The National is coming up but the truth is that local shows are what most collectors are familiar with. It may sound like fun to organize a show and maybe make a little money but doing it right—and bringing in collectors—isn’t easy in this day and age so this Ramblings will give you an idea of what it’s like so you know a little of what to expect.
The first and most important issue is to find a location. Here in the Dallas suburbs, I knew of the Southfork Hotel because I had attended many postcard shows there and knew they understood how to set up and put on a similar show. And with that background, we’d figured they would be receptive to our idea as there was plenty of history there. Places with larger rooms available for rent need to keep them occupied to make any money. Our non-profit show in Plano came about because our synagogue had a great social hall which is unused way too often. It was a great way to raise money for the membership and also do the good work of sending some kids to camp.
Make certain your location is easy to find and be sure to compare room rental rates. Hotels can be more expensive but they also provide a bonus of having some potential extra customers who are staying there and possibly looking for something to do.
Assuming you hope to make your venture a regular event, the second step is deciding how often you want to run it. Our show at the Southfork Hotel is monthly while our show at the synagogue is twice a year. The reason we go monthly at the Southfork is we want to set up a regular pattern so our customers and dealers know they can expect a show every month. Some smaller areas may support a show on a less frequent basis. If you are in an area which probably couldn’t support more than a couple of shows per year, that is what you should plan for. In Northern New Jersey where the collector base is traditionally strong, Gary Sipos runs his show virtually every other week. Many promoters opt for once a month or once every other month.
Our charity show runs twice per year on the advice of long-timie dealer Mark Macrae, who runs a great non-profit show in the San Francisco area, who told me it was best not to run that type of show more than twice a year.
After you have your dates and your locations, the next step is getting the word out. You can have a great location and date but if no one knows where you are then who is going to attend. Assume no one has heard of you or your show. Personally, I use some obvious hobby methods such as show calendar listings in Beckett and Sports Collectors Digest as well as utilizing many different hobby message boards and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
You can try Craigslist, local radio stations and newspapers’ free announcements (placing an ad in the paper is still a good idea), posting flyers in local card shops and businesses (be sure to ask permission) and online event calendars for the area. One of our collectors gave us information on an autograph web site I had never heard of before that allowed us to post details about our show. To me, it’s good to know as many collecting-related websites as possible. You never know if some readers are within driving distance.
So the location is picked, the ads and announcements have run and the show date is at hand. The very first matter on the day of the show is to attempt to be the first person in the room. The reason is you want to set up the room in the best way possible for collectors and dealers alike. I got to our last show on Saturday at 6:45 AM and the overnight security person and I had done our best to finish rearranging the room by 7 AM. Our dealers know I’m very early and would rather allow more time for set up rather than less. Many of our dealers take multiple tables and setting those up take plenty of time. It’s best to make sure there’s room for collectors to walk around and enough room behind the tables for dealers not to feel too cramped. Make sure your dealers have at least two chairs and extras to offer customers who may want to thumb through boxes of cards.
Some promoters want dealer table money up front while others like me are more comfortable waiting till you actually set up to collect. In the past few months we had one dealer had a tire break off on his way to the show while another one had a flood in this basement. And both of these dealers had sent out emails earlier in the week to their customers so we knew they were planning to come. Fortunately in each case we were able to re-sell the tables without much harm. Life does get in the way.
We’ve also discussed admission costs and the pros and cons of charging and if so how much. I ended up using a $1 charge for both our shows because I wanted our collectors to have a little skin in the game but no not so much so they feel they are way out of pocket before they attend. Charge any more than that and you’d better have a lot of dealers for them to visit.
You also have to be ready to go by the time the show opens. We had some people show up early because one of our vendors had spent $50 on a special Facebook ad to highlight some major pieces from a collection he had just acquired. He told me up several people learned of it that way. Again, if every dealer was that aggressive in advertising, they might discover even more benefit to setting up and we would have even more people come to our show.
We have not even touched on the autograph guests (if any). If you have a guest, be sure to have at least one person assigned to assist them. We run a pretty small ship and without the assistance of the “great” Jj Saenz and Nathan McClary (When Jj was unavailable) our work with the signers would be much more difficult. Both men have been great with the guests and we’ve been fortunate that all of the players we’ve brought in, including Cowboys tight end Billy Joe Dupree this month, have been terrific with their fans. We are continuing to work on guests for future shows for our customers. One of our keys is to ensure the price point for autographs make sense for both you and your customers.
— TK (@supertk23) July 11, 2015
A funny story about how well our last show went was a couple of dealers were so busy while our guest was at the show they forgot to get their own autographs they had paid for. Fortunately we had put a few items away and were able to give them their autographs. But as the saying goes, that was really a good problem to have for the dealers.
Finally, your last role is to provide a good variety for your show visitors. We honestly caught a great break this month when good friend and long-time dealer Roger Neufeldt said he was coming down to Dallas and wanted a table for our July show at the last minute. We opened up some tables which we were happy to have Roger occupy. He has a huge inventory of vintage singles and sets and is a tremendous fountain of knowledge, which is a great thing for collectors to experience at our shows.
One of Roger’s steady customers was pleasantly surprised to see him and showed me his purchases including a 1949 Leaf Ted Williams and Dale Mitchell SP. Roger had a very nice day and he knows he always has an open invite to set up at our show(s). Quality dealers are important to every show promoter and they’ll come as long as you can bring in a decent crowd.
Make sure your dealers feel welcomed and appreciated. A bottle of water, a few snacks, clean tables and a personal touch go a long way.
We’re always happy to help anyone who is interesting in setting up shows in their area. Please feel free to reach out. I don’t have all of the answers but as a person who has attended shows for nearly 40 years now and run them for a couple, I’ll be glad to share my notes.