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Vending at Your First Show

Sooner or later, you will feel like you have extra items in your collection that you can sell. Believing you have a grasp on current pricing, you decide to reserve a spot at your first militaria show. Here are some tips from a few show veterans that will make your debut a bit easier.
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Experts share some of their best practices

Sooner or later, you will feel like you have extra items in your collection that you can sell. Believing you have a grasp on current pricing, you decide to reserve a spot at your first militaria show. Here are some tips from a few show veterans that will make your debut a bit easier.


The following advice comes from our friends on the US Miltaria Forum ( The opinions are from a good cross-section of the hobby, representing both full-time dealers and occasional closet-cleaners. Their advice is equally valid for first-timers as well as veterans.

Justin (CNY Militaria) writes: I have been setting up at a few shows for the past several years, and run a small military show as well. Here are my “takeaways:”

  • Price as much as you can. Many buyers tend to pass un-priced items, for fear that the price is too high. Additionally, if you step away from your table, someone can see the price and come back as opposed to just passing altogether.
  • Be ready to be told stories. People will stop at your table, assume you are interested in hearing their life story, and tell you, until you can break away. The more uninteresting the story, the longer it will go on.
  • I put as much as I can out on the table, and under it for buyers to see. If I keep items in reserve, I tell lookers that I have more not out yet.
  • I have found that at shows, you have to price items knowing that buyers will talk you down. So don’t put your bottom dollar on an item unless you mark it “firm.”
  • Use dealer setup time to get your stuff set up quickly, and then buy, buy, buy until the public arrives. The best items are often sold before the public even gets in
  • Don’t expect to sell everything you bring to a show. Everyone who comes to a show has different intentions. Some are looking to buy a lot, many are looking for very specific items, and some are just looking for something to do or to see their friends.
  • Most importantly, have fun. Don’t glue yourself to your table, go out and buy as much as you sell.

“EarlyMB” from the Netherlands also shared some useful suggestions:

  • If you can, bring an assistant, preferably someone who knows a bit about the material. This allows you to step away from the table if needed, and two pairs of eyes can watch your stuff better than one. Also, when there is nobody looking at your table I found out that it helps generate interest if one of you gets to the front and starts looking at stuff on your table. Other people will approach to see if there is something to be seen!
  • Bring you own food and drink.
  • Make sure you have chairs! If you’re not sure they come with the table bring a few folding chairs. Believe me, you’ll thank me later for this one.
  • Don’t immediately jump on everybody that looks at your table! Acknowledge them (nod or say ‘hi’) and let them look at your stuff in peace. If they are still looking after, say, 30 seconds ask if you can help them with anything. If they want to know something they’ll ask, if they say ‘no’ just let them look around in peace until they start asking questions or leave. Nothing is more annoying and off-putting than a pushy vendor.
  • Make sure you know where the nearest cash machine is, either in the building or the one closest to it.
  • It’s handy to bring a laptop or tablet so you can look up stuff if the show area has wifi.
  • Price your items, and allow some room for haggling when determining the price. Haggling is part of the show. I have more than a few times passed on items I couldn’t haggle on and bought them for more somewhere else, just because I didn’t want that vendor to get my money.
  • Make sure your assistant can reach you by phone if you are away from the table, either to call you back, answer questions or accept/decline an offer. Prospective buyers don’t want to hear they’ll have to come back in 15 minutes because you aren’t there to accept their offer.

Jeff from Advance Guard Militaria (“Shenkursk”) also shared his veteran show display’s experience:

  • You don’t want to rebuff a potential buyer with too much contact (like a salesperson who follows you around the retail storeuntil you just want to get away.)But that is rarely a problem at militaria shows. Most of the time, the problem is people who are too busy chatting with their friends, reading a book, etc., and don’t make any contact at all.
  • Even if you are already engaged with another friend or customer, stopping briefly just to say “Hello. Let me know if I can help you with anything or answer any questions.” This will go long way toward improving sales. Failing to do so sends the message that you really don’t care if they stop and buy something or not.
  • Price your stuff, and mark it clearly.
  • If you would be upset to see an item stolen, put it in a display case instead of just out loose on the table.
  • If you don’t know what you want for it, keep it out of sight. Few things at shows are more frustrating for buyers than someone who won’t price a good item because they are fishing for offers. This will hurt your reputation.
  • Try to be competitive. If you are in love with something and require top retail+ for it, great. But, that can also make people assume that everything on your table is overpriced, and they will pass you buy without bothering to investigate.
  • In general, the stuff that sells best at shows are nice items priced at medium to high wholesale / low retail; and low end items priced cheap.
  • If you can afford to sell some things for very cheap prices, do so. This can make people assume that other items are also under-priced, and in the end, you make a lot of good money by having good table traffic and strong sales. Gaining a reputation as a table where bargains are to be had is worth it’s weight in gold.
  • Be approachable. The guy dressed like a homeless hobo who hasn’t taken a bath in days, slept in his van last night, and sits behind his table farting and arguing with himself tends to have poorer shows than his slightly more civilized counterparts.
  • Never assume someone is just a tire-kicker by their appearance or actions. Yes, most of them are. However, every once in a while the guy who looks like an extra from the set of Hee-Haw will fish a big wad of hundred dollar bills out of his overalls and start peeling them off. Smile, greet, and talk to everybody as if they were Bill Gates in disguise.
  • Don’t be a douche to the show promoter and staff. Obey the rules, arrive / leave on time, etc. Make sure they view you as an asset to the show, and not just another monkey. (Bob Chatt of Vintage Productions astutely added, “Trust me, show promoters remember who is a pain, and who leaves early all the time.”

And finally, I will throw in my two-cents:

  • Don’t eat in front of customers. Wait to take a bite when no one is around. Keep your food out of sight. Most people have the good sense to not interrupt someone during a meal. You don’t want to chase a customer away just because you couldn’t wait to bite a cold sandwich.
  • Don’t forget to take some table covers—even if it is a one-day show. If you have to leave your table for an extended period or overnight, covering it is a deterrent to items “walking away.”
  • Take clothes appropriate for warm or cold…convention centers and show buildings can fluctuate wildly from the outside temperature. A small, battery-powered fan can help alleviate the heat of hundreds of guests milling about.
  • Take a thick rug or mat to stand on. This will alleviate a lot of fatigue if the show has a concrete floor.
  • Stand up when guests approach your table. This is working time for you, not a casual get away.
  • Bring a good pack of small denomination currency. Guests will show up with $20s, $50s, and $100s. Invariably, they will buy your items price at $1, $2, and $5. You will have to make change—be ready for it.
  • I will repeat what the others have said: Price your items! I don’t even ask anymore if I can’t find a price on an item.

Peter (pbuchh 7715) summed up all of the good advice offered by at least a dozen show veterans:

“Reputation is everything. If other folks at the show label you a “jerk-face,” it will be hard to shake the moniker.

“Have fun. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the measure of a successful show.”

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