It doesn't matter what the product was. The wholesale price was $108 and the trio at the show was selling it for less than $100.
My first conclusion was that these guys were either the dumbest dealers around and expected to make up their losses in volume (which, of course, isn't possible) or that they were dealing in stolen products, hence the sale price wasn't important.
When I confronted one of the three "dealers" with my concerns, he looked me squarely in the eye and said, "I'm not losin' money on this . . . and if I don't sell it at this price, by Monday I'll have to sell it cheaper."
Without telling me that he stole the product, he implied that if he wasn't the thief then he bought from someone who was. If he admitted that he wasn't losing money at $100, then he was telling me he didn't pay wholesale for it.
The second part of his statement was more worrisome. He told me that he had to sell low today, or he would have to sell lower tomorrow. Why? Because the trio's actions created a panic. All over the convention center, other dealers slashed prices on the same product so they would not "get stuck" with it. This action then was reported on computer hobby bulletin boards, where dealers panic at the slightest hint of trouble.
The next thing you know, these actions create a nationwide crisis for the product, which is now considered dead, even though it had been out only three days. Collectors barely got to sample it before someone, for whatever reason, killed the enjoyment of it. It didn't matter that the set was one of the most artistic of the year. It never had a chance.
Other fallout? Well, the people who were selling the product at the correct price were then accused of "gouging" their customers. And how about the confidence level of potential buyers of similar products in the future?
Not long ago, officials from a nearby state cracked down on a show promoter who had never bothered to pay taxes on his admissions (and other sales, like autographs). They did a spot check of his dealer tables, and found that most of them were without proper licenses. What's with this?
Well, dealers who have day-to-day shop overhead, spend money on promotions and marketing, pay their taxes and function as responsible members of the business community don't have a chance in the world if the people who repeatedly flaunt the rules get away with it. Is it any wonder that weekend show dealers - even the guys who play it straight - are not the favorite people of hobby-shop owners.
At the show where the cut-rate sale of the $108 box was going on, one dealer simply took the product off his table. "I'd rather eat it than sell it below cost," he said. "Because that stuff simply kills the business."
He was correct. You can't gain new customers, let alone keep the ones you have, if every product that comes out plummets in value scant days after it hits the shelves.
The last line of defense against this kind of irresponsibility is the hobby dealer himself. If the shop owners and the responsible show dealers don't crack down on the bad guys soon, the hobby as we know it could cease to exist.
Shortly after he was acquired by the New York Yankees, outfielder Ruben Sierra was standing in a hotel lobby when a well-dressed, older gentleman walked up to him, extended his hand and introduced himself. Sierra responded to the greeting by saying, "No autographs," and walking away. The gentleman was Hall of Famer (and then-Yankees broadcaster) Phil Rizzuto, though Sierra didn't have a clue.
No wonder Rizzuto packed it in.
JOOST IN VET'S ROOST
Hobby activist Ernie Montella says ex-Philadelphia A's great Ed Joost will be honored by the Phillies next spring at the Opening-Day luncheon and will later toss out the first ball. Also honored will be the late Willie "Puddin' Head" Jones, the third baseman for the Phillies' Whiz Kids. Joost and Jones are the latest additions to the Veterans Stadium Hall of Fame.
Ted Taylor has been a lifelong collector of baseball cards and sports memorabilia. He has run memorabilia shows in the area and written for various publications. Taylor is director of Public Relations for Fleer/SkyBox International.