Economy Doesn’t Dampen Outlook of Conference Attendees

The nation’s economic picture is still a major concern to all levels of the sports collectibles industry, but that did not prevent the majority of attendees of last week’s Hawaii Trade Conference/Mainland Edition from leaving Phoenix with a good feeling about where the industry is headed in the weeks and months ahead.

Granted, the industry rarely leaves the conference with a negative outlook on the market, and the traditional questions about how the hobby can attract more collectors continue to linger. But this year’s specific areas of concern among most hobby retailers – including demands for improved customer service from manufacturers, better and more consistent product content, and rising price points – are things most manufacturers have either started taking steps to improve or announced programs aimed at correcting. As a result, there was a feeling that this year’s primary areas of concern will be easier to correct, perhaps, than the grievances presented at previous shows.

The conference’s second visit to the mainland attracted 306 registrants. Included in that group were 128 retailers, 23 of whom were first-time attendees. Those kinds of numbers, combined with a facility – the Crowne Plaza San Marcos Resort – that earned glowing remarks from most registrants and absolutely perfect weather conditions all week, left event organizers very happy.

“We were very pleased with both the overall turnout and the level of cooperation the industry continues to display at the conference,” said Dean Listle, sports group publisher for F+W Publications. “The manufacturers and licensors continue to make this event special with their presence and their various event sponsorships. The volume of retailers who take part make this a valuable event for the manufacturers and licensors. We had a strong turnout of first-time attendees, as well. We had a strong turnout of first-time attendees, as well, which was one of our primary goals in moving the event to the mainland.”

A sampling of reactions to this year’s event:

Wayne Wagner, Canadian-based retailer: “This is the 11th year in a row I’ve come to this event, and I can tell you that every year I’ve picked up a minimum of two or three things that we take back to improve the store. This is the most important conference you can attend as a retailer.”

Victor Shaffer, president, Ace Authentic: “In general, the feelings among all the constituents represented here were more optimistic than I thought they would be. Despite the fact that some folks have had a rough start to the end of the year, it wasn’t a doom-and-gloom mentality. Despite the challenging times, there was optimism and enthusiasm. From a personal standpoint, I turned up more business than I thought it would, so it was successful.”

Evan Kaplan, MLB Players Association: “The feedback was generally good this year. Times are tough but people are listening to the opportunities presented here, so hopefully people come out of this week better prepared for tomorrow’s business.”

Jim Dryden, VP of operations, Donruss/Playoff: “We got back what we felt we would in terms of feedback. We’ve introduced some new products and its created some new conversations. It’s critical for us to know what we have to do to make the dealers successful.”

Mike Phillips, director of hobby sales, UD: “A very good conference. We gave the retailers a lot to chew on this week and the response thus far has been very positive. Last year, Richard (McWilliam) promised some big changes in terms of our redemptions and shipping deadlines. We made those improvements and the response has been very positive.”

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