MAX-ing out in Pittsburgh

I am just back from Pittsburgh where I attended the MAX Show. Many have asked about my experiences there.

    To be honest, I didn’t see much of the show. Working for several masters, I spent the show behind tables. My walking around time was expended with trips for Diet Coke and resulting visits to the restroom.

    However, standing behind a table, does provide an interesting perspective. Here are a few things I observed:

    First, I have to compliment the MAX organizers. I really liked the new facility. It was divided into two major rooms, but it was like that at the old Monroeville location as well. Parking seemed to be very limited and dealers were asked to park in the adjacent K-Mart lot to make room for the large, expected public attendance. We parked across the highway, but apparently something more had to happen to draw in the public.

    Public attendance was about nil. I would be surprised if more than 500 people paid to come through the show. But that really isn’t a criticism. The MAX Show is really a “trade show” where dealers come together and refocus their wares by selling and buying among themselves. Any public that comes through door is just a bonus. And let’s face it, if a person is going to spend more than $50 at the show, they are already there as a dealer or a table helper. Military collectors are very aware that the early bird gets the relic, so there are very few who will patiently stand outside waiting for the doors to open on Friday morning.

    I heard some dealers complain that the admission price was too high ($12 per person). Come on. If a person isn’t willing to pay $12 to get in, do you really think they are in a position to buy that $6,000 SS helmet on your table?

    I can’t say that sales were “brisk”, but there were sales. I didn’t witness fast, “I see it, I’ll take it” sort of transactions, but rather, very slow, patient negotiations. Discounts were there to be had, for sure. The smart dealers recognized the lower demand and were willing to respond with discounts to close the deals. I’ve said it before: “Supply side economics works!” When demand is low and supply is high, a retailer has to lower prices. At the end of the show, the dealers who were happy had done just that.

    In the November issue of Military Trader, MAX organizer Thomas Wittman addressed some dealers’ concerns about the MAX Show’s responsibility in enforcing an ethics policy. Some anticipated a showdown at the show over this matter, but it never played out as far as I could see or hear. There was no drama, no scenes.

    Some have asked, “What was the most unusual thing you saw, John?” That has to be, without a doubt, high-end dealer Craig Gottlieb gliding through the show on a Segway Personal Transporter. I scoffed, snickered and looked away, but by the end of the show, I was thinking, “I bet Gottlieb’s legs don’t hurt anywhere near as much as mine!”

    As for cool relics, I honestly can’t say! I never got out to the walk the show. But, that isn’t to say I didn’t make any purchases.

    On set-up day, I glanced at the table behind mine, and there sat a complete WWI 6-pound projectile like those used on MK V “Male” tanks. I snatched that up right away.

    When making a delivery of magazines to the front table on Sunday, I spotted an officer’s Tank Corps pin on a tunic that a fellow was carrying in his arms. I stopped to talk to him about the tunic and ended up adding a very nice 307th Tank Brigade officer’s uniform to my collection.

    It was an absolute delight to reconnect with a lot of friends and many readers of the magazine. I was able to sit and talk wih Bob Chatt (organizer of the Pomona Show), Arizona dealers Larry and Terry Stewart, Pennsylvania dealer Dan Griffin, Bay State Militaria owner Scott Kraska, dagger entrepreneur Tom Johnson and my buddies from Manion’s, Andrew Turner and John Conway. That is the great thing about the MAX show, it draws from across the nation — and world — anyone who is active in the hobby.

    So what is my opinion of MAX 2009? Overall, it was a very good experience: The facilities were really nice, the restrooms were always clean and food service adequate, the organizers made a very strong effort to promote and publicize the event, and there were was a wide representation of the hobby present.

    All the ingredients were there to make any militaria dealer or collector happy. If anyone complains that the sales weren’t there, I can only say it was their own fault (remember, I adhere to supply-side economics!).

    Keep finding the good stuff, and if you deal, adjust your prices to match the demand.

    John Adams-Graf
    Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine

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2 thoughts on “MAX-ing out in Pittsburgh

  1. Dan - Chantilly Virginia on said:

    I enjoyed your article on the MAX – and I might have a slightly different take – I have been collecting WWII items since I was 8 (I am now 48) – and this and the SOS Show are regular shows for me. As for the public being light and this being a trade show – that is true, but there are some hard-core collectors who attend these shows regularly. I have found the SOS to be a much more inviting show price wise than the MAX, along with the gunshow there in Louisville where additional deals can be had. There are occasional deals at the MAX, and this year I found some Japanese Militaria worth purchasing, but other items were totally unreasonable to the point of lunacy (and sat on the tables all weekend). Most of the hard-core collectors know who to avoid, and who will make a good deal, and likewise, who sells junk and who has the real thing, this being a growing issue in the collectible field. Dealers who think they know everything are those to avoid – the down to earth crew who have been in the business a long time know no one knows everything, and there are no total experts – they are good ones to work with and purchase from. There are exceptions to about everything when it comes to any collectibles field and especially in war-time, numerous items have been improvised on and the collectibles books that "experts" put out have only their take on a certain area. Those going should pool the numerous bits of knowledge they aquire to get a feel for what is and isn’t good, and the learning process is never ending in the militaria arena. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen one "expert" pitted against another, and they both have opposite views. For me these shows are a connection to an era I have a vast interest in, others a business – and this also creates a dis-connect between collectors and dealers. I enjoy those dealers that both collect and deal as they like to share their knowledge and take time to do so – many of the dealers who are dealers only want the quick sale and have no interest in educating the public about their wares – sometimes to the point of being outright rude, another "flag" of those dealers to avoid. This is another trait to look at from those selling when seeking an item to buy. Overall these shows are enjoyable – but one has to be careful, educate themselves on what is and isn’t good or "right," and learn from other collectors and dealer/collectors who is and isn’t good to deal with…this along with knowing what is a reasonable price on an item and what isn’t…these shows provide an excellent learning opportunity for the hard-core collector or beginner, whether or not items are found to be purchased for a collection. The ability to see so much and numerous variations of materials proves invaluable with time.

  2. Tom Wittmann on said:

    Dear John,
    Thanks for your posting on the JAG File ( regarding the MAX. I appreciate your honesty and no nonsense approach to the subject. I agree completely that “negotiation” was the key to sales this year. The buying public was there, but generally a “deal” had to be made, as we did not find folks paying the sticker price. I did okay at my personal sales tables (in the back of the show) and have no complaints.

    The show was well accepted at the new Monroeville Convention Center. Without exception, dealers seemed to be pleased with the facility. You are right about the “gate”. We advertised in the local papers and even took out four billboards posted along major Pittsburgh highways. The result (as we have concluded in the past) was that few “public” came. We would have done well to have saved our advertising dollars. I just think the average guy could care less about militaria, and those locals that do collect, certainly already know about the MAX and were there on Thursday. I think the only way to get people in would be to advertise “free beer and naked girls”, and I am not even sure this would work if it were combined with militaria!

    Anyhow, as you say, the MAX is a show for dealers and collectors in the know. There really is nothing there for the genernal public, per se, so we have tried to make a living off “table sales”, not “gate”. In spite of the poor public gate, though, there are many millions of dollars spent at the show by collectors from all over the world.

    It was also a pleasure to see that there were no “incidents” regarding these “ethics” policies. In retrospect, it appears that a very small group of Forum members are extremely vocal about a show that they do not even bother to attend—none of these people were there, or if they were, did not make themselves known. We are the only show that does require dealers to give a guarantee for the length of the show on their merchandise, yet we seem to take all of the “heat” as an abuser of the show system—it doesn’t make sense. In the future, I feel our efforts should be placed into improving the show and ceasing email communications with these nay-sayers and trouble-makers.

    Thank you for coming to the MAX and I hope you did well personally and also trust that a few subscriptions to the Military Trader were signed up.
    —Thomas T. Wittmann
    MAX Promotions, Inc.

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