A little cash would be a big boost for stamp shows

The Canadian Stamp Dealers’ Association certainly has been in a quagmire over what to do about its Toronto National Postage Stamp Show. Well, no longer.

Association president Rick Day recently sent an email to members informing them its board had decided that, after almost 30 years in the show business, its November 2015 show “will be our last one.” It’s sad, but not surprising.

“The bottom line is that our April 2015 show lost a substantial amount of money primarily because the pool of dealers available and willing to take booths wasn’t sufficient to sustain the break-even requirement for the shows to continue,” Day wrote to members. “For this reason and with sincere regrets, the Board voted to get out of the show business …”

There are three key points I want to address.

First, I agree with the board’s decision (please note I joined the board last November but was unable to participate in the show debate). The board has an obligation to its members to be a sustainable organization. That said, executive director John Sheffield deserves tremendous credit for the hard work he has put into the shows in trying to make them feasible while accommodating the needs of dealers, collectors and the venues.

This leads to the second point. The overall membership was no longer in a position to support the shows. As Day writes: “The problem is that there are no longer enough national level stamp dealers in Canada to keep the shows going within the traditional model. Unfortunately, many have died, some have retired and others have shifted their focus to on-line sales.” In fairness to dealers, stamp shows are a costly venture.

A booth at most major shows can set back a dealer anywhere from $800 to $1,500. The dealers also have expenses like travel, meals, accommodations, advertising and staffing. So, individually, they have invested heavily to be there and, then they pray, everything else comes together, including the weather. While the shows are held indoors, we have all witnessed how “extremely nice” and “extremely poor” weather can hurt show attendance.

That said, the dealers who attend shows regularly have learned to weather the good and the bad sales results. However, others haven’t, which leads me to my third point. Why free admission? I also attend coin and money shows and the large majority charge admission, from a few bucks to $6 or $7. Personally, I have no problems shelling out a few bucks to access dealers from across Canada under one roof.

But the CSDA does accept responsibility for this.

“Once the CSDA announced free admission to its shows, Stampex and Philex were compelled to follow through,” Day writes, explaining earlier that free admission was part of a sponsorship agreement they had at the time with Canada Post which “evaporated 15 or more years ago.” Prior to this, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, collectors were paying $3 per day for admission to the major stamp shows.

“Thenceforth,” Day writes, “all the major Toronto shows were free to the public and as a result, to this day, people who don’t think twice about paying $20 and over and above parking to get into the Boat Show or the Home Show expect free admission to stamp shows.”

Online sales – whether its eBay, dealer sites, auctions etc. – have their place today and will continue to grow. However, I also feel stamp shows must be seen as the necessary key to preserving a formidable connection with present and future collectors and dealers.

Stamp shows are not dead, providing we – collectors and dealers – are prepared to support them with our pocketbooks.

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