by Craig Paulson
Attending a big sports card and memorabilia show can be the highlight of a card collector’s year. For many, just the smell of the old time cardboard is enough to send them into a spending flurry. Of course, one of the great traditions of sports card and memorabilia shows is haggling with the dealers.
Anyone can look in a price guide and arrive at the suggested retail price of a card, whether it is a vintage card from the 50’s or current release, but buyers want to get the most for their money and in many cases, those guides don’t accurately reflect the actual market. Dealers know what they have tied up in a collection, often breaking prices down to a per card basis. For the most part, stars are where the money is, and commons and semi-stars are just another way of maximizing the earning potential.
Vintage baseball cards are truly are a seller’s market. They just aren’t making them anymore, which makes it difficult for a collector to get the cards they are after at the price they want, especially rare issues or high demand superstars.
Perhaps the best method of working with a dealer is to complete several transactions with them over a period of time. As in any business, the rapport that can be developed between buyer and seller is strong. However, unless the show is an annual event or the dealer and the collector are both regulars on the show circuit, building any kind of relationship can be difficult.
The internet allows buyers and sellers to connect before and after the show. Since many dealers operate their hobby as a full time business, they use websites, email, and social media to keep collectors informed and to sell merchandise. Dealers are more likely to negotiate better with frequent customers, which is just good customer service.
Another great haggling method is to ask questions. Dealers should be interacting with potential customers and clients, but one question should always come up: “How long have you had this card?” At that point, the dealer will know that the buyer is clued in to how the buying and selling of sports card works. Any sports card dealer who does not regularly move their merchandise is likely out of business soon. “Flipping” certain cards and sets is a vital part of business.
Customers can ask about the design of the set, talk about how long they have been collecting and try and build a real rapport. After all, we’re all sports fans so why wouldn’t you want to make a friend if nothing else? Many dealers are less inclined to push prices on an experienced collector, mainly because once that person leaves their table, they have lost a sale and maybe missed out on a loyal customer.
Buying several cards at once is another great way for a collector to increase their haggling ability. Pick out several cards and make an offer. Just don’t be insulting. No one is going to part with high grade cards of several Hall of Famers for a lot less than fair market value. While there are no general rules for making an offer on a card, a dealer is generally eager to help someone offering $200 for five cards valued at $400, than someone offering $200 for a single that books around $400. If you demonstrate that you’re a collector willing to buy multiple items, the dealer figures you’ll come back next time if he demonstrates some flexibility and you show a commitment and interest in several different items or sets. Again, moving inventory is the name of the game, and collectors need to be aware of that. Remember, the dealer is at the show to sell cards and other memorabilia. There should be common ground because he doesn’t want to waste his weekend and haul everything back home again.
Savvy collectors looking for a deal should, of course, thoroughly check the condition of the item they are looking to purchase. Look at the edges, corners, surface, and centering of the card. Autographed items should be checked for clarity and a smudge free finish. The value of any item is greatly affected by the condition it is in. Dealers know this but they are generally not going to volunteer to drop prices. When a dealer questions or denies an offer, collectors who have examined the merchandise can use that information to haggle. The dealer is probably already aware of the flaws, but it’s hard to deny the obvious.
Comparing prices at other tables is another important part of the negotiating ammunition. Remember, other dealers are present at the show, and before anything gets purchased all the tables should be examined. Simply being able to state that a certain card or item is $50 less at another dealer, will definitely break the ice. No one wants to be undercut.
Haggling with a dealer can be an intimidating experience. The trick is for the buyers to relax, and never to spend more than they are comfortable. Taking the time to evaluate the merchandise and interact with the dealer before attempting to make a purchase are elements of making dealers work for collectors. However, anytime a buyer is uncomfortable with a deal, they should cut bait and walk away. Sometimes, both parties need to take a break and think things through. A buyer should never feel pressured to spend more than they are prepared to.