I attended the Chicago Sun-Times Sports Collectors Show in Rosemont, IL over the weekend. It is a three day show filled with dealers from all over the US and Canada, featuring autograph guests, card auction houses, authenticators, and more. I wish I would have taken some photos but my phone battery isn't what it used to be and after about 10 minutes of walking around, I kind of forgot about doing it.
I have been going to these shows each year (twice a year in March and November) for the past 5-6 years and can generally anticipate what I am going to see there. Most of the shows take place in the smaller convention hall at the Convention Center, leaving the larger hall for shows like the NSCC or whatever comic book convention is currently taking place. Somehow though, they always find ways to cram a lot of things to see in that space. But for some reason, this years fall show seemed a bit off.
The first thing I noticed as I traversed the convention floor was how well we were able to maneuver up and down the aisles. It seemed the interior aisles had been widened to accommodate more traffic, or at least that's the way it appeared. With enough mapped out space to fit over 300 dealers, I was amazed at how much underutilized space there was on the main floor area. Usually the dealer tables line each aisle from end to end. This weekend (or at least on Saturday) I counted at least 17 empty dealer spaces. I'm not sure what to pin this one on. Could be a number of things like cost, timing, or even the pending weather in the Eastern part of the US. Regardless, there was much less to see as we made our rounds.
The autograph lineup was still top-notch as Mounted Memories had guests signing throughout the three day event. You can check out their lineup here if you want to see what you missed out on. But something I noticed on Saturday was the sheer turnout in the autograph pavilion. While most shows of this kind draw thousands of people to the auto lines, this one seemed a bit flat. I'm not sure if the guest list on Saturday wasn't up to snuff for the auto seekers out there in the Chicagoland area but the lines for people like Brian Urlacher, Len Dawson, and Gordie Howe were smaller than I ever expected. Maybe it was the price tag on having items signed, I don't know. Also, I noticed that after 3PM, announcements for guests stopped completely. At about 3:30, the auto pavilion was a ghost town. That was also weird for a show that ended at 5PM. Not even the "meanderers", as I call them, were left hanging around. I didn't partake in any auto hounding, as is customary for my show attendance. While I'd love to get things signed by all the guests, I tend to get nervous with the price tags the show promoters put on some of these players.
My third beef with the show, and this is probably not the shows fault by any means, was the lack of new hockey product available from many of the box dealers, and for that matter, the number of box dealers that were even there was minimal. These shows usually boast about 7-10 large volume "retail" dealers of unopened product. These dealers sometimes include folks like Dave & Adams, Baseball Card King, Blowout, Atlanta Sportscards, Steel City Sports, etc. D&A was there, the King was there...the rest, not so much. There were two other dealers that had any significant amount of product available that I found. Only one of those had any hockey product. Even D&A was sort of a disappointment because they only had their main box table. Their "discount" table was no where to be found this time. Maybe everyone is ramping up for Black Friday. Yeah, that's it. I will blame Black Friday.
Finally, I was actually disappointed with the amount of "Discount box" tables at the show. There were tons. TONS! In fact, this time it was actually rare to see anyone that didn't have countless 3500-5000 count boxes full of $.10, $.25, $.50 or $1-3 cards. Ask and you shall receive (as I have after previous shows) is how the old line goes, but this was kind of overkill. When you consider that many dealers simply got into these on a whim, it was a little off-putting. You could tell by the preparation they put into them. Most dealers with discount boxes have done them for years, have them sorted, have them priced accordingly and have them stocked with manageable inventory so the collector's can peruse without dropping handfuls of cards onto the concrete floor. There were a large number of guys with boxes set up this way, but when you took a closer look, nothing had a label.
Perfect example...one table I stopped because something shiny must have caught my eye. I began looking through a rare box of hockey singles. There were three rows in about 100 present on the table with hockey cards. The lid was proudly displayed behind the box as if to say "look at me if you want to know the price". I did. There was no price. I asked the dealer, who reluctantly looked up from his phone for a minute, how much were the hockey cards. He says, "That depends. Most of the goalie cards are a buck. The rest, it just depends." Frustrated by that answer, I begin to quickly sift as I didn't want to spend more than another minute here. Seeing my frustration, he exclaims, "Just hold a card up that you'd like and I will give you a price." Ok, cardboard merchant, I will. So I begin with a small stack and hold up one, after another, after another. Five prices in and the dealer says, "How about you make a pile and I will quote you a price when I'm done." But I liked your first way. I don't find enough to justify a pile so I say, "Will you take $10 for these here?" He says, "How about $12?" "$11 and you got a deal", I retort. I leave the table $11 bucks poorer....but wait till you see what was in that pile in my next post. 5 Lesson's learned from this joker and others...
1. If you are selling cards at a show/online/store etc., price your merchandise. It helps you as a seller and prevents you from having to look everything up or haggle with people. If there is one thing collector's don't like, it's having to stand and wait for a dealer to look up a price in Beckett. It's unprofessional. Who is running your business? You? Or the price guide? It's called a guide for a reason...not a law.
2. Know what you have. If you know nothing about the product you are selling, why bother? Don't ask me what it is or what I think it is worth. There were too many guys with hockey offerings at this show that had no idea what they were selling. They didn't know who the players were (unless they were Hawks), they didn't know anything about the sets they came from, they didn't care to know either. Just because a card has an autograph or a piece of memorabilia doesn't make it immediately a minimum $15 card. At least make an effort.
3. Pay attention to your customers. I know of the 500 people you see in a day at a show, only 20-30 might make a purchase. But every one of those other 470 people is a potential customer. When you are chowing down on a gyro with cucumber sauce running down your face or buried in your iPhone or laptop computer and can't look up for fear that you will miss a Facebook alert, you have no business being there. People want engagement, they want interaction (except the 400lb greasy, sweaty guys at the $.25 vintage baseball table), they want to know that you are interested in whether or not they make a purchase. I walked away from two tables that I planned on spending at least $10 at but couldn't get either dealer's attention to ask a question.
4. Have fun. Too many frowns. Too many scowls. Too many folded arms with pouty looks on their faces. That prevailed all day long. It seemed the only people having fun at this show were my kids, the people at the PSA booth, and that guy that yells at people for touching his cards. Card collecting is supposed to be fun. You aren't going to make a ton of money in this business and you definitely won't if people think you are angry and bitter about it. You got into this business because you love the hobby and love sports. Try to show a little bit of that passion you once had.
5. Act professional. Immaturity, rudeness, and a generally condescending attitude don't help anyone. You are running a business, we are patronizing your business. If you had a storefront and we came in, I highly doubt you would ignore us, scoff at our inquiries, or act as though we are inconveniencing you buy spending money on your products. I deal with business people all day with attitudes and grudges against humanity. I certainly don't want to spend my free time involved with my hobby dealing with the same types of people.
As a side note, I'm all for using "hype-men" or models to promote a product. I understand why it's done and generally, I think most people get it. But having half-clothed models standing next to your table, not giving things out, not trying to offer something or get you to sign up for something, not even promoting anything noticeable, but just standing there making googly eyes at everyone doesn't make much sense to me. No I don't want to take a picture with you. No I don't want a hug from you. Just move out of the way so I can look through that box over there. Because when my kids ask me "what happened to that girls' pants", I'm no longer amused. (I know it's probably hypocritical but this is my rant)
But it wasn't all bad. In fact, despite my criticisms (of which there are always many) I had a great time with the kids, got to see a couple friends in the hobby, traded some cards, and picked up a few needs along the way. I always enjoy these events because it gives me an opportunity to meet with other collector's and exchange cards, stories, and sometimes ideas. I will be posting some of the stuff I got at the show a little later. There were some interesting things I was able to find.