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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Our First Stamp Show - A Learning Experience

So we attended our first stamp show yesterday. We had spent the past week getting our Canada stock organized to take to the show and getting signage and blog articles printed for distribution to people at the show. We went in with low expectations: I did not expect to sell any stamps, but I did hope to hand out business cards and 35 copies of my latest stamp blog post. I had wanted to hand all 35 copies out and to meet as many new collectors as possible. To encourage visitors to our table, I provided plates of cookies and ju-jubes.

So how did we do?

1. We sold a grand total of $44, which covered the cost of the table and about $4 of the gas money that was spent to drive there and back.

2. We handed out maybe 10 copies of the blog article.

Many would call that a dismal failure. Given the lack of traffic to this event I would say that we did OK, especially since we were new dealers. The unfortunate part is that I don't know if we will be invited back, since the only reason we were invited was to fill a table that one of the established dealers would normally occupy, but couldn't given that he had a scheduling conflict. I have to say that I was disappointed about the fact that many people who were at the show completely ignored our table and I practically had to beg people to take a free cookie of handout.

All in all this event was a learning experience that provided me with some valuable insights as to why the hobby, as it currently exists is in a great deal of trouble:

1. Most of the dealers who came to introduce themselves to me were only interested in telling me about the amazing purchase they scored at the last estate they looked at. One dealer, did have the sense to ask for my card so that he could work with me to obtain stamps that he didn't have for some of his customers, but generally the dealers that I met did not use this show as a networking opportunity.

2. One child who was about 10 came up to my table looking for the latest Superman stamps. I unfortunately did not have them and could not supply them to him, and I felt really bad about that. However, one other dealer was trying to force 5 albums of old stamps on the poor kid. He had the best of intentions and meant well, but the child was not interested in old stamps, as I knew he likely wouldn't be. He was polite and took them, but you could tell he didn't come away excited by any of this. Most collectors and dealers that I speak to are always lamenting about how the hobby is dying and how no kids are getting into stamps. But this interaction showed me that this isn't always true or that if children are not sticking with stamps, it is because we are not paying attention to what interests them. Instead, we are trying to force our hobby on them. When I spoke to this kid and asked him why he got into stamps, his answer was the same basic answer that I, or any of the 70+ year old collectors in that room would have given. That was evidence that the basic interest is there, but we as dealers are failing to nurture it and develop it. I must have had three separate conversations with different people about the lack of youth in the hobby where I pointed out to them the potential reasons. Everyone I spoke to agreed with me, but then little had been done to set this show up in a way that would be of interest to kids.

3. One dealer was telling me about how he had just bought two estates from families where nobody had any interest in stamps. He was very excited about what great deals he got on purchasing the stamps, but he seemed oblivious to the bigger picture of what it means for the future of the hobby when nobody in family after family wants to continue a stamp collection they have inherited.

4. Most of the people who did pick up the blog articles seemed interested in them, but very few people that I spoke to were interested in writing their own blogs or otherwise sharing their own knowledge with the philatelic world at large via the internet.

5. Out of about a dozen dealers there, I am the ONLY dealer who is selling exclusively online and the only dealer who maintains a blog.

It struck me that while the hobby of stamp collecting may not die, it is definitely going to evolve in a way that is going to leave behind a large number of its current participants. I was looking at my Facebook statistics for the blog posts that I publish to Facebook and according to Facebook, my fans are all over the world and over 70% of my fans are under the age of 55. Nearly all are men. Now, I'm not selling to any of them yet, but clearly, there are a large number of people interested in stamps that are not that old. It's just that they aren't attending shows, and they don't seem to be interested in collecting stamps in the same way as the collectors at the show. I can see a time coming in the not too distant future, when many dealers who have catered primarily to older customers are going to flounder when this market dries up, as they will not have invested in developing the market of younger collectors who are mostly online. Likewise, many older collectors are going to find themselves without a ready market for their collections, or are going to be disappointed with the offers they receive from dealers, who are reacting to the economic conditions of a shrinking market not by trying to expand that market but by lowering their selling prices.

It makes me aware of the need to find out what the demographic profile of my customers are and to ensure that I am selling stamps that younger people actually want to collect.


  1. I disagree with your assessment on a few levels:
    1. I would expect that, as a 'new dealer', you would get MORE traffic as collectors would want to see what you've got.
    2. Sales are the key to every business, and $44 for all the effort you put in by getting your stuff ready, and a full day of driving, working the show, and driving home is a very low return on your time.
    3.Why were you only able to give away 10 copies of your blog? I would have thought that more collectors would be interested.
    4. How worried are you as to the long-term future of the hobby? I assume that your hope is to be able to make a living doing this for the next 20+ years.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. I am sorry that I my response to your comment was dismissive and rude. Truth is, I was disappointed with how things went and I am feeling very sensitive about it. In my next post, I will respond constructively to your comments, as several good questions are actually raised.