Earl Weaver’s autobiography was titled “It’s What You Learn After You Know it All That Counts“. Well, I never say I know it all and the fact is despite being active in the hobby for a really long time, I’m still learning truths– real and imagined– about running card shows. This weekend was no exception and some of the lessons are useful to know for both our readers and as sage pieces of advice, at least in my opinion, to fellow promoters or people thinking of attending or promoting shows.
The first issue has to do with the weather. Where no one has any control over it, there are still some basic truths. One is that if you are a card show promoter you actually want good weather in the winter and bad (but not overtly terrible) weather in the summer.
Late last week, thanks to what was left of Hurricane Patricia, we had two days and nights of rain storms with more expected for Saturday when our small show was scheduled here in the Dallas area. It made travel a little iffy for some.
Our autograph guest, former big leaguer Wally Moon, now in his 80s, canceled his appearance because of the weather situation, but agreed to reschedule for our November show. It was a disappointment but because we don’t really build our show around the autograph signings but rather use them as an added attraction, we were still confident things would turn out OK.
There were also several dealer cancellations and I totally understood the reason. If anyone feels unsafe, we don’t want them to drive in conditions they are not comfortable with. When I lived in New Jersey years ago, I know there were shows I skipped because of weather.
The absence of a couple of dealers means those who do show up often fare quite a bit better with less competition, assuming the attendance is good. As a promoter, your job is to make a profit but you do have to understand there are those occasional bumps. Some promoters ask for table fees up front with no refunds when cancellation is made less than a day or two before the show. I choose to collect from dealers who actually show up. Unless it becomes a habit, I’m OK with a person or company canceling late for a legitimate reason. Making someone mad when you’re trying to draw paying dealers to a relatively young show is never a good idea.
And we were right. The weather kept some away, but we offered enough incentives to still draw a respectable crowd. Trade-offs and promotions are a big part of that. We are fortunate in the Dallas area we have a JSA rep as well as having Beckett, Panini and Leaf all headquartered in the area, Because of what these corporate entities can do, we’re happy to trade tables for them helping with promotions.
JSA had us on their website for a couple of months and a half hour before the show opened last weekend, we had people waiting to see the rep about their autographs. He was there from 9:30 to at least 6 PM and he was so busy all day that when I left at 5:45 the lunch that had been delivered to him around noon was still uneaten.
There are plenty of historical comparisons regarding the use of well-known hobby entities but one of the most famous years ago was the Alan Rosen trade-off. Many dealers knew they wanted to set up at shows “Mr. Mint ” would be attending because they knew they’d benefit when he’d advertise where he would be on a given weekend. His mentions brought out those with cards and memorabilia to sell and also drew buyers.
While many dealers railed against this quid pro quo, I now realize as a promoter that is actually a win-win for all concerned. Rosen would bring extra attention to the show through hobby trade publications and dealers would sometimes benefit from the walk-in material that made its way into the room thanks to him.
Today, there are still ways dealers can help with show publicity. I know Long-time hobby dealer and friend Roger Neufeldt sends out tons of postcards to announce when he is going to be setting up in the DFW area. In 2016, we are going to expand and have a couple of multi-day shows and I know if the schedule works for him, we’ll certainly work out a deal to help defray his costs in exchange for that PR boost that will bring collectors to the show.
To run a good show one needs to promote, promote and promote. Whether you run a show, set up at a show or have a store or other retail element such as a flea market or antique mall booth, the more people you can draw to your venue the better. It takes time to build awareness and those efforts should be ongoing.
The weather issue provided a good learning experience and despite those bumps in the road, we drew more people than we ever had to that particular show.
And no, that does not mean we can rest on our laurels. One thing you learn early on is that you’re only as good as your last show.