Last weekend, I set up at the debut show put on by a couple of collector/dealers who call themselves the Lonestar Card Show. They had been setting up at the Dallas Card Shows and wanted to see if they could take advantage of the lack of shows run recently by the Dallas people. The owner of the Dallas Card Show had been running shows on a quarterly basis and had not set up a steady schedule for when his shows were going to be held. Because of this vacuum, these two dealers decided it was time to get in the game. And I can’t say I blame them because if you want to do shows, sometimes you have to promote them yourself.
Their first show as at the Hilton Garden Inn in Addison. The room was pretty small but was set up the evening before for the show and we were ready to go. A few days beforehand, one of the local dealers asked me about my expectations. I frankly said that I was not happy with their pre-show promotional efforts and they could be one and done.
On one level I was proven correct and while was there were no attendance figures kept and admission was free, we suspect the total number of people coming through the doors was somewhere between 40 and 50 for a show which ran from 9 AM to 5 PM. And frankly, without one big sale for which I gave a deep discount, I would have barely made my table rent for the day.
What was the most interesting part of the show was the realization by the promoters just as the show began that they really needed to ratchet up their promotional effort that morning. Thanks to having smart phones, at least the last-ditch effort did help to bring in some people through the doors.
Once it was over, there were several things that got me to thinking about what else they could have done. Starting a show from scratch isn’t easy and it’s better to do too much than not enough. Better still, some PR doesn’t cost anything.
There were no mentions in any of hobby forums leading up to the show until I made various posts. I was told about 20 percent of the people who signed up found out through those posts, which were only done because of my own self-defense to help people come through the doors and not have it be a complete waste of my time. In addition, there was no really pre-show buzz which told me they did not have things down. Now, I do understand shows take time to build up (And even the Dallas Card Show did not truly find their way until they moved to a new location at Craig Ranch), but if you are working on a getting a show off the ground you should drive yourself almost to the point of exhaustion in promotion and I don’t think that was done here.
Card shows aren’t like they were 20 years ago. You can’t just open the doors and expect a crowd.
With social media, there are all kinds of free or low-cost promotional opportunities available. One can target local collectors through Facebook or Twitter ads. You can spread the word among local hobby shops, free mentions on local community calendars or if you want to be aggressive, you can buy a couple of spots on local sports radio or in the local newspaper. Sports Collectors Daily has run a couple of stories on small show promotion over the years, offering all kinds of tips for bringing people in. Some cost money; many don’t (see them here and here).
Sometimes you have to spend a little more early on. Your first couple of shows may run at a loss. However, it’s more important to leave a good impression with dealers by bringing in a decent crowd so they make money and want to come back. That’s how you become a long-term success.
Drawing less than 50 people over an eight-hour period won’t cut it and if there it not a better effort for the second show, it will be hard for them to justify what they claim is an expansion to a bigger room for a third show. Otherwise, the only people who will make money on the show are the promoters and it’s not likely to last long.