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‘A Gargantuan Effort’: How Dealers, Graders and Distributors Get to The National

‘A Gargantuan Effort’: How Dealers, Graders and Distributors Get to The National

Ben Burrows

Transporting cards or collectibles of any value any distance can bring on a certain level of stress or anxiety.

Now imagine those cards, collectibles or supplies are valued in the thousands or even millions. That’s what hundreds of vendors deal with when they pack up their shops to travel to The National Sports Collectors Convention.

Sports Card Investor recently spoke with three companies of varying sizes about what it takes to pull it off, and the consensus was clear: It takes time, money, and experience to make it happen without major issues.

For large companies like PSA — the grading giant offered multiple submission levels on-site before quickly being overwhelmed by demand — getting from California to Chicago requires tons of planning and a massive amount of staff to set up.

“It’s a gargantuan effort,” PSA CEO Nat Turner said. “The team has done an amazing job here. We’re bringing over 100 people from California who will be away from their families. And they aren’t just showing up on Wednesday — they show up many days in advance brining heavy machinery and equipment and tons of raw materials.”

Distributor Blowout Cards suffers from many of the same issues that PSA does. Blowout brought a significant amount of wax to sell on the floor that requires staffing and transportation.

“It takes weeks of preparation and it takes an 18-wheel truck full of wax,” Blowout co-founder Thomas Fish says. “We bring a large selection of our inventory from new wax to our grail wax.”

According to Fish, it took Blowout 2.5 weeks just to have the wax pulled and secured on the trailer. The full team then met the truck at the convention center before spending another 2.5 days setting up the booth.

“It’s not too cumbersome, but we do have staff limitations,” Fish says. “Setting up for any show that isn’t local is a bit burdensome, but we’re looking at opportunities to have a presence at these types of shows.”

While PSA and Blowout have to worry about large staffing issues and massive amounts of inventory like sealed wax or grading materials, The National also features plenty of small dealers who have figured out the process.

Nate Burns of Grand Slam Collectibles is a hobby veteran who used the experience of other conventions to turn the 2021 show into a relatively easy process compared to PSA and Blowout.

Burns and his small crew made the trip to Chicago from Murfreesboro, TN, and set up a booth close to the Case Break Pavilion. Burns and Grand Slam brought some of the best Kobe Bryant cards around.

According to Burns, the key is learning exactly what you need in terms of staffing and whether or not you want to sell singles, wax, or even both. Grand Slam skipped wax and opted to buy and sell singles for 2021.

“There’s two different ways we’ve done it: We’ve been in the corporate area before where we brought all the wax with us and there was more work and more effort,” he said. “I didn’t want to fool with that anymore, so singles is where it’s at. I figured, let’s do it this way this year and it was super simple.”

Opting for buying and selling singles does have its challenges, however. Cards have to be packed and transported safely just like wax while showcases have to be rented on-site or brought for the ride.

While the process was simpler for Grand Slam overall, Burns does recognize Grand Slam could have used an extra staff member to meet demand. Overstaffing can be tricky, though, and can easily lead to extra costs from hotel rooms and food.

According to Burns, the best way to avoid those extra costs that crush profit margins is to just play it safe and stay small until you learn what you’re doing.

“You kind of learn what you need and what you don’t — like this year I’m off one person because I was used to two years ago (in 2019), and there’s just a lot more demand,” Burns said. “But with that said, spend money on what you need, start small, and build up as you go.”

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