As I write this we are in the middle of the Dallas-Fort Worth College Fair season. For years, I’ve volunteered to spread the word about my alma mater and these events. What is interesting to me about college fairs is the similarities between the fairs and baseball card shows. Obviously, this is not a perfect match but the setups are very similar indeed. On a global level, what is similar is colleges or universities (and sometimes learning centers and other options) take table space and try to hawk their schools to prospective clients. In a way this is much like a dealer table at a show in which the seller is trying to entice the client to buy their goods. At a college fair, you are trying to entice the client to be interested in your college.
Of course, there are some major differences as well. An important difference is many of the admission officers and the alumni reps at the events are women. As we have discussed, there are not a lot of women in the buying and selling process of baseball cards and not that many collectors either. In addition, many of the admission officers are young and pretty which is another way of enticing possible students to their tables. To me, one of my favorite memories about that subject was when Baylor was going through their very bad publicity when the one member of the basketball team ended up shooting another member of the team. I swear Baylor found their prettiest alum in the North Dallas area and she represented Baylor during those fairs in 2004.
I have also learned a lot about human nature doing these events, one of which was in 2001. I did graduate from Columbia University in the City of New York and the college fair season literally began less than one week after 9/11. I would have thought the students would all be afraid of going to New York but instead we were more popular than ever and I had more students interesting in going to New York after the events of 9/11 then I ever had in previous years. Also, there was one funny comment when I mentioned how this was my seventh college fair in nine days and one of the admissions people said that was nothing. Well, when I also mentioned I had a full-time job; that opinion changed in a hurry to ‘oh that is a lot’.
Many of the traits I learned at card shows come in very handy at college fairs. With a good school you have to get them to your table and then answer their questions and have them move away as quickly as possible. That is the same time of turnover you need to do in the old days at really busy shows. Since I don’t have transcripts available to me when a student comes up to a table, the answers have to be courteous, brief and to the point. Just like the card shows, in which the answers were yes, no or maybe. Of course, you always want to have someone at your table at a card show as that does tend to attract other collectors to wonder what you are selling. This is a slight difference between card shows in 2013 and card shows back in the 1980’s.
And of course, doing these events remind of some of the card shows I used to sign up at. And since this is a baseball card column, there will be some complaining as well. Other reps are always amazed as to how well I’ve always done at these fairs but to me, all my baseball card show training (especially the Baseball Hobby News fishbowl training) has been really helped.
This week I was behind a table at the following high schools:
Plano East: Plano East always reminds me of Mike Gordon’s old Nanuet, New York shows. No matter what, I don’t think I ever sold more than $200 at a Nanuet show and I think I set up there only because it was like a condition of doing the hugely successful Parsippany shows. We never meet as many students at Plano East and I’ve always been surprised because we interview a lot of students from Plano East, but we do not see as many there. Plano East is a just a decent event but nothing special.
Plano West: Plano West reminds me of many shows I did for the first time. Until I learned the tricks needed to pack and unpack, where the room was and all the other tricks, there was that bit of not knowing. There was no signage (which also caused an issue when the Dallas Card show was in the hotels in Allen) so you were not exactly sure where you were going and I had to park a long distance away. I did not have a dolly with me and the box was really heavy. Until a couple of reps saw me struggling and let me place my material on theirs that was not a pleasant walk on a day which was nearly 100 degrees. In addition, when I went to get my dinner, I noticed the event was being run basically by volunteers. The inside of the building was well covered by personnel but there should have been signage and people stationed outside. As I explained to one of the ladies checking me in, don’t make excuses about construction happening, if you know that is happening have signage and people available to help otherwise that is a fail. And just like a card show, if the dealers do not know where to unpack and if there is no signage, not everyone is sure of where to go.
Allen: Allen High School is simply amazing. The football stadium cost like $18 million to build and the high school band is the largest in the country. Allen has grown substantially since I began setting up at this fair years ago. In that way, the growth of the fair has mirrored the growth of the National from the days when we could have the National in a hotel ballroom to needing a very large convention center. When I first set up at the Allen fair, the entire event was held in the cafeteria. Now, the event stretches out over the expanse of the high school which keeps growing. The fair is well set up with good signage, kids outside to help you get to your tables and help carry your material if needed. The only drawback this year was instead of having the good Dickey’s Barbeque available in the cafeteria and all the college reps being able to eat together, we were served box lunches from Jason’s Deli which was a major step down in quality.
The whole aspect of the food situation reminded me of the early camaraderie days of the National to what it is today where unless you know a group there are very few ways for people to get together. I actually missed this year the chance to sit down and talk to some of the other college reps, the same way we hardly get the chance anymore to talk to our fellow dealers after a card show.
There are a lot of other aspects of college fairs I think about, but most of them do not apply as a card show simile. The basic tenets of set up, working with clients and making relationships are key, And remember these fairs are also a great way of restoring your faith in America’s youth. I have met a ton of great kids in the nearly 20 years I have been interviewing and setting up at college fairs.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]