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How to Sell at a Card Show: Tips From My First Dealer Experience

While Nate Lake Cards has been a thing for about 10 months, I’ve been mostly focusing on building my eBay store. That has been going super well, and in the process I’ve built some relationships with local card guys. Most notably, the owner of my local card shop has been providing me with some mentorship about how to snowball my card business. He also promotes the monthly card show in my area, so with some confidence in my connection with him, I sheepishly mentioned to him a few weeks ago that I’d be interested in setting up a table at the next show. He told me that it was full, but sometimes there are cancellations, and he’d let me know if a spot opened up.

The Wednesday prior to the show (which was Sunday), he sent me a text: “Hey man, I’ve got a spot for you on Sunday.” My first thought was “YES!” followed by “CRAP… I’ve never done this before and I only have a few days to prepare!” Luckily, I have nothing but time on my hands lately as I’m between jobs while my wife and I prepare to move out of state.

Getting Ready for My First Show

So I spent the next few days meticulously preparing for what would inevitably be my big break in the sports card business! I’d make thousands, our moving costs would be covered, and I’d buy up a ton of Anthony Edwards rookies to flip! Right?! …well, not quite. I didn’t get as much business as I hoped for and didn’t make too much money. However, I did meet a bunch of great people, I had a lot of fun with my brother (who helped me out) and most of all, I met the goal I told my wife a few months ago: “I want to set up at a show before we move.”

I’d been in the perpetual comparison game, as many of you potential dealers may relate with, thinking I’d never stack up to the dealers with four-figure cards littering their tables. But I shoved away the doubtful voice in my head, set up my table, and met my goal… receiving tons of affirmation about my table setup along the way from show attendees & card people on social media! My brother took the picture above just to send to my family, and I decided to post it on X/Twitter. Next thing you know, Card Purchaser was reposting my picture and comments were flooding in about my setup!

That gave me a huge confidence boost! So while my first show didn’t necessarily fund my hobby dreams, it did validate my gut instinct that I can be successful in this hobby even as a bargain bin seller. I’m so glad I decided to go for it and set up a table, and I’m already on the dealer wait list for the show in the city I’m moving to! I know it’ll grow from here. So if you’re considering setting up a table, I say go for it! Here are some observations, tips & tricks for you as you prepare for your first show.

Tips & Advice for Your First Show

Clear labels go a long way.

Adopt a “no questions necessary” policy as you label your boxes. Card shows are all about appearances. Are you more likely to look through cards at a table that’s visually appealing? Okay, if you’re a bargain bin digger like me, maybe not… but regardless, eyes are drawn to clear signage and organized boxes. I went with a “no questions necessary” policy as I set up my boxes. The buyer should know the cost of the cards they’re perusing without having to ask you any questions. My amazing wife helped me by designing clear labels for my boxes. And what do you know? My biggest customer told me how much he appreciated the organization before showing me a picture of his meticulously organized collection. This leads into my next point…

Organization is everything. It helps you, it helps your buyers, it helps the common good! Nobody appreciates a messy box with three different price ranges. Staying organized helped me prepare and create a nice setup. I went with two different pricing types at my table: 1) price by box and 2) price as marked. That way, every single card has a price… either denoted by the sticker on the card or the box the card is housed in. Below are all the boxes I set up:

Here’s my non-baseball quarter box. I made one mistake. I forgot to label this as a quarter box, but it was pretty easy to figure out with where it was placed in my setup.
  • Quarter boxes: one 4-row of baseball and one 4-row of basketball, football and miscellaneous
  • Dollar box: one box with baseball, basketball, football and other separated with dividers
  • $3/$5 & up box: one two-row box with $3 cards on one side (divided by sport) and all my more expensive stuff ($5 and up) on the other side. All the cards in the $5 & up row were priced individually with stickers.
  • Alphabetical boxes: Two three-row boxes of baseball and one three-row box of basketball/football/other sorted by player name. Each card in these boxes had an individual sticker price.

Here’s how I arrived at this setup. The alphabetical boxes consisted of all my eBay inventory (I’ll get to this later)… so I spent hours going through and putting a sticker price on every card (often 50% or more less than the eBay price). I would not recommend this for the faint of heart, especially if you have close to 2,000 eBay listings like me. However, it did increase my sales. As I went through everything else, I put out two-row boxes for each sport (baseball, basketball, football) and filled one side with dollar cards and the other side with $3 cards. Then when I was ready, I combined the dollar stuff into one two-row and the $3 stuff into another two-row. I put all my slabs (including eBay inventory) and $5 & up cards in the same two-row as the $3 stuff.

My wife & brother helped me sort through additional inventory to fill quarter boxes. I’m a baseball guy, so I knew I’d have a lot more baseball than the other sports. I set aside a 4-row for baseball, and ended up with two rows of basketball, one row of football, and one row of very random cards. This preparation took me a crazy amount of time, but that’s mostly because of the individual pricing. The rest was gravy. Back to the eBay inventory…

Only bring eBay inventory if you pause eBay sales during the show or if you’re prepared to manage inventory in real time. And even if you’re prepared, it can be stressful. I use Mascot, an inventory manager, to manage my card listings on multiple sites. I was planning to pause eBay sales on my store before the show, but found out you can’t pause less than 24 hours before the desired pause time. That being said, I decided I was going to keep my eBay store live during the show and simply delete online listings as I sold them in person or pull cards from my boxes that sold on eBay during the day. Both scenarios happened and both were stressful.

Bonus tip for eBay sellers: organize your listings like this!

One guy dug through my alphabetical eBay boxes and bought about 160 cards… so as he was continuing to shop at my table, I was deleting my inventory from Mascot as fast as possible! This was the most stressful moment of the day. I ended up deleting listings in batches by player and simply went back after the show to relist the inventory I still possessed. Here are the two recommendations I would make based on my experience: 1) pause your eBay store during the show and simply write down the cards you sell, then delete the listings from eBay after the show, or 2) only take your most expensive eBay inventory. I took ALL of my eBay inventory, even the cheap stuff. While this sold really well, it was extremely stressful to manage. Next time, I’m planning to pause my eBay store (more than 24 hours in advance!) and just write down all the eBay inventory I sell. That gives me time to cross-check everything to make sure I don’t double-sell any cards. Make it easy for yourself. And speaking of that…

I also have another sign that features QR codes with links to my payment methods. If you’re here before 5/10/24, click the picture to enter the giveaway!

Make it easy for your buyers to pay you. My wife designed a couple of sweet signs with my logo, socials, and QR codes linking to my eBay store & payment methods (see screenshot of tweet for an example). A $2 color printing job at the library and a couple of 8.5×11 acryclic sign holders later, I was looking official and more importantly, it was easy for my buyers to pay me.

Along those lines, you might as well take as many payment methods as possible. I do cash, Venmo, and PayPal (my other sign has QR codes linked to my accounts). However, as I learned, you have to make sales to take payment! And that said…

Make sure your most expensive cards are prominently displayed. I’m mostly a bargain seller at this point, so I probably have less than 50 cards priced at $10 or more and nothing over $60. But think about this… one $10 card is the equivalent of 40 quarter cards (or even more if you’re handing out bulk discounts, as most dealers do). If you’re trying to make a good chunk of change, your focus should be on the higher-value stuff. My best cards were sitting in a box just like everything else, which did me no good. Toward the end of the day, I cleared some room between boxes and laid out about 12-16 of my most expensive cards, but got no bites.

Next time, I’m planning to buy a cheap jersey display case (thanks to the advice of my friend @IBreakCards on X) and securely display my higher-value stuff (which I’ll hopefully have more of by my next show). If you can sell one $40 card or 160 quarter cards, you should be trying your darndest to sell that one $40 card. It takes 30 seconds for somebody to take that Mookie Betts Bowman Heritage PSA 10 off your hands. It takes an hour for a guy to sift through the quarter box and find 160 set-builders (I did have multiple guys sit at my value boxes for a veeeeery long time).

Summary

Remember… this hobby is about the cards and the people. I met some great people at my first show, and the conversations I had with other dealers & show attendees reminded me why my eventual goal is to open a shop. Relationships are the real profit, and financial profits are just the icing on the cake. With these thoughts in mind, I hope you, the nervous potential card dealer who keeps telling himself he’ll set up a table one day, will send a confident email to your local show promoter telling him you’re ready to go for it!

In the meantime… back to eBay!

Nate Lake
@natelakecards: eBay / X / Instagram

Nate Lake

Check out my eBay store: @natelakecards. Follow me on X: @natelakecards. Follow me on Instagram: @natelakecards.

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