The National Convention can be overwhelming, so use these tips and tricks to make your visit as smooth as possible.
For those of you new to the hobby, you’ve probably heard the words “The National” tossed around a lot over the last several weeks. What started in 1980 has a small gathering of collectors in a hotel ballroom, now houses tens of thousands of collectors in an annual mega-event that rotates between Rosemont, IL, Cleveland, OH, Atlantic City, NJ and a small group of other cities with venues large enough to host the event and enough lodging nearby to handle the massive amount of out-of-town hobbyists that descend upon it each year.
In its 43rd year, The National is at Rosemont’s Donald E. Stephens Convention Center just outside of Chicago this week, and we want to bring you our top tips on how to survive and excel at the most massive sports card show in the world.
Let’s jump in.
1. Don’t get overwhelmed
Whether you’re a first timer, or a veteran at The National, it’s important to realize that the event continues to grow. No one year will be just like any other. From the amount of unique memorabilia, non-sports and pop culture items, to autograph signers, card vendors, and even corporate sponsors, it continues to grow, and there are more distractions than ever. When you walk in, stay focused on what you came there for. Take a deep breath and enjoy your quest to find the items that make you the most excited. If you’re there to simply take it all in, then you can’t go wrong. Hopefully you end up leaving more inspired and motivated to continue to enjoy the hobby than when you first walked in. Keep in mind that you’ll see pro athletes, hobby celebs and more, so don’t get starstruck. Be you and stay focused.
2. Narrow your focus
From a sports card collecting, investing and flipping perspective, it’s super important to go in knowing that you’re going to be ridiculously distracted by the sheer volume of not only dealers, booths and human beings all in one place, but also the amount of desirable cards in the showcases. While it’s cool to browse and take photos, spend your time on cards that you can achieve, afford, and either want to collect or have a plan to flip. The minute you start to step outside those parameters, it can get a bit messy and you can very quickly spiral into a place where you have been at the show for a few hours and max out your budget on a bunch of cards or collectibles that you didn’t even know existed prior to setting foot into the convention center.
3, Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate
The National, believe it or not, is a buyer’s market. It is the biggest card show by a long shot all year, and everyone is there. This set-up means that every dealer’s competition is literally within a football field of them. Inherently, this gives you, the buyer, all the leverage. If a dealer won’t negotiate with you, don’t be scared to walk away and find one who will.
4. Don’t feel obligated to buy
Elaborating on the last item, you can browse all you want, spend as much time at any booth, and you are under no obligation to buy a darn thing. Vendors and dealers know this, and are prepared for customers to negotiate, ask for lower pricing, and even walk away completely after getting a ton of their cards out and asking them to price them in bulk. It’s all part of the hustle.
5. Don’t feel stupid asking questions or asking for help
While it’s not ideal to completely walk away, it’s part of the deal, and so is asking questions. Ask to see cards that are in showcases. Ask why dealers have cards priced a certain way. Use this opportunity to educate yourself and get a feel for how to maneuver to your advantage. Knowledge is power in the hobby, and The National has all of the smartest folks in one room. Take advantage of that and ask as many questions as you feel necessary to get all the information before you make decisions and pull triggers on any transactions. The worst that can happen is somebody says “no.”
6. Bring food
This may seem elementary, but if you’re a human being, you get hungry. And when you get hungry, you lose energy and focus. Surviving the National is like surviving a Marathon. You need to nourish your body. Bring food, because buying food at the convention center will not only be overpriced, but it will also take up precious time waiting in line that could be used for browsing booths for cards.
7. Take a seat
Literally and figuratively. Bring a portable small chair or stool that you can buy on Amazon for a dozen bucks and throw it in your backpack or suitcase. Use it to take a load off every now and then, even while camping out at a dollar box or value box. Your back, neck, knees and feet will hurt. Be ready to take a strategic break to recharge. Take five minutes out every now and then to recap your purchases and calibrate them with your original plan. How have you executed or veered away from your original intentions?
8. Backpack or rolling suitcase?
Many people will be walking around with Zion cases or similar types of boxes that hold cards and slabs, and that’s fine, but remember that a backpack, rolling suitcase, or both, makes just as much sense for a show like The National. There’s just so much ground to cover, and these items are more friendly on your back, which is critical to your stamina and focus. This event is a workout.
9. Bring the right amount of cards and supplies
This one is critical. If your goal is to acquire cards, I wouldn’t bring any cards. Unless you have a plan with a dealer or someone at a trade night type situation, I’d leave all of my cards at home, and focus on acquiring the right ones. To that end, don’t forget to bring a solid supply of new penny sleeves, top loaders and/or card savers. Not all booths/dealers have them to the extent they should. And, don’t forget you may be ripping some wax, so you’ll really want your own supplies handy in that case.
If your goal is to sell cards at The National, do your best job to narrow the cards that you do bring down to the most desirable cards. For example, any base cards won’t bring near the interest they’d bring in different scenarios. Again, The National is inherently a “buyer’s market.”
10. Buy the tickets that are right for you
If you don’t have tickets yet and want more specific event details, that’s fine, you can still walk up and get tickets. All info is at NSCCSHOW.com. Honestly, you’re not missing much if the VIP stuff sells out. Just buy a one-day pass and get in where you fit in.
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Paul Hickey is a regular contributor to Sports Card Investor, the creator of the Sports Card Investment Report at NoOffseason.com, and the host of the Sports Card Strategy Show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and YouTube. He can be found on Instagram at @sportscardstrategy and on Twitter @nooffseasoncard.
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