If all goes well you will see a lot of traffic at the card show where you will be selling. People of all ages will be there looking at each dealer table to see what's for sale. Each one could be a potential customer, putting money into your pocket.
From your end of the table, the only thing you can do is wait for them to come to you. How they present themselves will determine the approach you will take in making a sale and being able to shift gears quickly will be indispensable in closing some sales.
The following is a list of various types of customers you may encounter. While you may get other types of customers, these are the ones I have encountered and learned how to handle.
This is the type of customer you will see the most at the National. They are sports card collectors who may or may not have heard of etopps. They are willing to listen and will give eye contact when you're talking to them. They are experienced at card shows and are the least overwhelmed by all that's around them including your table. They have a sense of humor, like to chat sports and have little or no problem moving on from your table if they don't find what you have interesting. Most likely they will not return back to your table after looking at what you have for sale the first time they take a look. Most likely they will be with a friend, girlfriend or family member and will be wearing something that gives away what player/team/sport they like or collect.
Selling Approach - This type of customer is great to work with. You may or may not have to explain the whole nine yards about what etopps is about but if you do, they will be all ears. This is the type of customer who will ask the most questions as you explain about etopps and is most likely to "get it" when it comes to how etopps works and will be willing to give you their email address so you can let them know which shows you will be doing in the future. Also, this is the type of customer who may tinker with the etopps website to check out the message board.
Some of our best customers were those who had online accounts but never got any of their cards delivered. Some will acknowledge immediately that they have active accounts while others will tell you they had an account but lost interest years ago. Some will test you on what you know about etopps. Listen to all of their stories. To get them interested, tell them about the fantasy games, the autographs, econ, Allen & Ginter, etc.
Selling Approach - This one may be the easiest to sell because you don't have to give your sales pitch. They may offer to help you sell your cards if they have the time. We met a few etoppers this way who are active on the etopps message board.
Some may have been burned and validate them for what had happened. Let them know etopps is under new management (past two years) if they dropped out before 2006.
2) Autograph Hound
This is the type of customer that you can assess by their appearance. Usually they are carrying something with them to be autographed: baseball bat, jersey, large flat, sports ball, etc. along with a digital camera. They are putting their money into buying the autograph they want and have already plunked down cash in advance, sometimes hundreds of dollars. They usually head straight to the autograph area and head right out after they get whatever they wanted signed or will browse the tables, looking at everything. When they're doing this, they're usually killing time until the autograph signer shows up.
Selling Approach - This is a tough sell because they're into autographs. Don't expect much from them. You have a slim chance if you are selling autographed cards and have one they intersted in. They may serve a temporary purpose of having a body in front of your table to attract other customers. To kill time, they will even hear your pitch about what is etopps.
Though if you have other people at the table who want to buy, politely tell this customer you will answer any of their questions after you have completed the sales that are about to take place.
If you don't have anyone at the table, they are good for honing your sales pitch and will be good to attract others simply by standing at your table: you ask them what they're getting signed by whom and you give them the etopps pitch in return.
This type of customer may or may not have a Beckett price guide in hand. Whether they do or not, the question they always ask is, "How much does this book?" But can you blame them? They don't want to get ripped off and need something to use as a reference, assuming that if they don't they will get swindled.
Since cards go for no more than half the price of what Beckett lists for its value, there may be no stopping these challenger customers from holding onto what they believe to be the Bible of sports card pricing.
I would politely explain that some but not all etopps cards are listed in the bigger Beckett price guide (such as the 2001 cards) and emphasize how scarce these cards are as in-hands compared to online circulation. You probably will not get a sale but at least you will establish credibility, especially if you are in earshot of a potential customer at your table.
4) Parent and Child
If there is a customer type among these that you will love, it will be the Parent-Child combo. My favorite scene is the boy or girl pulling his or her parent's arm in the direction of your table. You're almost guaranteed a sale in this situation.
A lot of times a parent gives their child whether it's a boy or girl a budget in what they can spend, usually 10 to 20 dollars.
We sold at the Football Spectacular in NJ for a few years. On the first day of each three day show we did, admission was free rather than the $10 door charge. On that free day, we saw a lot more kids than the other days. Not by coincidence, we sold the most to this type of customer.
Selling Approach - Go gentle and be kid friendly. Feed off their enthusiasm. They don't want to hear about print runs or the online platform. They like the card they're pointing at and want it right now.
In front of the kids' parents you want to make a good impression because the parent may buy from you too for the spouse in case the spouse is a collector as well. For example, if the cost of the card is $12 and they give you a twenty dollar bill, help the child figure out how much money they get in return.
You never know if a kid (or teenager) is with their parents when they're at a certain age walking around the card show. It's tempting to believe they have no money and are just looking.
Many times I took the approach that they're a potential customer and had success whether with their parents or by themselves. Put yourself into their shoes: they could be future etopps buyers and it doesn't hurt to sell up what etopps is all about. The only thing holding them back from joining etopps is having a credit card and if these are teenagers, they are just a few years away.
If a younger kid is checking out your cards, grab one from your discount bin and put it in their hands and say, "this is for you." Watching their heads explode when you say this will be priceless.
You may have encountered this type of customer: men with fingernails that could use a trimming, slight odor, clothes that look like they were plucked from the Salvation Army, teeth that could use some dental work. Put these observations together and you have a browser who probably isn't going to buy anything.
Less is more with this type of customer. Be polite and consider this person another body at your table because the worst thing at a show is to have no one at your table.
If you sense their presence is more of a hindrance that an asset to others browsing, politely and discreetly ask them if they want to buy a card. If they do not commit (which is likely), ask them what they are looking for and suggest they can find what they're looking for at another table (as long as you're specific about which one).
I sold an etopps card to a customer at the National the last time it was in Chicago. The etopps card was a football playoff card and the customer told me he was at that game. It was a cool story and I enjoyed listening to him.
It's fun to hear stories and talk up sports with customers. But it's another thing when a customer doesn't know when it's time to stop talking. They may or may not wait for their listener's cues that they should stop. At one show, we had an older gentleman at our table who told a great story about photographing football players of the New York Giants. It was cool to hear the first two stories but by the fifth story he told, we had had enough.
There is no sale with this customer. Similar to the Disheveled customer, you need to set limits because this type of customer doesn't know how. They may start talking to other customers who will find this uncomfortable after a few minutes.
It's a good idea to nip this in the bud as soon as you can. Re-focus this customer, asking them politely if they'd like to buy a card and if they decline, suggest they find what they're looking for at another table. Again, if they're the only one at the table, determine whether their presence is a hindrance or not.
8) The Haggler
You'll encounter this customer a few times at a show, wanting to cut a deal with you, wanting to test how low you will go for a sale.
When we had this type of customer we took a few approaches. We would tell them that the more they buy the more we'll go down in price.
We would also encourage them to return on the last day (if it was a multi-day show) or the end of the day (if it was only a day-long show) and we would consider making deals.
We would never negotiate to the point in which we regretted selling a card at the price a customer was asking.
As stated before, these are some of the customer types we've encountered. Sometimes you will get a combination of these in one customer: disheveled-haggler, autograph hound-talker, baseline-challenger.
By experiencing many different types of customers, you will learn to work with them more confidently and as stated in the last post, you can get indispensible experience at the upcoming National in Chicago by volunteering at the etopps booth.