came up to me with pennants or yearbooks, we’d send them to someone who specializes in those type of items. They need it. They appreciate it and then, in turn, they’re going to come to you with items you can sell. It’s all about relationships. If you’re not a gentleman and not a professional, you’re not going to be favored in this business for long."

The volume of business that takes place prior to the show’s public opening is never calculated, but the amount is significant and often a shock to rookie dealers who see the veterans flock to their tables like vultures before they’re completely unpacked and set up.

Nearly every dealer is hopeful that the final five months of the year will see an end to the uncertainty in the hobby. Russell, who was attending his sixth National convention, said his group had a rough time making money at the 2008 show in Chicago, but saw a marked improvement in Cleveland. The ’08 show was one of four in the Windy City during a ten month period and the economy was in the middle of its slide.

In Cleveland, dealers who had a stockpile of quality older cards had plenty of traffic.

"The high-grade vintage cards from the 1950s and 60s are what people look for," Russell told Sports Collectors Daily. "The low-population, rare cards for registered sets where a small number of collectors need them and are willing to pay what it takes to get them."

Mickey Mantle cards of most any grade, but especially quality specimens, remain the gold standard. "Better than gold," laughed Russell. "If I had to do it all over again I would have bought nothing but Mantle and forget everything else. We really don’t even sell them. We hold onto them (waiting for more appreciation) and sell everything else."

More on the National in the Editor’s Blog