If setting up a booth at the National Sports Collectors Convention sounds like fun, Jameel Mohammed has a message for you.
It’s also a lot of work, very expensive and requires a serious commitment to treating your booth like the business it is.
The dealer who owns The Meelypops Shop in Gainesville, FL, in made his fourth trip to the National as a seller this year, driving north to Cleveland and aided by a trio of helpers, including his wife, dad and a brother-in-law he hired for the week. He took two 10×15 booths ($2600) and with hotel rooms, gas, food and other expenses, figures he spent somewhere between $6,500 and $6,700 before selling even one item. Factor in the lost revenue from closing his hobby store for the week and he surrendered closer to $8,500.
If you think you can make that back by sitting behind your booth, talking on your phone and ignoring customers for five days, think again.
Located next to the corporate area in the I-X Center, Mohammad’s booth was among the show floor’s busiest. If someone brought a card or collection to his table that he thought he could flip for a profit, he tried to make a deal. If someone asked about getting a break on a price, he tried to make it work. Before the show opened, he cruised the floor in search of inventory. Sometimes other sellers came to him. Active on social media, he made sure to let collectors know he was bringing cash.
“Tons of buying. All day every day. I had two $10,000 lots walk through. I bought one and passed on another.”
It was non-stop card business for six full days. Fun, yes, if you love cards and memorabilia. But with that expense hanging over his head, there was much work to be done in a relatively short time frame to make it profitable.
The selling starts early. Long before the public enters the hall—even with VIP passes—the cash is flowing. “A heck of a lot of dealer-to-dealer sales,” Mohammed told Sports Collectors Daily. “Also, a lot of buyers and collectors seem to be getting the early set-up dealer badges and are walking the floor. Honestly, Tuesday is the new ‘dealer show set up day’. Wednesday morning before opening there is also an incredible amount of movement.”
Some dealers float through the hall asking others what their “buy out price” is. One part-time dealer we spoke with on Wednesday had a booth partner who sold his inventory to another dealer for over $30,000.
Deciding what items to offer for sale can be an art form. With limited space, Mohammad says he’s found it’s vital to have inventory that buyers will want, from high-end cards that are well-known to boxes full of cheaper cards of prospects and popular players. He emphasized being organized, with all cards priced and displays appealing to buyers for each sport.
“I bring about 15 flat display cases of mid-to-high end sports and some gaming cards. Another must is ‘deal boxes’. I had about 3,000 $1-$10 cards and about 40,000 sleeved singles,” he stated.
He also brought some memorabilia including framed jerseys and vintage pieces he thought might be of interest to advanced collectors who attend the National every year.
While you might think that sales would be strongest during the weekend when more people don’t have to contend with work schedules, dealers have typically found the first two days of the show to be the busiest. Mohammad says sales this year on Wednesday and Thursday were his best ever at a National. “I think people are getting serious about getting there early to find deals.”
Overall, he says traffic was “great. Some of the best I have seen in the last four years.” While the show’s last day on Sunday is often the weakest as customers and other dealers begin to head for home, Mohammad sold a BGS 9 Michael Jordan Star Company rookie card and another high-end gaming card.
Based on sales and interest from buyers, Mohammad says NBA trading cards are the hottest in the current market. “Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell were hot all show long. Even some of the mid-tier rookies like Dennis Smith, Jonathan Isaac, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma. People always want LeBron and always want NBA uniform LeBron autos. Jordan is always sought after. 90s inserts and Upper Deck autos.” He also says he saw buyers for young quarterbacks. “Jimmy G, Mahomes as well as the new rookie quarterbacks like Baker and Darnold. Brady rookie cards are always king.” As for baseball, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper remain atop most collector want lists although “I had quite a few Ohtani sales and requests.”
He thought there might be a stronger market for current Cleveland players and expected more interest in Jordan’s second and third-year Fleer cards. “They never do for some reason, even last year in Chicago.”
While there were plenty of customers looking to spend money, dealers should remember that the National provides profit-making opportunities. He brought a large “Buying” sign he says helped bring some good material to his table; some items he immediately looked to flip for profit and others he’ll take back to his shop in Gainesville or list on his eBay page, which includes hundreds of modern and vintage items.
“Be prepared. It’s intense,” he wrote in a post on the Blowout Cards Forum immediately after the show. “We flipped inventory quite a few times. It was nuts.”
He was offered deals ranging from current autographs to a 1952 Topps Mantle and bought a framed Upper Deck Jordan autographed jersey he’ll offer in his shop.
He ranked sales in Cleveland as the best of the four National conventions at which he’s exhibited, thanks to two high dollar sales of individual cards. It was a profitable trip, but he says that happened only because he and his little army of helpers tried to engage each person who came to the boot,h either to buy or sell, in a friendly manner.
“Profit, true profit, takes work. It’s a lot of fun and the National is a great opportunity to be a part of everything the hobby has to offer. Work hard and you will do great. Just don’t expect it to come easy.”