With the Spring edition of the Kane County Toy Show just around the corner, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the role that toy shows and conventions play in the hobby these days when it comes to making new acquisitions. Over the last year I’ve had the unique opportunity to travel to Celebration Anaheim, Kane County, several regional comic cons, and both the Cincinnati and Columbus toy shows in the fall. These shows are great events to network and connect with other collectors in the hobby, as well as a great way to find some niche items that sellers may not want to expose through digital channels.
But one question that relates to our larger MarketWatch theme is the role these shows play in the digital marketplace that has become the primary means for finding new acquisitions. In this article I set out to give some context to this based on my interactions at shows over the past few years, and shed some light on what is truly a unique social gathering and what impact it can or cannot have on a collector and their collection.
Relevancy of Toy Shows in the Digital Age
The biggest question I personally had and seems to be aligned with a question that a lot of us ask is what is the relevancy of toy shows in an age where the majority of transactions in the hobby occur online? Well, as I’ve found out over the last year these shows are as strong as they have ever been. Attendance at every show I went to this last year was very healthy, ranging from thousands of people at events like Kane to hundreds of people at the smaller shows.
The events are as much social as they are about purchases. You get to meet people you may have only spoken with online and network with collectors who try to stay out of the online arena. At the core, these events were really eye opening and beneficial in terms of networking and general knowledge exchange. What surprised me the most at these events is the sense of community. Most everyone knows each other and there’s a comradery that’s unique to the hobby. It’s about re-connections between old friends and making new ones. As many experienced collectors state, the network of friends is the best thing about collecting and these events are at the center of that concept. Whether regional, national, or international they’re a great way for collectors to meet up with old friends, develop new ones and hear stories from collectors of all ages. It’s this single thread that makes these shows so much more than just a way to transact; the in-person interactions strengthen the social bonds of the hobby.
Toys and Collectibles at the Events
Through all of these events one thing has stood out to me more than anything -- that being the amount of products that are available for sale. Suffice it to say I was able to pick up a lot of key pieces for my collection ranging from common production items I’d missed out on via eBay over the years to pre-production items I’d never seen in person. The range of product varies from show to show, but overall I’ve personally had some level of success in expanding my collection at every show I’ve attended. Now this won’t be the same for every collector out there, but the key underlying theme is that there is opportunity at these shows. Whether you walk away with something great for your collection or just with a new connection there’s always something material or intangible to be gained.
Availability of product ranges from common to rare at these events. You’ll be sure to see vintage Star Wars items at each one, ranging from loose figures and vehicles to sealed items and the occasional pre-production. Overall it’s the breadth of items that adds some flavor to the events as we can all relate with the toy line in each of its forms, new or old. The one way to describe the stock of product at the shows is plentiful, and that means even if you’re not going to find something you especially want for your collection, you will be able to find something you can relate to.
This breadth is what I think makes all of us come back to these shows. There’s really something for any level of collector and even if you don’t score something for your collection you’re sure to see some cool sights.
Not Everything Happens at the Show
The Roles People Play
The one thing that I really think has evolved over the years with toy shows is the aggressiveness of the attendees. There’s always been a feast or famine type of mentality at these events, however over the years it seems to have only heightened. What’s most interesting to me is the cultural dynamic that’s taken shape over the years and the roles that people play at these shows.
I break them down into 5 categories:
I break them down into 5 categories:
- Sellers – The people in the booths are always the primary sellers, however the spot transactions in the parking lot seem to be on the rise.
- Observers – Casual collectors and passers-by that came to see the show more than find items to purchase.
- Buyers – The heroes of the show, the ones who keep these things going and ultimately are focused on growing their personal collections or maybe helping out a friend that couldn’t attend.
- Buyer/Sellers (Flippers) – They have been ever present in the hobby in some respect, but this group that has grown substantially in size over the years. Ultimately these folks are out to collect but their primary goal is to make money off the finds. They are extremely aggressive and will be first or second in line at a show and always do the pre-show sales. In the past year I’ve had discussions with several people on the effect these individuals have on the hobby and the overall tone is fairly negative.
- Celebrities – Yes, although they are not A, B or even C listers, toy shows do have celebrities in attendance. The most common are the ones that have some status because of their association with the hobby. The most common I personally see are the guys from Toy Hunter and long term collectors who are well known throughout the community. Their effect on the show itself is interesting in the fact that they have a presence and bring a sense of "ahh" to the events.
The Dynamic of In-person Shows
One thing that is present at shows is a general sense of combativeness, as some sellers are dead set on prices, and because this is their only way to sell, they aren’t familiar with the overall digital and online marketplace.
“I don’t care if a better one sold on eBay for $700, I’m asking $1500 and that’s the market price.” It’s amazing to me how many times I’ve heard this or some variation of it at smaller shows in the last year. What’s more surprising is how angry some sellers get when you bring this up. I’ve had everything from casual denials, to one guy start screaming at me and telling me to get away from his booth (spoiler alert: he didn’t sell much that weekend). I appreciate someone who sets up shop and packs all of their toys away for a show, but the fact of the matter is if I can buy it for the same or less online, why would I buy something at a toy show for a premium price?
Well it’s an interesting paradox indeed. In part I think it deals with two factors: the captive audience feeling and the price of entry impact. Both are pretty simple to understand. Once you’re in the show you have a feeling of separation from the outside world, and sellers use this to their advantage as there is a finite amount of product available and the good stuff goes quickly. The price of entry is a real killer for those at shows, especially guys like me that may have driven 250 miles to get there. Once you’re in the building you’ve already invested into the event as a whole, whether it was driving time, what they charged you at the door, lodging, or even lack of sleep from getting into the lines early. This is something that sellers understand all too well and is part of their overall selling advantage.
In closing I wanted to say that even in the digital world that we live in, there’s always going to be something unique and beneficial about toy shows and in-person events. They have a unique charm and a way of bringing the community together, whether to reminisce or to meet new people. If you haven’t gotten a chance to attend one of these I highly suggest you put it on your bucket list, as whether you’re out to buy, observe, or interact, you will find value in the oldest method of toy buying: a face-to-face transaction.