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So ya wanna be a mineral dealer, eh? - Part 3 - "What could possibly go wrong?"

Authored : 2/22/2009

As promised, in this installment, I'll share some of my show and other "experiences".

I have done about 8 shows in my brief mineral dealer "career":

Club shows: Bisbee (once - my very first show); Sierra Vista (twice); Flagg (twice) Large shows: Denver (once); TGMS (twice)

My First Show

My first show was the 2007 "resurrected" Bisbee show at its new venue at the Queen Mine Tour building (from an attendee standpoint, it's a great venue!). I shared a space with a friend of mine, a PhD Mineralogist and mineral dealer, and we were right next to my friend Dave (of "rubbeth not mine okenite" fame). None of us covered our expenses. Remember, just to cover your hotel cost, easily $300 for a 3 day show, you have to sell about $600 in specimens, and even if you do, that means you have basically "given" away your minerals at cost and your time ends up being worth zero! But, I outsold them both! So, I'm thinking "not bad for my first show, this just might work". Little did I know, but it was merely the "mineral dealer gods" (and a perverse lot they are) "setting the hook" (in fisherman-speak)....

Delusions of Grandeur

Flush with my "success" (really beginners luck in disguise) at Bisbee, I said "time to do a major show!", so I did Denver in 2007. Prepped, packed, and transported about 70 flats to Denver (900+ miles each way) in my beloved Bronco, which I fondly (not!) refer to as "The Antichrist". Set up at the main venue at the Merchandise Mart, in one of those little glass enclosed mini storefronts on either side of the main show floor. First day - pretty good; each day thereafter - steadily downhill. On Sunday, the last day, I sold $60. :-(

This was my singe worst show. With hotels, meals, gas, show fees, etc. I lost well into 4 figures, actual cash out of pocket. Chastened, I started off toward Tucson, tail firmly between legs. The mineral dealer gods, wanting to make sure I got the hint, conspired with the aforementioned Antichrist to blow the right rear tire completely off the rim at 70 MPH just west of Deming, New Mexico. At 70, with about 800+ pounds of rocks in the back, this was great fun.

I arrived home (a miracle in and of itself) and vowed "I'll never do that again! I'm right here in Tucson. I'm just going to do the main show here each February until I get this show thing figured out".

A month later I did the Sierra Vista show. So much for my "vows".....

Just When I Think I'm Out, They Pull Me Back In!

Vows notwithstanding, my first Sierra Vista show (2007) was pretty good. It is a club show, I did about $1000 in sales, hence I turned a few hundred dollars profit. It remains the only profitable show I have done. So, I promptly went back the next year (2008) and sold a whole $60 for the entire show! Same type of inventory, same venue, basically same everything - go figure.

My First TGMS Show

Ok, now it's time for my big debut at the "mother of all shows", the TGMS main event! First problem, no suitable inventory. At that point, I had lots of club show inventory, but few higher end pieces. So I invest some serious money and buy part of the Charlie Key collection. ~800 specimens worth... Erongo, Tsumeb, Wessels, N'Chwaning... ettringites, aquas, rhodos, dioptase, demantoids... this is really nice stuff! Make really killer labels, get em all priced, packed and ready to go. Mondo work.

A few weeks before the show, it occurs to me that I have no one to help me with my booth. (Duh?) So I do some asking around, and one of my mineral dealer friends suggests this local collector/digger, a very knowledgeable guy, he knows his minerals. Then a good friend, who knows not a single thing about minerals, offers to help as well. But he's a nice guy, and anyone who would volunteer to help with a project like this (remember how much work it is) should be nominated for sainthood.

So, thinking I've got it all "dialed in", off we go. Suffice it to say, there were a few unexpected developments. The local, really knowledgeable, collector/digger, it turns out, is only into rare species, radioactive species, or Arizona minerals. If it is not one of those, in his mind, it sucks, and he turns out not to be one of those personalities who can muster fake enthusiasm. One of my conversations with him went something like "Look at these specular hematites from Wessels! Aren't they awesome?" (they really are! - my personal favorites from the whole buy). Response: "Yeah, I guess, ... if you like rust...". My non-mineral-literate friend, with all good intentions and great enthusiasm (too great perhaps) told the customers that the Erongo Mountains were in "Nam-bib-ia" and then stalked them like Ted Bundy, sending most of them fleeing down the aisles.....

Despite this mineralogical Laurel and Hardy act, I managed to break even. Not as good as I had hoped for, but acceptable - given it was my first TGMS show and I had managed to staff my booth with lunatics....

The Show From Hell

There is something about me and the Flagg show...

You're probably thinking "NO! There's something about you and ANY show!" Ya think??? :-)

It's a nice, popular, well established show held each January in the parking lot at Mesa Community College in Phoenix. I just don't seem to do well there. I did it for the first time in 2008. Didn't make my costs, not a disaster, just not good, and I said I wouldn't go back (sound familiar?) :-).

So.... I went back in 2009. Packed and loaded up about 50 flats, tables, and other assorted stuff into the Antichrist, made a thoroughly uneventful trip to Phoenix and the setup went very smoothly. Back to the hotel, smoked cigars and traded insults with "Okenite Dave", life is good.

Next morning, woke up, fired up the Antichrist, it's running smoothly, and off I go to the show. I stop for my obligatory latte, get back in the Antichrist, turn the key and it's dead - as in, one minute it's running fine, next minute it's dead. Cranks to beat the band, but not even a hint of firing. The show starts in 10 minutes. Make frantic call to dealer friend who picks me up and takes me over to the show, leaving the beast where it lies. I should have just burned it in place....

At the end of the first day of the show, we hook a tow strap to the beast and drag it over to the college parking lot so I can try and figure out what is wrong with it. By way of background, I am a pretty proficient mechanic (actually earned my living as such in my 20's), have and always carry a complete set of Antichrist shop manuals (probably written by the same guy who wrote The Exorcist), all my tools, and almost a complete Antichrist worth of parts (water pump, starter, belts, hoses, brakes, u-joints, you name it) any time I go anywhere in it. I know it's "proclivities" all too well, you see. I can pretty much fix anything on the thing. I also carry a 5 foot steel wrecking bar which I refer to as The Antichrist Attitude Adjustment Tool. Think of it along the lines of the battle between good and evil. If you are getting the impression that there is a definite "love-hate" relationship between me and this diabolical thing, you would be correct.

So, during part of the 2nd day, I got a friend to take care of my booth while I went to deal with my "leetle friend". Eliminate all the obvious - plenty of gas, it's got spark, it's not the fuel pump (my original suspicion), about the only thing left - my worst fear because I don't carry one, it is a special order, long lead time item that actually rarely fails - is it's fried it's engine control computer (which, of course, turned out to be exactly the case).

Now, the Antichrist is large and to work on it I have to just about literally climb up on the front bumper and get myself almost completely inside the engine compartment - the belly of the beast itself. So, I'm in there, cursing a blue streak on and off, when this long haired young man walks up to me:

YM: Problems huh?

ME: Yeah, I think this !%$&@ thing has fried it's computer and I live south of Tucson.

YM: Bummer...

ME: Yeah, that's why I call it the !%$&@ Antichrist!

YM: Looks up at me and says "Maybe you shouldn't call it names like that..." smiles and walks away...

Ah, the wisdom of youth...

So, how was my Flagg show, you ask?

Spent over $300 on a hotel, plus meals and gas.
Over a 3 day period, sold a grand total of $90.
Had a $100 aquamarine stolen.
A $200 towing bill to haul the accursed beast back to Tucson (that's after AAA paid the first 100 miles!), plus another $200+ for parts to eventually repair it.
Promptly got sick with one of the worst colds in recent memory.
Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, the show was really fun.... :-)

This Years TGMS Show

This years main event was a surprise. After Flagg, I was prepared for a total disaster, given the economic state of affairs. Broke even, which was better than I thought I would do. Attendance was down (haven't seen the numbers, but it sure looked like it), but the serious buyers were still there. I think what the economy did was cause the folks who wouldn't have bought much anyway to stay home. A lot of the bigger name dealers were crying that their business was way down, so I consider myself fortunate, under the circumstances. Or, another way of looking at it is the !%$&@ mineral gods have managed to "set the hook" in me again!


There you have it... I'm going to post 2 more installments - one on specimen miners/diggers and the last one on some of my theories about the business, especially why the pricing craziness exists. Then you'll be rid of me for a while again...



Thomas W. Corson OBG Gems & Minerals
corson@infodyn.com Green Valley, AZ 85614

World-Class Minerals For World-Class Collectors

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Comment by Steve & Florence Goins on June 24, 2009 at 10:22pm
I think you might have missed your calling...you should be a comic writer! I'm still laughing trying to keep from crying. Brings back the memories though. Due to health issues I don't do the show circuits much anymore, but you have described the rigors and experiences of almost every rock and mineral dealer doing the show circuit in hilarious comic detail! If we make it to Tuscon next year we'll look you up! Your website looks great, and your blog is a blast!
Comment by Tom Corson on April 19, 2009 at 12:21pm
That's right! I forgot!

It's because of you bailing on me that I ended up with those two psychos!

I'm blaming it all on you!

Comment by Thomas Clark on April 19, 2009 at 9:25am
Wonderful blog here Tom! I think I almost got nominated for sainthood in there at one point. Of course, it seems like I backed out on the, "I'm mineralogically usless" defense. Ive sold at two rock shows in my life. Snider's Ranch in '93, the one that got the 10" of rain on saturday that year, where I sold $43 for the 3 day event; and in 2007, a prominent Walnut Creek tailgate event, where I sold $12 worth. I think both events were fun, and I did buy a few treasures at each......
I am certain that the Lapidary Gods just want me to stay in the "dig em up, cut em up, and forget aboutit", syndrome that somewhat accurately describes my general business mentality.. I aint selling at any x!@##**%! shows, till I get a go-ahead from the rock-gods. I think I will also require a burning bush, and several stone tablets as verification, just in case they are listening. That young fella was right on, go appoligize to your "Bornko"......

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