Four days in a massive hall filled with 1,965 8-foot tables covered with the militaria of more than 750 dealers: That’s the Show of Shows in Louisville, Kentucky. Having just returned, the question I have to most often answer is, “How was the show?” While you will get ten different answers if you ask ten different people, I will try to give you the perspective as seen from the tables located U-64/65.
FOUR DAYS IS A LONG TIME
When one unnamed official commented to me that the show was “One day too long on the front end,” I was quick to agree. After four days on a cement floor, my feet and entire body aches.
In reality, the show is only that long for a handful of members. The Show of Shows has a long tradition of utilizing member help for table set-up on Wednesday before the show. So, for anyone traveling farther than six or eight hours, that means driving to Louisville on Tuesday.
Reassigned to the table set up crew (either as a reward or punishment, I am not sure, as an argument could be made for either!), I made the trek on Tuesday and showed up at the Expo Center, bright and early on Wednesday morning. Having worked the crew many times in the past, I devised a new plan: I know that there are about 20 of the 60 or so table crewmembers who really work. The other 40 seem to occupy themselves with almost anything else to avoid lifting and carrying tables. This year, my plan was to be one of those malingerers.
After about 5 minutes of chit-chatting with like-minded drifters, I couldn’t take it. I pulled on my gloves and threw myself back into the mix. After about 4 hours of throwing tables, I was sore, sweaty, and satisfied. 2000 tables were in place and the final alignment teams were adjusting the aisles. This year, the show’s host, the Ohio Valley Military Society (OVMS) provided box lunches to the table crew. So, whether sweaty and tired or well-rested and ready, the 60 or so table helpers enjoyed a nice repast while they listened for the all-important, “Now you can bring in your stuff” that finally was called around 2PM.
You see, the reward of the working the table crew is that the OVMS allows you to bring in your goods and set up your own sales area before the rest of the membership can enter at 5PM. This small window on Wednesday is when the sales fly fast and furious. Money changes hands and items are wisped away and tucked out of sight.
So began day one.
Other than setting up tables, the next three days went pretty much the same: Arrive at the Expo Center around 7:30, wait in line, uncover tables, deliver magazines, stand behind tables and talk to hundreds of people, cover tables at the end of the day and return to the motel. There really isn’t anything glamorous about working the show. It is exhausting, and hopefully, profitable in either sales or collecting.
A WORD ABOUT GOODS
The Show of Shows is primarily focused on one of two actions (or a combination): Buying and selling. This year, I decided I had to focus on the latter.
In the months leading up to the show, I paid attention to my collection as I moved around in my office, slowing taking a mental inventory and assessment. Finally, I developed some criteria for selecting pieces to take to the show:
- If the item was not allowed for sale on ebay, I took it to the show (inert ordnance, trench knives, and trench club)
- If an item was too delicate or awkward to safely and economically ship, I took it to the show (M2 Gas Mask, painted helmet, panoramic photos, tank models, ration crates).
- If the item was superfluous to my Tank Corps collection, it was time to sell (misc. insignia, accouterments, headgear, photographs)
- And in regard to reference books, if I hadn’t had it off the shelf in more than five years, I took it to the show to sell.
Following that criteria, I figured I would leave my primary collection of Tank Corps stuff intact while cutting away some of the extra stuff that tends to accumulate. After I finished pricing and boxing my “show stock,” it really didn’t appear that I had taken anything off of display!
BACK AT THE SHOW
Books don’t sell on Day 1. So, I took advantage of the time to hand deliver copies of Military Trader to half of the dealers’ table. With my paper route bag slung over my shoulder, I hand-delivered 600 copies of our special “Show of Shows” (March 2018) issue. That was my first walk in the aisles.
On Thursday morning, I began the day by delivering another 400 copies to the remaining dealers, before uncovering the tables. With about seven hours ahead of me, I was ready to sell and sign up subscriptions.
Man, but books and magazines just don’t seem to move on the opening day. Being business minded, I think next year I am going to have to devise a Wednesday-Thursday Subscription Sale that will get some activity going. And therein is the key to this show…if something you want to sell isn’t getting attention, it is time to adjust the price.
I didn’t sell subscriptions, but man did I sell relics! Why? The stuff was good, and I based my pricing on 2012 prices less 20%. My goal was to MOVE stuff out of my office and into someone else’s collection. Most of this stuff I have enjoyed for more than 10 years. I sure didn’t pay 2012 prices for it, so I priced it to sell. And sell it did! When I drove to KFC for my annual Show of Shows bucket at the end of the day, I had a pocket full of cash and no regrets with what I had sold.
The show atmosphere is a bit different on Friday. This is the day the public can come into the show, so there is a rush to close deals before the “unwashed masses” descend. Other dealers came to my table because word had spread that I had good stuff marked “cheap.” I couldn’t take in the money fast enough. During brief pauses, I stretched my wares to cover the openings. My troops were spread thin, but I still had plenty to fill the line for the public onslaught.
I could tell when the non-OVMS members were allowed into the show. I immediately started to sell books and items priced under $30. This continued through the end of the day. Again, I was well-satisfied.
A word of caution to show displayers: If you watch Game of Thrones, you will understand this next reference: Like Lord Varyus, the OVMS management has its network of little birds. These little birds are charged with reporting dealers who tear down their display and leave early. By contract with the OVMS, every dealer who has a table at the SOS agrees to remain present and open until Saturday at 3PM. Leaving before that results in forfeiture of any tables for the next three years. The OVMS takes this very seriously, and I know this punishment was enacted this year in several instances. (To be fair, I lost my tables about 7 years ago when my advertising guy left Friday night instead of manning the tables on Saturday as promised — now I have my tables again and understand what can happen).
On Saturday, the energy level is down throughout the show — everyone is tired. Regardless, my sales continued to be brisk. In fact, items I thought would not sell, started to disappear. People were returning and making offers. Because I had decided to move the stuff, I was eager to negotiate. When 3PM finally arrived, though, I was ready to pack up. My tables were stretched thin, and I was exhausted — and I still had 11 hours of driving to get back to Minnesota.
ASK TEN PEOPLE…
So that is my answer to “How was the show.” To summarize: I thought I witnessed a level of sales activity that had not been present in the past two or three years. The crowd seemed to be about the same as in past shows. Set up was smooth. Take down was smooth. The OVMS crew does everything they can to keep the whole show operating in a comfortable and safe manner. It is a monumental task to do that, and enough credit can’t be given to them.
But ask nine other dealers, and you will probably get nine different perspectives. The best way to find out how the show was is to plan to attend next year, February 21-23, at the Kentucky Expo Center in Louisville.
Preserve the Memories,
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine