By Dan Campana
The July 1993 sports card magazine found in the garage felt like a time machine in my hands. Flipping through page after page of stories and color photos from the hobby’s glory days would make almost any collector sentimental for those simpler, if not overproduced, days.
Then, the shock set in. Twenty-four pages of show listings.
Illinois boasted 138, the majority of which were held in Chicago and its suburbs. One glorious Sunday had 25 shows, some of them blocks away from each other. Incredibly, guys ran shows every night of week.
Fast forward to July 2010 and you’ll be lucky to find three pages of show listings to cover the United States and Canada. The 14 events for Illinois represent a rotation of shows run by a handful of promoters.
What’s happened over 17 years is no mystery, but the demise of shows has been largely overshadowed by the disappearance of local card shops.
Neither is a good thing, and the reasons for both appear to be nearly identical – time and money investments, as well as online sales.
It’s time for a revival, one that requires a surrendering of old-school standards. Here are five ways to make shows relevant again:
1. Taking The Shop On The Road
Most store owners don’t leave their home base for a day-long or weekend show because the costs don’t make sense. Fair enough. It’s time for that notion to become the exception, not the rule.
Carve a few bucks from your monthly budget to do it at least one show a year. The exposure does mean something, and it will challenge you to get out from behind the safety of your store counter.
The hobby is at its greatest when we are meeting people and talking cards. Putting your face to your store name will resonate with collectors of all levels. If you do it right, you’ll see some of those people in the store down the road.
2. Don’t Act Like You’ve Been There Before
Visit a local show on consecutive weeks or months and look around. Do it again in six months, and if things look the same it’s because they probably are.
Guys grab the same table positions, arrange the table the same way and, usually, fill the display with the same merchandise from previous shows.
This disappointing phenomenon stretched to the hobby’s Super Bowl in Baltimore this summer, where even longtime enthusiasts described a familiar scene of monotony and mundane.
It’s hard to argue with routine, but most collectors eventually recognize your pattern. When they do, it means less or no time at your table.
Switch things up, leave the box of common 2002 Topps at home and, for the love of The Mick, don’t ever answer “Nothing, really” when a collector asks “What’s new?”
3. Look At The Calendar Not The Clock
The FansEdge show in Chicago had the unfortunate timing of landing just a few weeks before the National in Baltimore. It kept some larger dealers from making the trip, which should have opened the door for some others to capture the crowd’s attention.
Instead, some dealers opted to check out of the three-day event four hours before closing time on Sunday. Beating traffic appeared to have more value than potential sales to customers paying $10 a ticket to attend, especially with many autograph seekers milling around for hours while they waited for signings to start.
Instead of watching the clock, check the calendar to see what might be a relevant theme or item to sell. FansEdge hit the Chicago area some six weeks after the Chicago Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years, yet the general look of the show floor would make you think hockey was still dead around those parts.
No one took full advantage of the biggest sports story in Chicago. A five-year-old shouldn’t have struggled to find a way to spend $10 on Hawks cards.
Be relevant and now where you’re selling and load up, instead of counting the minutes until packing up.
4. Don’t Just Sit There
Now that you’ve been convinced to stick around, make the most of your time.
Engage customers based on what you see them doing. If a guy in a Washington Nationals jersey is lingering near the 2010 Bowman singles, you can probably strike up a conversation about the Stephen Strasburg hobby revolution – or fade, depending on his shoulder.
Remember, your table is the “store” at a show. Would you ignore someone who walks in the door?
And, when it comes to kids, remember their impressions today will go a long way toward whether they grow up collectors. Show them it’s OK to ask questions and remind them the hobby, at one time, was based on fun.
5. Oh Yeah, Have Some Fun
Just as no one will argue about the chances 1991 Fleer Baseball will ever increase in value, few people will dispute the hobby’s bottom line is dollars and cents.
That’s not to say money precludes anything else from motivating or creating a successful show. Without being hokey, sellers at a show are all there because, at some time in their life, cards were fun and had an intrinsic value beyond book.
We can go back-and-forth about hobby finances all day. Instead, let’s focus on simplicity. Plan your margins and show goals before you get there, and then revisit them after the show ends.
In between, you know, during the show, channel your hobby roots. Look at the awesomeness of a Wayne Gretzky-Mario Lemieux dual auto for the hockey history it represents, not the price tag. Chances are good the person across the display case from you is thinking that way.
This story originally appeared in Tuff Stuff and is re-printed with permission.