A number of collectors have approached me over the years seeking advice on how best to divest themselves of relics that they have decided to part with. In many cases the collector doesn't wish to wholesale his item or items because the goal is to sacrifice a treasured relic for the most cash possible. Wholesale seems to some insufficient payment for the loss. I always explain that if trading isn't an option and an instantaneously direct sale to another collector isn't happening, every exchange will likely cost something. After explaining the options of the Internet—selling through an existing auction site or creating a sales web page, both of which cost fees—what remains is setting up at a show and selling directly to the public. After all, it seems easy enough. And it even looks like fun.
I have been setting up at Civil War and gun shows across the country for decades. I have set up with only one table and sometimes with as many as six. I have manned shows alone, with a pal, and with employees. I have driven thousands of miles through blizzards, thunderstorms, and heat waves to get to and from events from the Deep South to New England to the Midwest. I have been in fender benders and traffic jams in a dozen states. I have slept in ritzy hotels, fleabags, and the back of a van once or twice. Getting on the show circuit is a little like joining the circus. Following that analogy, I've trailed behind the elephants with a snow shovel, jumped through my share of flaming hoops, and eaten a ton of peanuts. If that doesn't qualify me to offer a brief course on the subject, nothing can.
For those of you who are considering this option, I present Show Vendor 101. The best aspects of Show Vendor 101 are no fee, no mandatory classroom attendance, and no homework. That "easy" part is looking better and better, isn't it?
But wait, there's more.
First of all, you already have the most expensive part taken care of—the inventory. That principal overhead expense has already been absorbed sometime in the past. So, next on the agenda is a table cover. This can be anything from an old blanket or retired tablecloth or bed sheet to a tailormade cover complete with skirting and imprinted logo imprinted. Most of us started with the blanket/tablecloth/sheet option until we discovered that the professionals smirked behind our backs and described us as yard salers. Go the extra mile and get something that looks classier. I don't recommend the covers with little Union and Confederate flags all over them, as they can look a little too Jubilation T. Cornpone. You may use these, along with Disney character bed sheets, but only to cover your goods Friday and Saturday night.
Next, you'll need display aids such as gun racks, glass cases, Riker mounts, or other types of equipment to help protect and properly showcase your inventory.
You will also need price tags or even small cards to print out the info about your piece. A notebook and a few pens will complete that aspect of your supplies.
The next item on the list is to decide which event will be best for your debut. Some shows are in great demand and getting tables might require that you hire a hit man from Jersey to take out a dealer to create a vacancy. (I had to do this to get tables at a very popular show in Maryland, but that's another story.)
A few states require a vendor's license before you can set up. These can be particularly aggravating since they demand that you submit forms for periods of the year during which you may not have even attended an event. Should you fail to comply, they will threaten to revoke your license necessary for the event that you do attend. Again, this may require contacting the same guy from Jersey to take out the annoying tax guy.
Once you have settled on the right event and have purchased your tables, you need to consider a table assistant. Manning a table alone is not recommended. If you don't believe me wait until the coffee and the bean burrito breakfast kicks in. Who will watch your table as you scramble for the rest room? You will need help.
Forget asking one of your teenage children. Deep six the rap about the "educational" aspect of it. That won't fly. Your son will groan in agony upon being asked to help his old man. Your daughter will roll her eyes and mutter "As if" under her breath. Both will be overjoyed by your absence for the weekend, but neither will travel with you unless you promise to buy them a car or at least a new cell phone as a reward.
That leaves the next choice—your wife. Guys will rationalize that this is a grand opportunity for the two of you to experience some quality time, sort of a mini-vacation with dinners out and perhaps a romantic evening at the Motel 6. Do not, I repeat, do not try this pitch if you value your marriage. Trust me on this one, she will see through this ploy immediately. She probably isn't too enthused about your hobby in the first place. And she knows from having attended a show or two with you back when you were dating that she would rather have a dozen Brazilian bikini waxes than babysit a show table.
She will remember the show wives she saw before—stuck behind the table, magazine or knitting in hand, bored beyond belief, eyes glazed over like an animal trapped in a cage. She will dread in advance the approach of a customer who will invariably inquire where the "boss" is to whom he can ask the best price on this or that relic. She will want to scream, "It's free. Take it all, you sexist jerk," but she will calmly reply instead, "Oh, ha ha, the ‘boss' will be right back."
Take it from me, don't even ask her. Unless she is married to a professional show vendor or happens to be one herself she knows the event will be a living hell for her and she knows neither of you will get lucky either. Your back will be sore, the mattress will be lumpy, the shower will not function correctly, and the burritos and pizza will give you heartburn and gastronomical distress that will become the stuff of family lore. Romance? Not likely. And she knows this even though you don't. Perhaps she will suffer through such a weekend if you offer expensive jewelry or a paid vacation without you.
No, save yourself a lot of grief and don't even ask. She may love you more for being smart enough not to even consider such a moronic proposition.
For this type of event, you need a guy buddy. Someone to help haul the heavy stuff and who will be thrilled to get away for three days of travel, beer, hot dogs, and pizza. Trust me, you'll want Fred or Bob to share the grand adventure.
Next, you will need a show bank to make change and to cover cash expenses. Gas, food, beer, and buying those items you forgot to pack, like toothpaste, shaving cream, and Tums will run you through a few bucks. Be prepared.
Optional items will be perhaps a lucky show garment such as a sweatshirt or ball cap by which you will wish to be identified. One dealer has been wearing his college sweatshirt to shows for 45 years. We've heard of a dealer whose lucky skivvies now consist of only the fraying elastic band and a couple seams, but he swears they bring him luck. Certainly not with the ladies, I'll bet.
Don't forget to get Friday off work for traveling and set up. Showing up Saturday morning after driving through the night is simply unbearable. Plus, you miss half the experience.
Now you're ready. A full tank of gas, your buddy riding shotgun, cash, a trunk full of relics and showcases, along with a lucky ball cap or threadbare briefs. You've rented tables, booked motel rooms, and bought the covers, display cases, and a few other supplies.
If all goes well, you might break even after selling your relics. And if your luck holds, your boss won't fire you for taking Friday off.
On second thought, you might want to reconsider selling your stuff to your local dealer at wholesale and staying home. And who knows, mowing the lawn might even be more fun. It sure will be better for your digestion and may increase your chances of getting lucky.
Nah ... road trip!
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