Updated: Mar 22
Everyone at a show is a buyer. Most are sellers, too. Becoming a vendor is the next level for both vantage points.
I probably started setting up at card shows too early. When I first got back into the hobby, I was buying and selling low-end cards on eBay and Facebook. I was also ripping the occasional low-end hobby box. I loved where the hobby was taking me and my natural “go big or go home” mentality said I was ready to become a vendor at a card show.
When I went to my first show, I probably had less than 100 cards totaling a value less than $1,000. I applaud myself for being willing to jump in with both feet, but I wouldn’t advise doing that. I sold like $130 in my first show. I was too pumped to realize that $30 went to my table fee, $20 went to the gas to get there, $10 went to lunch, and my cost in those $130 worth of cards was definitely more than $70. The show was a success, because I had so much fun.
I went back the next month and sold a humbling $30. After fees and gas and lunch, I had to face my wife with less money than I left with. I was going nowhere fast. I had jumped into the dealer game way too early.
There are so many resources to learn from.
I am always so impressed with some of the young people we get to meet at shows. Most have their favorite YouTubers, podcasts, and Instagram accounts to learn from. That is great! Most of those guys are actually vendors at card shows too! The reason you are following guys like Card Collector 2 or Indy Card Exchange is because they do everything that a great vendor should do. At one time, those guys were simply collectors. Then they became sellers. Then they worked really, really hard to become competent entrepreneurs and pursue their dreams in the hobby. Along the way, they set up at their first card show.
Start building your own brand.
If this hobby is something you truly enjoy spending time on, put a name on it. Even if it’s just “Jonathan’s Cards”. Whether your operation is big enough to be considered a “business” or not, give it a name. Just like you are recognized by your name in school or at work, you will be recognized by your name in the hobby. Make this name consistent across the various platforms that you engage the hobby with, like: eBay, Instagram, YouTube, business cards, etc. You won’t introduce yourself as your brand, but your brand will, in a way, become part of your identity at card shows.
Start building relationships.
One of the first card shows I ever set up, led to one of the best friendships I have in the hobby. I was in the offseason leading up to my senior year of college football at Taylor University, and someone mentioned that a local card shop owner was a TU grad. Not long after, Indy Card Exchange owner Andy Albert came over to introduce himself. He has been the most influential person to our growth and success. You never know when meeting someone new can have an impact on your brand or even your life.
It is so important that, whether you are going to a show as a buyer or seller, you go in optimistic about meeting new people and starting new relationships. The brotherhood within this hobby is easier to participate in than I anticipated when I was starting out.
A positive introduction can lead to a positive second interaction, and pretty soon, you have a friendship! And let me tell you, friendships are better than customers. That goes hand in hand a lot of the time, but especially at card shows, I have gotten so much more out of my friendships than I have gotten out of my sales. We have friends that come to our table and talk to us for 10-20 minutes. They may spend anywhere from $0-$100 at our table. But we treasure those moments each month, whether they result in a sale or not. That friendship is valuable to us as people, but it is also valuable to our brand.
Imagine how many people those friends interact with on a monthly basis. If anyone ever asks them about Brothers In Cards, they are going to be talking about our relationship, not their purchases. That relationship can lead to others. When you have a good brand and good relationships, sales will come. Focus on relationships.
Start building your inventory.
This part is a lot of fun. At least, it should be.
It’s easy to get caught up in trying to stock cards of players that are hot right now. Don’t get me wrong, there is value in that, but if some of those players are not players you enjoy going after, don’t go after them! Honestly, it is hard to sell cards you don’t like.
You know what is a lot of fun, though? Talking to someone about your favorite teams and players. Stock up on those! As you build your brand and relationships, you are bound to show your interests, and those that have those same interests will be coming around more and more often.
I love football and basketball. Specifically, I love short prints, case hits, and quarterbacks. Is there a significant market for baseball prospects? Absolutely! Do I know enough or care enough about that world to be able to spend 6 hours of my Saturday talking about them? Absolutely not.
I will build my inventory based on what I love. To build that inventory, we set monthly budgets. We set goals on how much revenue we want to bring in each month and if we hit those, we make sure to buy right at the budget we set for building inventory. If we don’t sell enough, we limit our buying budget. Regardless of how each month goes, we are always very focused on building our inventory for shows.
There are countless buying opportunities while you are at each show. I love walking around and seeing what everyone else has on their tables, but we also experience a lot of collectors coming to our table to sell some of their cards. We build our inventory at shows more than anywhere else.
Buying as a dealer is a great opportunity. All of that branding and relationships create trust. When people need to sell their collections, they go to people they trust. Some of our best buys have made both parties very happy, and they have been done as a dealer at card shows.
Start by defining your goals.
We want to help you reach them! Setting up at a card show may or may not help you reach those goals, so it is important that you have a good grasp on what it is you are trying to accomplish. You can generate income in this hobby without setting up at card shows. I didn’t necessarily recognize that when I was getting started. But it’s true. I have several friends who do very well in the hobby without setting up. I can’t speak for their goals, but I generally see them walking around shows with slabs, and they are trying to “trade up” their current collection. That can still mean buying and selling and upgrading in the form of cash and cards, but the general idea is to upgrade their collection one card at a time. The goal I believe best aligns with setting up at a card show is the idea of scaling your entire operation. I’m not really attached to any card we will have on our table. I want to sell as many cards as we can for the profit margin we are striving for. If we sell all $10 cards I will be perfectly happy because I grew my brand, developed relationships, and made the profit margins I wanted to make on the cards I sold. We don’t consider a show successful in terms of sales. Instead, we look at the bigger picture. Are the people we sold cards to going to come back next time? Are they going to check out the other things we are doing, like our Pack Plus Program or eBay auctions? When someone asks them about Brothers In Cards, will they have good things to say?
You will not get rich from setting up at card shows.
Our brand has grown significantly over the last 5 years. However, we still have shows that are low in sales. Full transparency: we had a show in 2021 where we did less than $200 despite having nearly $20,000 in inventory on our table. We usually do better, but our main goals are not limited to sales. If that is your only goal, card shows may not be what will help you get where you want to go.
If your goal is to build your brand, relationships, and overall inventory, it might be time!
I have a few more tips to help you be confident in starting that first show.
Make sure your inventory is more than enough to fill the table space you will have
I recommend a minimum of an inventory value of 20 times your table fee
Seek out shows where you already know some vendors (like Brothers In Cards)
Be prepared to buy from other vendors
Get business cards or flyers with your social medias/eBay information
I hope this article has either brought some confirmation or clarity that helps you decide what is next for you. Like I mentioned, we want to help you reach your goals!
Let us know your thoughts or challenges in the comments below. I hope to see you at a card show soon.
Here is where we will be setting up in the next month > 3/26 Bee Sports Card Show…Shipshewana, Indiana 4/9 Kokomo Show….Kokomo, Indiana 4/16 J&J All Star Sports Card Show…Fishers, Indiana
See our article on how we manage our eBay inventory as we frequently do shows.