As I See It...
By James E. Lee
There are two sides to the retail aspect of this business. There are the part-time and retiree dealers who do shows and mail order as a way to supplement their other income or own collecting interests or just want a from of social contact on the weekends. The other side is represented by the full-time professional who makes his/her living from philately. Both will always play a role as the future unfolds. However, the latter will need to be "cutting edge" in order to survive.
The weekend bourses and smaller regional shows will remain, for they serve as a point of entry for collectors and dealers alike. However, they have experienced change in the past three years. Attendance has dropped at these shows in part because of changing market forces. In earlier installments Ive covered the collector attendance issue. But, lets look at the impact that has had on the dealer side of the equation. Full time dealer participation in these shows has dropped because their customer base no longer supports the smaller shows. They now see these people once or twice a year at larger shows. And hopefully continue to service there needs by phone, mail and the Internet during the other 10 months of the year.
There is a segment in the show market place that is growing today. APS Stampshow, ASDA NYC Mega Events and some of the APS Champion of Champions qualifying shows are seeing increases in collector attendance. Part of this is due to location. However, I believe the success rests with the huge amount of planning and promotion that goes into these shows. The Post Office is providing much of the impetus behind the Mega events. At the regional APS show level it is the countless volunteers and show planning committees that make them a success for collectors and dealers alike. Shows like Rompex, March Party, Plymouth and St Louis Stamp Expo, to name a few, continue to grow and thrive. Shows like Compex, Indypex and Midaphil are gasping for air.
Midaphil, by the way, is making dramatic changes and additions to their showincluding the exciting National Philatelic Website Achievement Awards competition. They have always been innovators.
The well managed and promoted shows will continue to thrive because they draw people from a wide area. These shows have become established events that collectors and societies want to attend. The committees work at planning and promotion, promotion, promotion year round. They also seek input from collectors and dealers alike.
The show marketplace is only one segment of the supply side of the hobby. It gradually replaced the retail shop in many larger markets. But, it only represents a small fraction of the overall marketplace. However, shows represent the high-touch, one-on-one and high visibility side of the marketplace.
Lets now look at the future. High tech may be on its way to replacing high touch. George Patton once said: "Lead, follow or get out of my way". Well, the computer is certainly mounting a lead in Philately. The computer is probably most apparent in the auction segment of the market. Boot up your computer and go to www.siegelauctions.com and you will find each coming auction posted with every lot illustrated in color. They also provide prices realized within 24 hours of a sale on the web. Scott Trepel said that they received 20,000 hits on the Finkelburg sale in the first week after it was posted. I wouldnt be suprised if they arent the first auction house to have live real time floor auctions held live on the net. Paul Kukstis of Kukstis Auctions (www.kukstis.com) has taken the next step. He has abandoned paper catalogs and has put his auctions on the web. Ralph and Diane Achgill of RKA Covers (www.rkacovers.com) conduct a monthly auction on the web as does Jim McCusker whose website is at www.jamesmccusker.com. Ralph and Diane have stopped doing shows and are now focusing their attention on the Web.
The computer has expanded each firm's ability to market to the entire world. The web has become the most cost efficient way to do business. However, the greatest cost saving to a dealer is the amount of time gained resulting from reduced travel.
I see my own business growing on the web. Today over 70% of my business is a mix of web, phone and mail. My challenge is to improve my high tech capability and maintain my high-touch way of doing business. I view the web as a beacon, a signal for collectors to home in on, a path to my door. I view e-mail and the phone as the way to keep high-touch in sync with high tech.
In 2000 my show schedule will be reduced to between 9 and eleven shows. Four years ago I did 34 shows. This will create more time and money to reach you on a regular basis. And if the need arises I am always available to make house calls.
I realize that not everyone has a computer. If you want to see what we have on the web, a call or letter will yield photocopies of the material that is of interest to you.
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