OCEAN CITY, N.J. – Three hours before the box office opened in March of 1986, an anxious line stretched down the boardwalk for eight city blocks and continued to build until all attendance records for the huge convention center were broken. Our ‘Atlantique City’ didn’t grow into the largest indoor antique and collectibles fair in the world, it started that way, thanks to the biggest advertising campaign ever to support a collector’s event anywhere in this country. It would have been difficult to find a single antiques publication that did not herald the megashow’s arrival.
Bill Kent of The New York Times reported that 50,000 enthusiasts bought tickets every spring and fall. That was 3 1/2 times the attendance of Miss America in the same venue. Last December, Key Features Syndicate announced the creation of our new fair and full-page photo features appeared around the world. In six weeks, we received contract requests from 37 states plus Canada, England, Germany, Austria, France, The Netherlands and Japan. Even at its zenith, our Boardwalk show never generated this much excitement in so short a time. By mid-March, we ran out of what I thought would be an eight-month supply of dealer kits. At present, all corners are reserved and only the three smallest booth sizes are available.
As a research-oriented marketer, I had to know why our new fair was attracting this much attention. Through telephone interviews we have learned the following three reasons:
First: Dealers know that our events have always been supported with aggressive media campaigns that draw tens of thousands from across this country and overseas. We kick off each show with the all-important collector publications.
In developing the trade media plan, we budget for full pages. They cost less per column inch than half-pages and have three to four times the impact. In the weeks between large print ads, awareness is sustained with small space, bold reminders in prominent positions.
The efficiency of every print medium we utilize, from daily and weekly newspapers to magazines and collector publications, is determined by asking prospective exhibitors and advance ticket callers where they found our unlisted toll-free number. I check the stats regularly and adjust the allocation of funds accordingly. With television and radio, we must rely on lobby polling, which is not nearly as accurate as the telephone interviews.
Second: Dealers are aware that the new fair is being staged in an affluent and densely populated area. The number of people for whom our new location is convenient jumps from the 39,000 off-season population of greater Atlantic City to 6,000,000 residents of the Delaware Valley. That is a significant increase of 1,539 percent.
The new Philadelphia Expo Center is situated 14 miles west of center city, in the town of Oaks, and adjacent to Valley Forge Exit 326 on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
This position in the northeast corridor is midway between New York, Baltimore and Washington. Consider that one quarter of the United States population can drive to the show without stopping for fuel on the way.
Will the 5,000 free parking places be sufficient for this event? Never. Will off-site parking with shuttle service be required? Absolutely. It is impossible to estimate the attendance but it will be enormous.
Third: Display space and accommodations are affordable. Pipe and draped booths with exhibitor signage begin at $175. This is less than half of the price we would have had to charge at the Pennsylvania Center in downtown Philadelphia, Javitz in Manhattan or the Atlantic City facility. The Valley Forge Convention and Visitors Authority is assisting us in securing room blocks starting under $50.
So why are we doing the big show all over again? My answer is “just for the fun of it!” The idea struck me one evening last September, while I was attending the first of five auctions of the Don and Sally Kaufman toy collection.
My good friend, the late Don Kaufman, the ‘K’ of the KB toy store chain, collected almost everything with wheels on it. Fortunately, he stayed away from my passion, live steam trains, cars, motorcycles and boats. There was nothing in those cases that I had to own.
Following the sale of ‘Atlantique City’ nine years ago, I began attending auctions to avoid becoming a reclusive collector. Sitting there among friends, it became clear just how much I missed schmoozing with our family of 1,000 dealers every fall and spring.
I missed the opportunity to learn more about the history of British and European toys from David Pressland of London and Germany’s Uwe Heintze.
During a break in the bidding, I turned to Joe Freeman, the Houdini of tin toy restoration, and commented that eBay, as popular as it once was and as solitary as it always will be, had destroyed the social fabric of this proud occupation and wondrous hobby.
Our new name, “FUN FAIR, The Happiest Show On Earth,” was a natural, considering that I began my career as a publicist whose first assignment was the promotion of a new herd of young Asian elephants for John and Henry Ringling North’s Greatest Show On Earth.
This megashow is being promoted as the fun place to invest your money in fun stuff, meet the sellers, get personal, immediate and honest answers to your questions, hold that treasure in your hands, examine it closely and decorate or add to a collection with absolute confidence.
Those are the reasons why our show is being received with excitement beyond anything I ever anticipated. Would the event have happened without that visit to Jeannie Bertoia’s auction last September? Perhaps not. It was what psychologists describe as a consciousness-raising moment.
Early entry tickets and discount accommodations must be reserved in advance at 800-225-1007. The Exhibitor Kit may be ordered at 800-822-4119 or downloaded at www.funfairantiques.com. “The Happiest Show On Earth” is a production of Seaview Show Management Inc., P.O. Box 1700, Ocean City, NJ 08226. ?
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