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OAKS, Pa. – Three hours before the box office opened March 22, 1986, a line stretched down the boardwalk for eight city blocks and continued to build until a new attendance record was set for the 61 year old Atlantic City Convention Center.
“The New Yorker” magazine observed, “The lines of people waiting to buy tickets looked like the entire adult population of the United States.”
Veteran New York advertising executive Norman Schaut recalls, “Our ‘Atlantique City’ didn’t grow into the largest indoor antiques and collectibles show in the world, it started that way, thanks to the editorial support of collector publications, innovative show attractions and an aggressive marketing plan featuring full page advertisements.
“Promotion is much the same whether it’s Crest, Tide, Ringling Brothers, Gillette, Texaco or motion pictures. The primary objective is always to generate trial of a product, service, entertainment or antiques show.
“Remember receiving a Gillette in your mailbox or a small box of Tide? You don’t get many of these anymore because of the enormous cost of sampling. There are other ways to motivate consumers to try something new or improved: coupons, price packs, store trip-over displays, free premiums, price reductions and, of course, effective ads.”
“If the product or service meets consumer expectations they’ll be back for more and the investment will pay off. If not, a lot of money has been wasted.”
When Schaut is asked why, at an age when most executives are long retired, he is subjecting himself to a seven-day schedule and endless delays at airports in distant places, he smiles, “Just for the fun of it! It’s like I never really worked even one day since the concept of ‘The Happiest Show On Earth’ popped into mind last September.”
Schaut adds that the misadventures of buying on eBay were another factor. “That damn service, as popular as it once was, and as solitary as it always will be, has single handedly destroyed the social fabric of this proud occupation and wondrous hobby. I collect live steam toys, trains and folk art in pristine condition and have given up on the Internet. Gail Evans, the best show director we’ve ever had, buys office supplies on eBay if it’s an established brand and cheaper than Staples.
“People miss the schmoozing, learning, holding, and, importantly, the excitement of bargaining. I promise that this fair will put the fun back in collecting.
“There’s one other factor that lured me back,” Schaut continues, “and that’s the opportunity to exercise the only part of my brain that still functions well, those creative cells.”
The master showman has retained Rich Lodge, a master programmer and Clark Adams of Edmunds Direct Mail, the largest bonded company serving the casino industry throughout North America. The team has implemented a challenging program that will attract more of the right customers than anything Schaut has ever conceived.
Operation Fun Fair was introduced to over 500 registered Philadelphia exhibitors via certified mail. Each was asked to transmit the names of their best customers to a confidential database at Edmunds. To allay concerns that these names would ever be sold or used for any other purpose, Adams encouraged dealers to ‘seed’ their list with the misspelled name of a close friend or relative.
“If one piece of mail, other than our show invitation, is ever received by this individual, Schaut promises, “I’ll climb half way up Mount Everest and plant a flag to mark that violation of trust.”
More than 140 exhibitors entered their customer names on Edmund’s website and another 113 emailed or mailed them to our office. That represents a lot of work, even for talented people like me who are able to type with both fingers.
A total of 22,461 pieces of mail were delivered to the Post Office on Sept. 9. Each personalized invitation can be exchanged for two $15 early entry tickets at Guest Services in the Expo Center lobby. Schaut plans to continue this direct mail promotion before every show ad infinitum.
Perched in a weathered porch rocker overlooking the inlet and the convention center where it all started 24 years ago, Norman Schaut contemplates, “The New York Times” reported that we sold nearly 50,000 tickets every fall and spring in a region of only 39,000 residents. In Philadelphia, 6 million folks can practically walk to our show.
“Will the 15,000 free parking spaces surrounding the Expo Center be sufficient? There’s just no way to know.” ?
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