BBCE National Review
(For some reason when I post from my phone it's under dmurphy3mvp, but when I post from my laptop it's under ReedBBCE. I guess I have my own alt.)
This review of The National is from my point of view as a dealer and as an employee of BBCE. They are my opinions only, though I have gathered information and opinions from Steve and my co-workers and considered them when writing this review. It’s going to be a long post, and I’m going to jump around a bit…
First of all, let’s get the biggest problem out of the way – the inability to connect to the internet at the I-X Center. I don’t lose my cool when my flight is delayed, because I can’t afford my own plane. I try to not get too mad if my cell phone drops a call, because I remember what it’s like to work with a 10 foot cord in my house or having to carry around dimes and quarters to use pay phones. However, I’d say we easily lost thousands of dollars in potential profit because we could not use the internet in the building to check pricing, do research, review our inventory, etc. I only take comfort in the fact that everyone else couldn’t use the internet as well, so it was still a level playing field. Sure, the structure has something to do with it (metal walls, concrete floors, very few windows), but you would think they could boost the signal, put a tower inside/near the convention center, or something, right? Before the show floor opens, I could surf the internet at a decent speed. As soon as people started to file in, it slowed to a crawl. I pretty much gave up even trying by Thursday. And this doesn’t even include the WiFi that the convention center sells to us! We paid for one line only, and I know it was expensive as hell because some of the extremely wealthy dealers I talked to said there was no way they would pay that much for WiFi. We probably should have done the same, because even though we only used it for our credit card machine, that was slow as well, considering there were probably a few hundred users on it at the same time. The National should never go back to Cleveland because of this issue, regardless of whatever promises the I-X Center makes about making capital improvements to upgrade the system. I know we aren’t going to see a refund check for the WiFi, with an apology for selling us poor service. Right after air conditioning and indoor plumbing, access to the internet is one of the most important things we need at any future National location.
You have to believe this is a great time in the life cycle of this hobby, whether you are a buyer or a seller. Baby boomers are facing their mortality, and many are looking to sell so they can use the money for more important things in life. Ask me the average age of the collector I buy from, and I’m pretty sure it’s around 70. While this is going on, the more successful members of the next generation (mid-30s through the late-40s) are in or entering the hobby with lots of money, trying to buy everything they couldn’t as a kid and more. Sure, the prospering economy helps as well, but I truly believe it will be like this for the next 5-10 years at the very least. I’m betting my career that my services as a buyer will always be in demand, and that I won’t be forced to go and find a “real” job.
Unopened vintage appears to be as strong as ever, and you didn’t need to see our booth to get that impression. I don’t follow auction results, but the prices that have been realized over the last couple of years for unopened is getting many collectors to loosen up their stranglehold on the existing inventory out there and take some profits. I thought we would sell more high-end items than we did, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t many out there with the wheels in motion in their head, trying to figure out how to make a deal work. Steve doesn’t post his cell number out there the way mine is in all the ads, so many were contacting me constantly, either by call, text, or messaging on FB, trying to get better pics and prices on the vintage. It sucks to miss out on The National, but it’s probably worse trying to get my attention, hoping I can get back to you in a timely manner! There were a couple instances when in between getting a better pic/description of an item and saying “I’ll take it”, the item sold – sometimes in a 10-15 minute span. Decisions have to be made quickly when it comes to things like these. (This also happened on the back side of the booth too – PSA graded commons, NFL Shield 1/1s, Daily Specials, Goal Line Art cards, game used Super Bowl Footballs – we heard quite a bit of “where did they all go?” Never assume you’re the only one looking at an item, right?) I’m also starting to see some of the premium items being acquired through cash and trade these days rather than straight purchases. We’ve been offered some creative deals over the years that benefitted both sides, and that trend should continue. Once Steve gets settled this week, I’m sure he’ll be sifting through all the different proposals.
I talked to Steve about the story behind the 1975 Topps Baseball Wax Box. He sold the box a few years ago to a collector, and I’m sure that collector has watched the price rise since then. Well that collector follows us on Facebook (as everyone should!) and saw a post that intrigued him enough to get Steve on the phone and offer a trade. He was interested in the run of PSA 7 Mickey Mantles I bought in Oklahoma in early July – 1953-69 Topps regular issue and 1954-55 Bowman. We came up with a price, he offered us some product and some cash, and a deal was done. What was a bit shocking to both me and Steve was how long it took that box to sell; I believe a deal was made on Saturday. I always hear how collectors need that box to complete their run and how difficult it is to find. Any ideas? I’ll never try to predict what an item will be worth in the future, but I will say they are truly tough to find. Steve usually gets the vintage unopened calls himself, but from the times I’ve received the call, I can tell you that I’ve bought at least 8-10 boxes each of 1972, 1973, 1974, 1976, and 1977 since I started at BBCE in 2010; I can’t remember when the last time I bought a 1975 Topps Baseball Wax Box – likely during my DACW days.
The MVP of our booth was undoubtedly Christine, who managed to shrinkwrap several hundreds of boxes at a record pace. What more needs to be said? BBCE Authentication is legit. Dealers and collectors were constantly approaching the booth, asking about our authentication services. Need proof on why you should get your unopened authenticated by us? How many higher end vintage unopened boxes did you see in the room that weren’t BBCE Authenticated? How many boxes are auctioned off through Heritage, REA, Mile High, Collect Auctions, Huggins & Scott, PWCC, Probstein, etc. that are not BBCE Authenticated? Even though we get dozens of boxes – sometimes a few hundred boxes – at our offices each week for authentication, BBCE owner Steve Hart still inspects and authenticates each box himself, and that standard will never change.
That graded pack deal was truly impressive, wasn’t it? I know Steve flew out to the west coast to pick up the deal and hand deliver them to PSA, then brought the majority of them back with him on the plane to the office. I saw them in stacks as we were preparing for the show, but I never really paid attention to them much. (Was I too busy, or am I just jaded because I see stuff like that around the office all the time?) The real shocker was playing the game of “I wonder what this is priced at?” as I took packs out of the showcase to show collectors. I was wrong by quite a bit time and time again, which means I need to study up on my vintage unopened, or the market is truly red hot. By the time the weekend came around, there were a lot of holes in the pack display cases.
Here’s what I know about future National Conventions – 2019 is back in Chicago, 2020 is in Atlantic City, and 2021-23 are being voted on over the next few weeks by the dealers. John Broggi, the co-director of The National and a friend of mine, said they would prefer option A – Chicago, Cleveland, Chicago. Cleveland has promised to fix the internet issue and will be making even more improvements to the I-X Center in the coming years. Every dealer that I discussed this with prefers option B – Chicago, Chicago, Chicago – and there’s even talk about making it permanently in Chicago. ComiCon is always in San Diego, GenCon is always in Indianapolis, and the AVN is always in Vegas; why can’t we do the same for The National? I’ve been to the last 21 of them, and nothing compares to Rosemont. O’Hare is a five minute shuttle ride away. There are excellent hotels within walking distance – Hyatt, Hilton, Crowne Plaza, Embassy Suites, DoubleTree, etc. The food is also so close and so good – Gibsons, Mortons, Fogo de Chao, Giordano’s, Bob Chinn’s, etc. The Stephens Convention Center hosts the Fanatics shows in March and November, so they are familiar with our industry. The union workers who help set up, break down, and run the show are excellent to work with. At least 50% of the US population is within a day’s drive. Chicago is a total no-brainer. Yes, the west coast (Seattle, SF, LA, Vegas, Phoenix) should get some love once in a while, but most of the dealers and the population are east of the Mississippi and may not make the effort to set up, plus the heat in some of these cities is unbearable in July/August. That heat also knocks out St. Louis, Dallas, and Houston. Florida has no problem selling convention space so they don’t need us, and the last time it was in Atlanta was a disaster. Dealers were pleasantly surprised with Baltimore, but they don’t want us back because we didn’t sell enough hotel rooms. Boston, Philly, DC, and NYC all sound cool, but we’ve been told the price to set up could be double or more. We spent $40K on the space, showcases, hotels, trucks, gas, food, etc. Not really interested in spending double that.
What did we buy? I know we bought a bunch of cases that never made it past the parking lot – straight from the seller’s vehicle onto our truck. Because I spent very little time at the front of the booth, I didn’t get to see all the vintage unopened transactions. I was quite successful buying modern unopened – 90s/00s/10s – in all four sports. Probably spent about $50K at the show, and have close to that much lined up over the next couple of weeks. LeBron product, Kobe product, Jeter product, Trout product, tough insert driven 90s basketball product, Crosby product, Brady product, and more! I spent another $70-80K on graded cards, a sampling of which we posted pics on Facebook. Everything we bought will start hitting the eBay store (bbcexchange) and the website over the next few weeks.
If you thought the girls from Pristine Auctions were something to look at as they paraded around the show, you should have seen what was going on during setup and breakdown at the Fanatics booth. At times it was like being inside a yoga studio – some women lots of bending and stretching in workout gear. Probably would have been set up by 11am if we weren’t so distracted.
We always gather a bunch of leads on deals for the coming months at The National. I was approached by some collectors with some very interesting proposals! I’ve barely gotten settled at home, and before I review all these potential deals coming up, it feels like the calendar for the rest of the year will be full! I’ve been to California three times this year already, so it’s unlikely I’ll be back out west soon, but the rest of the country will be in play. I’ve got about 25-30 leads already, so as soon as football season starts, it looks like it could be a busy fall. Vintage wax, modern wax, vintage singles, autographed memorabilia – everything is being offered to us. Mid/late September will be to the Midwest, Mid/late October all the way through Thanksgiving will be the entire East Coast from Florida up to New England, and there may even be a couple sightings in Michigan, Texas, and Toronto?
Graded singles sold well throughout the show. We had a lot of holes in the high grade showcases, even though our pre-1970 selection was only like four full showcases, definitely our lowest amount ever. (Of course, that just means we sell them well all year round!) Autographed cards were a bit slower this year, but I’ll admit we didn’t have that good of a selection this time around. Mid to low grade vintage did extremely well, and though we restocked on Saturday, cards continued to sell. Also, as in previous years, the high grade commons we brought were bought out by another dealer on Friday afternoon/Saturday morning, the fourth year in a row this has happened. We like clearing things out and starting over, and he likes buying fresh new inventory with little effort involved in the acquisition process. We sold all of our Goal Line Art cards to a dealer, another dealer bought all of the NFL Shield 1/1s, and yet another dealer bought five of the six Super Bowl game used footballs we had.
Right after checking out all the incredible vintage unopened that almost nobody else has at the show, our Daily Specials are becoming a must-see attraction. This year, we even divided up some of the days, so there were technically ten groups of specials spread out through the entire show. We had Larry Doby autographed 8x10s for $10, 1983 Fleer Tony Gwynn rookies for $1, 1985/86 Topps Mario Lemieux PSA 7 rookies for $69, and over 70 more Daily Specials. I believe 75% of them sold out this year! Now this part of our booth only generates about $20K in revenue and requires a ton of work both in preparation and at the show, but it offers everyone a chance to get some cool items at an unbeatable price. Collectors spend money on admission, parking, food, gas, and maybe hotel rooms and plane tickets; the least we can do is make the BBCE booth the go to place to see some cool stuff and find some great deals.
I think the 1986/87 Fleer Basketball Box Break went great, except I didn’t anticipate one thing – none of the participants actually being there! I naively figured at $2,000/pack, we’d have collectors who were attending the show wanting to see the drawing of the packs in person, then decide if they wanted to open their packs right there on the spot. Sadly, I think the days of in-person breaks like there used to be at The National to be a thing of the past. The prices for unopened severely outweigh the expected value (of course it’s always been like that, but 1986/87 Fleer Basketball is on a whole different level now) that a break will be a rare occurrence rather than the norm. The only way around this would be to severely discount the price of the box/pack and require every pack be opened on the spot, but is that PR worth the lost revenue?
I’m sure you will all agree that what was going on at the Topps booth was just obnoxious and simply unacceptable. Go ahead, use a microphone and a speaker so that everyone around the booth can hear what’s going on, but don’t turn the volume up to 11. People fifteen rows away don’t need to hear what you have to say. Hell, the booth right next to you (that being us) don’t need to hear it either. Topps’ marketing extraordinaire – the RipMaster, Alan Narz – is (was) an acquaintance of ours, as in Steve has bought stuff from him before and even has done him a couple of favors. When Steve went over to Alan and asked that he keep it down a bit just one time – the same time we were going to do the box break – Alan pretty much told him no. He made up some lame excuse about how Topps wants him to do it this way (so not true) and how the crowd loves it (only the 100 in front of him, not the thousands in attendance…and the millions watching at home), so he wouldn’t change his approach just this one time. If you want to yell, fine. If you want to use a microphone, also fine. But yelling into a microphone – unacceptable.
I thought the crowds were great at this show. Four years ago, LeBron had just announced he was coming back to Cleveland, and I think the general public added to the attendance. This time around, LeBron leaves, but there were more collectors there to make up the difference and more. Wednesday was crazy. I looked up at about 3:40pm and there were people everywhere, and they wanted to shop. There wasn’t much of soaking in the atmosphere; many had an agenda and were buyers for anything they liked. Thursday usually backs off because people who live nearby have to work, but it was still strong. Normally we slowly work into Thursday morning because the show ends late the day before, but we had to be up to speed fast because the room had some energy to it even early on. Friday was definitely an excellent crowd and we were moving product. Saturday was a bit slow for sales, but the aisles were always full. Maybe I didn’t interact with many, but I didn’t get the sense that there was a strong international crowd this year. Was it because we were in Cleveland as opposed to in Chicago? We usually see more collectors from Japan, China, and Korea, as well as those from England, Spain, and France.
So what goes into preparing for the National? Rick has to go to our other warehouse to get all our supplies – tabletop showcases, chairs, plastic shelves, overhead signs, and tables. He then has to assemble the little things we need – top loaders, screwdrivers, tape, bags, extension cords, glass cleaner, etc. Then he along with Christine start packing the unopened, which usually takes up to two weeks considering they still have day to day tasks to do, because if it’s all packed correctly and stacked on the pallets in order, set up can be a breeze. He has to do boxes, graded packs, loose packs, display boxes, modern wax – that’s a lot of different stuff. We had the booth completely set up and ready to start selling by noon on Tuesday; five years ago we’d still be doing stuff when the public walked in at 3:30pm. Steve has the task of what to bring (for the good unopened) but more importantly, he has to do the pricing then make the signs for the items. Sounds easy, but when you have to stop and think about each item, making sure the price is competitive, and considering the mountain of product that’s been put away for this show, it takes him several days to do it all. On top of that, he’s being bombarded with requests – people want to sell, people want to buy, authentication requests, interview requests, asking for favors – you get the idea. Rick and Steve work hard to get ready for the show, but it’s nothing like what I have to do. I start picking through our graded inventory and decide what to bring, then I go through it all card by card and make sure it’s priced or re-priced properly; this year we had close to 2,500 cards! I put together all the Daily Specials, and that usually takes at least three days to find them all, make the schedule, do all the signs, then photograph them all for the Facebook posts. I then try to find all the unusual stuff that fills out the back side of the booth – this year it was soccer boxes, NFL Shield 1/1 cards, Goal Line Art cards, game used Super Bowl footballs, etc. I also assumed the task of creating and marketing the 1986/87 Fleer Basketball Box Break, which was time consuming and nerve-wracking. Finally, I create all the promotional materials for the booth – the written testimonial ads, the marketing flyers, signs advertising that we buy, coordinate advertising with PSA, Beckett, and SCD, etc. I usually need 2 ½ to 3 weeks to get it all done, and didn’t have that luxury since the July buying trip went long. I spent some long days at the office this year followed by even more hours back at the hotel room. I’d estimate from June 29th through the last day of the National, I was averaging 90-100 hours a week.
If you plan on bringing something to sell, contact us ahead of time. This allows us to do the research and figure out pricing at our leisure, rather than have to make decisions right on the spot. Plus, if we agree to a deal ahead of time, maybe we can meet at our truck or at your hotel room, rather than have to bring in a bunch of stuff through the show floor.
Asking for a discount when buying at a show is like breathing – everybody does it, and if you don’t, you probably should. However, recognize a good or fair price when you see one, and if it sounds good to you, pull the trigger. As you read earlier in this post, we double check our prices on everything before we bring it to The National. What good does it do us if we bring stuff that won’t sell because the price is incorrect? That being said, we’ve been known to give small discounts on items we have room on or on multiple item purchases, but if you’re expecting like a 25%/30%/40%/50% discount, it’s never going to happen. We clearly don’t have problems selling product throughout the year, so please don’t think your offer is doing us any favors. Again, recognize a good or fair price when you see one.
Wash your hands when you’re done using the bathroom. We’re all shaking hands all day at the show; let’s not make things worse by us all getting sick. I’ve got a pretty strong immune system, but many people don’t, and spreading germs because you’re too lazy to use some soap and water is just rude. Don’t think the rest of us didn’t see you in the mirror as you walk right by us from the stalls to the door!
If we can’t agree on a deal, don’t be rude. Steve and the rest of us at BBCE are as honest as it gets. We’re not trying to get one over on people. I think we have enough reviews and recommendations to back that up. Stone mentioned the incident he witnessed between Rick and some other dealer, who was pissed off about the price we were offering. Get this – he sold us a box a few years ago, and now wanted to sell another box of the same issue, and was mad that we now are paying more! I know that sounds weird, but it gets worse – he was mad that because we are now paying more, he felt like we didn’t pay him enough the first time! You can’t make this stuff up. Rick is a pretty level-headed guy and did keep his cool, but I don’t know if I’d want to mess with a retired and highly decorated Army Sergeant.
While Steve and my co-workers headed back to the office to unload and try to put the business back together, I drove home to Buffalo. I was so exhausted, that I napped for about an hour and a half through PA and NY while Bridget drove, then took another nap yesterday afternoon for almost two hours, because I am just beat down. It’s been a long five weeks, hitting both coasts while driving, prepping for the show, then actually doing the show. Steve just told me he slept almost 18 hours straight Monday night/Tuesday morning, and he said Rick took a three hour nap yesterday, which is probably the longest he’s ever had.
Thanks to everyone for stopping by to introduce yourselves and for the words of support. It truly does mean a lot to hear that we are doing a great job. One gentleman made it a point to stop by and thank me for finding something for his daughter when she writes to us for our Stocking Stuffer promotion, as her collecting tastes aren’t quite mainstream. It was very classy of him to introduce himself to me, I immediately knew who his daughter was as he shared his story, and it makes me want to do an even better job this year. I also want to thank everyone for making my fiancé Bridget feel welcome, even though you guys keep telling her that “she could do better” and that “Reed is marrying up.” Also, I think it’s great that our customers are also very respectful to the women in our crew – Christine (who assists Rick in the warehouse pulling orders, stocking shelves with our recent acquisitions, and shrinkwrapping boxes), Amanda (who co-manages our retail store in Schererville, IN, helps pull eBay orders, and runs eBay store bbcexchange2), and Emily (Rick’s daughter, who helped us out this week because every high school kid could use some extra money.)
Looking forward to everyone’s feedback (well, almost everyone) and hope to see everyone next year in Chicago!
Buyer, Baseball Card Exchange
cell: (808) 372-1974 email: [email protected]
eBay stores: bbcexchange, bbcexchange2, bbcexchange3, bbcexchange4